A Thanksgiving…weekender? I guess that’s the best description for this American. It is far, and it was fun. Singapore is both at the same time, this SEA city-state that is steeped in the best (and not so best) Asian tradition but also, like Crazy Rich Asians. For one, it’s an expensive place. The con is at Bugis, and we walked to the Merlion for some photo ops. The place is full on a tourist trap. The whole place is also steep in instagrammable setups that it felt a bit too much. I’m not a huge fan of living inside a mall either, and of all the times I visited Singapore, that was my persistent impression. Well, it beats walking outside that is for sure.
The series of events known as AFASG is on its, what, 11th year now? After its corporate overlord merged with the C3 brand, this name labels a few other cons in the SEA region, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s kind of neat because there is significant coverage of these events (relatively to all anime cons, I guess) in English because the attendees often use that language. It’s certainly the case in SG. It’s weird to me because other than the UK cons, you don’t hear much about the ones in Continental Europe, for example.
The con itself is similar to a lot of other Asian cons–basically most of it is a big exhibition space/dealer room. This is what AX is basically moving towards, this is what ANYC is moving towards, this is what everything is moving towards–for better or worse. I can get into it, but let me just say that the room doesn’t make the con and it’s too much of a tangent. Maybe later this month.
Given this is my first time at AFA, I thought the con was run with a degree of practice among the staff and attendees. That turns into a pretty okay experience overall, as far as the nuts & bolts of the “con stuff” goes. I didn’t experience major gaffs other than finding myself not having a seat for Friday’s concert. Thankfully that was resolved just before the show started.
(But, like, imagine you’re ready for fhana and you get to the concert hall and there is no seat with your seat number on it. You commiserate with the other guys just standing there who also have no seat, knowing that someone already told the staff and they are trying to fix it. Then a few hurried staff came with seats and added the chairs and moved people around to reassign the alignment. Great. Show begins in 5 minutes.)
In case it was not clear, AFASG has basically 2 components: the exhibit hall (which has 2 stages–the Akiba stage which is more like a community stage in AX terms, and Lumica has one at their booth), and the main event space. During the con there are stage events that are part of the exhibition. At night, there is the “I Love Anisong” concerts which require another type of admission. All admissions are done via wristbands (daily). So for each day, there are like 5 different wristbands, and times three for the full weekend (they could have done a weekend wristband I guess, but didn’t). At least that’s for attendees.
One notable thing about AFASG is its size. For some time it has been one of the largest anime conventions outside of Japan. Today, it still is very big, but not that big. Just going by warm-body counts, I think it’s on par with Anime NYC 2019. AX is about two or three times as large, give and take. Like, if you’ve been to the big anime cons in the USA, AFASG should be familiar territory. The Anisong concerts don’t pack out (just like how it is here), but they do charge an arm and leg for the designated seats and nearly nothing for the standing space in the back, a nice contrast. The venue sounded pretty okay, and if you buy into the AFAWorld VIP thing, you can even get a decent seat easily.
To spare you with all the negative hearsay I hear from AFASG, I think you should expect a pretty typical anime con experience (state-wise). The venue is about the right size for Singapore, and the crowd is just right between laid back and intense to not cause too much trouble. I didn’t really camp at AFASG until Sunday, plus all the fun stuff I got at the con didn’t require queueing, most are either lottery or through online sales.
Like, I literally waltzed into DJ Arisha’s Akiba stage set half way through and got to the rails, LOL. Or just going to her set at Lumica when it starts, a few rows from the front. The exhibit hall was crowded on Saturday, but it wasn’t crazy. The shopping game is strong, but at the same time people tended to queue a lot at the bigger industry-based booths. Without Lumica and the like I’m not sure what people did at the con–it isn’t like there is a lot to do actually.
Maybe it’s also that the crush is not concentrated at specific things. There were plenty of livers on hand to make a ruckus at the various Arisha stages, but unlike the States it isn’t even a notable quantity of them. This is what a healthy convention environment should look like I guess.
Cosplayers generally gathered everywhere outside the exhibition area. Suntec’s con spaces is built on top of a two-floor mall, and it’s quite vertical with big lobby spaces. People sprawled there, but also there are designated photography spaces. Still people formed photo bubbles around major choke points on Saturday and that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. It’s more the JP style photo circle than just one or two folks stopping to take a pic. Cosplayers should have more awareness on that… But man, turfing this con is super easy–it’s almost by design.
What else is there to say about the con? Let me stop noobing and get to the specifics.
The concerts are kind of broken out by companies this year. Day 1 is mostly Lantis. Day 2 is Sony and others. Day 3 is HoriPro. Day three is almost like Anisong Ichiban, for those of us who remember them. There wasn’t a lot of zooing despite Koroazu’s best attempts, but having a live band to set up May’n and the ensuing collab songs was a nice touch. Don’t Say Lazy is so much better with a live band, I kid you not.
For better or worse, we actually didn’t stay for the whole concert until Sunday. Saturday was really not our thing anyway so we skipped out after half way into ReoNa, and came back to a couple Junna songs to pick up a straggler and go eat dinner. Friday I was just exhausted from traveling and left after Mayayan. The fact that most of the city closes by 10pm makes dining late a problem, but we ended up having decent eats for the most part, going to tourist traps for western bar food. McDonalds is decent eats, I guess? I don’t know.
The show itself didn’t have live band except for actual bands (Scandal, fhana, etc). May’n had a live band backing, which was cool. It makes me think that AFASG’s composition is sort of a ragtag alliance of strange associations. In a way that might have allowed more artists to show up but how much say do the organizers have on the management and labels? I have no idea. It didn’t feel like merch was heavy for a lot of them, which seems to be the case for other shows like AWM. That made sense.
The crowd was proper energetic and it felt like a festival live in Japan, but smaller yet not that intimate. Calls were largely missing actually, but you can hear it, which makes it more in line with American lives but just a bit better.
I think most of the takeaway at the con, despite the big focus on the concerts, were the talk stages and meet & greet sessions. The stage events are basically what you expect, Japan-style talk shows. Unlike the lame versions you see in the US, they got some instigators (namely Yoshida Hisanori) to keep things lively. The FGO ANYC panel is closer to what you want out of these, not dumb walkthrough of some script. That is a waste of all our time. Please, Aniplex and Pony Canyon, do it right.
Of course, that’s asking a lot. AFASG stage were only this good because of the top MCs which can pull it off. Between Ash, Reiko and Yoppy they covered all the Japanese-side of things, and I don’t think you can understate how much they make those panels enjoyable. Especially Yoppy. I mean how do you even get this to work outside of Singapore or China/HK/TW/KR? We also had this random Malaysian talent in Shinonon who cutely handled the meet & greet session, even if mostly that was just telling us to spend the 45 seconds per person of face time. It’s kind of important to give the guests something to remember, and that usually happens when we talk, and by talk I mean nervously stammer, to the guests. Surprisingly all four of the M&G guests were decent at this. Eriko probably was actually the worst, lol. Arai has this comedy act down pact, plus you know how she looks, LOL. The surprise was talking to Fujita Saki, who doesn’t do this kind of thing often but I guess, thanks to Miku, is doing more of it now. Tano Asami was more like, lol. But it was nice talking to her.
I only stayed for a few stage events, such as the epic one where Yoppy and Eriko tried to talk about Eriko’s stuff in English only, with Ash backing up as narrator voice. Tsugu and Kayanon did their usual Saekano stage (about SAO) and SAO stage (about Saekano). I was only at the Saekano stage so I can’t really comment about the SAO stage, but Yoppy did his usual thing and the camera guy really played to Tsugu’s facial expressions. The Null&Peta stage was literally them shelling us the game with Ajuju doing a quick demo of the gameplay. That was neat and interesting, as someone casually enjoying the short anime TV series. I also played the demo there, which supposedly was its first public reveal.
To put it into perspective, the Eriko panel was so good, it probably even tops the Trysail radio event at Taipei during the first Lisani TW as the most enjoyable panel that I’ve seen at a con or any event. It’s pretty awesome to have cross-language panels with canned guests and scripts (well, Yoppy and Sensei kind of destroyed theirs), but I’m just thinking when will we get that in USA? Maybe Toronto first? That kind of MC skill is badly needed and AFASG is a bit of a proof-of-concept that if you hire the right folks and have it planned, it can happen.
Overall, this year’s AFASG felt like a great time, and as a con AFASG is all right. I think if I was more thirsty or the “right” guests comes, I might be more peeved, but for people who are laid back about a lot of this, the con offers people to roll money for access, and there is a lot of laid back kind of things to enjoy if you’re sufficiently tuned into the programming. Money as a gate works in SEA. On the other hand it doesn’t cater to a wide audience unlike US/Canadian cons, so the appeal might be kind of limited and definitely way more industry focused. Singapore is also a bit tiresome in that the weather and the urban environ gets on my nerves after a while, but that’s just me. I’m just glad the people are good and they made my short stay there fun and welcoming.Continue reading