What AFA-ntastic weekend!
KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — Brightly-coloured wigs, elaborate costumes, realistic weapons and dramatic make-up was a common sight at the inaugural Anime Festival Asia (AFA) Malaysia 2012 at Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) over a sunny weekend.
It was easy to spot popular anime characters from Spirited Away, One Piece, Naruto and even the adorable Pikachu from Pokemon. While some cosplayers (costume players) took a few days to complete their intricate costumes, others prepared months ahead to look exactly like the characters they adore.
AFA is this region’s biggest anime and cosplay festival and it started four years ago in Singapore with notable guests and industry leaders from the anime world. Big names such as Kunio Okawara of Gundam, J-Pop artiste May’n, top Japanese girl band AKB48 and Alodia Gosiengfiao attended the previous festivals so it was a highly-anticipated event for Malaysian otakus (anime fans).
AFA MY was the first satellite event of Anime Festival Asia and throughout the two-day festival at PWTC, Malaysians had a chance to catch their favourite anisong (anime song) artistes from Japan such as Maon Kurosaki, Aimi, Kalafina, Sea A, FLOW and KOTOKO. Celebrity cosplayers KANAME and SP Cats also made special appearances and were the guest judges for the Malaysian Preliminary of the Regional Cosplay Championships.
AFA will be heading to Jakarta next on September 1, 2012 for the second satellite event outside of Singapore — and if you are interested to become an anisong artiste, Sea A will be recruiting new members, so keep a look out when applications open on the AFA website.
The first day of AFA MY was abuzz with excitement as multitudes of otakus queued up for the tickets, some in their costumes and some still in plainclothes. Luggage bags with handcrafted costumes inside were being pulled along as the cosplayers got ready for the doors to open.
Everyone was talking about the anisong artistes, about Danny Choo, the AFA host who is also a blogger and producer of Culture Japan (a show to promote Japanese culture), the celebrity cosplayers and the Moe Moe Kyun Maid Cafe and Atelier Royale Butler Cafe.
Throughout the whole day, there were non-stop photo-taking, trading card games, special activities, talk shows with Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, an anime production celebrity and Tomohiko Ishii, a famous anime producer.
They are respected anime industry leaders who have contributed to the anime culture in Japan and worldwide with critically-acclaimed animations such as Ghost In The Shell and Spirited Away. AFA MY 2012 was the one-stop Japanese anime place to be and the energy was exhilarating.
I had the opportunity to meet three anisong artistes: Kalafina, a three-girl group; FLOW, a J-Rock styled band who created an opening theme for top anime series Naruto; and KOTOKO, who have performed in sold-out concerts including one at the famous Yokohama Arena in 2006. These artistes have made a name for themselves in the anime world, creating catchy songs for opening and closing themes.
Kalafina consists of Keiko Kubota, Wakana Otaki and Hikaru Masai — talented singers with the ability to maximise the potential of their strong vocals. Their singles have reached the Top Ten on Oricon Weekly Charts, which is an achievement for J-Pop artistes. The group has also toured Asia and the United States despite just being formed about five years ago.
“We are happy to be in Malaysia and we are glad that we were given the opportunity to reach people around the world with our music. We hope that through the emotions in our songs, our listeners will feel inspired by the music,” said Kubota.
For the band, their happiest moment as Kalafina is travelling overseas, working together as a team and sharing the love of music together. They enjoyed their time in Malaysia, sight-seeing and tasting the local food in Kuala Lumpur.
During Kalafina’s concert, fans were screaming at the top of their voices and waving glow sticks in sync with the beat. Kalafina’s performance was superb, and their voices possessed a clarity that could rival any choir’s. Their enigmatic personalities wowed the crowd and the fans kept shouting for encore after encore. It was truly a show that brought the house down.
Maon Kurosaki was an instant hit with the crowd. Even though it was her first time performing in Southeast Asia, she was engaging with the crowd, with both her fast and slow songs. Her voice projected across the arena with prowess and enthusiasm. Kurosaki kept the audience dancing on their feet and shouting for more.
A first-timer in this region and AFA, Aimi is a bubbly singer with an infectious smile. Her sunny personality and cute voice had everyone waving their glow sticks in the dark to the music. It was a wonderful experience for Malaysian attendees because the songs she sang were anime favourites.
The next day, I had the opportunity to interview FLOW and KOTOKO. Celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band, FLOW has become a household name in the anime music industry. Seven of their records were picked to be theme songs for commercials and TV shows.
I asked FLOW what was their biggest achievement in their decade of playing music and the lead singer said that coming to Malaysia is one of them. And I’m sure it was also memorable for the Malaysian fans because it was a fiery performance, with the fans going hysterical. FLOW’s positive energy and musical skills ended AFA MY with a bang.
In April 2004, “GO!!!” became the opening song for a popular anime Naruto. “It was the first song to be accepted by anime fans and it was a trigger for us to create more songs for anime. That moment was a chance to get more chances in anime music,” said FLOW.
If given the opportunity, FLOW would love to perform in Malaysia again. They enjoyed eating Malaysian food, citing “frog” as one of the most interesting foods they tried!
KOTOKO, who is famous for her involvement in anime series such as Shakugan no Shana, Kamen no Maid Guy and Onegai Teacher, is a beautiful singer with an equally beautiful voice. Her performance was breathtaking, as she showcased her ability to hold a note for a long time. Her adorable smile and childlike voice captured the attention of the crowd. She loves Malaysia and had an opportunity to visit the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower.
“I’m pleased that I had this opportunity to perform in Malaysia. It is a dream come true to perform anime songs and videos. I feel unbelievably lucky to be in this environment,” said KOTOKO.
Sea A is a four-girl group that exudes youthfulness and cheerful vibes. Sweet and enthusiastic, this anisong band is made up of Singaporeans and Malaysians. Consisting of Winnie, Beryl, Valerie and Estelle, they have achieved international stardom in the anime world.
Sea is short for Southeast Asia and A stands for anime. During the anisong concert, Sea A had the concert-goers bobbing their heads to the beat and dancing to their songs. Sea A’s latest single “Friendship Birthday — Arashi no Yoru ni” is the opening theme of the animated TV series “One Stormy Night — Secret Friends”. The show is broadcast in Japan and over 15 countries in Asia, Europe, North and South America.
On Day 2, the nation’s best local cosplayer was selected during the preliminary selection of the AFA Regional Cosplay Championship. The winner — Amy Wong Fong Ee, 24, who played the character of Ciel Phantomhive — and her partner, Tan Pei Jian, 22, who played the character of Sebastian Michaelis, won a trip to Tokyo, Japan. The prizes were sponsored by Canon Malaysia.
I wanted to check out the Moe Moe Kyun Maid Cafe and Atelier Royale Butler Cafe but the queue was about three hours-long on the first day. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity on the second day but even then it took two hours to get in. But it was worth it! The butlers were well-mannered and good-looking to boot! There was a choice of three main courses and two desserts which comes with drinks. Each main course costs RM25 while the desserts were RM20. For a maid or butler cafe, the prices are justifiable because you get good service and the food is decorated in an attractive way.
My butler greeted me when it was my turn. He was attentive and friendly, and I felt at home at the butler cafe. Photographs were going for RM10 per butler and since the butlers were treating me like royalty, I felt that it would be nice to have a keepsake. By the way, taking photographs with your camera or phone is not allowed. Asking for personal details is forbidden too — you will be kicked out if you break the rules!
Malaysia has yet to open a butler cafe even though there are already maid cafes in the Klang Valley. I’m sure a lot of ojousama (My Lady) would visit a butler cafe if there was one!
All in all, I would say I’m really glad to have experienced AFA right here in PWTC. The festival and stage events were exciting and despite standing and walking the entire weekend, I would say it was worth it whether you are an anime fan or not.