The last two years have been hard for convention goers across SouthEast Asia but that has come to an end with Anime Festival Asia (AFA) 2022 returning to Singapore in full force and we got the chance to interview the festival director: Shawn Chin.
Shawn is the founder and managing festival director of Anime Festival Asia, the region’s largest and longest-running Japan Pop Culture event which took an unfortunate but understandable hiatus for the past three years due to the covid-19 pandemic. Now that it’s back, fans have flocked back to the point that tickets have sold out the venue is full.
Returning To AFA
Truth be told, we were supposed to hold this interview yesterday (Saturday 26th) but Shawn couldn’t make it due to just how busy AFA was. We started by asking what it’s like to return to the convention and how the reaction has been from fans.
“The past three years have been filled with hope that we can do the event again, and finally it’s happened. We’re really happy that we can finally do this again. I think definitely with the number of people coming, it’s back and back with a vengeance, really”.
The crowd certainly proved him right. It felt like people were trying to make up for lost time with how packed it was.
Shawn says that they did try to mitigate the crowd in new ways though.
“We tried to mitigate a potential influx with online sales, which we’d never done before. Usually, it’s on-site only. But still, yeah *laughs*. Yesterday we were taken by surprise”.
The New Challenges of AFA
Bringing back such a large festival after three years certainly isn’t easy. Here’s what Shawn had to say about the challenges of organizing a new AFA, namely getting the staff back together.
“I think for me the number one thing was trying to rebuild the team. During COVID we had to let go of people. That was the number one thing, to rebuild the team. And then we only knew kind of in April or May that we could do it again and then it was a mad rush to November.
In terms of restrictions, luckily we’re in Singapore. It’s kind of gone back to the pre-pandemic kind of rules already. While the last few years there’s been a lot of restrictions as we move forward there’s been a kind of drop. Overall there’s this thing called inflation. Costs have gone up and unfortunately, we’ve had to also increase our ticket sales and prices to cover that”.
Many people have voiced concerns about the higher ticket and product prices for AFA 2022 but Shawn says there’s nothing they could do. The price of everything is higher nowadays, that’s the reality right now.
Speaking more about the AFA 2022 itself, Shawn told us more about what people look for in conventions and their exhibitions.
“I think the number one primary reason is the fact that people have been enjoying the fandom by themselves during the pandemic at home. One of the biggest points of the convention is you can come back together and hang out with your friends and enjoy the stuff together.
In terms of guests, we have different parts of the show. We have a more community-based [approach] this year. Which is our creator hub. We also introduced the cosplay hub so I think these two have been quite popular from an attraction standpoint.”
He laments however they admittedly didn’t get as many guests as he wanted to this year.
“Just coming out from a pandemic the world is still catching up, still recovering. We couldn’t get as many guests as we’re used to. But again it’s more like 0-1. We had to start somewhere. We still brought in the guests, we still brought in Japanese [guests] but the scale was not like before. The way we see it, people still enjoyed it because it was so rare to have it again”.
Bringing in The Vtubers
One of the biggest guests they did get however was five vtubers from Hololive who performed at the Hololive Meet last night. We asked the director about bringing in vtubers and how he thinks they’ll change events like these going forward.
“It’s only natural that ACG [anime, comics, games] fans are into characters, right? Virtual, real, anime, or whatever, their waifus and all that. Being able to connect with the personality- you can create that whole relationship with a Vtuber.
In that sense, it’s here to stay. Some say it’s a trend, but I think given the way the character comes to life it’s definitely here to stay.
For conventions, yes. In the past pretty much the only night I can probably do that’s called virtual would be Hatsune Miku. Now as you can see a lot of our content is basically Vtubers. What’s changed is that you need a nice internet connection. It’s not just the speakers. You need to buy a lot of PCs and have that setup. And having lots of fail safes. That’s a new challenge, making sure you have good internet”.
When asked what kind of guests he wants to bring in for future AFAs, Shawn said he’d look to the community.
“It just depends on the trend. The only thing that happens within 3 months, or 6 months, things keep changing, right? So for us, it’s trying to always bring stuff that our community wants and trying to identify that. And more importantly, being able to invest in that to bring that here”.
The big new feature of AFA 2022 is AFAverse a new interactive software for festival-goers to enjoy. Shawn explained to us more about what AFAverse was and why it’s important for Anime Festival Asia.
“We call it the Phygital concept: Physical X Digital. Because I think this was quite the breakthrough. I think the recent talk has always been metaverse, multiverse, and also web 3.0 stuff. Instead of fully jumping on that bandwagon we looked at the technologies of how we could enhance the physical experience of the attendees.
Usually, people come to a convention, hang out, get a ticket, you go in and do their stuff. We just felt that we wanted to create an extra relationship with our audiences to let them be able to play games and interact with all different parts of the festival and have this challenge going on with each other.
So that’s really one of the main reasons we came up with the AFAVerse. It’s also looking at where things are going and where technology today is playing such a big part. We wanted to be able to track and have data and understand what people were going to, and what content they were accessing to then help us with the planning for next year.”
The Reaction to AFAverse
From what I’ve personally seen, AFAverse is a huge hit. People were lining up to play the AFAverse kiosk challenges and looked like they were having fun. Shawn said the response has been “overwhelming.”
“You should see our servers. We had certain ups and downs because of the infrastructure. It was down for a bit yesterday. But the take-up is just massive for us. I think part of it was because we had characters you could customize.
When you played stuff, you had coins that you could redeem for gifts. It wasn’t just any gifts. We spent a lot of money to buy the gifts and then get sponsors. You could win PS5s or gaming chairs, lots of stuff”.
AFAVerse in future events
Finally, we asked Shawn how they planned to use AFAverse in future events and how they think the software can be improved based on the feedback from AFA 2022.
“Right now AFAVerse is kind of a three-day thing. But we want it to be the start of a potential long-term relationship with us as a brand. So by creating your AFAVerse account you join us as a member.
Now, what do we do with that? That’s what we’re gonna work on next. We’re gonna look at the data and feedback and based on that we’ll craft the next mission for us”.
Shawn ended the interview with these closing remarks:
“We’re just very happy to be back. We look forward to re-establishing ourselves. We’re looking forward to reaching out to ACG fans in the whole of South East Asia”.
That seems to be the consensus all around. When I shuffled through the main hall filled with colorful cosplayers and valuable anime goodies, most people said they’d been waiting for the convention to return. Here’s hoping that Shawn and Anime Festival Asia continue to go strong for many more years to come.