It was fashion fast forward at this year’s Anime Festival Asia (AFA) 2011, where some participants were already sporting the latest hairdo for 2012 – strikingly coloured hair. Held at Suntec City from Nov 11 to 13, AFA’s in its fourth year. The region’s most established festival for anime and Japanese popular culture, attracted close to 85,000 visitors to its various activities, from exclusive merchandise sales and an Asia-wide cosplay competition, to concerts, movie screenings and talks.

Hosted by popular Japanese culture blogger Danny Choo (who happens to be the son of Jimmy Choo, creator of luxury ladies’ shoes) and featuring anisong celebrities such as Mizuki Ichirou, May’n, FLOW and Angela and celebrity cosplayers like Kaname☆, AFA 2011 is set to be better than its predecessors.

Excited fans gathering around the Nico Nico Duga booth at the AFA 2011.

Getting the festival off to a good start was the Cool Japan Forum, held on the first day of the event. Through guest speakers from Japan’s music, entertainment and publishing industries, experts such as renowned novelist Keiichiro Hirano, and Akutagawa Prize winner, and Haruhiko Mikimoto, a celebrated illustrator and character designer who has worked on animations like The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, forum participants gained insights into what drives Japanese media content.

One of the key highlights of AFA 2011, the forum covered a range of topics, from how killer content can be built in the digital field, to sharing experiences from companies which have developed successful business models using anime content, and how content can be used to boost a company’s brand image. For companies interested in collaborating with the Japanese media, the AFA 2011 was a prime networking and sharing platform for them.

A hit with the girls, the Atelier Royale is a butler café that was recently introduced in the AFA 2010.

Meanwhile, at the Cool Japan Forum, a new feature of the AFA 2011, presentations given by the speakers touched on the dwindling physical sales of Japanese pop CDs, and the growing popularity of anisongs (a portmanteau of “animation” and “song”). During the presentation “The secret behind Japan’s successful music artists”, given by Ken Isayama from Sony Music Entertainment and Shinji Yamanouchi from Aniplex, they noted that the rising trend of anisongs topping the Japanese hit charts, examples of which being songs from animes such as Macross F and Angel Beats! As the anisong industry becomes increasingly competitive, it’s beginning to shadow its cousin, the Japanese pop market, a prospect the Japanese media executives don’t find amusing.

Another highly anticipated aspect of the AFA 2011 was the 3-day “I Love Anisong” concert marathon. This year’s featured a rock theme, and saw a line-up of some of the biggest and most promising names in the anime and anisong industry, such as Risa Oribe, who goes by the stage name of LiSA.

A cosplayer dressed as a Power Rangers character, display his lethal power. Cosplayers were out in full force during the event, however there were not as many of them as compared to the previous years.

For 24-year-old Gladys Lee, an executive working in the civil service, this year’s AFA is “bigger and greater than before” she said. An AFA fan, she has been attending it since its inception 4 years ago.

“I was interested in AFA because there was a strong line-up of programmes, which differentiates it from the others, like the Cosfest,” she said.

However, she felt that “when compared to the previous AFAs, there were still some hits and misses”.

The lack of proper demarcation for the human traffic flow was one example she raised.

“The venue remained the same as previous years, but it appeared to be very chaotic as the entrances and exits are situated far apart and proper barricades for queues were not established. This caused much frustration among attendees as we spent a fair amount of time trying to get out of the human jam to move from one point to another,” she said.

Here mainly for the anisong concerts, she was pleased to find that the tickets were still reasonably priced.

“The standing tickets for concerts were actually very affordable as many attendees were actually students,” she said.

A cosplayer decides to come as a familiar character from the popular memes website 9gag

Organisers introduced a tiered pricing package for the concert tickets, starting from S$148, for a 1-day entrance, to S$366 for a 3-day bundle.

Ticket sales for the festival were going for S$8 per day, with the Cool Japan Forum tickets going for S$85.