If you’re into Japanese pop culture and entertainment, the annual Anime Festival Asia (AFA) convention was probably the single biggest event to keep your eyes on. Just last year, over 90,000 people attended the Singapore stop of the convention alone, bringing the total count of attendees to well over a million in its eighth year.
The key word: was. There are now at least two big events to look out for.
One week before the AFA Singapore 2016 convention, a surprise announcement revealed the launching of a new Anisong Fantasy Live (AFL) concert series, with the lineup for its first volume in Singapore and Hong Kong revealed subsequently on the first night of the convention. Since then, fans of anime and Japanese music alike have been eagerly anticipating what would be the start of a new anisong phenomenon in Singapore.
Exactly four months since the fateful revelation, Anisong Fantasy Live is now a reality.
18th March 2017 saw our reporters at J-Network brave an unrelenting rain to locate the venue for the concert. The choice was unorthodox – the concert was held at the mega.BOX, a multi-purpose event space on the third floor of the BIG BOX, a warehouse retail mall in Jurong East.
One long escalator and a short walk through exhibitions of furniture and home decorations later, the otherwise quiet ambience of the mall made way for the first hints of excitement.
It was only 5.30pm then. Upon passing this helpfully-positioned sign…
… lo and behold, the queues for the concert were already visible!
The event managed to draw a noticeably diverse audience, with an even number of male and female attendees alike, and amongst the queues we could identify both enthusiastic first-time concert-goers and seasoned fans who have already been to other major anisong concerts and music festivals, such as the annual Animelo Summer Live.
The fans did not hold back in demonstrating their loyalty to and their support for their favourite artistes either: by the time we arrived, most of the merchandise for the solo acts were already sold out.
It wasn’t long before 6pm arrived, and the concert staff could be seen opening the doors to the venue.
With three big screens prominently featured at the front of the hall, just behind the stage, the audience could get a clear view of the performers on stage at any time during the concert from any point in the venue. The line-up was shown on all screens throughout the period before the concert began, and occasionally around every ten minutes a short commercial-length clip promoting the ANiBEATS Vol. 2 club event, the official after-party to the concert.
For the Singapore edition of Anisong Fantasy Live 2017 Vol. 1, the VIP section was all-seated while the General Admission areas featured two standing spaces separated by an intermediate space for the technical crew to handle the equipment. It was no surprise, then, that throngs of fans had already bought up all the VIP tickets long before the day of the concert – with a line-up like this, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to see their favourite acts up close?
The wait before concerts begin are often an interesting way to observe the general sentiment of the crowd. Amongst the thousands who were present, many had apparently come to support one or two of their personal favourites, but there was a general consensus that they loved the entire line-up and were especially looking forward to the exclusive collaborations that were to come! Fans were also discussing with each other about their favourite songs from each of the artistes and how they hoped to be able to watch these songs being performed live.
Soon, it was already 7pm.
The lights began to dim, as the whole venue turned dark and a voice-over announced all the artistes who would be performing for the night (in alphabetical order so as not to reveal the order in which they would perform later). Upon the mention of each name, the cheers from the crowd couldn’t be missed!
The next set of cheers were reserved for a very special appearance that night. Though the opening act was not physically present, the crowd was exhilarated as the screen began to play a footage from everyone’s favourite anisong duo ClariS from their live performance at the Nippon Budokan earlier in February this year!
The unit, comprising members Clara and Karen, made their music debut in 2009 with original member Alice who has since left to pursue her studies, and both members have a long-standing practice of not revealing their faces in their work, only showing an animated version of themselves on screen instead. ClariS‘ appearance at the Nippon Budokan was the first time they had performed for a solo concert while revealing their faces (partially).
The venue was a sea of green and pink – the theme colours of ClariS – as the audience raised their lightsticks along with the music and chanted “hey! hey! hey!” at the start and middle of each song. It was not difficult to see why the duo was a big hit for many concert-goers; the opening themes to the anime series and all three animated films for the widely-acclaimed Puella Magi Madoka Magica were all performed by them, and indeed the three songs that would make ClariS practically synonymous with the franchise were part of the footage, alongside the theme songs of other anime series such as Nisekoi and Classroom Crisis.
The footage comprised a two-minute excerpt from each of the first five songs, with a special surprise reserved for the Singapore audience at the end! The final song for their segment, clever, was the third ending theme for the well-loved Qualidea Code anime. The footage for this song that night featured a Singapore edition that starred an animated Clara and Karen in black-and-white polka dot dresses against the easily recognizable night skyline of the Singapore Central Business District (CBD) and other iconic landmarks in the vicinity such as the Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay, alternating between these familiar sights and a futuristic CGI background of holographic cubes in space that occasionally made way for a garden-like setting.
Setlist for ClariS:
1) Connect – opening theme to Puella Magi Madoka Magica anime
2) CLICK – first opening theme to Nisekoi
3) Luminous – opening theme to Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie (Beginnings & Eternal)
4) Anemone – ending theme to Classroom Crisis
5) Colorful – opening theme to Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The Movie (Rebellion)
6) clever (Singapore version) – third ending theme to Qualidea Code
The final cheers could be heard for ClariS as the footage faded out from the screens, and with that, the first twelve minutes of the concert had elapsed.
Who will be the opening act? Our reporters hear hushed whispers from excited fans speculating on the possibilities, as an announcement broke their whispers and confirmed some of their guesses!
“Anisong Fantasy Live! Coming up next…”
The crowd roared! GARNiDELiA is a familiar name for many in the audience, with the prolific pop-rock duo comprising vocalist MARiA (Mai Mizuhashi) and composer toku (Yoshinori Abe) performing in Singapore two years ago for the I Love Anisong! concert at the Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2015 convention.
“What’s up Singapore!”
The duo were hard to miss on stage with their visually stunning outfits – MARiA wore a black-and-white dress with ribbons, while toku donned a black hat whilst preparing the keyboard for the performance. Fans welcomed GARNiDELiA‘s first song with a new wave of red lightsticks that engulfed the seating and standing spaces.
The title of the first track may be ambiguous, but the song certainly wasn’t: fans waved along to the opening notes as MARiA demonstrated her vocal abilities to an adoring crowd, pointing her finger towards them as the crowd began to chant “hey! hey! hey!” to the music. MARiA‘s mastery of the vibrato was evident throughout the song, characterized by her powerful vocals and marked by long notes blending well with toku‘s skilled instrumental accompaniments that alternated between creating a smooth and bold sound. Anime fans would definitely remember this number from the popular Kill la Kill series, where it was used as the second opening theme.
“We’re starting from the top! Singapore genki (元気)!”
MARiA‘s call for the audience to hype up the energy level did not go unheeded. The following song had a very energetic opening indeed, and the excitement of the audience during their crowd participation in the song was aptly captured on the screens at some point. The trademark heavy sound and “epic” guitar riffs would make this song a BLAZING success in whipping the audience up, and at some points toku could be seen carrying and playing a keytar instrument (a hybrid between an electronic keyboard and a guitar) as the duo crossed each other on stage midway through the performance.
By now, it has been twenty minutes since the start of the concert. The last notes taper off as MARiA and toku turn their attention towards the audience.
“Welcome to Anisong Fantasy Live!”
MARiA thanks the fans repeatedly for their support.
“Are you all having fun? Singapore, are you having fun? Let’s have a great time together! Ok?”
The audience gave a resounding answer!
“Ok! Here comes our next song!”
Remember clever from the ClariS footage earlier? Here’s another one to Qualidea Code fans and a song we promise you will definitely enjoy: 約束 -Promise code- (Yakusoku -Promise code-). Fans marveled as MARiA skillfully scales a number of tough high notes as toku lends the setting for the song through his gentle execution of slow keyboard sequences throughout a fan favourite track recognizable by its hard rock sound interjected with occasional softer piano segments. Midway, the sound from the drums signal a tempo change and MARiA performs a spin, proceeding to dance on stage as she gets ready to wrap up this high-powered number.
A steady disco beat makes its entrance as the GARNiDELiA duo get ready to perform the final song for their segment: 極樂淨土 (Gokuraku Jodo, meaning “paradise”). Here, MARiA‘s voice complements the rhythm as her live singing is interjected at certain points by a modified version of her own voice as part of an electronic vocal backing effect. The strong support from fans for the duo was obvious, for when toku became visible again from the darkness, the crowd began to cheer an additional time!
By the time the song was ending, loud cheers and applause from the audience could be heard.
“I love you so much! Thank you!”
Setlist for GARNiDELiA
1) ambiguous – second opening theme to Kill la Kill
2) BLAZING – first opening theme to Gundam Reconguista in G
3) 約束 -Promise code- (Yakusoku -Promise code-) – second ending theme to Qualidea Code
4) 極樂淨土 (Gokuraku Jodo)
It was 7.35pm when the next act was announced. “Coming up next…”
ELISA‘s music and fashion style alike marked a distinct contrast to that of the GARNiDELiA duo earlier, with her elaborate gold and white dress accompanied by leaf-shaped hair ornaments and earrings, and her initially gentle voice gracing the first notes for her segment.
Don’t be fooled, however – since her debut in 2007 as a model and singer, she has been crafting a signature sound of her own, bringing together elements from J-pop, progressive rock and even opera, and her vocal acrobatics become evident midway through the song with her mastery of the complex note arrangements and challenging high notes. ELISA‘s breathtaking performance of ex:tella saw the hall turn a shade of blue as the crowd echoed along with her lines.
Three minutes into the song, the low chanting in the background gave way to a purely instrumental, orchestral portion followed by ELISA‘s strong, high vocals reverberating throughout the hall. To cheers of support, she greeted everyone enthusiastically.
“Hello! Hello everyone! Anisong Fantasy Live Singapore, how are you?”
ELISA is no stranger to the audience either: her first appearance in Singapore was in 2013 as part of the I Love Anisong! lineup for the Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2013 convention, and just last year she returned to Singapore again to perform during the ASCOT Singapore 2016 event at the Kallang Theatre.
“This is my third time visiting here! Singapore! I want to meet you really really much! So I am very happy to see you too!”
The feeling was mutual as fans returned her their fullest support.
“So tonight is so special right? Do you feel special? Yeah! Me too! I want to sing a song.”
ELISA attempts to build up some suspense…
“Are you ready for? Are you ready for?”
(Fans could be heard chattering “for what?” in response to her question at this point.)
She reveals that the next song is from the popular anime series A Certain Scientific Railgun, more specifically the second ending theme, Real Force, and expresses her hope that the fans would like it.
ELISA points towards the audience while jumping on stage, and fans can be heard singing along audibly to this track as the green lights from above shine upon the hall. Her performance style was particularly engaging and charismatic, peppered with frequent gestures towards her fans and expressive movements that helped her communicate with the crowd. After one long note, the crowd began to chant “hey! hey! hey!” again!
“Ok everyone! Sing with me!”
The lights changed to blue as the crowd sang along to her vocals, watching as ELISA ran across the stage to thank her fans! As the song drew to a close, she made another jump and thanked everyone again, preparing for the next song.
This time, the lights turned red as an ominous-sounding operatic backing was heard – the opening notes to the final segment for her segment, Realism. This number had an unusually dramatic sound as ELISA‘s exceptional demonstration of vocal technique was accompanied by a cult-like chanting in the background that led to some in the audience remarking that this song would give them nightmares from listening to it!
She signals again to the audience to join in the song, and an operatic “a ha ha ha ha ha” voice could be heard amidst the combination of violins and even brass instruments throughout.
Realism has arguably the most variations in arrangement throughout the entire setlist for the night, and even fans who have never heard the song before could agree that this was a moment they certainly wouldn’t forget. The song made full use of a wide variety of instruments and effects to create and sustain dramatic tension amidst the vocals. After a voiceover in the background, the music came to a crescendo and ELISA pulled off a very long note that caught the attention of the crowd again!
The crowd cheered again as ELISA thanked them for their participation and support. The first hour of Anisong Fantasy Live 2017 Vol. 1 in Singapore wasn’t even up yet (it was only fifty minutes into the concert at this point), but the thousands of concert-goers that night had already tasted their first experience of what would be a phenomenal performance by a phenomenal lineup.
What’s next? Stay tuned for our second installation in this three-part coverage of Anisong Fantasy Live 2017 Vol. 1 in Singapore!
Article written by grayingmantis.
Official photographs from SOZO.