So from being an anime consumer, how did you become an anime event organizer?
I think I have the best job in the world. To be able to monetize and make business with what I love, I could not be luckier! After working in Dentsu Singapore, I was exposed to the Japanese entertainment market, and decided to leave Dentsu and pursue a full time business in Entertainment. The key opportunity is when I first started my company, was that there was so much fantastic Japanese content in Japan, but not many were venturing into the global market. By connecting anime fans in Asia with Japanese businesses became my primary objective, AFA was created to facilitate this.
< C3AFA Singapore 2017 >
So you just purely liked anime. Were there any other reasons?
- It helped that I liked anime and I had good team members to support me. I just felt that there were big potential opportunities because there was no Japanese content companies or artists that came to our region at all.
So that was the first event that connected Japan and Singapore?
- Yeah exactly. But there were so many community events, cosplay events, unofficial events so the community was very strong. There wasn’t any direct commercial connection to them so that was basically what I started doing. That’s how it all started.
That’s awesome. I’m glad you made it happen.
-Yeah it was also luck too (laugh).
How many people were there to start the event with you?
-Initially there were 4 of us.
Were they friends? How did you find them?
- Actually a few of them were my colleagues from Dentsu and friends. They were my team members so they all got into it and then we started. Today there is almost 10 times that amount, about 30 staffs in 2 countries.
I’m impressed it is growing year by year. What’s the most important point for a successful event?
- For AFA, it was a long road. We didn’t see any money until the 4th or 5th year of our event. I guess creating a new event is like creating a new business. You have to obviously believe in it and have passion and a lot of patience to learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. Also have passion to love your job, this is very important to survive the hardships you will face.
That’s true. How was the very first event like?
- Oh the first event? It was just a mess (laugh). We didn’t know anything, and we did everything that we could. But I think the key takeout for the event was that the market was there. Initially our target was quite low, we wanted to hit 5000 people, but we managed to hit close to 30,000. It was way beyond our expectation. I think the first event was very new to a lot of people especially when we first brought in anime song (anisong) artists. We were very lucky to bring in 2 artists. One of the artist was a legendary artist, Mizuki Ichiro who sang many legendary anime songs such as Mazinger Z. We also had a newcomer at the time, May’n. She just debuted and was in an anime called Macross Frontier.
< May’n at C3AFA Singapore 2017 >
Was that in 2008?
- Yes 2008. We had very good response. We also had an autograph session for the fans. It was quite interesting because in Japan, usually you sign on a special autograph board called a shiki board. It was actually very prestigious to do that. But in Singapore the fans were like “hey why are you signing on a cardboard.” They wanted them to sign on posters. Those days people were complaining but nowadays they really appreciate it.
That’s cool how you guys actually used the shiki board. That’s Japanese culture.
- Yes and those days we had lots of people and we were selling VIP tickets in front of the concert. For the first event, we sold 200 VIP tickets. This is the 10th year and now we can easily sell 7000 to 8000 tickets.
That’s amazing. Is there anything you do in particular to make the event even bigger?
- It’s tough, we try to bring the latest and most current contents. Also listening to the customers and trying to anticipate contents that they want.
What the customers want and what’s popular right?
- We actually do active surveys with our base and do one every three months to understand their habits, what they are watching and what they are into. Based on that, we try to skew contents they want. Recently, there was a surge in more female oriented animes. Female audiences are really growing for us.
So are there more females customers compared to the past?
- Yes so we have to work hard to bring more contents that appeal to the female audiences.
I also wanted to add one point. Anisong is a genre associated to anime. Anisong artists have very strong media promotion overseas because it is directly tied to animes. For example, most of the anisong artist comes to perform in AFA, after that they also perform in solo events and non AFA events. So the journey for the artist is that by using anisong we can help start a relationship between the artist and fans. For example, if a customer likes Sword Art Online, chances are they will also like the songs for that anime which is sung by a famous anisong artist like LiSA, who has been to AFA many times. Through Sword Art Online, he will like the theme song and will go buy tickets to our concert and would enjoy the performance. After that, he is no longer just a Sword Art Online fan, but also a LiSA fan. So anisong is the perfect and ultimate global platform for Japanese music. Everyone is getting into Japanese music through anime. That’s how strong it is.
Yeah that’s true. I’m sure a lot of people got into anime songs through anime. SoAFA organizes the “I LOVE ANISONG” stage, when and how did you start the stage?
- To be honest we were inspired by the event called “Animelo Summer Live.” AFA started in 2008, and in summer 2009 I went to Animelo to check it out and was very impressed by how they had the multi artist perform and how this could reward big anime fans. Looking at that multi artist multi-platform, we decided to do a music festival in Singapore for AFA. That’s how we came up with the brand, “I LOVE ANISONG” stage. It’s the same concept for New York. They got the “I love New York” T-shirt. If you look at the logo it says “I LOVE ANISONG.” It’s just a matter of creating a platform there. Those days, people didn’t call it anisong they called “anison” so we came up with a slight deviation of the name to anisong and people are slowly using the word anisong now. We were the first event outside of Japan to do things for anime music. Although it was originally just a test to do the music component. It slowly became the hero of our show and anisong became a very important part of it.
For the show, how do you choose the artist?
- It’s a matter of looking at what people wanted, and we do rankings. We kind of do our own research and look at forums and things like that. We book artists that people want to see and also new up and coming artists. At the same time, we also try to see what are the top animes and if there are any new tie-ups. For most domestic markets, Japan is still number one, so we always get who we want and it’s a matter of looking at who is available. I think for us, it’s not just picking one artist and using them just once. Anisong singers come to AFA and then think of what is next, where else to go, and how to grow in Asia.
< ClariS at C3AFA Singapore 2017 >
Are there different preferences for anisong in each country?
- It depends on the popularity of anime in that country. We booked one artist called FLOW and they are very symbolic in anime music. We had them perform a few times in Singapore, but they seem to be even more popular in Indonesia. I think the popularity of Naruto is really big there.
So whatever anime is popular in that country, the song will be popular too?
- Yes. it really depends on the anime. In some other countries, this is not anime, but Ultraman is very popular in Malaysia. It’s super popular in Thailand and Malaysia but it’s not popular in Singapore and maybe Indonesia. It never got shown on TV.
Do you have any memories of an anisong stage? Any that you remember particularly?
- All of the stages are good. One that left an impression on me was definitely Mizuki Nana and T.M. Revolution on the same stage. I was very lucky to hold that show. That was the only show they had as a duet outside of Japan. May’n first’s concert in AFA was also a key milestone for me, and also was my first anisong stage, I’ll never forget it.
That’s amazing! I bet everyone was happy!
- Yes, that was a special stage.
AFA has become the biggest anime event in Asia. What’s the difference between similar anime events that you do differently?
- We were one of the first and what we do differently is that in general, events tend to be led by the business side. Business side meaning certain strategic business interests to certain contents. We still have that of course. That’s business for us to survive. But we are different in a way where some events will say we can get this content because we work with this guy for a more discounted rate or a free content. We tend to curate our own contents. Half of our contents are based on business tie-ups. For the other half of our content, we actually put a budget aside and we spend the money to bring that content. We do not only coordinate the content, but we also curate it, so I think that is what makes us different.
Now that AFA is tied up with C3, are there going to be any changes?
- It’s been one year since the tie-up. C3 and AFA working with Sotsu which is the representative of C3, we have definitely increased our political might I would say, or industry reach in Japan to a certain extent because they are a very Japan centric company. They are very good at looking at Japanese related contents. We’re also doing the same, but I guess the key part of how we are different is that together we strike a very good balance where you’ve got Japanese industry standards, at the same time, local execution with SOZO. While we try to have the crowd and the strength to command certain contents in Japan, at the same time, we also listen and understand fans in Asia. We get the best of both sides through this partnership.
What’s the image you have for the future of C3AFA? Is there anything you want to try?
- Right now, we are planning an award show. Basically, to thank the industry. We are still planning it, so I can’t share too much. That’s one of the new things we are looking at to grow the event. Maybe we can work with JAPAN ANIME MUSIC LAB.
Yes! That would be great! Do you have any visions for the ansiong stage in the future?
- I think for AFA, it will continue to be a festival to showcase. Not only do we have legendary artists come but AFA’s anisong stage will continue to be a stage to also showcase new artists. For non- anisong artists, last year we had Nogizaka 46’s first live outside of Japan in Asia. We also had Hatsune Miku’s Miku Party. We were also the first one to bring Miku Party back in 2011.
That’s amazing. You guys are always doing something different.
- Also, I think we are lucky to be in Singapore, it’s easy to do stuff here. We are almost at the same time zone as Tokyo, one hour apart. So I think, for us, we will continue to push the limit and try to bring in the latest trends and content to the Southeast market. AFA is about going to new countries and new markets. We are going to try to bring AFA to more markets. Last year we did 5 events. We started off from Bangkok, Indonesia, Tokyo and Singapore. This month, in February, we have it in Hong Kong. Tokyo is done by our partner Sotsu, but outside Japan, the events are done by us, the SOZO team.
That’s amazing. It’s such a global event!
- That’s part of our mission. We want to be like the 7-Eleven of Asia or Starbucks (laugh).
(Laugh) the go-to right? So we are starting a biz-matching website called “JAPAN ANIME MUSIC LAB.” Through this site, you can contact Japanese anime music professionals. Do you have any impression of this site?
Can give us some supporting message for the site.
- I have similar ideas because I think creating and cultivating anisong market is important. Music distribution and more commercial ways to get anime music out to the global audience is important. I guess you have things like Spotify, various other applications coming out and streaming sites. But currently these sites are based on what you search for and you only get what you want. It’s more on demand in that sense. It will be nice to create some kind of variety program or radio station. Basically, contents you can push out to the world. Ultimately it will cultivate the market.
That’s a very good suggestion. Thank you so much!
- Yeah! SOZO is more than happy to collaborate with you guys.
Thank you! So to finish off this interview, in one word, what is anisong to you?
- I actually have two words: “No boundaries” is how I would describe it.
It’s music and it’s universal. “Universal” is another word I can use. I feel that music has no boundaries and because anime is a global thing, anisong is perfect and can go any way you want.
Read more (link to JAPAN ANIME MUSIC LAB.)