Review of new Hong Kong Pokémon hub

With the closure of Hong Kong Pokemon Hub within a year, fans of Pokémon are left without an official Pokémon store outside of Japan to go to. So it was a surprise to us that a new Pokemon Hub has just opened recently on the 8th Dec 2018 at the popular Langham Place in Mong Kok! Located at the heart of Mong Kok, Hong Kong, this is the almost perfect location for a relaunch of the Pokemon Hub. And so with much anticipation, we went over to the place on it’s first day of opening.

Sadly, there wasn’t any live Pikachu or Eevee mascot present at the shop on opening day. Having been to the Tokyo Pokemon Cafe and Pokemon Center, the Hong Kong shop is really rather underwhelming. The shop space itself is small (not more than 30m² I would say ). Merchandise-wise, you are able to find an assorted collection of Pikachu and Eevee plushies in various costumes. Some of which can also be found in the Tokyo Pokemon Center which is good if you do not have the chance to go to the one in Tokyo.

There is a 2m tall Pikachu mascot that you can take picture with. However, it maybe tough to get a good angle given that the store is cramped. For photo opportunity, you can try the huge Lapras at the entrance or the wallpapers outside the store. 

All in all, we wouldn’t recommend going specifically to this Pokemon Hub unless you are an absolute fan or happen to be in the area. Merchandises are limited in choices and there isn’t much instagrammable pictures to take. Nonetheless, before the opening of the Pokemon Center in Singapore, this could be the only place to get your Pokemon fix at an official store outside Singapore.

Address: Level 12, shop10-11,朗豪坊Langham Place Mall, 8號 Argyle St, Mong Kok

Opening Hours: 11am to 11pm 

AFA2018 Review by NUSCAS

Hosted over three days at Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre, C3 Anime Festival Asia (AFA) Singapore 2018 gripped fans by storm. Aptly dubbed South East Asia’s biggest and most prestigious Japanese Popular Culture event, it celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, boasting an exclusive line-up of activities and celebrities.

Mr Shawn Chin, C3 AFA’s Organiser and SOZO’s Managing Director shared his thoughts: “10 years ago, Anime Festival started as a dream among my team to create a professionally-run Anime and Japanese Popular Culture event that fans, including myself, will truly enjoy. The festival has grown from having 25,000 attendees in year one in 2 halls in Singapore to 100,000 attendees last year in Singapore alone. Today we continue to be customer-focused. We are proud to be the definitive J-Pop event that connects our customers with the latest most sought-after contents direct from Japan, and we’ve been delivering this for the last 10 years across Asia.”

AFA’s success has also expanded over the decade to include other countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, delivering upon its promise to connect the SEA region with exclusive Japanese content. Each year, it drives to be bigger and better than before; each year, fans return in droves.

NUSCAST managed to snag media passes during this incredibly exciting weekend and sent four of its writers, Pan, Ziqi, Nathan and Kelly to immerse themselves in the AFA experience. Let’s hear what they have to say!

Pan

Wow, it’s been 10 years of AFA already? Time really flies. I remembered attending my very first AFA back in 2010 – admission was cheaper (how I missed those $8-priced tickets!) but everything was way smaller in scale as compared to now. I attended my very first Anisong concert in 2012 to watch Sea*A and jamming along to Minami Kuribayashi, May’N and Sphere. AFA has truly been a blessing of eight years: here’s to many more years of creating memories, of building friendships, of bridging communities.

As I stepped into AFA on Saturday, I was greeted (as always) by a huge Gundam figure.

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“Welcome to AFA!”

Yep, I’m definitely in the right place. With my trusty guide map and Stamp Rally booklet in hand, I was ready to explore the area!

To commemorate AFA’s 10th anniversary, they introduced a stamp rally! I thought it was a really fun idea because it encouraged patrons to explore corners of AFA they would usually avoid (as well as an incentive for them to stay – the completion of the booklet entitled one to participate in a lucky draw!).

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AFAntastic Stamps And Where To Find Them

For example, I was not a Fate/Grand Order fan but I made to visit the booth (and post a wish on its wall) in order to get a stamp. At the FGO booth, I watched with mixed awe and amusement: players crowded around a huge summoning circle, placing their phones in the middle and praying hard for a 5* summon. Fans cheered and groaned collectively when a draw was successful or a failure respectively. Here, I witnessed the spirit of AFA: it brought together fans regardless of age, gender, background.

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The Summoning Circle at Fate/Grand Order Booth

I strolled along to Creators Hub, my all-time favourite place in AFA. Who could resist the draw of cute and cool merchandise? Despite the crowds, I like walking around and admiring the art (the walks also allow me to think and re-think if I should buy something or not!). The quality of the merch this year definitely increased. All of the art were impressive – and they were not limited to J-Pop: I spotted BTS and Produce 101 on my rounds. KDA’s Pop/Stars (League of Legends) was also on loop at a booth. I bought mostly Pokemon-themed loot.

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Pokemon omamoris by Pokebox

But I think my absolute favourite loot was the Edge of Tomorrow Voltron Legendary Defenders poster I acquired! I really wanted the Keith and Lance version of Titanic poster, but it was sold out by the time I reached on Saturday. I have to say one thing though: Creators Hub was too small for this many vendors. I felt that the walking spaces were too narrow. Popular booths had a clot of patrons, which led to little or no space to move to the next booth. It was literally suffocating, I had to escape through one of the many exits just to breathe.

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Poster Merchandise by Rachel Huey

I manage to catch a glimpse of Shuuka Saitou and Ai Furihata, seiyuus of Love Live! Sunshine, who graced the Odex stage on Saturday, much to the delight of their fans. They gave out 200 pieces of namecards to lucky winners who spent $50 on Love Live! Sunshine merchandise at the Odex booth. Fans expressed their enthusiasm by waving huge plushies of Ruby and You (although they were taken before the fans went on-stage for safety reasons).

I also spotted Mr Miles Morales on his daily neighbourhood patrol:

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Spider-Man slinging into action at AFA with the wacom tablet!

Pretty cool publicity for the upcoming animated film right there with wacom! I also spent lots of time admiring the new figurines from Qposket and Gunpla!

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Qposket and Gunpla exhibits featuring some iconic figurines

You can even vote for your favourite SAO character and showcase your love on a huge board. Sinon was seriously popular – leading by a huge margin the last time I visited the scoreboard.

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Fans sticking by their favourite SAO characters!

On the way, I managed to snag a picture of the insanely huge Aragami from God-Eater as well:

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I eat all ‘em red tapes!

Speaking of eating, I met up with a few of my friends at the designated food area. Naturally, the food was expensive, but delicious. I tried the beef don (SGD$9) while my friends had the hotly-advertised Lobster Mazesoba (SGD$15). I had a taste of the latter: the mazesoba tasted like hokkien mee. For the former, the Hokkaido rice topped with beef was really good. They gave three big pieces of juicy and tender meat. $9 is definitely overpriced though, but it is AFA after all. Meanwhile, the Kamikatsu booth sold chicken and pork katsu sandwiches for SGD$8. They came in these cute packagings:

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All aboard the tonkatsu express!

The pork katsu tasted like crispy shabu shabu – it was pretty juicy. Combined with the bread however, it was not as good. The bread was simple and plain, so the katsu would have probably done better alone.

Overall, I thought AFA was really packed with interesting exhibits, although I would suggest for AFA to be more interactive with its guests. The stamp rally and lucky draws were a good starting point – hopefully more of such activities can be hosted over the next few years in order to spice the festival up! It would also be great if Creators Hub could be given more love/space!

Ziqi

It all began when I marked my calendar several months before this date. I checked off three boxes on 31st November, 1st and 2nd December, and didn’t pay it much heed until much later. On hindsight, my actions were more instinctive than it should have been. This year’s AFA was my 4th Anime Festival Asia in a row, and what draws me back year after year is tradition. It marks the occasion where I can let my inner otaku-ness be uncaged, and join the pack of other like-minded collectives in the yearly event. Think of it as a festival, yes. This year, I was looking for the exciting “new” in the backdrop of the “old”, yet comfortable, setting.

The Creators Hub

I believe this was the most exciting area in the whole event. The endless possibility and creativity that flowed out of this doujinshi area drew crowds in like kids to a candy van. We all know the dangers of the hub. Once you step in, you will be in this area for a while. I say this not because of the sprawl of cheap, handcrafted goods that was on offer, but other budget hunters and pin collectors that probably had the same intention as you would. The alleyways were caked with people, bodies smashing in a chaotically orderly manner. Ladies please wear your tallest platforms the next time you intend to challenge this area, you might find it hard to breath before nipping your merchandises. And fellas, please keep your hands to yourself, I felt a brush against my backside several times, luckily not in succession. I hope that next year’s area will be bigger, with more space to walk. Despite all these nuances, people, and myself included, continue to be attracted to the allure of this place.

Food area

What would be a Japanese themed event without good, authentic japanese food! The strawberry shaved ice returned, and the wagyu beef don was a must-try. The tantalising aroma of the seared beef was enough to make anyone that entered this section salivate. Imagine washing that delicious juicy nikudon with some cold green tea!

For the budget friendly people, don’t worry. Nissin cup noodle was there to offer some good ole comfort food that wasn’t too damaging on the wallet. I tried the UFO spicy mayo noodle and it was very tasty. There were even multiple hot water dispensers and a basin provided to drain the water from your noodles.

There was also a Detective Conan cafe this year that had a menu ranging from pastries to cakes to sodas. The themed food was a bit too pricey for my liking.

MUSE

Taiwanese merchandise seller was back again at this year’s AFA- a welcoming sight to those who couldn’t wait to get their hands on official goods of their favourite mainstream anime. I say mainstream because everywhere I looked, it was either a Sword Art Online poster or RE:Zero’s Emilia staring back at me. To the newer fans, MUSE provides a starting point on building up their otaku collection, but to me, they are anime that dated several years back. The art is new, but the goods they are printed upon stays the same. One good tip to prevent yourself from overbuying is ask: What do I do with this Emilia file, or this Kirito Umbrella? Do I really need it?

Nathan

I will first of all admit that I am still quite the newbie in all of this. Ten years of AFA? That’s great–not that I know much of the first seven years of it, sadly. Yes, I’ve only been around for three years: one AFAID and two AFASG’s, but each time they always manage to amaze me. I mean, look at the turnout!

What’s that? Sure, we can talk about AFAID for a bit first, in the spirit of ten years of AFA. To be honest, they’re exactly the same. I think Singaporeans make better (and more risque!) cosplays, but beyond that, it’s the same spirit, the same amount of crowds. The same artists often grace the stages of both, and it has been a wild ride.

Probably it’s easiest to sum up their differences by simply saying Singapore is so much more expensive, end of story. I mean, I remember getting my first anime-related merch–a Shigatsu keychain–back in AFAID two years ago, for around $2.50 ($10 for 5. Yes, five). I considered myself lucky to find one stall selling keychains at twice the price last AFASG. Back then I thought, Thank you very much, I think I already have too much keychains.

Speaking of, I can give you two bits of advice, applicable to any and all AFA. One, do go on Fridays or Sundays if you will only be going shopping. Yes, they will still be packed, but nothing like the masses on Saturday. Meanwhile, if you’re going on Saturday anyway, do yourself a favor and wake up late. If you go there about lunchtime, you won’t have to wait in line to enter, the Creator’s Hub isn’t as jam-packed, and you’ll have about two more hours of sleep–a win-win for everybody!

Two, if you’re only going shopping anyway, do drop by AFAID for an absolute steal–oh what’s that? They may not have one next year? Shame. Moving on.

But it’s the tenth year of AFA, so there must be something special this time around right? Oh yes. A front row seat to see Kayano Ai-san. This was the first time she ever went overseas for an event like this. I didn’t care that it was for (the actually surprisingly decent) SAO Alicization day stage, but we should be honored that we could tease her about Matsuoka-san for an entire hour.

I would say that was the absolute highlight of this year’s AFASG. Even more than Kawasumi Ayako-san yelling “EXCALIBUR!” for three different lines in the Fate/Grand Order stage? I’d say so. Just maybe.

Kelly

The Closing Day of AFA featured more performances, more interviews, and more photo opportunities. I arrived in the morning, and headed straight to Creators Hub, which has always been the most popular part of the convention.

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Even on Closing Day, the hub saw busy crowds, although there was surprisingly no gridlock. All the usual fare was sold there- keychains, posters, stickers, and some shirts. Beyond these staples, I would have liked to see more unusual merchandise, but that’s rare to see at any convention. Hypnosis Mic seemed to be this year’s favorite in the bishounen genre, while Fate was clearly the most popular. Luckily, although it was Closing Day, very few pieces of merchandise were sold out in the days before.

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Outside the hub, there were various official booths. The Pop Team Epic pop-up caught my eye, due to the booth’s unique design. It sold official merchandise, such as stickers and shirts. It also had a doodling wall, where anyone could draw their own panel in the style of the comic.

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I got to catch a dance, followed by a short interview, by the cosplayer Ruru on the cosplay stage. The stage itself also featured many of her cosplay pictures.

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The Akiba Stage had a brief cosplay appearance by Baozi and Hana, who came dressed as Kaitou Kid and Kudou Shinichi from Detective Conan. They answered questions from the speaker and the fans, and spoke about doing less cosplay in the future due to work commitments. They also launched a new makeup line called Flowerknows, which had its own booth at AFA.

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Lunch within the venue was, as usual, slightly overpriced. The cup noodles booth drew the biggest crowds– perhaps it was the familiarity, or because you stood a chance to win photo opportunities with various cosplayers. There was also an attached stage where cosplayers were being interviewed. Cosplay and cup noodles seem like an odd pairing, but it appeared useful for drawing people in.

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I ended my day by catching Revue Starlight on the Day Stage. Revue Starlight is a musical-turned-anime about Karen and her close friend Hikari, who are both budding stars in acting school. Their VAs came dressed as their respective characters, and participated in a 45-minute interview on stage. They talked about their culture shock when they first came to Singapore for such events, and their personality differences from the characters they portray. For example, Karen is a genki, but her VA says herself tends to fret more. As an audience, we also got to see selected fight scenes from both the musical and the upcoming anime. Both VAs talked about the unique connection between the musical and its anime adaption, as they are also stage actresses portraying the very same characters in the musical.

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This was the 10th time that AFA has been held, and event is still going strong. The quality of artists appear to be steadily improving over the years, and each year the convention increases in popularity. Perhaps it could do with having more creative side events– then again, its focus has always been merchandise. Overall, while there are local conventions with free entry, AFA is certainly well worth its entrance fee.

Conclusion

Being the 10th anniversary of AFA, it might be natural to expect this year’s AFA to be the most elaborate of them all. And in some ways it was, with the sprawling crowd and myriad of booths and activities present. Yet, the event largely felt the same as any other AFA, with the huge focus on merchandising, the droves of cosplayers and the presence of everyone’s beloved Creators’ Hub.

However, this familiarity might be exactly what has allowed AFA to endure and become as successful as it is today. At the end of the day, what AFA represents is community, which is what binds us all as fellow anime/manga fans. Without events like AFA, it surely would have been far more difficult for anime/manga to gain as much as traction as it has in the present day.

And that’s why, we would like to end off our coverage of this year’s AFA with our gratitude towards it. Thank you for being there for all of us for the last ten years, it’s been a blast! We hope to see many more years of AFA to come!

Anime Festival Asia 2018 – A special 10th year anniversary

As we head towards the end of the year, fans of Japan Anime and Pop culture would probably be going to Japan for holiday. If you are still in Singapore and want a taste of Japan be sure to visit Anime Festival Asia (AFA) 2018. AFA 2018 is an annual anime festival held around around Southeast Asia. The Singapore edition is always held towards the end of the year. Let’s us take you on a quick tour of the event.

Pop Team Epic booth features a photo booth where you can take picture with this two iconic character. And of course, the middle fingers are censored.

This year is the 10th anniversary of AFA. It is indeed a long running event that has become a yearly pilgrimage for all anime fans in Singapore.

Giant Fate Grand Order (FGO) poster can be seen hanging around the convention hall.

This cute mascot is what all these Fate Grand order fab has been waiting for. Kawaii!

Fate Grand Order has a rather giant booth this year.

Many shops are selling figurines at special offer. Remember to bring more cash to the event!

Bili Bili booth at AFA.

You cannot miss the Gundam booth. It’s the first booth you will see when entering the hall. Like last year, a 2m plus tall Gundam will greet you at the main entrance.

We are in the midst of the third season of Sword Art Online Alicization. The highly acclaimed series has a strong following of fans. And if you are one of them, check out the popularity board where you can get to vote for your favorite SAO character!

Pikachu Cosplayer

SAR21 Chan! Every army man favorite character.

Anime Festival Asia 2018 Singapore will run for three days from 30 Nov to 2 Dec 2018.

Venue: Suntec Convention Center

Date: 30 Nov – 2 Dec 2018

More information at the official site.