Anime Festival Orlando (AFO) 2017 – Friday

If you’re the kind of person who reaches for Pocky before KitKats, you’re going to want to mark Anime Festival Orlando (AFO) on your 2018 calendar with a pair of sparkling bishojo eyes. The yin to Florida Anime Experience’s yang, AFO is a sugoi, Akihabara-esque, just-according-to-keikaku sort-of-Con. And, yes, senpai will notice you before the weekend is over—especially if you plan to march through the autograph lines.

I certainly did. I may have squeed inside (just a little) when Barbara Dunkelman traced her gorgeous signature over top of my Team RWBY poster, bringing it one step closer to completion (three down, one to go!)… but I’ll get to special guest meet-and-greets in a second.

With seventeen years of experience under its Hidden Leaf-emblazoned headband, AFO 2017 continues to summon Orlando’s otaku to the metaphorical dojo.

The Scoop:

What – A multi-day celebration of all things related to Japanese animation and pop culture held at the Wyndham Orlando Resort.

When

Friday, June 9th (1:00AM –2:00AM)
Saturday, June 10th (9:00AM – 2:00AM)
Sunday, June 11th (10:00AM – 6:00PM)

Where – Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive

Who – Einlee, Barbara Dunkelman, Arryn Zech, Kazha, Josh Keaton, Katrina Devine, Robert Axelrod, Sana, Caitlin Glass, Melody Perkins, and Reuben Langdon

Price – $35-$45 (single-day), $70 (weekend), $100 (weekend Gold Pass)

Perks – Tales of Orlandia/Warriors of Orlandia Interactive Game, Cosplay and Costume Contest, Haunted Dance and After Party, fan events and panels, Gameshow Theater, tabletop gaming, Anime Viewing Room, and much more!

Each year, without fail, I’m convinced that AFO is under the spell of some serious time-freeze magic. The Dealer’s Room sets up in the same space, the artist ally curves into the same familiar “U” shape, and the autograph queue forms the same line across the same double-doored back entrance. Walking into AFO is like walking into an anime store once a year, where all is left arranged exactly as it was 365 ½  days ago, and you are left with the comforting feeling that there is order amidst the chaos of your life—that for all the shifting and churning of time, this one thing remains constant.

That’s a bit dramatic, but AFO’s solidarity of structure grants it an organizational consistency that many small Cons lack. AFO doesn’t always bring new things to the table, but its repetition is also its strength. First-timers who have a titan-sized blast at AFO are sure to become annual attendees. Perhaps the only real deterrent is AFO’s price tag, which rivals the cost of a single-day ticket at Floridian giant, Megacon. To get the most “yippee!” for your yen, it’s prudent to purchase the discounted weekend pass or stake down your (much cheaper) pre-purchased ticket months in advance—a commitment that AFO regulars will gladly make into a habit.

While AFO is a three-day weekend event, I was only able to attend Friday (because adulting is hard). Characteristically, day one made for a less populated, roomier experience, with the narrow halls never quite becoming clogged, despite long lines. One of the advantages of a press pass is getting to skip the ticket queue for the ticket counter. This year, AFO delivered my custom-printed, fully-prepared press badge with a promptness I’ve never before experienced from the venue.

Breaking from con-ventional (ha!) standards, Barbara Dunkelman (Yang) and Arryn Zech (Blake) of RWBY fame set up shop inside the Dealer’s Room, rather than the designated autograph area. Regardless of the reasoning, the accessible positioning seemed to state: “We want to hang out with you, guys!” Rooster Teeth prides itself in its down-to-earth transparency toward fans, and no doubt Dunkelman drew on her experience as its community manager for the occasion. The open-floor format encouraged walk-by waves and call-over chats with RWBY’s leading ladies, though photos and autographs cost a reasonable penny.

A few years back, it was considerably uncommon for anime actors and actresses to charge for autographs, though that’s changed to a default $20-$30 in recent times. This marks the first year in my experiences with AFO that I had to pay for every autograph I obtained. That’s not an unreasonable request, nor would I object to providing people I respect and appreciate their due. However, the in-addition-to-entry autograph fees are important to note, particularly for fans attending specifically for those once-in-a-lifetime meet-and-greets.

The most in-demand of those meet-and-greets on Friday was, by far, Caitlin Glass, whose autograph queue filled most of the special guest’s room, and I can see why. After I pointed out Matthew Mercer’s “Levi” autograph on my giant Attack on Titan wallscroll, Caitlin enthusiastically sketched an “x Petra” underneath and signed it with her trademark scrawling signature, complete with angel wings and a halo. Her resume of popular anime roles is rivaled only by her awareness of fanon.

AFO’s own awareness of fandom seems to be expanding, too, most prevalently in its special guest lineup. AFO’s previous anime VA-exclusive list of Vic Mignogna’s and Stephanie Sheh’s has branched into other otaku genres—live action Japanese-influenced franchises like Power Rangers and almost-anime series like RWBY. Kazuha Oda, lead singer of J-Rock band, Kazha, took a tip from Rooster Teeth’s approach and walked the Con floor in a pair of black wings, advertising her evening concert and posing for photos with fans. To my disappointment, character designer, Einlee, did not attend Friday’s event, so I was unable to meet her in person.

Many adjectives compete to describe AFO 2017 in my mind, but “relaxing” might be the most suiting. Friday was an utterly stress-free experience, and not just because of the lower attendance rate. It’s clear to me that AFO recognized and took advantage of what they had control over, while downplaying what they didn’t.

The bar area and outdoors were completely open to cosplayers without exception, though most preferred to stay inside and escape the Florida heat. Sparse checkpoints kept the event from venturing too close to the uncanny valley of “legal supervision.” In fact, the artist’s alley was completely accessible to non-pass-holders—perhaps an unprofitable move for AFO, but certainly a profitable one for the artists (and that’s clearly who the Con aimed to prioritize). Coolers dispensed cold water throughout the Dealer’s Room, which helped offset the occasionally stifling body heat therein, and a massage room offered to knead the stress out of any tired muscles.

It’s clear that AFO has rooted itself deep in the Wyndham Orlando Resort. Rather than expanding itself to bigger concourses, it focuses on expanding within—providing more for fans to photograph, enjoy, and squee about. True, AFO has always embraced a bit of the Western pop culture scene, what with artists selling prints of Superman alongside Goku, but as AFO itself moves toward the blurry line between anime and almost-anime in its marketing, it’s beginning to experience a Renaissance as a Con culture. In doing so, it’s sending a powerful message–one that many fans have given up hope of ever getting from larger Con venues: “We hear you.”

Though its umbrella of fandoms continues to expand, AFO’s kokoro still goes doki doki for anime. Any doubts I had about that were swept away as I headed for the exit, snatching up a complimentary Attack on Titan Season 2 poster and catching an assortment of shonen heroes playing a game of musical chairs to the tune of a rip-roaring OP.

AFO is a multi-day celebration of all things related to Japanese animation and pop culture held at the Wyndham Orlando Resort.

Visit the AFO Official Website

Join the AFO Facebook Community

Photography by Amy Covel

 

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Author: Casey Covel View all posts by
Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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