Designed to thrill Thai followers of idol groups or otaku as they are collectively known, Asia Festival 2019, held at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani last Sunday, brought together AKB48, the best known Japanese outfit of the genre, and six of their sister groups from all over the region. Yet despite a good turnout, the event was probably not quite the success organisers had expected to be.
The 19 World Senbatsu members make their stage debut.
“Everyone knows that there are many overseas sister groups performing in Asia. The Asia Festival 2019 is the first time they have been brought together on one stage to both delight Thai fans and share their experiences with each other. The festival will not be limited to Thailand and will be organised in other countries around the world. I can’t give you any more details as yet but I think you will be pleasantly surprised,” Nariaki Terada, director of AKS’s international business development and AKB48’s talent management company, told The Nation in a preshow interview at BNK48 The Campus on the fourth floor of The Mall Bang Kapi.
Terada’s idea of gathering seven idol groups from several countries in Asia – AKB48 from Japan, JKT48 from Jakarta, MNL48 from Manila, SGO48 from Saigon, and teams from Shanghai and Taipei – for the festival has been taking shape for the past year.
“The main objective of this festival is a cultural exchange,” he says. “But we faced problems in obtaining visas for the large number of members from all idol groups so they didn’t get to rehearse together as much as we would have wanted.”
As the model for overseas sister idol groups, AKB48 has retained its popularity both at home and abroad even though it has been going since 2005. Living up to the concept “Idols You Can Meet”, the group for this show was made up of Yokoyama Yui, Takahashi Juri, Okada Nana, Mukaichi Mion, Oguri Yui, Shitao Miu, Okabe Rin, Kuranoo Narumi, Kubo Satone, and Taniguchi Megu and they came together with the members of the six overseas sister groups – 76 in total – for the two openers – “Aitakatta”, the theme song of the group’s TV show “AKBingo!” and their anthem “AKB48”.
The festival also saw the Thailand launch of its official authorised mobile game AKB48 Cherry Bay Blaze featuring five characters inspired by AKB48 members Yokoyama Yui, Takahashi Juri, Mukaichi Mion, Oguri Yui and Taniguchi Megu.
BNK48's Cherprang and AKB48's Okada Namida sing "Temo Demo no Namida."
“No other Japanese idol groups can be at the same level as AKB48,” said AKS’s Terada. “But because they have been so popular for more than a decade, AKB48 must always have new surprises for their fans and, most importantly, show that they cherish them.”
The concert continued with individual shows from each country. SGO48 from Saigon was the first to come out on stage with “Shonichi” and “Shoujotachi Yo”, followed by AKB48 Team Taipei with “Mae Shika Mukanee” and “Sougen no Kiseki.”
BNK48's Music joins with AKB48's Oguri Yui and Chiu Pin-Han from Taipei on "Heart Gata Virus."
Thai otaku cheered loudly when the 10 girls from AKB48 Team Shanghai came out on stage and performed “Love Trip” and “365 Nichi no Kamihikouki”, which was used as the theme song for the NHK drama, “Asa ga Kita”. Veteran member Shen Ying, a cute looking lass with glasses, was obviously a firm favourite with yells erupting each time a close up of her appeared on the screen.
The 10 girls from Shanghai get a big cheer from the audience.
Ten girls from MNL48 were next up singing and dancing in “Party ga Hajimaru Yo”, “First Rabbit”, and “Iiwake Maybe” with style but the screams that erupted when Thailand’s BNK48 walked out on stage made it obvious that this was the act fans had been waiting for. As they sang the three singles “River”, “Oogoe Diamond”, and “Kimi wa Melody”, the otaku of each of 16 members from the first and second classes of the Thai idol group competed for the loudest screams.
The 10 girls from Jakarta-based JKT48 – the first official overseas sister group of AKB48 and billed as a “unique idol group with Indonesian culture” – showed off their powerful vocals and good dancing skills in “Uza”, “High Tension” and “Flying Get”, the latter the first single in Oricon history to sell over one million copies on the first day of its release.
Idols from Taipei play games with fans.
Thai fans were also the first to witness a show by World Senbatsu made up from 19 girls drawn from AKB48 and its six overseas sister groups. They kicked off their set with “Heavy Rotation” then split into five mixed units. "Blue Rose" featured Pun BNK48, Cindy JKT48, Sheki MNL48 and Kaycee SGO48 attired in black rocker girl outfits; "Temo Demo no Namida” was made up of AKB48’s Okada Namida and BNK48’s Cherprang in blue; “Heart Gata Virus” starred AKB48’s Oguri Yui, Music BNK48, Chiu Pin-Han from Team Taipei; while “Endroll” featured Jennis BNK48, Mao Wei-Jia from Team Shanghai, Shani JKT48 and Abby MNL48.
“Tsuki to Mizu-Kagami”, meanwhile, saw Kaew BNK48 playing a white piano as Japanese vocalists Yokoyama Yui and Mukaichi Mion showed off their singing prowess.
The festival drew to a close with all the members of the seven groups back on the stage for “Kimi no Koto ga Sukidakara”, “After Rain”, “Everyday Kachusha” and “Sakura no Hanabiratachi” as pink paper flowers like sakura floated down from the ceiling.
And then it was time to say goodbye as the girls, now dressed in white T-shirts and denim shorts, joined the Thai otaku for “AKB Festival” and “Koisuru Fortune Cookie”.