Sunday, November 22, 2009

AFA'09: Thoughts and Observations

(Note: The review below is based on viewing the You-Tube videos of the AFA'09 skits and not in any way should it be mistaken or assumed that I personally attended AFA in Singapore. Feel free comment. The usual etiquette regarding posting/commenting applies.)

This year's AFA'09 came and went, and the winner picked out and given the grand prize of a trip to Japan and a sewing machine. The winner was the Singapore Team: Gundam 00 Emotion. My congratulations to them, one of the duo being Clive Lee (aka Mirage_cld) who was a regular visitor of the Mecha Cosplayers HQ thread of FilCosplay. Again our congratulations from us metal heads of cosplay!

Its a good thing, for those who didn't have the time and money to attend AFA'09 in Singapore, someone was kind enough to record and upload them in You-Tube. So to Zerartul, i personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity. So to everyone, here is the compiled recorded skit links of AFA'09 (click here).

AFA'09 was also the second time Filipino cosplayers were represented in an international competition, the first one being the Hong Kong Gaming Convention back in 2001, where JM Chua came cosplaying as Rurouni Kenshin's (Samurai X in the Phils and North America) Saito Hajime. He earned the right to represent the Philippines by winning the AXN Cosplay Competion two months earlier. And surprised everyone (and himself) once again by winning the Hong Kong Cosplay Competition.

In AFA'09, the Philippine team was represented by the Gosiengfiao sisters Alodia and Ashley, coming as characters from Witchblade the Anime.

Watching all of the videos, at the same time chatting with some friends and fellow mecha cosplayers, I've probably seen and realized fully why the Singapore Gundam 00 Emotion team won the competition. I have a few theories, and maybe I'd email Clive if my observations were correct.

They probably took on a strategy that utilized every aspect of the competition, from the use of equipment to researching who the judges are based on the info AFA'09 website gave. I observed the videos of other teams, including ours, and saw differences that probably gave the Singaporean team victory. So what did the Gundam 00 Emotion Team do that the others never did?
  1. Insertion of a "third" cosplayer - as far as i know, only two cosplayers were allowed to do the skit. The Gundam 00 Emotion team surpassed this by adding another cosplayer via video screen, where the cosplaying Gundam pilot (probably cosplayed by Clive himself) was addressing his intentions to his loved one (the cosplayer girl onstage) onscreen. Since the cosplayer pilot is not physically present onstage, its still technically 2 people playing the skit. This most likely added points for skit presentation, because it reflected its accuracy from the anime.
  2. Screen interaction - in addition to the insertion, there was interaction between the screen cosplayer and the cosplayer girl onstage, giving more body to the drama, and effectively making the Gundam mecha cosplayer a feeling of empathy: audiences would no longer look at the mecha cosplayer as just a robot costume, they are looking at the Gundam mecha as a pilot trying to win a war. That solved a major problem plaguing mecha cosplayers from the start: how to humanize an iconic robot war machine.
With these two factors, including the incredible mecha costume and the singing performance, I wasn't surprised they won. Performance-wise, many would have forgiven a large cumbersome costume for being what it is: a large cumbersome robot. The fact that it moved at all would have been awesome enough! Some cited the team having the Home Advantage, but to me, if you really suck, you suck, both at home and overseas.

Later on I observed the other skits and would like to give comments on what i have noticed from their costumes and performances.

(click image to watch video performance)

The other Singaporean team cosplayed Sakura Taisen, and they probably based it on one of the scenes there. They spoke their lines in English and sang the musical number in Nihonggo but their sound production was bad in my opinion (this is in comparison to the other skits). The background music was too loud during the spoken lines but evened out on the musical portion, although i must give props for their singing voices (if its pre-recorded, then they are being very good lip-synch actors). But I feel its their real voices for there were instances that they were out of tune, plus they didn't make any full use of the video background.

(click image to watch video performance)

Team Thailand had impressive use of costume props and in-game video background and despite the language there was some sort of coherent story behind the characters and the eventual fight scene. But to me, its not much of a story to be impressive, except perhaps to those very familiar with the characters. I do like their mounts/costumes, the fight scenes though was not so exciting.

The Malaysian team was my favorite standout when it came to acting. They were funny and witty and acted the way the characters would have acted. They maximized their facial expressions and definitely had acting/theater skills. The dresses were finely made and probably accurate (I'm not really familiar with most designs from Code Geass) but that was it. It was all dialogue but their body movements provided most of the entertainment. They're probably one of the teams that has gotten the most scores in performance, if not the highest in my opinion. But sadly they too didn't maximize their use of video background (but then again, based on their skit, it would seem unnecessary) and their costumes might not have gotten them anywhere near any of the choices for top spot.

Team Indonesia sported one of the most jaw-dropping costumes in AFA, and just like the Gundam cosplayer, you'd question the validity of it being "home/hand-made". But apparently the organizers had deemed them authentic and took their shot at the competition. Their acting is ok, with facial expressions on cue with their music. But it was the actions that probably had them lose points in performance. And like all cosplayers who would wear complicated costumes, most have been hindered by their own tight fitting clothing. Their movements were still and robotic and the fight scene looked like it was in slow motion. The overall would have been alright had their movements were unhindered, but sadly it did, and probably the reason why they weren't able to top over the Singaporean Gundam 00 Emotion Team. To me, this was probably the same reason why the Philippine Witchblade team suffered the same fate.

The Philippine Team had a good concept and a good script. They also sported great costumes, props and faces to match. So what happened?

There were several factors that probably didn't score well with the judges, and after a discussion with a fellow mecha cosplayer regarding AFA in general, I came up with possible reasons why we didn't.
  1. The action scenes were not impressive - this issue plagued the Philippine team the same way it plagued the Indonesia team as well. The costumes looked very tight and cumbersome, and it probably gave the sisters limited movement and sense of balance. But the problem was that the script was 80% action, and being Witchblade characters, there should have been the illusion of fluidity. But real life can get in the way of the anime, and thus the result. Even the slow motion scenes (was it really slow motion?) looked ungainly.
  2. The acting needed polishing - the body language and facial expressions sometimes lag behind the recorded script in some scenes. The very same problem with Team Indonesia. But in fairness to the sisters, they fared better in acting than the Sakura Taisen Team, imho.
  3. The video presentation utilized did not fully enhance the cosplayer - it may not seem very important at the time, but utilizing the video would have been a big factor in accumulating scores. Just like what the Gundam 00 Emotion Team did, they could have made previously shot scenes of themselves (the cosplayers) to add to the atmosphere of dread, instead of using a black blanket as cover. Scenes of attacking tanks would have been great, an animated explosion cut scene would have been an added effect when they immobilized the enemy tank. I'm not sure what to suggest regarding the action scenes, they added a lot of anime fight scenes, but it only made to enhance the slowness of the overall onstage act.
  4. They used a "third cosplayer(?)" - this is probably the most interesting factor in the whole skit and it showed on the very first scene. Yes, the tank. Before AFA, i had heard of this tank being part of the props, with one of the mecha cosplayers building it for them as a show of support. I had imagine it being a mechanical prop somehow pulled by wires or strings or even by remote control. When i saw the video, it was obvious there was a person inside it. I was told that AFA organizers had allowed it, but then again, it would have meant that Team Philippines used 3 people onstage in the skit, while the rest of the competing teams did 2. The Tank can even be considered a "cosplayer" and not a prop, because the tank itself is an iconic element in the Witchblade anime series. Team Gundam 00 Emotion avoided the issue by portraying a third cosplayer onscreen, offstage. To me, that probably contributed a lot on not being able to win top prize.
::: Just an added update (11-24-09 • 6:45pm) :::

Alodia just posted her blog regarding her experience in AFA'09 about two hours
ago, and she says that her sister Ashley manipulated the Tank herself.

"Ashley and I cosplayed WitchBlade! Yay! Btw, our tank was made by me and ~thebrambear.
And it was moved by Ashley herself! Some of those who weren't at AFA thought that we had a
3rd person but that is not possible~ Anyway, our stuff lit up on the 2nd half of the skit. I'm
just happy that everything went according to how we practiced it!^w^"

- Alodia's DeviantArt blog

If that was the case, then kudos to the sisters for maintaining the illusion. Ashley must have had a hard time crouching under the tank in costume (my assumption, since i've reviewed the YouTube video, I dont see any wires at all), at the same time quickly running, crawling or creeping into position on stage left after manually popping the confetti poppers. Then i guess the judges must have considered other factors without adding the possibility of having a third person (i assume the judges were told beforehand as to factor it into their scores).

------ 0 ------

But overall its still an impressive set of skits from all representing countries, and the only difference between this year's AFA and last years was it submitted less comedic acts. The Philippine Team did their best, and just being part of AFA representing the country is honor enough. But for now, it seems our 2001 Hong Kong Game Con would be the only record of a Filipino Cosplayer to have joined an international competition, and won.

Fear not guys, there's always next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment