AKB48 Group Asia Festival 2021 – June 27, 2021
Live report by DJ Greg Hignight (Tune in Tokyo) and David Cirone
AKB48 Group’s Asia Festival 2021 was a fantastic primer for J-Pop fans who might not be familiar with the various sister groups that have emerged across Asia. Broadcast live to a worldwide audience on June 27, the concert featured the iconic idols of AKB48 with JKT48 (Jakarta), BNK48 (Bangkok), MNL48 (Manila), AKB48 Team SH (Shanghai), AKB48 Team TP (Taipei), SGO48 (Ho Chi Minh City), and CGM48 (Chiang Mai).
Greg: The four-hour showcase moved quickly and was a lot of fun to watch (and re-watch thanks to the archive feature), presenting a high-energy set of new songs and old favorites that strengthened the historical imprint of the AKB48 brand.
They packed a lot of entertainment into a single event, but it definitely didn’t feel rushed in any way. With AKB48 holding down the base of operations in Tokyo, a lot of time was given to each sister group. In many ways, this was a re-introduction to AKB48 and their activities as well as a fresh perspective on the franchises across Asia. Splitting up the groups helped keep that energy up, and still present a lot of variety.
Half of the groups I was familiar with, and half were new to me. It felt like watching Kouhaku or Music Station’s New Year’s Special, just to give credit to the individuality each of these groups displayed — it wasn’t like a copy of one similar idol group after another. Presented back-to-back, you could see how each of these units have their own style, their own particular strengths, and their own personalities.
As an international broadcast, AKB48 group put in a lot of work to make the show accessible to audiences outside of Japan. Most of the broadcast had bilingual MC or subtitles, and member names were posted on screen to introduce individual performers.
Each group got a substantial amount of time on screen, both in performance and in spoken MCs (with subtitles), which was really a special treat. They each had their own visual aesthetics, too. AKB48 mixed both traditional Japanese idol costumes with modern fashion. Team PL, who performed from a high school gym, designed their own cheerleader outfits. CGM48’s presentation had a more traditional school uniform style, and JKT48 split their stage show between an all-black, gothic style and a full-glitz Broadway “Cabaret” style. Team SH had an electronic, edgy sound, with culturally-inspired gold stage costumes, while BNK48 sported sneakers and baseball caps.
After so many months of spare productions because of the pandemic, seeing the staging and lights and multiple costume changes was really energizing. We haven’t really seen anything like that from the J-Pop world in the past year and a half. Hearing an audience respond in real time felt fresh too, and hearing the applause brought even more energy to it.
Of course, every country still has its own restrictions, and it was fascinating to me to see that some groups — like BNK48 and CGM48 — were still in masks, but that didn’t soften their energy at all. In Vietnam, SGO48 couldn’t do a stage show, so they presented some pre-recorded performances. But they adapted that into a positive, and the edited video allowed for close-ups on the members that we couldn’t have gotten if the cameras were set up to cover a live stage show. There were a lot of modifications to remind viewers we’re still coming out of a pandemic, but it definitely felt like a step forward back to normal.
I was already a fan of BNK48 and CGM48, and I really enjoyed their live showcase. BNK48’s set showed off some especially tight choreography, and they showed a lot of physical confidence recreating their music video performance of “D.AAA”. CGM48 had a lot of polish and precision, the kind of set that you’d see in a studio performance.
Of all the performances, MNL48 was the standout of the night. I wasn’t very familiar with them before this, but now I’m going to seek out more of their work. Their performance was amazingly energetic, presenting hip-hop elements and a capella moments in their songs, and they seemed to diverge the most from the traditional J-Pop idol style. The members delivered an MC completely in English, which made them seem even more confident. They spoke about the hardships of the pandemic, and it felt like they succeeded in making an emotional connection to the fans watching from on computer screens from far away.
It was also a treat to see Hitomi Honda (formerly of IZ*ONE) performing with AKB48. She showed the confidence and warmth in her MC that has made her a fan-favorite. Some AKB48 songs, like “River” and “High Tension”, were performed by the sister groups during the showcase. A big surprise was when JKT48 performed “109”, one of AKB48’s early songs. It was a deep cut that brought a fun 80s idol vibe to the show.
The finale which intercut pre-recorded segments from all the sister groups with AKB48’s live performance in Tokyo was a solid send-off. The AKB48 Group Asia Festival 2021 was a captivating concert where everything came together just right for a night of colorful entertainment and positive energy.
Fans cans livestream the event archive through July 11 via Zaiko.
Images: ©AKB48 GROUP ASIA FESTIVAL 2021 ONLINE Executive Committee