By anime fandom standards, 20 years is a long time—older than Attack on Titan, Death Note, and, yes, even Fullmetal Alchemist. It’s no small feat, then, that Anime Festival Orlando, known affectionately as AFO by Central Florida denizens, celebrated 20 years of otaku this past August 9th, 2019.
AFO put on its best metaphorical kimono for 2019’s special anniversary celebration with a plethora of top-caliber guests and newcomers alike. Johnny Yong Bosch, Steve Blum, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and Tony Oliver featured amidst a roster of veteran voice actors with credits a quarter mile long. To ensure inclusivity of newer fandoms and budding otaku of the next generation, AFO also invited rising stars, including Billy Kametz (The Rising of the Shield Hero, Cells at Work), Jalen Cassell (Fate/Apocrypha, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), Laura Stahl (The Promised Neverland, Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online), and Dorah Fine (Beyblade Burst Turbo, Magi: The Kingdom Of Magic).
This year, AFO wisely split its special guest meet-and-greets into two locations—the Vendor’s Hall (where lines formed to meet with Blum, Bosch, and McGlynn) and a separate room exclusively for special guest encounters. The main event hall positioned itself between these two locales, encouraging passersby to step in and be regaled with a variety of entertainment, including inside stories from their favorite voice actors and actresses.
With an AMV contest, Tales of Orlandia interactive story, dance events, tabletop gaming, a gameshow theater, and a plethora of all-day panels, AFO’s entertainment knows no bounds, and 2019 was no exception. The Vendor’s Hall served as a microcosm that reflected this ambitious variety, catering to otaku of all fandoms, from K-pop fans and replica-collectors, to manga readers and cosplayers. Within the space of a few meters, fans could try matcha KitKats imported from Japan, pick up a poster of their favorite anime character to decorate their room, and grab a new shirt to showcase their fandom to the world.
Not to be outdone, AFO’s signature Artist Alley presented its final form, featuring a trademark maze of talent that ranged from acrylic keychains and wall scrolls, to stickers and LED spray art. Video games, comic books, television dramas, and fantasy intermingled with familiar anime and manga characters, making the Artist Alley a meeting place for all fandoms and genres.
As a result of AFO featuring multiple guests from the Naruto series, ninja cosplayers of all ages dominated the showfloor on Friday, hoping to get a photo and signature from their favorite actors/actresses and connect with other fans. An impromptu Naruto-themed photoshoot broke out in the artist’s alley as a dozen cosplayers, representing a wide variety of Naruto heroes and villains, posed while shutters snapped.
AFO’s emphasis on Naruto may not be altogether unintentional, however—not necessarily because over 3.5 million people may be a month away from Naruto-running their way into Area 51, but because the Naruto manga is nearly as old as the AFO convention itself. And with a legacy like that, it’s no wonder that otaku across Central Florida flock back to the Wyndham Orlando Resort year after year after year—for nostalgia, for memories, for fun, and for fandom.