One of the biggest events in 48 Group history happened in Bangkok, Thailand. The AKB48 Group Asia Festival 2019 was a celebration of international 48 Group fandom that featured not just AKB48 and its current main members, but also of its international sister groups JKT48, BNK48, Team SH, Team TP, SGO48 and of course, MNL48.
But let’s cut to the chase: how did MNL48 do in their first international – and first major 48 Group event? Two words: power overwhelming.
Because I am part of “Team Streaming” this time around, I can only talk about the mini-concert and the joint 48 Group concert. I must confess that I felt not a small amount of envy as people I know managed to make the trip. There will always be something special about live events that you just won’t feel by watching a live-stream.
I had really high expectations for MNL48’s performance. Knowing they will perform in front of their largest crowd to date is both a challenge and an honor. I was also hoping that this will be the moment they will “wow” the crowd.
Filipinos have a reputation of being good singers, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that some fans are expecting the same from MNL48. As someone who regularly goes to events, I know very well how good the girls are. It’s all really a matter of how they will be accepted by the wider 48 Group fandom.
And boy, did they sing very well. In accoustic, that is.
Yep. Accoustic versions of Aitakatta-Gustong Makita, Palusot Ko’y Maybe, and Pag-Ibig Fortune Cookie were performed by the girls.
My initial reaction was of shock: I didn’t like the concept. I was hoping they will display their singing prowess in a more “lively” way. Lively, with a solid vocal showcase, but still traditionally idol. I was hoping that people will be amazed at their energy and skill, honed by continuous training sessions.
But guess what? What they did was perfect. MNL48 tried to differentiate themselves from the other groups by performing in a way no ordinary idol fan expected them to. People – especially their fans – knew they can do some really mean accoustic sets, but no one expected they will do just that in a major stage. According to people who were there, many fans appreciated it. And I guess that’s what really mattered, and I loved how well they did and the fact that fans present there liked it.
The main event is the joint concert, where AKB48 will perform with its international sister groups, some for the first time. This is the “dream concert” for both fans and members. It was a long and hard road that MNL48 had to go through to get there, and that made it all mean so much.
I didn’t get the sense that all the participating members had many opportunities to practice together, so I was impressed at how seamless the performances were. It should be noted that BNK48 put up one hell of a show for the hometown crowd. SGO48 had a lot to prove as the newest group so they showed a lot of energy. But what of MNL48? Well, they didn’t just perform, they owned the stage. Owned it!
They performed three songs: Party ga Hajimaru yo (MNL48 version and previously unreleased), First Rabbit, and Palusot Ko’y Maybe. One song after another. Without losing energy.
It was as if the girls were trying to prove something to everyone. Perhaps to earn their place among the other, more established groups? Or maybe to show their fans and detractors that yes, they’ve had rough times but they’re here.
Sheki and Abby were both selected to be part of WRD48, or the world senbatsu, consisting of the top members of each group. This group performed the classic hit “Heavy Rotation“. Sheki and Abby acquitted themselves very well with their performance, but I must say, that there was some comedic touch in the proceedings as Sheki’s position was directly behind two tall members. I mean, anyone not named Brei and Jem can be considered “tall” next to Sheki, but MNL48’s center was so hyper during the performance that seeing only her arms and the top of her head was kind of cute.
But there was more to come from the small powerhouse. Next in the set-list were the unit songs, and Sheki was part of the Blue Rose performance. It was here where she unleashed the powerhouse diva that must have been simmering inside her ever since she decided she’d want to be an idol.
She’s not even the center in the performance, but her stage presence, the power of her voice, and her energetic dance were impressive. We were joking around that Sheki must have drank four bottles of energy drink to be able to perform like that. Her performance made her trend in Twitter.
Abby was also a part of another unit that performed End Roll, and although her singing is not as strong as Sheki’s (let’s be real, there’s no one in MNL48 who’s close to matching Sheki-mini. Maybe Brei, but not quite), she did extremely well. Her highlight is when she cartwheeled and then walked like a model afterwards.
The most memorable parts for me would have to be the big group performances. Everything just feels so united. Even though each member is singing her line in her own language, there’s a sense of continuity and wholeness that the language barrier just can’t divide. Some of the songs were sung in Japanese, but the over-all “one-ness” was still there.
By the time “AKB Festival” was performed (the first song of the Encore), I was already over the moon. I knew I was a partial witness to a momentous and historical event. I also knew then that it is mission accomplished for MNL48 as they made their mark in the greater 48 fandom. They’re no longer outsiders looking in, but part of the whole.
So, what’s next?
No one knows when the next big 48 Group event will happen. We do know, however, that AKS is planning to hold Asia Festivals in different regions because of this event’s success.
I really hope it pushes through because it has so much potential in it. It is a good way for the international groups to really grow. Banding together and forging stronger ties may be the key.
But what does this mean for MNL48? Well, it’s hard to pinpoint any direct benefits they got from this. Obviously they earned a lot of credibility and new fans. They still have a long road ahead to reach mainstream relevance, though. As the news barely made a blip in the local scene.
In the end, that doesn’t matter for now. The memory of their impressive performance, and how they stood side-by-side with the other members of the 48 Group family is firmly etched in the hearts of their fans. Another milestone reached for this group and they did it with style.