I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at Tales of Festival 2013. The name made me think that perhaps it would be a gaming event in the vein of PAX, but on a smaller scale, since it was only focused around a single franchise. Oh, how wrong I was.
What greeted me when I arrived couldn’t have been further from my expectations. Due to a Saturday class, I arrived at Yokohama Arena a couple hours after the doors opened, a few minutes after the show proper began. As I was ushered to my seat, I saw an assortment of voice actors onstage in various states of cosplay, reading off scripts as the traditional Tales skit character portraits animated along to their dialogue.
It was somewhat surreal to me for a number of reasons. First of all, I was surprised to see performers onstage with their scripts in hand at any sort of professional event, but that surrealism was amplified by the fact that only certain voice actors were in costume. Katsuyuki Konishi and Masaya Onosaka (Lloyd Irving and Zelos Wilder from Tales of Symphonia and its sequel) were dressed up as their characters, complete with some of the most bizarre wigs I’ve ever seen. Slightly less jarring were Tales of Graces’ Shiho Kawaragi (Cheria Barnes) and Tales of Phantasia’s Satomi Koorogi (Mint Adenade), who dressed as their characters, but simply styled their own hair to match them. Tales of Xillia 1 and 2’s Ryoutarou Okiayuu wore not only an approximation of his character’s costume, but also a hat of sorts with a katakana “ga” on it to show that he was, in fact, Gaius (as well as a strange, plush, swordlike hat).
Some of the other voice actors, while still rather flamboyant, were dressed in more practical, semi-character-inspired clothing. For instance, Hikaru Midorikawa had done his hair like his character Leon Magnus from Tales of Destiny, Mamoru Miyano dressed in blue and white like Flynn Scifo in Tales of Vesperia, and Hiro Shimono’s very conspicuous black and yellow shoes brought to mind Emil Castagnier from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.
The other voice actors, Tsubasa Yonaga (Jude Mathis from Tales of Xillia), Kousuke Toriumi (Yuri Lowell from Tales of Vesperia), Yuki Horinaka (Elise Lutus from Xillia), and Akemi Okamura (Sheena Fujibayashi from Symphonia) didn’t really dress like their characters, but for the audience in Yokohama Arena, I don’t think they had to. The mere appearance of these actors onstage would cause the crowd to erupt in applause (or, in the case of Yuki Horinaka, shouts of “kawaii” from both male and female members of the crowd).
At one point, Yonaga and Toriumi hugged and the audience practically exploded.
In fact, one of the surprising (and impressive) things about the Tales of Festival was how loud and excited the fans were. People would call out to their favorite voice actors while they were onstage just to try and get a response. The fervor over the voice actors alone was kind of incredible, as were the responses to the skit they were performing from their scripts. We’ve all seen a character serve a bad cake to their friends in anime and games before, but when the Symphonia cast tried some of the cake that Flynn made in the skit, you would have thought that someone had told the funniest joke in the world.
After the skit was over, the VAs did some in-character monologues and joked around with each other for a while (led by Masaya Onosaka in his very-present Zelos outfit and wig and accompanied by incredibly loud responses from the audience), and then it was time to announce Tales of Symphonia Chronicles HD, which led to the part of the Tales of Festival that was streamed to the public. Shortly after they showed off the HD remasters of the games and the Blu-Ray release of the anime, the “Tales of Live” concert began.
The singer of the opening themes to both Symphonia games, misono (yes, all lowercase), came out to sing the newly arranged versions of “Starry Heavens” (from the first Symphonia), “Nininsankyaku” (from the second), and an assortment of other songs from this album. It was a bit strange to hear her performing to a backing track rather than a live band, but she gave a very enthusiastic performance, running around the circular stage and throwing pen lights and balls to the glowstick-waving audience.
Finally, at the end of the conference, the voice actors returned for a few words as to their thoughts on the series and their favorite characters that they didn’t play before tossing t-shirts out to the crowd and bringing the event to a close.
While my class schedule meant that I missed the merchandise-purchasing part of the event, I was still surprised to see how much of a stage show the Tales of Festival was. While a bit jarring given my initial expectations, once I adapted to the scripts, the outfits, and the audience, it was actually kind of fun. I can only imagine a more thorough knowledge of the Tales series (and recognition of the Japanese voice actors) would improve the experience.