Monday, October 12, 2015

Ray Reports: TouhouCon 2015!

So, I skipped two California conventions I've previously been to this past summer, Anime Expo and Sac-Anime. Part of this is to save money for a convention I've been wanting to attend for over a year.

Said convention is TouhouCon, a convention based in Southern California centered around Touhou Project.

Before we get into the actual report of this convention, a little elaboration is in order for those who are unfamiliar with Touhou.

The Touhou series began in the mid-90's with a series of five games released for the PC-98 computer platform, mostly consisting of shoot-em-ups with dense and intricate bullet patterns, also known as "bullet hell" games. The series was not particularly known during its time, but it set a few elements that would go on to become series standards, such as the two protagonists--a shrine maiden known as Reimu Hakurei and a witch/magician known as Marisa Kirisame--as well as distinct boss characters with their own personalities and unique attacks, and the fantasy realm of Gensokyo as the games' primary setting. In 2002, after several years of hiatus, the series was "revived" on the far more well-known Windows platform, where the series continues to be developed for. The Windows versions would continue to flesh out the series' identity further, with concepts such as special attacks known as "spell cards" and antagonist characters that borrow from various Eastern mythologies. The plot of each game tends to revolve around incidents affecting the environment and civilization of Gensokyo, with Reimu, Marisa, and sometimes one or two supporting characters setting out to discover and neutralize the source, meeting and challenging other characters who attempt to interfere in their efforts.

The series is primarily the brainchild of Jun'ya Oota, known far more commonly as ZUN. Since the beginning of the series, he has singlehandedly worked on every single game; story, character design, bullet patterns, programming, music, and so on...all the work of this one man, even after nearly 20 years and 15 main games. Because of all this, he is hailed as something of a legend amongst doujinshi/self-publishing game developers.

In addition to these games, there also exist spinoff games that take on formats not typical to the series, such as fighting game spinoffs developed by another company under license from ZUN, official literature (including manga) that fleshes out the world and characters of the series, and the like. However, the main focus is on the games; the non-game works can be seen as something of an expanded universe.

But ultimately, part of what makes Touhou what it is isn't just the official material; it's the fan works that the series have spawned. For years, the tables at the biannual Japanese fan works market Comiket were largely dominated by circles that published Touhou fan works, which span a large variety of formats and genres. Not only is there a nearly-limitless array of Touhou fan manga, there is also a large variety of Touhou remix albums produced by countless different artists, and even a lot of fan games, some of which are thoroughly-developed enough to stand out on their own. In addition to Touhou's large comic festival presence, there is even a sanctioned festival dedicated strictly to Touhou fanworks, known as Reitaisai, hosted every year in Tokyo; fans from all over Japan and even from outside of Asia travel there every year to indulge in the latest fan works. Outside of Japan, there haven't been many concerted efforts to host a major event for Touhou fans.

This is where TouhouCon comes in; although there have been small gatherings outside of conventions as well as a "mini-Reitaisai" event in Canada as part of a convention, TouhouCon is the first convention in the West dedicated to the series.

As someone who has been a fan of the Touhou series for at least six years, I found it interesting to see a convention based on Touhou; however, I was not able to attend last year, so I made it a promise to myself to attend the following year. In the months leading up to the convention, the TouhouCon staff dropped a number of major announcements regarding guests of honor. Among other guests, TouhouCon brought in music groups TAMUSIC and Yuuhei Satellite, EDM musicians ARM (of IOSYS fame), REDALiCE, and Masayoshi Minoshima, vocalist Nomico, and anime and video game cover musician Marasy8, providing an all-star guest list of Touhou arrange musicians. In addition, I had many friends from around the country who planned on attending, as well as friends from Southern California I wanted to meet up with (especially since I missed Anime Expo this year), and the folks at STG Weekly came out to host panels and provide gaming room setups. All in all, many excellent reasons for me to attend TouhouCon this year, and my financial shape this time around made my attendance possible.

Anyways, I'm here to report on a convention, not devote an entire post to what Touhou is about. If you're curious, the TV Tropes Touhou page is a good quick start, and Touhou Wiki provides comprehensive information on many aspects of the Touhou series, both canon and fan-made material.

This is the only report of TouhouCon 2015 you'll see on this blog, as I was the sole representative of CCB at this convention. Although I've been a longtime fan of the series, I have ensured that this report can be as readable as possible by those who are not familiar with it. Without further ado, let's take a look at the TouhouCon experience from this year.

Day 0

Day 0 started off with me being picked up by my friend at around 8:30 AM. Normally, traveling to LA or Anaheim from the South Bay entails taking US-101 to CS-156 to I-5, but we had another friend in Salinas to pick up and thus took an alternate route. We stopped at around 12:30 PM for food along the way. For the duration of the trip the two of us who weren't driving either slept, listened to the driver's collection of Touhou remixes, or admired the scenery or lack thereof as we cruised down the Central Valley.

We touched down in Anaheim at around 3:30 PM, passing by Disneyland on the way to hotel. For this weekend though, Disneyland would be the second most magical place in California, next to two floors of the Hilton Anaheim...

There wasn't really much to do on Day 0. For most people, this was badge pickup day, but unfortunately press/industry badge pickup would have to wait until the next day. For the most part I just lounged around until my hotel roommates up; we had 8 people divvied up into two rooms, ensuring that every single person in our hotel group slept on a bed and not the floor or something else equally uncomfortable (as well as staying within the official capacity of each room). The most I did was walk a few blocks to CVS/pharmacy for some makeup goods, as well as meet up with some friends.

But a boring Day 0 is fine, the convention hadn't started yet. I enjoyed a peaceful rest, mentally prepping myself for the next day...

Day 1

Day 1 had me wake up somewhere around 8-9 AM, to the usual sight of roommates in varying states of awakeness.

For the entirety of the convention, I cosplayed Renko Usami, a character from one of the various music albums / stories that supplement the main games. I mostly cosplay her because of her design, ease of putting together or at least commissioning her outfit, and despite how much I like her character she's a terribly underrepresented character in the Touhou cosplay community due to her not appearing in the games; in fact, I've had instances at past conventions where I'll be cosplaying as her with some friends also cosplaying from Touhou, only for them to be stopped for photos with me being ignored due to my character's lack of recognition. But fortunately, this was TouhouCon, so there were a number of people who appreciated my cosplay.

After eating a cheap breakfast with the food I brought along with me, I headed down to the convention floor to pick up my press badge--a quick and painless process. With my badge in hand, I was ready to experience what the Western Touhou fandom had to offer here.

The main area of the con was divided into three areas: a hallway where non-Touhou-related booths promoted things like gyroscopic wheeled boards, a Naruto movie, and an Attack on Titan live-action movie. The TouhouCon staff also had a booth to promote their official goods such as bags and T-shirts. Down the hall were ballrooms that hosted the exhibitor's hall, the game room, and the main events room. For the most part, I had nothing planned until the Yuuhei Satellite official panel at 4 PM so I just explored a bit.

The front booths of the hall were covered by Touhou-related booths: Reitaisai, as mentioned above; Good Smile Company, which produces figurines for various franchises including Touhou such as the ever-popular Nendroid line of "chibi"/super-deformed figures; and Attack the Music, a record label that specializes in promoting Japanese doujin music artists. The rest of the hall was standard convention fare: anime goods shops and the artist's alley. A Touhou-themed convention doesn't have to be all-TH-all-the-time, after all. Just outside the hall were booths for TAMUSIC and Yuuhei Satellite, who were selling merchandise such as their CDs, T-shirts, penlights for their concerts that were taking place later during the convention, and the like.

Gaming hall mostly had setups for Touhou games, some of which had projectors showcasing some players on the walls, as well as a row of setups hosted by STG Weekly for a variety of non-Touhou games, primarily 2D shooters. It also happened to be the room for attendees queueing up for main events.

Which is exactly what I did around 3:30 PM when lining up for the YuuSa panel. At the same time this was taking place, STG Weekly was hosting their "Lunatic Theater" show on the main projector, where one of their players demonstrated a "1cc" (one-credit clear, or completing the game without using a continue) of the 7th Touhou game Perfect Cherry Blossom on Lunatic difficulty, the highest difficulty level offered by the game. As I was stuck waiting in line for some 30-45 minutes, this amounted to a nice pre-show before the main event, although sadly the line moved into the main event room before I could watch the end of the player's run.

The YuuSa panel proper had most of the members introducing themselves and detailing their history; how they came together, the gradual growth of the band, and the like; mostly basic introductory stuff, followed by them encouraging fans to see them in concert the next day. Afterwards was their autograph session, and I got to meet and greet the various members and shake hands with them; I also had one of their CDs signed by each present member, leaving me with proof that I got to meet them in person in the first place.

I was confused on how admission into the concert was handled, so I went to the convention's ticketing booth to get a ticket. Mercifully, tickets were free for those with 3-day badges, including press attendees; most likely, tickets were separate from badges to determine who would actually plan to attend the concert instead of trying to fill in what was predicted to already be a large line at the last minute.

Following the panel, a friend of mine invited me to spend time with him and some other folks back to his room for some drinks and chat. It was nice getting to meet other folks who enjoyed 2D shooters, who are generally scattered all over the world unlike, for example, the fighting game or MOBA communities that tend to be far more popular and therefore everywhere in comparison.

It was getting late when I left my friend's place, so I mostly turned in for the night afterwards.

Day 2

Like with any 3-day con, the second day was the biggest day due to convention events spanning the entire day.

The official Touhou gathering was at 11:30 AM, so I got my cosplay ready and headed down. It was stated to be at "the fountain" but that wasn't exactly made clear, as there were two fountains and we gathered at the wrong one, so we had to move to another fountain on the same street, and the awkward layout meant having to discuss how to organize where cosplayers and photographers would stand. Things largely worked out and we were able to conduct gathering activities.

Following the gathering, I was hungry, so I brought a couple friends along and braved the SoCal heat for a couple blocks before arriving at a familiar brand: Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Some of you may remember this chain from when Matt, me, and company blogged about its Hollywood branch in our AX 2013 reports. I went with the basic combo, enjoying some sweet potato pie for dessert.

Between then and 5 PM I mostly just wandered the con grounds, playing games, looking for friends, and the like; usual "nothing to do" activities.

I decided to attend a panel at 5 PM for a game called Artificial Selection, a top-down "arena" shooter with an emphasis on bullet hell patterns and exploring various worlds. The developers explored the game mechanics, a few areas, and some shot and enemy types. I enjoyed the presentation. although due to circumstances regarding my PC, it sadly isn't a game I'll be able to play soon.

The Yuuhei Satellite concert was scheduled 7 PM, and people were already lining up as early as 6 PM. Again, the line was inside the gaming hall. I managed to sit down and play games with a few folks on my 3DS, managing to finish up just in time as the line started moving.

The concert had to start a little late, for what I assume to be technical reasons, and started at around 7:45 PM. I initially took a seat near the front of the room, before instead deciding to stand on the tiled floor with some of my friends. It seemed like the entire band had other things to deal with, so for about a good 30-40 minutes their arranger came on and did an impromptu set of pre-recorded songs. I enjoyed it for what it was, but I was getting worried; I didn't mind waiting for the rest of the band, but there were people wondering when the actual concert was going to start, and one person I know straight up left and never came back to the concert.

Fortunately, our collective persistence paid off, and soon vocalist senya (all lowercase) took the stage to sing the next two songs, with the full band showing up shortly thereafter. With all vital members accounted for, the concert was in full swing and I was able to enjoy this concert to the fullest. Although, to be honest, I wasn't familiar with a large chunk of YuuSa's discography (which I've since corrected), I still enjoyed getting to hear the band perform live, especially since I'm quite familiar with and a fan of senya's vocals in her various other music projects.

After the concert, I decided to peek into the dance a little bit, seeing ARM play a set of Touhou "denpa" songs, ARM was quite entertaining, providing a lot of wacky antics such as dancing on a table and singing to some of the more memetic songs he played.

Unfortunately, I had to leave soon to go get dinner with friends, as most of us hadn't eaten in over 8 hours, myself included. We went to IHOP, about the only thing open at midnight, which was not a bad deal.

We came back to the Hilton Anaheim around 2 AM, where there was just enough time in the dance left for me to catch the tail end of Masayoshi Minoshima's set. (Sadly, I missed out on REDALiCE's set completely.) He finished his set up by introducing vocalist nomico and then playing his arrange of "Bad Apple!!", one of the most popular Touhou arrange songs, with nomico singing the lyrics just like in the original version of the arrange. I did note that the floor of the room was vibrating and bouncing up and down a little bit, like a trampoline, which had me a little worried, though I'm quite sure that hotel floors are tough and designed to withstand things such as large groups of people dancing at once.

Having enjoyed some of the Touhou doujin scene's most popular acts, I walked back to my room, very much content with the day even if I had missed out on some things.

Day 3

Day 3 was the last day of the convention, so naturally many people on the con floor were checking out or on their way out. My friend driving me back would be busy until 8 PM, so I had plenty of time to do things.

Having done a lot of things the day before, I decided to take it easy today, being light on attending events and mostly just spending time with friends or being in the game room.

I bought a few more CDs from the Yuuhei Satellite booth, as well as an official T-shirt; along with the CDs I had bought from them on the previous con days, this all ended up being the only "con swag" I bought at this convention, despite having a decent budget for spending.

I did attend a panel in the afternoon called "Let's Play Touhou!", hosted by STG Weekly. It was a panel intended to help ease players into the Touhou games; one of the panelists demonstrated a "wrong"/ineffective way of playing, followed by more effective tactics that result in less mistakes. At the end of the panel, the panelists had a couple members of the audience try out the games, encouraging them and helping them whenever they made mistakes; as prizes for participating, they won a few codes for Steam games.

After that, I didn't really do much at the convention besides have dinner. As mentioned earlier, my friend wouldn't be able to drive me back until night, so I stuck around even long after the convention had closed up. That didn't mean the place was deserted; there were staff and even attendees hanging around, either working on wrapping up the convention or just socializing; I imagine that some of these folks were set to check out the next day; some folks like to check out the day after a convention so they can maximize their time at the convention.

Anyways, my friend and I left at around 9:30 PM, braving the I-5 and US-101 despite lacking sleep. I arrived back in the Bay Area around 4-5 AM.


I had a friend who roomed with me who said this was the best convention they had ever been to. While not a perfect con--no convention will ever be--it definitely was far more enjoyable for me than most other conventions, simply because unlike many conventions where I find that it's difficult to make friends due to my interests being generally narrow, At a convention like this, however, I can enjoy myself knowing that I share a common specific interest with pretty much everyone in attendance. I also got to meet friends from around the country who came to attend this convention, an indicator of just how much publicity this convention gets around the country. Getting to see some big-name guests--one band and two DJs well-known for their contributions to the Touhou music and inside joke scene--that I'm familiar with was also quite the experience.

It's also a sign of a fun convention for me when I can look at the schedule and plot a personal schedule of programming to check out that actually has me debating whether I should go to one event over another. Granted, I missed out on some events I wanted to check out, but being able to occupy myself for a large portion of the con means I'm interested in what's being presented at the convention instead of being bored with nothing to do.

If there's any major complaints I have about my convention experience, it's mostly things that are beyond staff control, such as the heat and the limited food options. The main events I attended were late to start but given that things tend to go wrong at the last minute at many conventions, I'm somewhat used to it, and having the line be in the gaming hall where I can look at projectors of people playing alleviates the pain somewhat.

I told myself earlier this year that I would start cutting back on going to lots of conventions and instead focus on long-distance and specific-interest conventions. This convention fulfills both criteria, giving me a chance to explore the convention scene outside of the San Francisco Bay Area and also a chance to mingle with fellow Touhou fans, something that doesn't happen often at most other cosplay-related events.

Would I go back next year? Definitely. Sure, a major influence in attending was the guests, who may not necessarily come back as well next year, but the atmosphere, ease of being part of some sort of community, and chance to see friends I normally don't get to see are incentive enough for me to come back.

For now, I would like to take a months-long hiatus from conventions, as I have nothing seriously planned as far as upcoming cons go. Animation on Display, Fanime, and Anime Expo are possibilities, but nothing is set in stone just yet due to various life whatevers.

Until next convention, this is Ray, signing off~

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