Last week, I sat in a car for 12 hours on a never-ending road through Virginia and the Carolinas while my friends played the same two Eurobeat CD's. I got through it via some sweet PB&J sandwiches and by occasionally napping on a pile of stuffed tails. This trip had a purpose - get to Atlanta for the annual Anime Weekend Atlanta convention, where the creator of the Touhou franchise, ZUN, would be making his first U.S. appearance.
Well, Atlanta certainly delivered on the ZUN front - that's me pictured with him in the above photo, by the way. Each day featured multiple Touhou-related events, starting with a Q&A session on Friday night.
An aside, before I go any further - Touhou is a series of danmaku, or bullet hell shooters. Titles in that genre that have experienced an American release include "Ikaruga," "Akai Katana," and "Castle of Shikigami III." The Touhou series has 14 main games and countless spinoffs. A big draw to the series is the characters - they're all girls! Most of the games base the characters off of some sort of folklore to come up with the girls' designs and powers, but sometimes ZUN just pulls stuff out of his ass. He's real good at that. The games have increased in popularity through the intense fandom that surrounds it, and they are absolutely worth playing if you haven't already.
Anyway. The Friday night Q&A session was most attendees' first chance at seeing the All Holy Creator of All That is Touhou, so the room was absolutely packed. This event was also the first bit of forewarning that the staff didn't know how to communicate properly. Up until the point that the event started, it had been announced that the only questions allowed to be asked would be by people with press passes - so that essentially, it would be a press conference with the public allowed in the room to hear the questions and answers. This was not the case - it was basically a free-for-all in terms of who could ask the questions, which (understandably) upset members of the press who had to go through an extensive process to get their press passes in the first place. ZUN didn't do any private interviews during the convention, either, so the fact that the AWA staff just shrugged and said "anyone can ask questions" when they had said for weeks up to that point that it would be a press-exclusive event was kind of a kick in the balls for a lot of those people.
That being said, I don't think the event suffered for it. A lot of fans had some pretty interesting questions, or at least I thought so. I've been playing the Touhou games since about 2008, so I've had a good bit of time to sink into learning about the storylines and characters and so on and so forth. But, as in any fandom, many people get snotty and elitist about it. I heard, on almost every question, people complaining and saying, "He's said that in an interview before, don't you know that? How can you not know that?" and shit like that. Guess what, douche caboose - not everyone knows that. Get off your high horse or get out of the room if you want to attend a public Q&A like that.
I ran into ZUN himself shortly after the panel. He had a small entourage with him, and he didn't speak a lick of English, but he was very nice and let me take my picture with him. I think it helped that I was cosplaying as the main character from the Touhou franchise, Hakurei Reimu.
The following day featured a plethora of Touhou events, starting with a group photoshoot for all of the cosplayers in the morning. There were more than a hundred people there, and as such, it was very difficult to coordinate. There were probably better places to shoot, also, since in the big group shot you can't see anyone's costumes, just heads. You can see my costume though, because I was the main character and therefore the most important and in the front of everyone else. I am a special snowflake.
Following the photoshoot was a "Touhou Fan Panel," which was apparently supposed to be about the fandom as a whole. It started off okay but quickly diverged into one huge circle-jerk with "representatives" of the fandom from different regions of the country talking about the Touhou fandom in their area. Now, the way this should have been done is by getting in touch with the more well-known fandom leaders and having them submit a few photos or Powerpoint slides showing off their region's fandom or whatever. But no, it was basically a circle-jerk around certain people for an hour instead. So I left.
The Saturday Touhou events are another example of the AWA staff not communicating well. There were three events back-to-back with each other in the same room - the Fan Panel, Touhou Trivia, and Gaming with ZUN. Staff had said repeatedly, all goddamn day, that they were going to do a room clear following each panel. Guess what they didn't do? A room clear! Correct! So this totally screwed a lot of people who I saw patiently waiting outside to get a good seat for Touhou Trivia and probably ended up in the back corner somewhere. That's a shitty thing to do, AWA staff. I don't care how much of a hassle it would have been for you guys - if you're saying you'll do a room clear all day, YOU SHOULD DO A ROOM CLEAR.
I skipped the Trivia panel to go get some food and returned for Gaming with ZUN. He didn't play his own game, he had some poor kid sit next to him and play through Double Dealing Character, the latest entry in the series, instead. He started off by asking, "are you sure you can clear this?" The kid did alright - he died a few times, but if I had the creator of the series sitting next to me and drinking a beer while I tried to play his game, I would be a little nervous, myself.
After Gaming with ZUN ended, I had to go change into my Utena costume for my panel, called "Everything is a Metaphor, and the Metaphor is a Penis." It's exactly what it sounds like. Thankfully I have a friend who was willing to record it for me, so you can watch it in parts here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
I'm pretty happy with how my panel went - I wasn't expecting that many people to show up, and I wasn't expecting that many people to laugh at my stupid dick jokes. I've been told multiple times now to flesh it out a little more and do it at another convention, so perhaps I will work on that.
Sunday went by pretty quickly. I got another picture with ZUN, bought some things from the merchant's hall, and then drove 14 hours. On the plus side, we found gas for under three dollars in North Carolina. It was awesome.
Overall, Anime Weekend Atlanta was a great time. That being said, I probably wouldn't do it again, simply because it was a pain to get to - I only went because ZUN was there, and I got all of those Touhou feelings out of my system. Good things: The hotel we stayed in was awesome (free awesome breakfast with bacon and eggs and pancakes!), and most of the people I met were genuinely awesome. A lot of the programming was great, too. Not good things: The convention's layout was a little awkward at times, and many of the rooms were not clearly labeled. Staff had terrible communication issues during big events. The game room was really poorly placed.
Next up: Tigercon, which is October 19th at Towson University. It's free, so be sure to show up! I hear a certain podcast might be doing a live recording, too...