The Adventures of Tsunacon 2012 ~New Wings~

This year was my second time at the Dutch anime convention known as Tsunacon. As a one-day event I won’t have a ton of things to say about it, but there were some significant differences this year, not least of which is the move from the town of Sliedrecht over to the more well-known city of Rotterdam to make room for the ever-growing con attendance numbers.

Naturally, the first difference was transportation. Whereas last year required me to transfer to a rather small and adorable train, Rotterdam is one of the largest cities in the country and so took only one train to get there (getting back was a different story, but more on that later). This also means that for other people living around the country, there is a far likelier chance that the trains will be relatively more convenient for them as well. But unlike in Sliedrecht where it took only a short walk from the station to the convention, going to the new location required an additional bus or tram. Well, you could still walk but it would probably take you over an hour, and if you’re like me and European cities and streets confuse you, then it would take you about twice that amount. The trams and buses are both very close to the train station though, so it isn’t really a hassle.

The actual site of the convention this year was the Social Sciences building of Erasmus University, and it was, as promised, significantly larger than the old place. With three floors available as opposed to just one, and a significant amount of space per floor, it seemed just the right size for the convention, providing enough room for people to move around, but not being so spacious as to dwarf the crowd and make the place seem barren. Cosplayers were naturally everywhere, and as is common here, the dealer’s room is combined with the artists’ alley, with dealers and artists all mixed together. Overall, the university was lacking some of the charm of the old location in terms of its coziness and warmth, but I think it was a fair (and of course necessary) trade.

One major difference with the new location was the way in which food was handled. The spot in Sliedrecht was something of a fitness and recreation center, so it had both a small bar in the main area, as well as a bar with seats where karaoke had taken place. One of the most vivid memories for me at my first Dutch con was seeing a fairly large crowd chowing down on cup noodles like they were the best thing ever made (a claim that is supported to some extent by the fact that it has its own museum). This year however, cup noodles were practically a thing of the past, as Tsunacon saw it fit to serve actual bentou and bowls of ramen straight out of Naruto (with signs saying “Ichikaru Ramen” hanging above the serving area). Though the lack of a bar limited the food options (no bitterballen or Japanese beer as far as I could tell), this did not seem to bother the patrons at all, because the line was gigantic.

Even though I passed by the line repeatedly over the course of many hours, not once did the line ever die down, as if the people’s desire for ramen was insatiable. Honestly, I can relate, because unless you live in Den Haag, Rotterdam, or Amstelveen, it can be quite difficult to get a half-decent bowl of Asian noodle soup in the Netherlands, whether it’s ramen, wonton noodles, or pho. I know it’s a hunger that never fully dies down, and maybe on a different day I would have joined them.

There’s some obvious advice for you: serve Japanese food at an anime convention and you’re sure to be a smash hit. Think Pocky is the talk of the town? Why not hit them with some udon?

The larger space also allowed for something new this year: panels. Whereas last year the closest thing you could get to a panel was a cosplay/AMV competiton or an arts and crafts workshop or two, Tsunacon dedicated a room to the endeavor. Seeing as the panels were in Dutch, I couldn’t exactly get the most of them, but I did attend the one panel I could actually follow along with: Name that Anime. Divided into categories such as “openings,” “action scenes,” and “traps” (yes, that kind of trap), the panelists showed footage from a large variety of anime. As far as I could tell, most of the anime were from the last decade or so, with a sprinkling of Ghibli as the primary representation of anime 20 years and older. As I wasn’t sure of the exact nature of the panel going into it, I didn’t participate for fear that my inability to speak or comprehend Dutch would hold me back, but I might try next year. Overall, the panel was 90 minutes, which might either be too much or not enough for this kind of “game show,” but it seemed like it was on a good track to improvement for next year.

The last thing I did at the con was go to the karaoke room, as anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I enjoy singing anime songs even though I can’t sing. It’s also fun to see people really get into the songs they love, which ranged from Vocaloid tracks to the popular shounen titles to the English Pokemon theme, which seems to be universally popular among singing anime fans. I spoke about this last year, but the people responsible for karaoke at Dutch cons have an entire fancy system set up to mimic a proper set. With a monitor displaying words in-sync with the song, just about anyone can follow along if they know the basics of the song, something that not even Otakon has. As for myself, I recognized a lack of burning passion in people’s selections, so I went with the go-to song for both me and one Astro Toy columnist: Kanjite Knight. Though quite off-key, the crowd was still nice enough to applaud my endeavor.

When I look at the attendees at these conventions in the Netherlands, I get the feeling that, while tastes are largely similar between the US and Dutch fans, there seem to be some major differences as well. Most notably, One Piece seems to be more well-loved among the Dutch anime fans. Does anyone else get this impression? People sang One Piece songs at karaoke, One Piece merchandise seemed to be popular in the dealer’s room, and I even saw a Garp cosplayer, which is something I have never seen at an American con (though I may have just not been paying attention). How popular is Monkey D. Luffy and his merry band of pirates among Dutch otaku, anyway?

In any case, cosplay:

(To the cosplayers above who asked me to send you this photo, my apologies as I seem to have lost your card!)

The famous combo of Chii & Stocking

I would have stuck around longer, but by 4pm noticed that it had began to snow. As I have learned during my time here, snow + Dutch trains = not fun, and what was once a 30-minute trip turned into 2 hours. Obviously, that’s no fault of the convention itself, and in hindsight I can only imagine how much worse the delays would have been going to and from Sliedrecht. In spite of those troubles, it was overall a fun convention where people just enjoyed being anime fans.

To Tsunacon This Weekend

This Sunday, February 12, I will be attending the Dutch anime convention Tsunacon in its new location in the city of Rotterdam, which so happens to be where I was a couple of weeks ago watching the premiere of the Ace Attorney movie.

Seeing as I’m generally bad at finding my way to places, I expect to get lost at least a couple of times on my way to the convention center, but hopefully things will turn out all right.

I’ll likely have a badge to identify me in case anyone wants to say hi, though as for some kind of unique clothing, it all depends on the weather (for those of you not currently in Europe, it is so unbelievably cold here!).

If you want, you can also read my coverage of last year’s Tsunacon in its old location in Sliedrecht.

(I’ll miss that tiny train.)

Trekked to Sliedrecht, Did the Anime Thing: Tsunacon 2011

It’s been quite a few years since I was able to attend any sort of anime-related event outside of the United States, so when I found out that right here in the Netherlands are not one, not two, but three anime cons, why I had to check at least some of them out. This report is about the first of them, Tsunacon, located in the town of Sliedrecht. I’m not sure why it’s called Tsunacon, though I suspect it’s a play off of “Tsunami.”

Held in De Lockhorst, a complex devoted to athletic activities and just having spaces and rooms available for just this very kind of thing, Tsunacon is a one-day event. I’ve attended one-day events before, namely the PAS Spring Fest in New York City and Tekkoshocon‘s Tekko 1/2 held at the Carnegie Library, and if I had to compare Tsunacon to those two mini-cons, I’d say that Tsunacon feels the most like an actual anime convention. This might have to do with the fact that Tsunacon is not a free event (although the ticket price is more than fair) whereas the other two are, but it’s more the atmosphere of it.

Before I go into the con itself though, I have to point out the train to Sliedrecht. Moving between the cities of Dordrecht (not to be confused with Dordray) and Geldermalsen and about 4 cars long, I think it’s kind of adorable and also anime-related if you stretch your logic a bit. You can do it, Spurt-tan!

De Lockhorst is only a short walk from the Sliedrecht train station. On my way there, I saw two couples holding hands and possibly cosplaying as well. Ah, nerd love.

When you get inside the first thing you’ll notice is the concession area. While the collection of Japanese snacks (Yan Yan, Ramune) are likely a familiar sight to the American con attendee, there are a number of uniquely Dutch snacks, such as poffertjes, tiny pancakes in powdered sugar, and frikandel, a kind of minced meat sausage. They also had a cotton candy machine, which I’ve never seen at any US anime con.

The big culinary hit here was Cup Noodles, at €3 a cup. Now you might be asking, “3 Euros?! Isn’t that a bit overpriced?” It most certainly is, but the attendees could not get enough off Momofuku Ando’s glorious creation. I couldn’t tell you why it was so popular, but I wonder if the more traditionally Dutch foods don’t carry the same novelty. Maybe it’s just the sheer joy of eating noodles from a cup alongside your friends.

When I think about it though, the Broodje Kroket (croquet breads) ares kind of like the Croquet Pan you’d find in Japanese bakeries. Even when you’re eating “normal foods,” you’re not too far off, Dutch anime fans!

The real kicker though would probably be that they sell beer alongside everything else. And not just any beer…

That’s right, Japanese beer for the Japanese anime fans.

Given that the average age at Tsunacon was decidedly “teenager,” this might set off some alarms, but I must point out that the drinking age here is actually 16, excluding hard liquors. In fact, despite the relatively low median age of the attendees here, everyone seemed quite well-behaved. Even the “hug me” signs seemed more subdued compared to their US peers.

Tsunacon obviously isn’t devoted solely to food though, and close by were the manga library, a game room, a workshop room, and the dealer’s room.

The Manga Library had a fairly sizable collection of titles in both English and Dutch, as well as a few in Japanese. It grew more and more popular throughout the day, and as if to anticipate the creative spark that reading manga would inspire, they left pencil and paper around so that people could draw. I myself decided to revisit an old friend and read the Sai vs Touya Meijin chapters of Hikaru no Go.

The Game Room, which meant specifically video games (sorry card and board game fans, though I did see a number of Yu-Gi-Oh! players dueling it out), had systems ranging from the classic NES to the X-Box 360 and Wii, as well as popular convention games like Dance Dance Revolution. I have no idea what version it might have been.

One thing that stood out to me was the European SNES, pictured above, which resembles the Japanese Super Famicom a lot more than it does its American counterpart. If you’re wondering what game that is, it’s Battletoads vs. Double Dragon. It is a terrible game, but the thought is appreciated. And yes, 4chan memes are popular here too.

I originally planned on participating in a Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament, but the slots filled up extremely quickly, and by the time I got there it was too late. However, it turned out that the Super Street Fighter IV tournament was short on competitors, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring. I picked Sagat, my favorite character from the Street Fighter series, and defeated my first opponent only to lose to the very next one 1:2. You might not think that to be terribly impressive, but I was quite proud of myself given that-

  1. I’ve never played Super Street Fighter IV
  2. I’ve only played vanilla Street Fighter IV once

But Sagat is Sagat, and I just threw fireballs and delivered uppercuts on my way to victory, at least for a short while.

The workshop room had workshops on cosplay and drawing manga, all in Dutch so even if I felt particularly motivated to start cosplaying I wouldn’t be able to reap its benefits.

The Dealer’s Room also doubled as the bag check room, and was mandatory if you were planning on doing any shopping, or even playing  in the game room. The main activities of the Dealer’s Room, aside from shopping of course, were the “Manga School” workshop and the goldfish-catching game straight out of your favorite festival episode. The winner who caught the most “goldfish” (they had to use rubber balls here) would win some Haruhi pins and a poster of a J-Pop singer whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten. My goldfish endeavors came out to a big fat zero, but that’s okay.

Another interesting element of the Dealer’s Room at Tsunacon was that, perhaps due to space limitations, the Dealer’s Room also doubled somewhat as an Artist’s Alley. But while American cons’ Artist Alleys seem primarily focused with individual images, Tsunacon’s anime fan artists were big on self-publishing, often times with their very own original characters, though publications based on existing series were also present. In this regard, one table in particular caught my eye.

A Genshiken-themed doujinshi of all things! Of course I had to get it. It’s not 18+, in case you were wondering.

You know what I like? Ogiue. And you know what else I like? Pokemon. This book manages to combine both, and that is quite all right with me. I was also flattered to find out that they actually knew about Ogiue Maniax, and I was proud to have them do the doujin event thing and get some sketches. Thanks a lot to all of you! I wish you had a website URL in the book so I could direct people.

A short walk from the entrance where the concessions and around the corner landed me in the anime karaoke lounge. Now I’ve done karaoke at dedicated locations, and I’ve done convention karaoke, but what was nice about this place was that it was more or less a small bar/restaurant. In addition to the snacks you could get from before, helpful staffers worked as waiters, taking orders for food and drink while everyone sat around enjoying the fan-powered renditions of God Knows, Hatsune Miku, various Final Fantasy themes, the Chobits opening, and more. They actually had it set up so that the lyrics would pop up in romaji which the singer could follow, much like a real karaoke place. This is quite different from Otakon where they hand you the lyrics on a sheet and you have to do your best given the circumstances. Not knocking Otakon or anything, but this system was way more useful for people who felt like they kind of knew their songs but still needed some help.

I partook of a macaroon from a helpful staffer/waiter before exercising my own lungs. My song of choice: the Mazinger Z opening, which I performed a little better than I thought I would. (Fortunately) I do not have any record of the event, as while I love to karaoke, I am not what you might be calling “talented.” It might be better to say that I can display a degree of courage when it comes to on-stage performances. Despite the relative youthfulness of the crowd, they actually got quite into my performance, and by the time I was done I received a full applause from the room. Thank you all.

If you weren’t paying attention to the singing though, you might have noticed the interesting decorative choice in the form of various Disney statues placed throughout the bar/lounge.

The two “main events” of Tsunacon would have to be the competitions, both AMV and cosplay. Unfortunately, despite knowing this beforehand it somehow slipped my mind while there, and I didn’t go to either. My apologies! While I’m normally not much of an AMV or cosplay sort of person, I still wish that I’d managed to check them out. According to the schedule, the same room also housed video showings and some quiz-based panels, so it was ostensibly the video and competition/events room. Next year!

While I did not attend any actual cosplay events, I did see quite a few excellent cosplayers, which you can see below. There was a really good Crocodile from One Piece cosplayer, but I wasn’t able to catch him.

Overall, Tsunacon was a fun little one-day excursion where there the focus was primarily on letting the attendees do their thing. Rather than going from event to event or even spending the entire day in one location, the con seemed more conducive to just hanging out with your otaku comrades. In that regard, I do wish I had brought others with me, because as cool as it was a one-man trip to a con can only get you so much. It’d also be cool if they had more informational panels in addition to their workshops and games, not for me as my Dutch is abysmal, but to foster learning that doesn’t necessarily have direct utility. The space was also a tad crowded, but nowhere near as insane as some of the bigger cons I’ve attended, and if anything this is a good sign that Tsunacon is getting increasingly popular.

I’ll leave off with these collaborative drawing boards. I drew a couple of things myself. See if you can spot them!