Since I live near the border with Germany and Belgium, on occasion I visit conventions abroad. Past weekend, on 26 May, I went to the German Dokomi again that I visited three times before in Düsseldorf. The first times that I attended was with my artist friend Marissa (Ealynn) and my sister and on behalf of OpenMinded, we sold our booklets there. Dokomi has always been a small convention that supports fan artists, more so than the bigger German conventions such as Animagic. As always, seeing the differences between continental conventions was inspiring.
One of the reasons I love about going to Germany is that, even though is very nearby, the scene has developed completely different from the Dutch one. Manga were sold in Germany very early already (and in much larger quantities than in Anglo-American countries even) and anime were on TV a lot. On first sight, German fandom is big, enthusiastic, about 90% (I’m not exaggerating, I did several headcounts at Animagic and here) of the visitors wears cosplays and these are not the shabbiest outfits either. This, amongst others, also generates a different focus at German conventions compared to The Netherlands and the US. In part, German cosplayers also have different performances, for instance of cover bands and show troupes as well. Let’s look at some take-home messages, then.
Publishing Fan Art
Though I had attended Dokomi a few times before, this time they had moved to the Düsseldorf Messe. Now that I’m working on an article about fan conventions, and that we are in a year when Dutch conventions move around a lot as well, I find this specifically interesting. We arrive late and the building turns out to be quite big. It’s not huge, not Animagic type of huge, but it’s definitely spacious. Since they estimated an amount of 4.000 visitors at the site, during the weekend, this is no luxury. Overall, the atmosphere reminds me of Animagic: many visitors are sitting outside in the beautiful weather, the location is near The Rhein too and though it’s in the city centre, it feels detached from it. Dokomi was beautiful last year too, but the first building – a kind of school – only had a small square before it with some patches of grass. This year, the bigger location seems to have drawn a bigger amount of visitors as well. Outside, as well as inside the building, the convention is crowded. We manage to get a ticket, even though the convention is sold out, because Marissa emphasizes that she works for FireAngels and has been at Dokomi many times. This time, we have no artist table, and that is for the best because we want to see some of the events.
Interestingly, the first time that we were at Dokomi selling doujinshi, we were mistaken for professional artists by many fans that looked at our booth. In part that is because in Germany, fan publishing is something has evolved very rapidly into a professional scene rather than an independent fan scene. Many original manga are either published online, or are picked up by companies. Some of these (e.g., FireAngels) have their roots in fandom, but many publishers, such as Carlsen comic,s are big companies that try to support fan manga through competitions and for the lucky ones, contracts.
Another reason that we were mistaken for a company rather than a doujinshi circle is that circles are not a thing in Germany. Fan artists make prints, posters and other things, but they do not often make booklets. The fact that we had real books with us also characterized us as a bigger platform. Unlike the US, where I’ve also seen a vibrant prints and button culture at Otakon, the emphasis in Germany is still on original rather than fannish drawings. They are inspired by Japanese visual styles, yes, but the content is original. This year, particularly, the artist alley is much bigger. I expect that this is because Dokomi makes it very affordable, and Marissa also tells me that it’s not a good time for many German publishing companies. Many are on the verge of going broke, publish less, or have to cancel certain publications (e.g., Carlsen recently cancelled Daisuki, their version of Shoujo Beat). Perhaps this is also why the artist alley is nearly twice as big as last time.
With the decline of traditional publishing companies, fan artists seem to be publishing themselves again. They draw commissions and many of them do this in conhons that the visitors bring, little dummies in which they let all of their friends scribble, but also the semi-professional fan artists. The quality of the fan artists is very high but they have not organized, like the Dutch, in a Japanese model of doujinshi circles. They don’t team up and their focus is less on storytelling and more on illustrating. This is not a flaw, I think, well, hope. Perhaps this will change, but I’m happy – and I can’t quite explain why – that the fans are least getting their voice back. Though I’m not against publishing companies at all, I think a culture where both can go hand in hand – both traditional models that function as gatekeepers as well as fans that learn to do things themselves and get their training wheels on – will ultimately be the most productive and most worthwhile for everyone’s creativity.
Other than fan art being more institutionalized, this year’s Dokomi also put cosplay on the agenda much more. When I look back at their schedule, I realize that this is the first time that they also host the European cosplay championships, which explains a thing or two. Like the Dutch Animecon, they also show much new interest in other cosplay events. Dokomi has workshops in grime, cosplay vidding, costume-creation and Japanese for cosplayers, amongst others. Whereas the Dutch focussed more on showcasing cosplay, Dokomi suggests help and an increase the quality and skills.
I wonder if the Germans need that many workshops, though I can see already that many workshops focus on specific issues and advancing aspects of your cosplay. Many of the cosplayers are at a good level already. This year, my friends and I are not dressed up this time and in the end, I kind of regret not wearing an outfit because it’s a very easy way to address people and strike up a conversation. Now, it’s much easier to observe and exclude yourself, but that’s not the most fruitful thing if you want to gain insights about how people enjoy the convention. We are just a bunch of Dutch people, silently eating the Japanese catered food (hm, sweet bean bread!), roaming around at the maid cafe, impressed by the lines. I take a lot of pictures for the blog because at least it gives me a sense of purpose and honestly, in terms of outfits, there’s a lot to be seen. Homestuck is also popular in Germany, I finally find another Effie cosplayer (few, not one of the outfits I did).
More than half of the workshops at Dokomi are about cosplay. Other fan practices are left out and so are in-depth panels and lectures about the content of manga and anime themselves (a blind spot that we should work on in The Netherlands too). However, there are some tea ceremonies and there’s karaoke, some of it in German, some of it in Japanese. What lacks is a video room, but that’s not a new thing at German conventions either. Animagic always broadcasts its video program separately in cinemas, for instance, but here, there’s no solution offered. Upsides are refreshing workshops in K-Pop dancing and cover bands in visual kei. There’s a LARP too, but where I could identify some players at Otakon, here I see no one engaging in it or subscribing at the booth.
There’s convention memes here too. At the start of the convention, a meme similar to Animecon, where you have to pull badges from a piece of papers. In the lobby I spot another one too, free Brohooves rather than free hugs signs. Some people stand out because they have different tickets, turns out the Dokomi hosts a dating initiative too. f you are looking for a date, there’s specific colours that you can stick to your badge (yes, also a colour for LGB’s) and others can address you. Lastly, there’s a list of achievements in the booklet and titles that you can earn with them. Your friends need to make sure you fulfil them well and you can tweet about them if you want. For instance, for the achievement ‘Doppelgänger’ you need to find a cosplayer with a similar outfit. If only I had worn my Effie.
Das Letztze Einhorn
Still, my friends and I went there with a mission. We wanted to see Tsuki no Senshi (TnS)’s version of The Last Unicorn. For Marissa and me, this animated film and the original novel have a special place in our hearts. We often watch bits of it together, talk about it, admire the animation and laugh about Schmendrick. Though it was my favourite animation film as a child, last year I learned to really love it for what it was. I met the author at Otakon, saw the animation on big screen and felt overwhelmed. I read the novel afterwards, and then its sequel, Two Hearts, and then, the graphic novels. I started to fan girl much more, and part of that was because its author, Peter S. Beagle, was reviving the story properly and really started connecting with his fans. I grew much fonder of the narrative now that I heard its backstory, saw different instalments of it, and, now that I am older, could see how brilliant some of the scenes were (Molly meeting the unicorn, the unicorn’s discussions about love, the unicorn mirrored in the harpy). Marissa then, after YaYCon, gave me a very rare LP of the movie that she found a flea market nearby.
Needless to say, going to Germany meant getting in touch with one of our favourite things in a new way. I had seen TnS at Animagic before and I liked their work immensely. The troupe seems inspired by Takarazuka, the Japanese all-female show choir, though I think that TnS is not necessarily an all-female one. We hog seats during the European cosplay competition and wait while TnS members (can we already identify Molly or Schmendrick, maybe?) set up the decor. It seems simple but when they play with the light, we see that both the forest on the right, and the ocean on the left, can have fully different looks (another forest, another cold ocean).
The two horse men from the opening sequence enter through the crowd. The unicorn is played beautifully. Her movements are elegant, shy and hesitant. Not much later, the opening credits of the animation start playing. The animation is also used as a background and to tie the scenes together (split in three different screens, which was pretty dynamic at points). The dialogue turns out to be that of the animation as well. The opening dance is quite pretty but after that, the musical, like the animation, starts slow. It is only until the flamboyant Schmendrick is introduced, and a wonderfully played Mommy Fortuna, both in perfect costumes, that I really get drawn into the piece. I now see a performance with a heart that’s hilarious and moving. Though TnS obviously had to rework the story into more of a musical, even where it is a bit of a tight fit (with dance scenes that involve some extra songs by the Dutch metal band Epica and other slightly odd choices), it conveys something.
Partly, that’s because the cast does a great job. King Haggard – who as it turns out is an understudy – really stands out. Interestingly, ‘That’s all I’ve got to say’, the love song between Liir and Amalthea, is mirrored with Molly and Schmendrick. I feel very moved by the dynamics and choreography. It really shows that this group has been around for a while. They know how to act and plan their movements carefully. The stage is busy and even with a few tables, a big scenery. Marissa is particularly impressed by the red bull and very disappointed when he turns out to be a she. I find it hilarious and telling that crossplays can still surprise a routine-fan like her. I hope that for a Dutch convention, we can convince TnS to drop by once with an English show because this is something that needs to be shared more.
All in all, Dokomi turns out to be totally okay again and though we hear rumours that this location is expensive, I hope they’ll stay there a bit because I would love to see more events like this at their convention. It used to be small but just by shifting locations, they got so much possibilities. The nice thing is also that this edition immediately gave a professional, good vibe with many new events. I guess that’s an upside for the Dutch cons who will be moving this year. It can be for the best.
– Should we start thinking about bigger cosplay shows with groups as well?
– Can conventions stimulate meeting new people and maybe even dating activities more?
– What do you like to buy in an artist alley? Books, buttons, something else?