Zenkaikon’s 21+ Lounge Promises Whimsy but Delivers Mediocrity

I belong to an almost unfathomable number of fandoms, but one that I’m most passionate about is the mobile game Disney Twisted Wonderland (referred to colloquially as TWST). I had already decided several months in advance that I would be attending Zenkaikon 2024 dressed as Rook Hunt from the game; however, it wasn’t until the weekend before the con that I discovered there would be a TWST-themed event on Saturday night (March 23rd). While there was no mention of this event on Zenkaikon’s website, it appeared on the convention’s schedule under the name “Octavia’s 21+ Lounge” with the following description:

Come join us in Live 7 (Heritage C) room in the Lancaster County Convention Center on a fun-filled evening in Octavia’s Lounge, based on the “Mostro Lounge” from the hit Dark Academia manga and video game “Twisted Wonderland”! Cosplay is encouraged but not required. Featuring a cash bar with themed cocktails, general and Disney karaoke, TW cosplayers, trivia and activities/games for prizes! Complete the entire stamp rally activity set to win an exclusive Zenkaikon badge ribbon!

I was so ecstatic about this event that I immediately created a draft here on Fandom Spotlite titled “Zenkaikon’s Octavia’s Lounge Immerses Congoers in the World of Twisted Wonderland.” As you can see, though, this laudatory title did not stay for the final publication.  This is because the event, while still enjoyable, fell very short of my expectations.

Things were rocky from the get-go when the doors opened 18 minutes late. My friends and I arrived at 9:30 PM to guarantee a good spot in line, but this additional wait time meant we ended up standing in the hallway for 48 minutes. The room reached maximum capacity almost immediately; they stopped letting people in at 10:45 PM, less than half an hour after the doors opened. Guests received a hand stamp for re-entry, but for the first hour and a half there was a long line outside the door that made it difficult to come back in. A little under an hour after the 10:45 PM cut-off, the official Zenkaikon Facebook and Instagram pages announced that to make up for the late start, the event would end at 1:00 AM instead of 12:00 AM as originally scheduled. My group ended up leaving just around midnight anyway, but an old friend of mine and her roommate weren’t let in until about 12:15 AM so there are at least two people who did benefit from this extension.

The room reached maximum capacity less than 30 minutes into the event.
Me with my $10 “Pomefiore Punch”

I was immediately struck by the utter lack of ambiance. “Lounge” implies dim lighting, but Heritage C was lit up just like it would have been for any other panel or workshop. The staff was also indecisive about what music to play, starting off with the Hazbin Hotel soundtrack (which has absolutely nothing to do with TWST) and then eventually switching over to background music from the game. What baffled me the most, though, was that the Mostro Lounge that this event was supposedly based on has specific music that plays during every scene that takes place there, so I thought playing that music would have been an obvious choice. I hoped that the Mostro Lounge would at least shine through with the advertised “themed cocktails,” so you can imagine my immense disappointment when I ordered a “Pomefiore Punch” (Pomefiore is the name of the dormitory that the character I was cosplaying belongs to) and was handed a straight-up can of apple flavored Jack Daniels. Most of the drinks on the menu weren’t TWST-themed even by name, and several of them were unavailable. For example, one of my friends ordered a “Dorian Gray” but was told they didn’t have that, so she had to settle for a “Portal Fantasy.” This drink was supposed to contain vodka, but my friend said she couldn’t taste any alcohol at all. The cocktails were also wildly overpriced at $10 for less than half a cup. Lastly, there were only two people working the bar, so the line was never-ending.

One of the few places the TWST theme was actually referenced was at the “stamp rally.” Guests were given a blank card with the same design as the virtual stamp cards that TWST players can complete during certain special events in the game. There were six stations set up with games, and you received a stamp after every game you played (regardless of whether or not you won). After collecting all six stamps, you received an exclusive ribbon to stick to the bottom of your Zenkaikon badge as well as a capsule containing a miniature bust of a random TWST character (I got Riddle Rosehearts). Apparently, one of the event hosts had accidentally ordered 1000 of these miniatures—which may or may not have been an exaggeration—and was therefore able to throw them in as a bonus prize. You can see their social media handle printed on the capsule in the picture in the gallery below. The games were a bit cheesy and not of the best construction, but they were creative and charming.

Fortunately for me, I was not the only guest who adhered to the theme. I saw several people dressed as the characters Malleus Draconia and Idia Shroud, at least one Lilia Vanrouge, one of each of the three Savanaclaw characters, a Cater Diamond, a Floyd Leech, two Epel Felmiers, and, if I’m remembering correctly, a Deuce Spade and possibly a Riddle Rosehearts (although I may be getting confused with the two Riddles I saw the following day at the TWST meetup I hosted). There was even someone dressed as Professor Crewel, who teaches Alchemy in the game. In addition, nearly all of the staff members were dressed as Twisted Wonderland characters: there were a few Azul Ashengrottos, a Trey Clover, another Malleus, and another Epel. But my favorite part was that there were not two, not three, but four Vil Schoenheits. I took a few pictures with them since Vil is the Housewarden of Pomefiore while Rook is his Vice Housewarden (and also one of his biggest fans). We also eventually gathered with the Epels for a Pomefiore group photo (see below). I really wish there had been a group photo with all of the TWST cosplayers, though, especially since Sunday’s meetup ended up having only nine total attendees.

I will concede that minimizing the presence of the Twisted Wonderland theme did make the event more appealing to a wider audience, allowing congoers who were not in the TWST fandom to enjoy it as well without feeling lost. Two activities that contributed to this attempted inclusion were the karaoke and Disney trivia. The karaoke was probably one of the biggest highlights of the night, with a full lineup of singers (I myself went first with the song “Roi” by Bilal Hassani, since Rook calls Vil “Roi du Poison”) and frequent sing-alongs from the audience. The Disney trivia, on the other hand, was much more low-key: it was confined to a single table marked with a small sign, and I never heard any announcements about it. I was literally seated at the table immediately next to it but still didn’t notice that it was happening, and only remembered that trivia was mentioned in the event description after the fact.

The karaoke (such as the above Floyd Leech cosplayer performing “Amish Paradise” by “Weird Al” Yankovic) ultimately held the most attention; however, the fact that it was a 21+ event with alcohol may have done the most work in drawing a crowd. I spoke to a volunteer the following day, and in her opinion the biggest problem was that the Lounge was advertised primarily as a drinking event. Apparently, while I had focused on the Twisted Wonderland aspect of the event, most attendees were drawn in by the “21+” part. The guests for whom the alcohol was the main attraction must have been extra disappointed to find that the drinks were not as they had been advertised and that the bar was understaffed, considering the alcohol was the least of my concerns  and yet even I felt that the bar was a letdown. The volunteer I spoke to after the event told me that the organizers have already begun discussing how to improve things for next year, but did not specify exactly what they have in mind.

Each table had one of these centerpieces. The first five guests to arrive at the table were able to take one of the tentacle pens.

While I would not go so far as to say Octavia’s 21+ Lounge was unsuccessful, it definitely could have been much better. The staff was clearly unprepared for the amount of guests in attendance and some attendees had to sit on the floor because there weren’t enough seats even after they stopped admitting more people. The vibe did not at all match the description provided on the schedule, and the themed cash bar that was supposed to be an event highlight was understaffed, understocked, and overpriced. The intended audience was unclear, with attempts to appeal to both Twisted Wonderland fans and the general public. Nevertheless, the games were cute and the karaoke went over especially well. I think that with more planning and better organization, there is hope for the event to improve next year, and I intend to give it a second try in 2025.

About Gabby Bibus

Gabby has been obsessed with anime since she was just 9 years old, and is proud to say she has watched over 200 different series. But that’s not even her biggest claim to fame: she also lives on a farm with over 80 goats! Although anime and animals are her two favorite things in the world, she also loves music, books, and movies. Her day job is a middle school ESL teacher, and she is also a staff member at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire.

View all posts by Gabby Bibus

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