I was flipping through old issues of the Angelique official fan magazine LoveLove Tsuushin recently, having gotten into Ailes Noires and Maren again, and I began noticing, for the first time, the section in the back of the book that showcased doujinshi. The franchise was way ahead of the curve in leveraging fan engagement, and instead of attempting to quash fan works, TPTB recognized their usefulness in stoking fan enthusiasm and actively promoted them: outlining and listing order info for a select assortment of doujins, soliciting and printing fanfics and a whole bunch of fanart. (None of the shounen ai that proliferated in the fandom, of course, though based on the titles listed, some was clearly getting in under the radar.)
I never took real notice of the doujinshi section before, but lemme say: there's some interesting stuff on display. The book that really caught my eye was an Ailes Noires title focusing on Walter, of all people. Not a character whose depths are typically plumbed in canon or fan works, for good reasons, but seeing an entire volume dedicated to a quite ancillary character (yet one from a part of the franchise of which I'm inordinately fond) made me curious.
I went looking for it. No dice. There's utterly no trace of it on the internet 20+ years later. Searching Suruga-ya, Yahoo, and Mandarake brings up Yu-Gi-Oh! titles by the circle, but its numerous Angelique works have disappeared from the face of the earth. Not even the search engine Suruga-ya customers can use to check what the shop might offer for an item turns them up, meaning Suruga-ya's never dealt in them in their history.
Which brings me to Ama no Kairou/Heaven's Corridor/Heaven's Cloister, the four-volume fan doujinshi taking off on Vheen Hikuusen Monogatari/Tales of the Vane Airship about which I've posted a few times previously. I had recent cause to document these books (photographing every page to create an admittedly-imperfect digital record), and the Walter doujin incident caused me to recall how Suruga-ya once had an apparent good stock of Ama no Kairou, still listing the book for a long while after I'd posted about it and the shop's then-largely-unplundered bounty of Lunar doujin were a topic of conversation, but they eventually ran out once they shifted their business from Yahoo to their own storefront and word started getting out, and I haven't seen it since. It went from plentiful to completely gone.
Now, I know "gaming's past is burning" is far from a new or unique lament, whether it's for unarchived PC or mobile games or discontinued live-service stuff or vanishing gaming websites. Some may take issue with including doujinshi in this - though Koei themselves considered it a sufficiently significant part of the subculture surrounding their franchise to feature front and center, and good fan material can be a significant part of one's enjoyment of games. But I think of Ama no Kairou, how its creator built their own personal sequel to a canon work with a rich and elaborate narrative that addressed the originals' themes through the lens of one fan's personal reactions to and unique perspective on the franchise - not one with which I agree in every respect (an unlikely prospect in any event, of course), but one with ambition and a vision - and I think about how it isn't available for anyone interested in it to read, despite having been available relatively recently. What about those other Angelique comics? The listings detail a bunch of stuff tailored even to my pigeonholed interests: doujin where the Knight Captains are part of that Sweet Ange high school AU (they did this officially, but in a not-great Slam Dunk-inspired plot); one where Leviath never went to the other universe, and a new conclusion to his story happens in his own... Is one of them as expansive as Ama no Kairou, to the Leviath storyline what Kairou was to Vheen Hikuusen? Unlikely; most aim probably just to be frothy fluff. But, say, surely someone who takes the time to dedicate a magnus opus to Walter isn't content to be derivative - has a story worth telling? I'd like to find out. I likely won't, ever.
I could go on about vanished fan stuff. I was reviewing the old ausanctuaire and angemedia Tumblrs I used to run - again, for Maren stuff. The first, I shut down because a few Japanese fan artists objected to me reposting art with credit & links back - which is a big no-no nowadays but in that time period was still acceptable, at least in the U.S. I closed the Tumblr regardless because I genuinely didn't set out to hurt anyone's feelings, but I was browsing Pixiv the other day, and...well, more Maren art has survived than I thought, but a lot of it is indeed vanished. Some of it is extant only on that Tumblr, like the excellent Knights-with-glasses pics the artist kicori drew, brimming with character (Eugene's schoolmarmish prissiness; Gerhard's comically-confrontational, slightly-unhinged look that always makes me laugh). I'm concentrating on my recent fixation of Maren here, and I realize some erasure via the sands of time is understandable as it's a niche game, but I could go on with other Angelique examples. Those two Tumblrs are now the only source of a number of screenshot collection posts, for example - their source Tumblrs have since been erased or moved. There was an interesting analysis someone posted relatively recently of how Luva's Twin Collection music video foreshadowed visual gambits the same animators used in the Utena movie. It's gone from the platform. The OP erased a good portion of their Tumblr archive, including that post, and I can't find it even in reblogs.
I suppose this post is devolving to lamentation devoid of a cohesive point here, so I'll attempt to identify a few takeaways to try to make this appear not like a total waste of time.
- LoveLove Tsuushin was a remarkable publication in that went beyond its role as a promotional vehicle for Koei to capture, showcase, and celebrate fan output and fan sentiment in the moment - through the lens of what was acceptable and useful to the parent company, yes, but I'm not familiar with any other game series that had anything like this. I would have loved to have had an LLT equivalent back in the day for Final Fantasy or Phantasy Star.
- Records of where fan communities were at past points in time, be it through unicorn publications like LLT or old Tumblrs, are not only valuable (and overlooked) resources but also quite fun to browse in the present, particularly if you're getting back into an older title or franchise.
- That said, it can frustrating to get glimpses of stories and media you'd like to experience but for various reasons now can't. It's important to be as active as you can close to the release of a media property so you can capture the zeitgeist and keep what you want of it.