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August 2018 Update: Comiket Sucks

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It is pretty interesting to see how Comiket has been mythologised, both inside and outside Japan. Just like Akihabara, the electric town, Comiket has become a symbol for the Otaku Lifestyle. Every year, hundreds of thousands of anime fans from around the world gather at Tokyo Big Sight to get a taste of this time-honored otaku tradition.

Many come away disappointed.

Comiket is not an anime con. It is, quite literally, a comic market. If there is nothing you want to buy, there is nothing else to see or do, except face suffocation by crowds. There are no panels, stage shows, screenings, interviews or anisong concerts – nothing that resembles the typical overseas anime con experience. There’s cosplay, at least, but the vibe of that scene is uncomfortable for reasons I scarcely need to explain.

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Ironically, the discomfort of Comiket has become part of the mythology. Every year, those videos of people sprinting out of the station from the 5am train become viral on the web. What is it that compels these people to catch the first train so that they can be near the front of the line when the doors finally open five hours later? (They’re not even at the front, by the way – thousands of people camp overnight every year despite that being against the rules.)

There’s an underlying belief that it must be worth it if so many people put themselves through such an excruciating experience. For example, an event report from a Manga.Tokyo writer breathlessly recounts her experience catching the first train and encountering the crowds:

The morning glow is bright… that is the battlefield…the battlefield of Comiket…

I was feeling like a warrior going to battle! It was too beautiful not to say, I’m getting married when this battle is over…!

In truth, nobody really needs to put themselves through such trials in order to get the doujinshi they want. While it’s true that a popular artist’s new work will sell out quickly – sometimes within a matter of minutes – they have a way of popping up in second-hand stores in Akihabara and Nakano Broadway soon after. There’s also the option of buying the doujinshi from an online retailer. The costs will be higher, but you could argue that the convenience makes it worth it.

You could also do what the other cunning people do and join your friend’s doujinshi circle as an “assistant” so you can get a circle pass and access the other booths before everyone else.

Honest Comiket attendees will argue that the long wait in line makes the moment of purchasing the doujinshi more satisfying. It’s the concept of delayed gratification, I suppose. You could also call it masochism.

The point is, nobody’s denying that Comiket sucks. It’s the first or second thing a person who has been to Comiket will mention when you ask them about it. Despite the best efforts from a dedicated group of volunteers, people get injured and suffer from heat stroke every year.

For my own part, I had to leave Summer Comiket early this year because I was feeling too overwhelmed by it all. My coverage of the event was limited to a few photos of Kyoto Animation’s booth which, admittedly, was pretty cool.

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Covering a big event as a journalist is always tough because there’s pressure to get photos of everything and simply not enough time to do it all. If I want to get a single photo of a popular cosplayer, I have to wait in line for up to an hour. It becomes a matter of priorities and picking my battles carefully.

If that was all there was to it, I wouldn’t have such trouble writing about Comiket every time I go to it. But there’s the larger question of what exactly anime fans want out of a report of Comiket.

My impression is that people who don’t go to Comiket want to hear the legends. They like to hear stories about those epic lines and those people who travel halfway across the country to Tokyo Big Sight on a bicycle. People are drawn to stories of discomfort. It’s the number one thing Comiket is famous for.

I don’t want to put myself in discomfort for the sake of a story.

This blog post makes it sound like I hate Comiket, but I don’t actually. Comiket is one of the few opportunities fans have to interact with artists after the buyers have cleared off. Talking to Yutaka Nakamura (the most famous Japanese animator in the world according to Sakugabooru stats) and getting his signature put me over the moon. But that’s no thing to write in an event report; every fan who has interacted with a creator they admire has a story like that.

In other words, what really sucks about Comiket is that, once you’ve stripped away the discomfort, there’s nothing truly special about the experience.  The “best” way to experience Comiket is to walk in after midday, when all the hardcore buyers have already left. You can walk freely around the halls and look at the pretty displays at the corporate booths, and at that point, it’s your average pop culture expo.

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Perhaps one day, as more and more foreigners experience Comiket for themselves and come to realize the nature of it, there will be less mythologising of it. But I doubt it. As Comiket gets bigger, it will become more uncomfortable, and that’s where the legends spring from. Next year will probably suck even harder than usual because it will take place at two different venues over a kilometre apart over four days. Health concerns will become more pressing as temperatures in Japan rise.

Meanwhile, my struggle to write about Comiket continues.


Fortunately, I didn’t have troubles covering other events this month. August was my most prolific month at ANN so far; I even cranked out three feature articles this month: How Creative Original Anime Get Made with Takayuki NagataniEncouragement of Climb Made Me Climb a Japanese Mountain and The Genius Adaptations of Tomihiko Morimi’s Novels.

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Here is a list of other articles I worked on recently:

Interview: Shinji Higuchi, Chief Director of Dragon Pilot

Speak Out! Japan’s LGBTQ+ Community Responds to Politician Sugita’s Discriminatory Statements

Highlights From Summer Wonder Festival 2018

Voice Actor Kouichi Yamadera, Voice Actress Rie Tanaka Announce Divorce

Real-Life Architect Designed the Set of Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai Film

An Inside Look at the Encouragement of Climb Capsule Hotel Rooms

CyberConnect2 Exhibit Highlights .hack Series, Tail Concerto, Asura’s Wrath

REVIEW: Penguin Highway

Highlights from Pikachu Outbreak in Yokohama 2018

Face Your Own Titan at Attack on Titan Tokyo, Osaka Exhibits

Review: The Seven Deadly Sins the Movie: Prisoners of the Sky

C3AFA Tokyo: Where Gundam Fandom Makes Its Big Stand

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Posted on August 31, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Beyond the spectacle, Comiket is personal. It’s like you say, getting to meet Nakamura the elder or other stories like that. And that’s actually the heart in even so-called Journalism.

    Just to do a sanity check, when I talk to my friends about comiket it’s about what they actually did. It is not the kind of show people go without a mission, or at least an optional objective. We can trade stories on how to survive, the secret to overnight camping, what have you, or which circle had the best/worst/ugliest lines and which line did staff mess up, whatever. Then there’s the nerding out, either in terms of actual content in doujinshi, what happened at a watashikai, or whose autograph/sketch you got. Or which cosplayer was doing which outfit how and where are the pictures.

    Pretty simple. And boring. Maybe not even that newsworthy. Unless it’s personal.

  2. So, Comiket is like drive-though cinema, only more gruesome?

    Also, I noticed that your article on LGBTQ+ sparked quite a discussion on ANNforums. Do you ever read the discussion thread about your articles? And if yes, then how do you think about the quality of the responses (in the content and the altitude)?

    • About that LGBTQ+ article, I wasn’t the one who wrote it. I took photos at the anti-Sugita rally and gave advice in the early drafting stage of the article.

      We knew going in that the discussion thread would require heavy moderation if we were going to keep homophobic comments out. That would have been the case no matter how the article was written, simply because of the nature of the topic.

      One thing to take into account is that forum responses don’t represent what the majority of the readership thinks of a topic. On controversial topics, there will always be agitators who try to sway opinion by flooding the thread with posts.

      There are cases when I think that nothing would be gained publishing an article that does nothing but stir up the same circular debates and could expose marginalised people to hate speech. However, in this case, I thought that the article contributed something meaningful because it extensively quoted Japanese LGBTQ+ voices (some of them from inside the industry). This doesn’t happen much on English-speaking platforms so regardless of the quality of the responses we thought it was worth publishing.

  3. Many years past, at a World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), the convention committee had the idea to host an “ice cream social” to serve as the usual “Meet the Pros” event. The basic idea was have a little ice cream while moving from table to table meeting the many professional authors of science fiction and fantasy books and stories.

    The actuality was a long line of fans wrapped around the perimeter of a huge room waiting for one (1) scoop of ice cream being served up by two (2) dippers. Meanwhile, the pros sat at the table visiting amongst themselves with nary a fan stopping by to chat, get an autograph, or snap a photo.

    A good number of those waiting may not have gotten any ice cream by the nominal end of the event when most of the pros departed.

    Some attendees spent a good bit of money and time getting to the WorldCon only to waste two (2) hours waiting for a free scoop of ice cream they could have bought for fifty cents or so … I did mention it was many years past, didn’t I?

  4. In August 2009 I went only knowing that it was very busy so to arrive early, very hot so to prepare, that you could buy doujinshi there, and almost no Japanese. I had a great time even though I only realized after a quite few hours that there were 2 other halls, that the cosplay stuff was held outside, that there was a directory, and that different days had different circles. Ended up buying a CD only because they beckoned me to come listen to their CD player and a book for a series I had no idea about but the cover look cute. I couldn’t find circles for series I was interested in, but seeing so many self motivated artists and fans was really inspiring. And even though I stuck out like a sore thumb and couldn’t even hold a simple conversation, the assistants went out of their way to help me and feel part of this mass of fans.

    Sadly when I could have gone again in 2015 (this time understanding a lot more about both Comiket and Japanese) I didn’t as nothing I’m a fan of was popular at the time!

  5. i don’t think you are the target audience for comiket

    when i first went to comiket, i knew what i was in for.
    i’m an avid doujin collector and i wanted to meet the artists behind them and get some sketches which a few artists were offering. it was exhausting but i came home with a suitcase full of goodies (mostly doujins) and it felt good to peruse through them. this was back in 2016 and i would gladly make the trip to go again.

    if people go to comiket expecting something similar to the USA anime conventions, then they didn’t research enough. and i would say that is their fault

    • I understand well and stated in the blog post that Comiket is primarily a market. I also mentioned my satisfaction from interacting with artists that you say is a high point of Comiket too.

      However writing about Comiket as a journalist is a much more difficult matter, and the post is about my struggles in capturing what Comiket is like for readers overseas.

      I can’t deny that I would probably enjoy Comiket more if I didn’t have to cover it. Taking photos all day of cosplayers and booths adds an extra burden on top of making personal purchases. I know perfectly well what Comiket is before I go into it, but it is still overwhelming for me because of all the duties I have and the difficulties of thinking of what to write.

      I’m glad you had a positive experience with Comiket, though.

  6. Maybe it’s because of the three or four cons I’ve been to there wasn’t all that much to do, and the stuffiness of the rooms became too much for me to bear well before the venues’ end. But something tells me Comiket especially, just isn’t for me.

    But perhaps I will someday take up your suggestion and go there during midday to get a firsthand experience of the place, should I have the opportunity to do so.

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