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.
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.
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.
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 Nagatani, Encouragement of Climb Made Me Climb a Japanese Mountain and The Genius Adaptations of Tomihiko Morimi’s Novels.
Here is a list of other articles I worked on recently: