14th August 2016.
If I were to encapsulate every little detail of what makes Comiket Comiket, the third and final day alone would be able to flawlessly do just that. A haven of hentai pornography, a congregation of borderline erotic cosplays and an endless sea of predominantly male photographers; armed with the most sophisticated handheld DSLR camera set-ups you’ll ever witness. The conclusion of the 90th Summer Comic Market had everything I had ever wanted out of this wonderful event.
Warning: This post contains some NSFW photos.
We awakened from the early hours of 4 am with little to no sleep and took the first train. Apart from blank-faced salarymen and the occasional high school students who seemed to be going to school in the middle of August for clubs, you can tell from the very nature from the rest of the determined amoured passengers they were on their way to war.
Arriving on Tokyo Big Sight grounds, the front entrance area was filled to the brim with eager visitors. The sun was already out but covered by a thick blanket of cloud making 6 am feeling like we just time-slipped later into a murky afternoon. We followed the neatly organised lines of people before we were archived temporarily in one of the clusters Comiket is famously known for excercising to manage the half-a-million attendees (for comparison Anime Expo draws in around 100,000 and MCM London Comic Con had around 130,000 for each event in the last year).
Nearly everyone once settled sat down in their spots dived straight on their phones, tablets and game devices as they had plenty of time to kill. While you may be thinking being trapped for 4+ hours sounds like death – the good news is that you can leave the line at any time before the line moves by leaving a belonging to mark your place, meaning you can pop down to the konbini nearby for the toilet and pick up some food to keep on living. Don’t worry about your thing being stolen – no one will bother stealing since there is absolutely no benefit, just don’t leave anything too valuable.
Alternatively, you might consider joining the insane group of people who camp out at Tokyo Big Sight the day before and into the night just to secure their places at the front of the line.
Hours passed, and just before the clock struck 10 am our cluster began to move before it soon merged with the main crowd flowing endlessly into the main front entrance. People in line were shifting left and right because you had to be in the right “lane” to enter the East or West entrances, to enter the East side you had to stay on the left and for West you had to stay on the right. Failure to stay in the right lane will result in a lengthy detoured walk to the right side or be the pillock who has to jaywalk to where you want to go. The industry zone in the West Halls from the first two days had now packed up meaning every squared centimetre of floor space in Tokyo Big Sight was dedicated to doujin artists and circles.
We thankfully avoided the Summer Comiket horror story (where people pass out due to the scorching heat) because the weather was pretty chilly that morning thanks to the overcast which disappeared into the day.
Once the loud outdoor speakers announced the beginning of Day 3 with every attendee subsequently applauding (a thing I was still not used to) it was time to hustle. Me, Joe and Otamega went our separate ways so that we could freely hunt down the tables we wanted to see before meeting up later in the day.
I was absolutely thrilled to have met Kenjiro Hata who was walking around picketing for his Hajimemashite circle booth, which was the very first thing I did after entering the West entrance!
After helping this guy take a pic of him and Hata it was my golden moment to walk up to the madman himself, the creator of my favourite manga of all time to take a sweet and dank selfie. And as the natural reaction when you’re about to meet someone famous you look up to goes I completely blanked out and used the potato quality front-facing camera on my phone to take the selfie when I probably should have asked the guy before me to take the photo!
I then tried to utter the rehearsed Japanese lines I had practised beforehand like telling Hata-sensei I came from England to see him and was a big fan of his work – before it was too late and he averted his attention to another fan and got pushed into the line for his doujin. It was a brief moment and despite mildly spaghetti-ing out meeting Hata in the flesh is one of my highlighting moments out of this trip! I did redeemed myself later and took a flattering pic of Hata-sensei with my DLSR as seen above.
Tables located around the edges of the halls with shutter entrances are reserved for the high-profile circles expected to draw in hundreds if not thousands. These circles are located in these spots so that the crowd could then be offset by having them queue outside instead of congesting the narrow pathway inside the hall.
After my meeting with Hata I soldiered on in the West Halls; jumping from one doujin stand to another as planned on my hitlist of creators I wanted to visit. Many artists I wanted to see had long lines with many I decided to pass because I didn’t want to waste time or they weren’t as high-priority. Others circles had lines flowing so quickly thanks to the fast transactions from efficient helpers I was 25 meters away from the table and was walking away holding the purchased doujin in 1 minute! After a quick final lap around the West Halls I decided to continue my journey to the East.
While I did visit the majority of doujin stands I had planned to see in the East halls, the number of attendees entering in never stopped increasing making it all the more difficult to walk around. It reached a point around lunch time when the East halls was extremely over-packed it became near-impossible to walk anywhere and you had no choice but to allow yourself to get swept away into the crowds like that certain scene in Lucky Star as the organisers tried to dissipate the chaos.
Somehow escaping the chaos brewing inside, it was now around 1 pm and me, Joe and Otamega rendezvoused and took a break outside now that it was virtually impossible to breathe inside.
While resting we noticed this risque cosplayer in the distance attracting quite the crowd.
After our quick rest, we came over the bridge to investigate and then got told off by staff for holding up the people behind us and taking photos in the prohibited areas.
It was also around this time we walked past Ladybeard and his escorts! Sadly the assistants around him were holding up signs in multiple languages asking to not take unsolicited photos…
We noticed a big info board as we began traversing through the cosplay zones informing attendees to respect other peoples’ privacy by not photographing without permission and not to be general creeps. And who would have guessed this was a precursor for what was about to occur…
But before that time for a montage of pics I took inside the cosplay zone!
So after walking from one cosplay pit to another, we came across this extraordinary huge crowd and decided to check what the fuss was all out, and now comes what may be – for better or worse – the highlight event of my time at Comiket that could only ever happen at Comiket (or shady districts).
This dashingly bold cosplayer was receiving a tremendous amount of attention, perhaps too much attention as the photographers close around her began to lose resistant to their urges.
It reached a breaking point where photographers were practically pointing their cameras in direct contact with the cosplayer’s thighs who then had no choice but to physically push them back.
Fortunately, the situation calmed itself down soon after the pushback with no major incident that occurred. The cosplayer herself looked okay with the excessive attention and knew how to handle the situation before things could have gotten out of hand and the thirsty photographers appeared to be self-restraint, though I probably would have attempted to step in if things had gone out of hand.
From what I had observed from the unspoken rules of the cosplay zone, there’s usually a predetermined distance between the cosplayer and photographers to allow the cosplayer some personal space and to prevent shady characters from exploiting the close distance – perhaps a meter or two. In this case, the distance was no more than a 50cm radius before everyone lunged in.
Assuming the crowds should have calmed down by then we returned to the East halls to cover ground that was unreachable hours before. We hung around until 4 pm when the organisers formally announce the conclusion of the 80th Comic Market to which a grand applause erupted inside the halls.
Once 4 pm struck, all the creators and helpers began to take down their stands with efficiency. Within a matter of minutes what looked to be endless aisles of perfectly aligned tables and chairs had now been flat packed and neatly stacked for the relevant people to take them away. Much of the promotional posters stuck on walls were quickly taken down by attendees; carefully peeling away from the blu-tack on the wall with precision – perhaps to salvage what can be sold later for a pretty penny (if I knew you could do this before everyone grabbed all the posters I would have done the same).
Shoutouts to Fukapon who I’ve known on Twitter for a long time and was able to briefly meet before he had to dash off to catch the bullet train home!
As always we stayed around for a bit outside Tokyo Big Sight to avoid the packed trains as we planned out what to do for the evening. I can remember how exhausted we were by the end of it and just wanted to get back to the Airbnb to get some rest.
Later in the evening we met up with my Twitter pal Peter Shillito for some tasty Mos Burgers!
(((Shameless plug Peter hosts a anime music radio show called Neko Desu every Saturday night from 9-11pm (UK time) on The Cat; a local radio station in Crewe and Nantwich in the UK which you can listen to online!)))
After dinner, we invited Peter and Otamega back to our Airbnb to chill and had a nice chat over some food and a heap load of drinks we got from the supermarket nearby into the night!
The Suntory Premium Malts seen above in the blue packaging is the smoothest can of beer I have ever had, even more surprising that it rivals the smoothness in the tap beers I had at a few restaurants so far. We basically occupied the entire communal fridges at this point but it seemed like the other guests in the apartment didn’t have much to keep anyway.
And so we reach the end of this Comiket triple-post extravaganza!
To put it simply, Comiket was everything I had expected it to be and more; years after seeing the craze covered in all forms of media from anime to travel vlogs I am so grateful to have finally experienced it all with my own eyes.
What surprised me the most about Comiket was the strong sense of community you feel inside the halls; seeing attendees talking casually to the creators behind the table played in contrast to the conservative keep-it-to-yourself culture I had felt so far in inner Tokyo. I was so amazed by the elaborate and diverse camera gear people were armed with inside the cosplay zone. Never have I ever seen a more concentrated congregation of black boxed cameras and dramatic photographer poses.
While I had an amazing time at Comiket I would say my main gripe about my time there was walking around. I’d find myself walking stupidly long detours to get from point A to B because of the ever-changing path routes the staff shift between as well as getting held up from people in front making me almost bumping into them as I manoeuvre around them like a hip-hop ballerina. The comic halls indoors can get really crowded at “peak times” (despite not knowing what these hours are) making it difficult to walk around and in our case to stay as a group as me, Joe and Otamega got separated numerous times throughout the weekend and hoped to the Ero God our portable wifis had signal so that we could message each other to regroup.
Many memorable things had happened during this Comiket weekend to which I still vividly remember to this day. The most notable of course was meeting the creator of my all-time favourite manga Hayate no Gotoku! Kenjirou Hata! I also jumped into dozens upon dozens of photographer moshpits in the cosplay zones, experiencing what it feels like to be part of the mosaiced and censored crew who appear in backgrounds of cosplay shots people post to 2chan and then repurposed into Sankaku Complex articles. I’ll never forget the chaos on the final day when the comic halls became ridiculously over-crowded I legitimately got swept away in a sea of otaku (though one memory I’d rather forget was the waft of body sweat in the air during this hell).
There are dozens of sites out there on the web that’ll teach you the ins and outs of Comiket better than I could bother, but here are some key things I can offer based on what I went through these past three days;
- Plan Plan PLAN. Make a list of artists/circles you’d like to visit. Track down their table code. Know what they’re selling. Prioritise circles/companies that are likely to sell out fast. Plan your overall route around the event space. Familiarise yourself with Big Sight’s complicated floor map. I mainly used Twitter to find out what artists/circles I knew were going to have and where they’ll be sitting as well as Circle.ms to locate them on the floor map. Not properly planning won’t hyperbolically kill you but you’ll be wandering around aimlessly like a lost sheep in a thunderstorm.
- Bring cold packs and/or frozen water bottles to smother all over your face with and cool down because it gets really hot during midday. This is mainly for Summer Comiket but inversely you can bring hot drinks or heat packs for the Winter as I heard it gets really cold.
- Don’t see Comiket like it is western Comic-Con. Comiket is what I feel to be 80% a marketplace for doujinshi, 15% cosplay and 5% industry. Comiket differs greatly from Comic-cons because the main focus is the selling, exposure and celebration of self-published works. There is an industry area on the first two days (may be different in the past or in the future) which can be better off called a competitive industry dealers’ room selling Comiket-exclusive goods that people are willing to line up for hours on end to get their grubby hands on. The amount of space the industry area gets compared to the comic halls is minuscule.
If you’re neck deep into the world of doujinshi and give unending likes to all the illustrations doujin artists post on Twitter then attending Comiket if you’re in Japan in August or December is a no-brainer. There are no tickets to buy so you can simply show up!
Although you could argue the real price would be the time and energy spent to survive through the day and the mental capacity and willpower to ever decide to attend such hellish events. Comiket is still an interesting place to go for those unfamiliar with the doujinshi culture just for the experience but I would follow what the official guide says and show up later in the day to avoid long queues and overcrowding, it really isn’t worth the toll on your body.