Otaku USA Magazine
Notes from Nippon: Comiket 78


“Comiket vs. Comic-Con International: both have “comic/k” in the name, one is still all [about] them.” – Lea Hernandez, comic artist and former Vice President General Products USA

It’s telling that San Diego Comic-Con is almost always framed in the context of a celebration. A time to meet friends, make new ones and have the time of your life while getting within feet of the current celebrities of the month. Sure, it’s hustle and bustle with sweaty nerds, but hey, it’s also family time if you go to the right places.
The brave few of you faithfully following this column know where this is going.
A far more frequent metaphor that comes up in conversations with friends on this side of the Pacific about the Comic Market, or Comiket for short, is that of a war: No time to talk. It’s just you, your wallet and your camera of choice against at least 200,000 other people who are all on their way to nerd nirvana and you happen to be an obstruction. Meanwhile, the eye of the inexperienced is overwhelmed by tens of thousands circles selling their comics, figures or whatever else they managed to cook up. Sure, sometimes you’ll see little kids cosplaying Touhou Project characters, but more often than not you’ll be wondering what the hell those tykes are doing there in the first place. This is serious grown-up business. This is Comiket.

Comiket is the event for otaku fandom in the east. This year, an estimated 560,000 people came in to take in the carnivale atmosphere at the Tokyo Big Sight. The corporations on one side, the fans on the other, with cosplayers circling all around, all vying for the attention (and, of course, wallets) of many an otaku. Just about everyone who is anyone got their start here and even if they didn’t, they are more than happy to come here to pay their respects—Shintaro Kago, Akemi Takada and Yoshitoshi ABe (who we were fortunate enough to get a photo of), just to name a few. Imagine Artist Alley times ten with the crowds kicked up to eleven.

It all seems cut and dry on paper, but in practice, it’s organized pandemonium. There is an intensity about the whole practice that makes the impromptu Comic-Con T-shirt giveaways look like a cakewalk in the clouds.  People shuffling down the halls, muscling their way through crowds to get to that one booth where they will then politely queue up to get that one slim volume of doujinshi that may or may not involve naughty happenings inside.

Of course, what makes this place so completely different from most other comic events is the veil of fog that covers much of the Big Sight. Photography is strictly regulated, with refusals being far more common. Even cosplayers could get camera-shy: A guy dressed in a WWII-era Japanese uniform was quick to duck out of a shot, saying “No press!” Fortunately, there were more than enough exhibitionists to make up for this.

There are a multitude of reasons for this, the most obvious being that nearly everyone is guilty of blatant copyright infringement. Nothing that’s ever been unleashed onto Japanese soil is safe: a highlight is that of Mamoru Nagano’s sprawling Five Star Stories getting crossed over with Lucky Star. Sailor Moon getting literally skewered? Oh, yes. This outlaw spirit is part of the allure without a doubt. Sure, you can get fired if the boss finds out you took the day off for selling funnybooks instead of your mom’s funeral like you said, but that’s part of the giddy little thrill. Nothing like a so-called “culture of shame” to make one wonder why Catholicism never found a stronger footing here.

Of course, the place is also chockfull of original games, cosplay idols selling photobooks and even some more esoteric things like glassware and wallets. One particularly travel-oriented individual took a trip to Italy to take photos of locations that inspired the Martian canals in Aria. While, for the more intellectually minded, there are also several analytical essays on the deeper meanings of a media that is often dismissed as a trash culture even by those who cherish it.

And yes, there’s the porn. And Miku. And Miku with porn. That, however, is another article entirely. Instead, I’ll be curling up with my fishing doujin, “KisuXSis” (Kisu being a delicious pun on the word for “smelt-whiting”) Aw yeah, baby. Now that’s what keeps a soldier fighting.