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Comic Market

Doujinshi booths at Comic Market in Odaiba, Tokyo

Visitors browse the rows of booths at which writers and cartoonists sell their doujinshi circles’ books and magazines

Comic Market (also known as Comiket) is a paradise for anyone with a passion for manga and anime – Japanese comic books and animation. For everyone else, it’s a fascinating insight into a community that takes its leisure activities very seriously indeed. Fanatical devotees of manga are known as ‘otaku’, and are very much looked down on by mainstream society, but this doesn’t stop over half a million people turning up to partake in Comic Market, the world’s biggest celebration of otaku culture.

The event takes place over three days every August and December at Tokyo’s giant exhibition centre, Big Sight. The event is run by and for the doujinshi community: groups of enthusiasts who write manga for the amusement of themselves and those who share similar interests. So, while about 130 commercial publishers are represented at each Comic Market, the core of the convention is the 35,000 doujinshi groups that take part each time. (There would be even more, but a lack of space means that each group has to enter a lottery to decide who gets to participate.) The whole event is run by a voluntary committee, whose stated aim is to spur creativity within the doujinshi community, so helping to produce works that go beyond those available commercially. The dedication of Comic Market’s supporters is such that it is able to function without a single paid member of staff – every one of the 2,400 people needed to run the event is a volunteer.

A page from the doujinshi manga, ‘Flag Ship Girl’ (ふらぐしっぷがーる) by Ryunosin, part of the Natsushiki (夏式) series

This page from ‘Flag Ship Girl’ by Ryunosin is typical of the doujinshi manga on sale at Comic Market. This book cost ¥200, but can also be viewed online for free. (CC)

Many doujinshi writers have developed a loyal following among fans, even though they often produce their work in very limited quantities, and only sell it through gatherings such as Comic Market. This has resulted in the most passionate enthusiasts beginning to queue in the early hours of the morning. Even those who arrive at 6:30am, three and a half hours before the market opens, have to join the back of what’s already a very long queue. By the time the market opens at 10am, tens of thousands of attendees will be lined up outside. Despite the length of the queues, often in temperatures that can be well over 30° for the summer event, the crowd is well behaved, obeys the marshals without question, and queue-jumping is unheard of. Once inside, attendees have to queue again, this time at the booths of individual authors whose works they want to purchase, often waiting as much as another hour. The most serious plan a route through the market in advance, so they can bag as many of their favourite comics as possible before they all sell out. The majority of people buy just for their own consumption – but some aim to sell on their purchases at a later date, sometimes for as much as ten times the original purchase price.

The queue for Comic Market leading to Tokyo Big Sight which is visible far ahead

Fans wait patiently in a very long line during the hot and humid Tokyo summer, hoping for the chance to grab some limited edition publications before they sell out. The queue stretches all the way to the huge inverted pyramids in the distance – so there’s still a long time to wait. (CC)

Now there’s no question that going through all that yourself would be a unique experience – but if it doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, then you’ll be relieved to hear that from about 12:30pm you’ll be able to walk straight in without queuing at all (entrance is free). While the most popular products will have sold out by this point, the vast majority of items will still be available. You’ll enter one of two giant halls – quite probably the biggest rooms you’ve ever seen in your life, each lined with row after row of desks. Each doujinshi group is assigned a tiny desk (90 by 45cm) for one day of the festival only. A woman with red hair and a man with blue hair pose in highly revealing costumes in the cosplay arena at Comic Market (Comiket) at Tokyo Big Sight

This couple are enjoying soaking up the attention of some of the many photographers in the cosplay arena (CC)
Most sell manga, some anime, computer games, or models of their favourite characters, but everything is a home-made product. The markets are organised so that each day focuses on different genres, but even so there are just so many booths that if you’re interested in anything specific, you’ll have little chance of finding it without the help of the catalogue. This is on sale both in advance and at the venue – but be warned that it runs to 1,400 pages and is the size of a telephone directory. As a casual visitor, you might be better off just exploring at random, and leaving which aspects of the convention you encounter completely up to chance.

You can get an idea of the range of genres encompassed by the doujinshi community just by browsing amongst the booths. Of course most of the books are in Japanese, but as they’re mainly comic books, you can get a good impression of what they’re about just by looking at the pictures. Be warned that many of the stories have a lot of sexual content, ranging from romantic epics and stories about cute curvaceous girls, to the overtly erotic, right up to niche fetishes such as tentacle porn. (Google it if you really want to know.) It may surprise you to learn that more women that men attend Comic Markets, and the number of pornographic Manga aimed at women is probably at least as great as those aimed at men – many Japanese women are clearly not shy about expressing their sexuality, or their liking for sexually explicit material – at least when surrounded by like-minded members of the doujinshi community.

Masses of people and doujinshi stalls in one of the giant halls of Tokyo Big Sight during Comic Market

Just a few of the doujinshi stalls in one of Tokyo Big Sight’s giant halls. If the sight of so many people in one room scares you, make you sure don’t arrive until the afternoon when the crowds will have died down. (CC)

The sheer number of attendees means that the halls can get very hot and sweaty, even in winter, so you’ll probably want to leave after quite a short spell inside. Once you’ve headed outside, don’t leave before you’ve seen the costume play (or cosplay) arena. Around 14,000 people participate in this part of the event by dressing up as their favourite characters. The standard of the costumes is extremely high – I’ve yet to see anything that looked at all amateurish. There are around four women cosplayers for every man who takes part – and the costumes they choose tend to be quite revealing – ultra-short skirts and extensive cleavages being particularly popular. Some participants have bright green hair and wear cute frilly dresses and bonnets, while others wear only the minimum amount of leather needed to avoid arrest for indecency. Cosplayers search out other characters from the same stories, and pose together for the hordes of photographers who come equipped with big, chunky cameras. They clearly love soaking up the attention, and whether the scene delights or revolts you, cosplayers at least deserve our respect for having the self-confidence to indulge in a pastime that is so ridiculed by mainstream society. And if you feel the urge to participate yourself, there are plenty of shops around Tokyo selling cosplay outfits.

Most likely you’re going to feel like an outsider, and very out of place, but I think it’s worth going for the chance to gain just a little bit of insight into a subculture that provides so much pleasure and enjoyment for its hardcore aficionados. Certainly, if you don’t have an interest in manga or anime before you go, the big attraction is probably going to be observing the other attendees, rather than actually buying any of the goods on sale.

Three women cosplay in highly elaborate costumes at Comiket (コミケット)

The amount of work that must have gone into these costumes is incredible. They’re from Trinity Blood, which was originally a series of light novels. The novels were developed first into a series of manga, and then into an anime TV series. (CC)

Access: To get to Tokyo Big Sight, ride the elevated Yurikamome train from Shimbashi Station on the Yamanote line to Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon Station. On the way, you’ll cross over the Rainbow Bridge and onto Odaiba, an artificial island created to help ease Tokyo’s never-ending problems of over crowding. You’ll pass the statue of liberty (a replica of the one in Paris, erected following the loan of the original to Japan for its 1998-1999 year-long celebration of all things French), and then a building built to look like a boat (the maritime museum – you really do have to look closely to tell its not actually afloat). Soon, Big Sight, with its upper floors in the shape of inverted pyramids will come into view.

When: For the exact dates of each event, check the official website.

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