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Welcome to part two of this ridiculously long-winded Comiket report. Now that we've dissected the catalog, let's have a look at the general atmosphere of the actual con.




The obligatory photo of a huge mass of people queuing up to enter Tokyo Big Sight, the massive convention center where Comiket takes place. I wish I could have turned around and taken a pic from the top of those stairs, because then you could see half of Tokyo lining up, but there was absolutely no way to stop walking.

The crowds were exactly as huge as promised. I'm not sure how many of the over half a million attendees come on every day of the three days of Comiket, but in any case, there's always at least about two hundred thousand people in the convention center at any one time. I'm pretty sure that no con will ever seem large again after this. Walking through the hallways meant doing a kind of synchronized shuffle that made me feel like I was in March of the Penguins. It was strangely thrilling to move with this kind of crowd, though. Especially the rather spectacular walk up to the convention center felt like an organized mass migration into another world. Thousands upon thousands of people, all there for the fanworks, every single one of them.

(From the department of Things that Impress Newbies... There's one main line of people approaching the convention center from the nearby subway station, and a few smaller lines coming from other points of access. We were in a smaller line, and I couldn't see how we were ever going to squeeze into the main line because it was such an utterly packed river of people. But as soon as our small line had ballooned to a respectable size, staff members present grabbed a couple of huge megaphones and hollered at everyone to stop. The main line, a solid mass that was about twenty shoulder-to-shoulder people broad and stretched out as far as the eye could see, stopped in its tracks right in front of us as if the staff had flipped a switch. We filed into the gap that formed in the space of a few seconds, and as soon as the tail of our line moved into the road, the main line started walking again and enfolded us into the ranks seamlessly. It was all the staff giving directions well and the attendees knowing what to do, but that maneuver was downright beautiful.)

The volunteer staff did a truly heroic job of making the event as fun as possible for each of the countless people stuffed into Big Sight. The volunteers -there's about three thousand of them at work on site every day- are recognizable by their bright blue caps and armbands. They set up the tables and signage before the other participants arrive, direct the masses through the hallways, make sure no one gets lost or trampled, sell food and drinks, crew a few dozen information booths, make sure people form orderly lines at the spaces of popular circles, patrol everywhere to answer questions and make sure no one's making a nuisance of themselves, and manage to stay friendly and helpful no matter how busy, hot and annoyed they are. They're an amazing and very dedicated bunch. I got the impression that a very sizeable majority of the volunteers were men, though I'm not sure why that might be.

The heat that I'd been warned about was actually very bearable. It was very, very hot outside the building and on the roof terrace; I ended up passing up on seeing the outdoors cosplay because it would have meant stepping into the sun. Inside the convention center, the hallways were pretty stifling as well. The halls themselves had all the outside doors open and didn't feel too warm at all, thougth, and since I spent the vast majority of my time in there, it wasn't as dreadful as all that. Poor, brave cosplayers.

I don't have a lot of pictures from now on. Photography inside the con is frowned upon a bit. There are still unpleasant prejudices about Comiket attendees among some non-fans, and people generally don't like the idea of being spotted in a Comiket photo by family members or work superiors. The Junbikai tries to mediate between Comiket attendees and the press to make sure that the media people can do their job but don't end up hassling or worrying regular participants. Members of the press who want to take pictures/video or interview people need to apply for a press pass and state their purpose in writing, and the Junbikai can assign a staff volunteer to follow them around and keep an eye on things if that's deemed necessary. The catalog has a list of everyone who applied for a press pass during the last edition that regular participants can consult. It also gives some advice about what to do when you're approached for an interview -basically, make sure you're talking to a certified member of the press and make note of the info on their press pass, inform the staff if someone without a proper pass is asking questions, inform the staff if you were interviewed but felt uncomfortable with the conversation, and especially, be confident about explaining why you're at Comiket and why it's such a great place for creativity and exchange.

Verena got herself a press pass so she could take some pictures, and I'll apply for one next time so I have more images to share. It's okay to take pictures without a press pass if you're not working for an organization or the pictures won't be used in any for-profit way, but still, photography can make participants uncomfortable and asking permission is generally expected. I got the feeling that it would have been rude to take pictures without a press pass dangling from my neck.

The Big Sight convention center is divided in two large, adjacent East halls and one West hall, which is located a pretty long walk away from the East halls. Comiket takes three days, but every circle gets allocated a space on only one of these days. Each day is devoted to different 'genres' (janru) of dojinshi, 'genre' being used here in the sense of 'source work'. Day one has dojinshi based on games and manga, day two those based on anime, real people, novels, and also digital fanworks like music, and day three has a lot of original works (absolutely not an exhaustive list, there are many more genres than this). Attendees seemed to be a pretty even mix of men and women on the first day, more women on the second day, and more men on the third day. I'm sure there are more precise statistics about this somewhere. The second day had a very large portion of all yaoi dojinshi and the third day has more het works, which probably explains most of the difference.

Circles indicate on their Comiket application which source work and which pairing their dojinshi will feature, to make it easier for the staff to assign them a space in the proper section. Allocation of circles' spaces (haichi) is a pretty big deal. It's important for both circles and buyers to have all fanworks about a certain pairing in one place so people know where to go. There's often so many people crammed into the aisles that simply strolling around and seeing what every circle has on offer just isn't possible. The crowd thins a bit in the afternoon, but in the morning, everyone is rushing to snap up dojinshi by their favorite circles before they sell out and things are extremely crowded and hectic. The catalog contains a couple of tear-out maps of the convention center that can be used to check which circle spaces you definitely want to visit and where those spaces are located.

It matters quite a bit if a circle is assigned a space at the corner of a grouping of tables. There's more room for people to gather there, so getting a corner space (tanjobi seki, literally 'birthday seat') means that you're a fairly established and popular circle. Circles that are so popular that long lines form in front of their spaces are usually allocated a space not in the blocks but along the walls, where the aisles are much broader and people can start queueing up outside the building if necessary. The staff members responsible for space allocation will know when a circle becomes so popular that they need more room, because on their application forms, circles need to fill in how many dojinshi they sold the last time they attended Comiket and how many they plan to bring with them this time.


comiket map scan

A partial scan of one of the catalog's tear-out maps to give a general idea of how the spaces are arranged. To find a circle, you need to know on which day it will be present in which letter block, and which number their space has. The orange dots are corner spaces, obviously, and the blue dots wall spaces. There's a covered walkway outside the hall, around where the A is floating. That's where lines for the really popular circles can form. What's visible on this map is one third of one of the East halls, so all the circles on any given day take up an area that's about nine times the size of this (not including the company booths).


Interlude: how to stand in line for popular circles

Comiket's queuing etiquette is wonderfully intricate and amusing, so I'll be interrupting myself for a moment here to ramble about it. The vast majority of circles have a small enough audience that you can just walk up to their table and start browsing through dojinshi, but many of the more popular circles that set up shop against the walls of a hall have long lines of people queuing up to buy stuff. Circle members and staff work together to make sure these lines stay orderly and everybody waits their turn. The last person in the line has to hold up a placard saying 'Start of the line here', and anyone joining a line politely takes over the placard and keeps it raised up high so that other people know where to start queuing.

In case the line is very long, there's also someone holding another placard that says 'Middle of the line' or 'This is not the start of the line' to indicate that the actual start of the line is farther away than might be immediately obvious. Sometimes circles are so popular that the lines for them don't fit inside the building and have to start elsewhere under the watchful eye of a few staff persons. Everyone has to join the proper start of the line, often at the edge of the hall or outside entirely, and wait while the staff leads blocks of people inside the building. Rows of people who are part of a line pushing its way through the crowd hold up their hands to show that they've queued up properly and are not horribly rude people trying to cut in. They'll be accompanied by staff members yelling things like "Line coming through, please make way".

Many of the very popular company booths on the top floor of the West hall (more about them later) have these kinds of endless lines. As an added bonus, the outside where the lines start is the hall's big roof terrace, which isn't covered, unlike the walkways outside the halls were the dojinshi circles are. That means people in very long lines can spend up to an hour exposed to whatever weather is going on at the time. This is reportedly the most dangerous place for catching heat stroke. Verena lined up for one of these popular ones and said it was pretty hellish, and I felt woozy just crossing from one end of the roof terrace to the other.

Of course it's all right to queue up for a popular circle or company booth, just browse a bit when you reach the front of the line, and walk away if you don't want to buy what you see. But most people who queue up seem to do so because they know they like a particular circle and will want to buy at . Many of the popular circles have people holding up or passing around papers that list the titles that are available at the space you're lining up for, with big crossmarks through the titles that have already sold out. That way people can make a selection before they're even standing in front of the table, and they don't have to hold up the rest of the line behind them with endless flipping through the pages of the different dojinshi on sale.

It's hard to articulate exactly how enjoyable and relaxing it is to have this kind of system in place. No matter how humongous the crowd gets, there's no need to push and no need to get stressed about people trying to cut in front of you, because almost nobody does that. I only joined a couple of the shorter lines, but next time, I plan to stand in a few of the big ones just so I can join the hand-waving march through the masses. It looked like a ton of fun.


Carrying on...

Popular circles who get a space along the walls usually have one or two tables to themselves, and room to bring five or so people to help with selling and making the lines advance smoothly (people who haven't actually worked on the dojinshi but are just there to assist their dojinshi-making circle friends are called 'uriko', 'sales helpers'). The vast majority of circles come alone or with two people, though. There's no room for more behind the regular spaces, which are usually no more than half of a fold-out table in size.

It's in no way obligatory for a participating circle to bring a completely new work that they haven't sold anywhere before, but a lot of people still like to have their new stuff make its debut on Comiket's big stage (which is why so many dojinshi have a creation date that's in August or December). Most circles do bring a new work (shinkan) to sell. Most will also have leftover copies or reprints of their older works on offer, so even tiny one-person circles often have two or three different dojinshi for sale.

While many people just put their dojinshi on the table surface or on a tablecloth, there were also a lot of circles who brightened their space up with elaborate displays of figurines and other pretty/cheerful not-for-sale extras. Some people also raised banners to advertise their works. The only rule about what circles can or can't do in terms of decoration is that banners, tablecloths and so on should be made of fire-resistant material and be placed with care so they can't injure anyone in case they fall over.




Some of the displays were truly, honestly awesome. This tableau of a Hogwarts Headmaster with highly appropriate fauna and Slytherin-coloured hair ornaments was particularly charming. Photo taken with the permission of the decorator.

Most Western media-based fandoms are very small in Japan, but they still have a presence at Comiket in part because the Junbikai tries to select circles for greater variety of fandoms. The only ones that I've known to be really big in the last decade or so are Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but those seem to be getting smaller now. There were still a few dozen Harry Potter circles present last month, but judging from the much more impressive amounts of older HP dojinshi that are still on the shelves of many dojinshi resale shops, the number of circles attending Comiket is probably a lot less than it used to be. I'd hoped for a boost in the fandom with the release of the Deathly Hallows movie, personally, but any boost there might be seems pretty tiny. Alas. But there was a large variety of other Western media-based fandoms to be found, although most only had one or two circles present. I got myself some Sherlock, X-men: First Class, and Brokeback Mountain dojinshi, and had a very hyper and fun conversation with the two-woman Sherlock circle, who told me that the series is now being broadcast in Japan and explained where to watch it. Will do so as soon as I get my TV fixed.

(Let me take a moment to note how fantastic it is that just being a fan in a general sense is enough to instantly launch conversations with people whose language I don't even speak properly. I've only read some Sherlock fic and have never seen one second of the actual thing, but I had a blast chatting about it all the same. Given that the circle duo started high-fiving each other as soon as I turned my back, it seems they had just as much fun. I think I said a lot of very silly things.)

Next time, less general descriptions and more meta -how circles are selected for participation, what those company booths are doing at a fannish event, how the con deals with big issues like the March 11 disasters that took place in the North-East of Japan, and so on.
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