The 81st Comic Market, better known as “Comiket,” was held at Tokyo Big Sight on the artificial island of Odaiba during the last few days of 2011. It’s a spectacularly huge gathering of individuals interested in selling their own original and / or fan works. The event is held twice a year and known to accommodate over half a million people. Each day has a different line-up of “circles” – groups sharing similar interests. Despite having heard of the event years ago, I had always assumed it was for manga fans with stronger… er… resolutions and tastes than myself.

Well, not so. I was pleasantly surprised to find that around all the circles I visited over the course of three days there really wasn’t too much making me blush compared to what I’d seen a few months earlier at the Reitaisai convention taking place at the same time as VocaFes. Naturally, I had gone there to pick up CDs with saccharin synthesised voices entwined with electronic beats rather than the lovingly hand-drawn self-censored hardcore pornography.

While the primary focus of Comiket is, of course, indie comics, there is also plenty of room for indie games, music, plushes, fanzines and stationery. Some really out there themes too – after a fan comic of promotional satellite company characters? Bare circuit boards with anime girls etched on them? DVDs with high resolution images of a specific train or abandoned housing? Nokia N-Gage fanzines? Mr. Donut’s “Pon de Lion” character erotica? You’re in for a treat.

I was attending Comiket with two goals in mind – pick up a bunch of new indie PC games and any interesting fan manga of series I knew and loved. Turns out I should have multiplied my initial budget several times over.

Not... so many ladies

The first day of Comiket was relatively calm. It was the day all the RPG and other videogame fan manga was available to buy. Mostly girls about on this day for some reason. People weren’t walking into me and sweaty forearms weren’t being rubbed against me so I was happy enough. The second and third days were pretty frantic by comparison with a lot more people pushing themselves through the crowds so that they could visit every circle they’d mapped out on their clipboards. I can only imagine the nightmare this event must be during Japan’s sweltering summer heat. Comiket regulars shell out a few thousand yen for Argos-sized catalogues showing samples of every artist on offer and full details of every stall that will be around over the three days of the event.

Due to the nature of all the goods at the event being self-published and printed, once someone has sold everything they close up shop and move out. Unless they’re collecting 3DS Miis, of course. I myself picked up hundreds upon hundreds of Miis, collected all the puzzle pieces and passed StreetPass Quest 2 several times over those three days, so I understand the draw of sticking about. Comiket’s doors open at 10AM but many enthusiasts arrive at the crack of dawn as some circles have very, very limited amounts of special-edition goods. The queues were moving at a decent pace by the time I arrived at around 11AM each day, but were still much more spectacular in size than anything I’ve ever seen before. My beanie goes off to the Tokyo Big Sight security staff.

So, down to the spoils… while I was in the mood for fan manga from several circles in particular (Devil May Cry comes to mind) I was a little disappointed to find that many circles were completely devoted to man-on-man relationships ranging from lots of holding and warm embraces to covers that had R18 labels and much more besides on the front. These were very popular with the ladies. Each to their own, by all means, but the furthest I was willing to go was having Barry Burton just getting a bit chummy with Wesker. I picked up almost everything I saw. Smash Bros. dominated in terms of sheer volume, but much smaller franchises also had representation. My absolute favourites were the very professional-looking Puyo Puyo, Pop’n Music and ICO manga.

On the second day Touhou Project took up a whole hall for themselves. They’re known for their bullet hell shooting games, but they have expanded in a large way in the past few years thanks to their popular characters. The third day had a more general indie game section, but it was still by and large shmups. Prices ranged from free all the way up to around ¥2,500 (near enough to £20) depending on the fame and expertise of the developers as well as the quality of the packaging. The average game was ¥500 and came in a CD sleeve or CD single case with a title sleeve slipped in, while the flashy ones were usually ¥1,000 and came in DVD cases. My Japanese isn’t great, so the simpler the game, the better. Didn’t stop me picking up an awesome looking chibi-anime RTS though!

Aside from everything I’ve already mentioned, Comiket is also considered to be the cosplay event to go to whether you want to cosplay yourself or fancy yourself as an alternative fashion photographer. In all honesty I’ve become weary of taking cosplay photos after several Tokyo Game Shows and World Cosplay Summits. Comiket dwarfs these events – it’s a different beast altogether.