More than a month after the event, my head is still buzzing from the amazing experience I had at my very first convention.
Here’s Diego’s account of COMITIA 94.
The date: 14 November 2010. The place: the (aptly named) Tokyo Big Sight, located just a short walk away from the Yurikamome Line’s Kokusai-tenjijō-seimon Station. The exhibition centre’s landmark tower should be a familiar sight to fans of the Genshiken franchise.
A smaller affair than the monster Comiket convention, COMITIA had a lean footprint to match: just halls 1 and 2 of the sprawling exhibition centre were booked for the event. (Judging from the signs posted outside and the throngs of people clad in business suits, the main attraction of the day at Tokyo Big Sight was a job fair of some kind.)
At the foot of the escalator that led down from the main lobby, an attendant shouting himself hoarse belted out a hearty welcome for attendees, waving them towards a nearby desk where copies of the convention catalogue (which also served as an admission ticket) were on sale for 1,000 yen apiece. I bought my copy, settled myself on a bench and began to flip through the pages.
Each circle was allotted a tiny frame that contained their name, their space number, and a sample image. Not enough to make any firm decisions by, certainly not for a first-timer like me – veterans will probably have had some sort of system in place or will already have been familiar with many of the circles on the list. For my part, I simply flicked my way through the main section of the catalogue and mentally identified a handful of circles whose promotional art (microscopic though it was) seemed promising.
The catalogue also contained two maps, one of which (image below) became my best friend in the world as the day wore on. All of the participating circles had been grouped together by genre – seinen, sci-fi/fantasy, shōjo, etc. – and this map enabled me to focus on the one area in the vast hall dominated by circles whose speciality (illustrations) piqued my interest the most. Without it, I would have been completely overwhelmed by the staggering number and variety of dōjinshi on offer.
Now if you’re trying to create a mental picture of what the place looked like, bear in mind that the genre divisions existed only as imaginary lines and shading on paper. There were no actual physical partitions within the hall itself, just an endless sea of tables.
A short while later, I and my fellow catalogue browsers joined the queue that was starting to form near the entrance to one of the halls.
11 AM. A hearty cheer erupted from within the exhibition area and the sound easily carried over to us in the atrium just outside. We couldn’t see inside from where we were but I assume this was the moment when the organisers formally declared COMITIA 94 open. Shortly thereafter, the convention officials started allowing us through the doors, asking us to hold our catalogues up high (no doubt a quick check to ensure that everyone had paid the price of admission).
And then all heck broke loose. Well, not really. I was expecting it to anyway – but the scene ended up being much calmer than I had foreseen. By and large, there was no mad rush for the big-name circles, no heaving masses of humanity pulling hither and thither: just people briskly heading over to where they wanted to go. As a complete newbie (not just to COMITIA but to any fan convention), I ended up wandering aimlessly for the first few awestruck moments as I drank in the vastness of the place, the sheer number of circles participating and the innumerable visitors pouring into the hall.
I didn’t see anyone taking photographs (not sure if there was a rule in place against this) so I kept my camera tucked away. Here’s a shot taken on the sly with my mobile phone to give you some idea of what it was like inside. Note that this is just one corner of the hall, and a fairly quiet one at that; it doesn’t really give a good impression of how huge the place was or how many people there were (both circles and visitors).
In due course, I collected myself and went on the attack. Not having any particular circle in mind, I simply swept from one row to another, quickly scanning the covers and samples laid out on each table as I moved in the general direction of the illustrations circles. In the end, all of the purchases I made during the day came from that area.
To make sure I didn’t miss anything of value, I headed out of the hall and into the atrium where the organisers had set up a “sample corner” (the 見本誌コーナー in the map above). Samples of each circle’s works were spread out on tables in this area, making browsing a quick and easy process.
To cap off the day, I did a final sweep of the hall. Starting from the seinen section, I worked my way through almost the entire exhibition area, glancing at as many of the offerings as I could whilst trying not to skip even a single table. I probably missed quite a few rows in the shōnen section as I was taking pains not to come into even the remotest contact with the (thankfully small) adult section at the end of the hall, but on the whole, I managed to cover nearly all of the more-or-less safe circles in the event.
Now for the goods. I emerged with a far lighter load than planned (just a handful of artbooks and unframed images) – but I’ve already chalked that up to my inexperience and I fully intend to haul out more treasures the next time I attend.
All of the circles I purchased art from are represented below, though not everything I acquired from each of them is shown.
My personal observations and final impressions will probably require a separate post to set out fully, but in brief: I had an absolutely incredible time at COMITIA and can’t wait to attend another one. Having already committed – in my head at least – to return to Japan about once every two years, I’m now thinking of scheduling each visit to coincide with this convention. Given that COMITIA is held four times a year, this allows a fair degree of flexibility in my planning.