Comiket, for those who don’t know, is the largest convention for self-published and produced works in the world. Spanning three days, it is an enormous marketplace held in the Tokyo Big Sight convention center where people sell mainly art and crafts either inspired by anime or in the anime style. Among the goods being sold are tons of CDs produced by a thriving doujin music community. Of course, being in Japan over the summer, I made it part of my plans to check it out. While I couldn’t attend the first day because I was stuck in a cubicle, I did join up with some friends in the area for the second and third.
The second day of Comiket is reserved primarily for Touhou and BL circles. Luckily for me, I wasn’t looking to buy that many CDs in those genres. By the time I entered and made my way to the East hall, there were already enough people inside that walking around was worse than playing Touhou on lunatic. You could almost feel other people’s perspiration condensing on your skin. (Apparently this year’s Comiket was actually quite cool. The previous year, ambulances were arriving all day to pick up people passing out from heat stroke. I guess the Comiket committee figured that was a bad thing).
Since ShibayanRecords, a circle that releases signature nu-disco and bossa nova style arrangements with awesome vocalists, was not present at this year’s Summer Comiket (whyyyy), I only had a few other circles in mind that I wanted to visit. First and foremost was Machikado Mapoze, a group that does real instrumental and vocal arrangements of Touhou music in more traditional styles. All of the tracks are arranged by Nakazako, who comes up with some of the best reimaginings of Touhou music that I’ve heard. His arrangements, along with the talented musicians in the group, make them one of my favorite circles to date. I’d been eagerly looking forward to their Comiket 86 CD since Nakazako posted a crossfade of catchy snippets on his soundcloud.
Unfortunately, buying the CD proved to be difficult for the Comiket novice that I was. I got in a long line for what I thought was the Machikado Mapoze booth, only to find that it led to the booth on its right. I tried again and joined another line only to be politely told that the actual end of the line was across the corridor. OK, no one said this was going to be easy. After many trials and tribulations, I eventually found the proper line, ended up in front of the right booth, and threw my money at the woman manning the booth before someone else told me I was waiting in the wrong spot. At least the beautifully printed envelope with an illustration contributed by Terajin made it worth it!
After visiting all of our target booths and browsing the industry hall a bit, we decided to wander around the now much emptier East Hall (GLORIOUS WALKING SPACE!) to see if any of the more popular circles had nice things left after the brutal crowds had dispersed. Alstroemeria Records still had leftover copies of their latest album FLASHLIGHT even though the line for it had been out the side of the convention hall earlier in the day. Though certainly not the worst circle around, Alstroemeria’s recent work had stuck to rather static EDM with little innovation between tracks or albums. Quite frankly, they hadn’t released anything really interesting for the past three or four Comikets. Nevertheless, it seems that they’d built up a loyal fanbase that was more than willing to gobble up bad apple!! remix number 154. I guess I’m not qualified to criticize, though, since I grabbed a copy of their CD for old-time’s sake.
As we passed the Machikado Mapoze booth again on our circuit around the hall, Renko, from Orange Jam, along with the aforementioned Nakazako overheard us speaking English and approached us, asking where we were from. Renko had apparently gone to school in Los Angeles, hence her fluency in English. They were pretty cool people who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about their work (though I expected as much from listening to their earlier CDs). The conversation certainly made me wish that I could speak Japanese more fluently and visit more frequently to see their events. In any case, since I enjoyed her singing on an earlier Machikado Mapoze album （夏色の結晶、Summer Colored Crystal), and had heard good things about Orange Jam, I bought her CD as well.
The last day of Comiket is dedicated to mainly selling hentai, and is typically the most crowded day out of all three (everyone loves porn!). Unfortunately for me, this was also the day for all original music not particularly related to the Touhou or Kancolle fandoms. So, in order to get the “true Comiket experience”, my group woke up at 3:30AM to catch the first train to the convention center, waited outside on the pavement for five hours, and literally sprinted inside the building when the doors opened. In the frantic rush, my group was separated, but luckily we had designated a meeting point in case exactly such a thing happened.
Regardless, being early paid off. In the hour before the hall filled to maximum capacity I was able to grab most of what I wanted without having to deal with the crowds. Bassy was there with their new mini-album 青春サラバイ・後編. A catchy soft-pop group, I made it a point to visit them since they always feature talented vocalists on their albums such as Annabel and Chata. I also hit up the s10rw booth (a vocaloid production group) first to get a copy of whoo’s latest compilation CD All Things Must Pass with a few songs that hadn’t been published on disc yet. (whoo is great and everyone who likes relaxing music should listen to his stuff). Monaca:factory was also at the booth with some new merchandise. As I looked through the CDs on the table, he said something quickly to me in Japanese, to which I replied in Japanese “sorry, my Japanese is poor. I speak mostly English”. This didn’t phase him, however, as he followed up by complimenting my accent. After that exchange I felt obligated to buy some of his merchandise to avoid leaving awkwardly. Turns out monaca:factory is a smooth salesman on top of being an accomplished vocaloid producer!
Having gotten most of what I wanted, I started browsing the area for anything that looked interesting. Most booths had music players with headphones so that you could sample their stuff before you bought it. (Or perhaps, for weaker-willed browsers who worry about hurting vendors’ feelings, to guilt customers into purchasing after listening to the sample). In sampling the stalls that caught my eye, I found another instrumental group called OtaQuintet. Asking them for a recommended track, the guy at the booth handed me a pair of headphones playing a woodwind and brass arrangement of kemu’s vocaloid song Roku chounen to ichiya monogatari. Though it could have done with a little more rehearsal (the ensemble cohesion was a little off, occasionally), it was still pretty catchy and the tone of the instruments was good. It was enough to convince me to purchase both their latest release and the one before it. Aside from that, the beautiful art and case design of sugarmosaic’s debut album ヤドカリ少女 (Hermit Crab Girl) piqued me enough to try it out. The tracks were eclectic and pleasantly atmospheric in nature. Given the overall positive impressions of the direction of the group, I figured dropping 1,000 yen to encourage future releases was well worth it.
By end of Comiket I was quite happy with my purchases and with the idea of not being crushed on all sides by sweaty people. I’d gotten to buy stuff without insane shipping costs. Even better, I’d gotten to meet some of the people behind my favorite doujin music! Even if a few people I was looking forward to meeting were not present, it was a great experience, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again if I end up in Japan again (with piles of cash) in the future.