Original the Comic: Kansai Comitia 48 (Original Doujinshi Event)

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Whenever the typical English-speaking anime or manga sees the word doujinshi, a particular image comes to mind. Typically, doujinshi are associated with fan-parodies of titles both popular and niche, the realm of what-ifs that run the gamut from the silly to the sexy. However, many doujinshi are original works, and Comitia is the largest group of “original-only” doujin events in Japan. I attended Kansai Comitia 48 Osaka recently on May 15, 2016, and it was a fun learning experience. Not only could I feel the creators’ passions, but I also have come to view the importance of doujin events in a different light.

Original Doujinshi

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While I am certainly a fan of doujinshi based on existing properties, in many ways original doujinshi are more impressive because they cannot rely on drawing in the fan bases of those works. When I think about it, my first exposure to the idea of doujinshi, the anime adaptation of Comic Party, mainly focused on original works. In that TV series, the main character learns an important lesson: making doujinshi is about what you want to do, not simply what sells. Across dozens of creators, that is exactly the spirit I saw at Kansai Comitia 48.

The event site was laid out roughly according to genre, and when you look at the categories listed it becomes easy to see the variety of interests on display. There was the “Fantasy” section, which was by far the largest, but there were also things like Criticism, Travel, Shounen, Shoujo, Seinen, SF/Mecha, Animals, BL, and so on. The first doujinshi I picked up was a record of the author’s trip to Russia, while my favorite had to be a cute romance about a girl with a bentou box for a head. The handkerchief normally used to wrap a bentou box became the ribbon that accentuated her girlish charm. One table was selling guides to girls’ school uniforms throughout Japan, and the circle that was responsible for it consisted of a mix of both men and women.

What About the 18+ Stuff?

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While doujinshi often brings to my pornographic works, the Adult section at Kansai Comitia 48 was rather small. This is not that unusual, because most doujinshi made are in fact not sexual. However, even there the space for doujinshi as a place to explore one’s passions is visible, and one might even argue that it’s where such sentiments are most evident. Many of the 18+ circles were focused on otoko no ko, or boys who look like girls, and one was even solely about handsome bad guys kissing young girls. There was one artist who drew heterosexual josei-style smut, which can be rather uncommon given the sheer amount of BL that exists.

I picked up one adult title at the event, but not necessarily for the reason you might expect. The artist who drew it was actually Kakimoto Kenjirou, a published manga artist in the 1990s whose series, Futarigurashi, ran in Young Jump. It appeared that he was out of the manga game for quite a while, but here he was at Kansai Comitia drawing what he wanted, and the doujinshi I bought was actually a sequel to Futarigurashi. Here was a space where even someone with manga industry experience could continue the stories they wanted to tell, and essentially make “amateur” sequels to their own “professional” works.

A Haven of Lost Drawing Styles

One aspect of Kakimoto’s doujinshi is that, while it didn’t look quite the same as it did in the 90s, he still retained a very 90s style of manga drawing. What’s more, he wasn’t alone. Throughout Kansai Comitia 48, I saw doujinshi with characters that looked like they came from bygone eras of manga and Japanese pop culture. One artist created a giant robot themed after Nagano Prefecture, Naganoizer, and was clearly inspired by 80s anime artists such as Mikimoto Haruhiko (Macross, Gunbuster, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress). Another artist’s style was closer to 70s shoujo legends such as Hagio Moto and Takemiya Keiko.

In the actual professional manga industry, failing to change one’s styles with the times comes at a risk. While popular creators such as Miuchi Suzue (Glass Mask) or the aforementioned Hagio and Takemiya still draw in the same style as they did in the 1970s, many have clearly made shifts over time that correspond with trends in manga as a whole. For better or worse, events like Comitia are where those older styles can still exist, away from the pressures of having to pick up on what’s popular. While some are able to sell doujinshi at a profit, that is the exception. Most doujin artists make doujinshi purely as passion projects.

Comparing with Artist Alleys in America

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I’ve been to quite a few Artist Alleys in American anime conventions, and while you can get a good variety of styles, for the most part I tend to see many similarities in how artists approach works there. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that anime fandom has a rather high turnover rate where many grow out of it as they get older. This is not to say that American anime con artists lack variety, or that they all draw in an “anime” style, but the result is you don’t really get those 80s/90s-style holdouts.

A better comparison would be with the artist alleys at places like New York Comic Con, because you’ll often see artists who are inspired by past generations maintain those styles. For example, you’ll often see artists who love Jack Kirby and aim to maintain his style. They will pepper their drawings with Kirby dots, dynamic poses, and other signature characteristics of the King’s drawings. Similarly, at Kansai Comitia 48, you had artists who still believed in those older styles. Whether it’s because they refuse to adapt or can’t, the result is a window into a different world that is not so much experimental as Indie comics in the US tend to be, but are basically different shades of mainstream from older generations.

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