Running of the Otaku and tetsuyagumi don’t fit with the first pandemic-era Comiket.

On December 30, Comiket finally made its long-awaited return. Ordinarily taking place twice a year, Japan’s largest gathering of doujinshi (self-published manga) fans and creators had both of its planned 2020 iterations, as well as the one for summer of 2021, cancelled because of the coronavirus, making this the first time for the even to be held since a full two years ago.

But while Comiket is back, the same can’t be said for another event associated with the convention. On the morning of Comiket in most years, the exit from Kokusai-Tenjijo Station, the closest rail stop to the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, looks like this.

▼ You might want to turn down your speakers’ volume.

That mad dash of fans, all racing to Big Sight in hope of getting there before the limited-edition comics and merch they’re hoping to score are sold out, has become known as either the “Comiket Dash” or “The Running of the Otaku.” On the opening day of 2021’s Comiket, though, things looked very different.

That’s downright orderly. Sure, there are a few brisk-paced walkers, but overall there’s less velocity and jostling than you’re likely to see from a group of respectable businesspeople heading to their offices on a Monday morning.

While it’s possible the slower speeds are a result of reduced athleticism brought on by periods of extended inactivity during the pandemic, there are two far more likely explanations. First, per-day attendance at this year’s Comiket is being limited to 55,000 guests per day. That might sound like a lot of people, but considering that the winter 2019 Comiket drew 750,000 fans over four days, this year’s crowd is going to be far smaller than the norm for the event, which means less bottlenecking at transportation access points.

Second, even though Comiket, as the most otaku-ish of all otaku gatherings, has uninhibited passion for the doujinshi artform as its core, attendees are well aware of how close they came to having no Comiket at all this year. Even when the 2021 event, which is taking place on December 30 and 31, was officially announced back in August, it was with the warning that “If societal conditions do not improve as expected as a result of vaccinations and other measures, we cannot say that we will not further postpone the event.” A follow-up request from the organizers, made just a month and a half ago, urged attendees and participants to take steps to “protect themselves from infection and prevent transferring infection to others [and] not think of this year as being like past Comikets,” and the heavy breathing caused by aerobic exertion and bodily contact of pushing your way through a ticket-gate crowd are both Comiket morning norms that fans appear to be having the good sense to rethink for this year.

Another departure from the normal Comiket conditions was this year’s essentially complete absence of the tetsuyagumi, or “all-night tribe,” the collective term for fans who would loiter and line up on the streets surrounding Big Sight beginning the night before the convention.

▼ Big Sight on the night before the winter 2019 Comiket

While the testuyagumi strategy is officially frowned upon by Comiket organizers, requests to refrain are routinely ignored by those willing to spend a night in the cold to be closer to the front of the line. This year, though, attendees were willing to at least wait until the first trains started running the morning.

▼ Big Sight on the night before Comiket this year

Eventually, when the coronavirus joins SARS and swine flu as a pandemic of the past, the all-night tribe and ticket gate dash might return, and some might even argue that without them Comiket has a little less energy to its atmosphere. For now, though, it looks like fans are simply glad to have Comiket back, and willing to do what they can so that the convention can start to walk again before it, and they, run.

Sources: Jin, Otakomu
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