[In the latest of his Sound Current pieces, Jeriaska brings a first-person report about the game audio available from Tokyo's video game and manga fan forum Comiket -- one of the largest and most bustling examples of independent fan-based creative culture in Japan.]

Comic Market, or Comiket, is a Tokyo exhibition that this year attracted more than half a million visitors over the course of its three-day run. Visual artists, cosplayers, amateur musicians and even poets and novelists set up their booths at predetermined locations, bringing with them just about every conceivable form of salable artistic expression.

The event has been held just about every summer and winter since 1975, this being the 76th gathering of its kind in history. In the realm of videogame music, there are several dozen circles, or informally structured organizations, that on August 15 brought remixed game music to Comiket.

As is the norm, many of the CDs for purchase at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center this summer were inspired by intellectual properties owned by game companies and record labels. However, the attitudes of some arrangers toward selling albums based on copyrighted material is increasingly one of ambivalence, especially among those with ambitions of making a living as musicians.

This report touches on some of the advantages and disadvantages of participating in game arrangement, voiced by circles present at Comic Market 76. Featuring comments from several of the event's regular visitors, professional and amateur, the report is intended to provide a window into Japan's widely attended fan event.



[Comic Market 76 reportedly witnessed an attendance of 500,000 over the course of three days]

This year thousands waited outside the entrance to the Tokyo Big Sight for several hours before the opening of each day of Comic Market 76. An overcast sky made the interminable wait bearable, but previously there have been reports of visitors passing out from heat stroke while queuing up. The morning line extended from both the east and west entrances, snaking through a parking lot, guided by attendants with loudspeakers and arm bands. Those arriving at 9:00 discovered the line to enter ended not far outside the Kokusai Tenjijo train station, close to a mile away.

For many of the game arrangers in attendance, Comiket offers an opportunity to revel in the nostalgia of videogame music history. One example among many was “REFLECT”, a vocal arrangement album of music from Square Enix games by music circle little white snow, which was on sale for 1500 yen.

Sporting watercolor illustrations on the jacket cover of characters from the Final Fantasy, World of Mana, and Romancing SaGa game series, the "doujin" vocal album is an attempt to hold a mirror up to the memorable sounds and images from popular role-playing titles.

The meaning of the word "doujin" refers simply to a self-published amateur, and originated with haiku and tanka poems. "It was already used when my grandma and granpa were young," explains Miyu, a vocalist performing with the band Takrockers!!--a portmanteau word composed of "otaku" and "rock." Today doujinshi refer primarily to fanmade manga instead of haiku, though the intention of artistic expression remains the same.

“In terms of explaining doujin culture to those outside Japan," says K-shi, a programmer and musician whose Pandora’s Vox series arranges the music of Secret of Mana, "'doujin' means taking art that you appreciate and developing another approach to its expression. In other words, 'I really like this thing, so let's see if I can make it myself.'"

Many of the albums on sale at Comiket rival the production values of official releases. K-shi’s albums, for instance, come in a DVD box adorned with exquisitely detailed designs by Arcadia Art, reminiscent of Secret of Mana. “The hope is to introduce the music to new listeners,” he says.

At the same time, as fan arrangement bands become popular enough to sell their CDs, many see their previous unlicensed game remix albums as a liability against making it as pro musicians. While OverClocked ReMix and other online arrangement sites in the English-speaking world have managed to skirt copyright issues by posting their remixes on the web free of charge, a fundamental part of the Comic Market experience is having pressed CDs for sale akin to the retail soundtrack albums that inspired them.

Arranging music from anime and games for Comic Market has such a rich history that copyright issues can seem almost irrelevant within the context of the massive fan event. Nevertheless, as was demonstrated in the West with fan ROM Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, litigation is always a concern where the treatment of copyrighted properties are at issue, Comic Market being no guaranteed exception.

The problematic nature of copyright issues in the age of digital distribution has led to an explosion in the popularity of the Touhou Project, a series of PC bullet hell shooters. Their founder ZUN, an artist, programmer and musician, has authorized derivative works based on the world of Touhou, meaning you can sell arranged albums remixing ZUN’s soundtracks and depicting his characters on the CD jacket, without having to worry about charges of copyright violation. As a direct result, around fifty of the albums premiering at Comic Market 76 were Touhou-based, making up a good percentage of overall game-related releases.

Occupying a liminal space somewhere between mainstream gaming and amateur work are professional musicians moonlighting as composers of erotic games. Because there is generally much greater freedom working in “erogē” (erotic games), the field attracts talented artists who have a hard time being creative in more tightly controlled work environments. Eroge musicians often use pseudonyms so that they have the option of moving between both fields, and Comic Market is one of the few places to find their music soundtracks for sale.


[Composer Shinji Hosoe on the show floor with vocalist Miyu]

A number of game composers make the trip to Comic Market, such as Shinji Hosoe of Troubadour Records and Super Sweep. His group brought with them copies of the Nanosweep and Scream no Hito albums, which feature original music and inventive game arrangements by professional musicians like Takayuki Aihara and Ayako Saso. “There's limits to freedom in working in game music,” says Hosoe. “For this event I can make music that's just for fun and having that freedom makes it enjoyable.”

Fan arranger Kou Ogata has found that participating in events like Comic Market can open doors professionally. The maker of the album Chrono Cross ~memory of music~, he often arranges electronic game soundtracks that feature Celtic styles by recording himself playing traditional Irish and Scottish instruments. He can be heard on the tin-whistle, fiddle, bouzouki, concertina, flat mandolin, bodhrán and bagpipes on his K-Waves LAB records.

"Two years [Dog Ear Records] posted a call for performers for their [Shinzoku Kaigi] event," explains Ogata, referring to his chance to perform with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. "I sent in my demo with an arrangement of Uematsu-san's music and I got a call back asking if I would attend. Since then I have had several chances to perform Celtic arrangements of Final Fantasy at the events." Ogata's new album for Comic Market 76 was not based on Final Fantasy music, however. It was a Touhou arrangement album, his second.

Hiroki Kikuta, composer of Secret of Mana, has been attending the event for years and usually has an album for sale under his privately owned label Norstrilia. “It’s like entering a typhoon,” Kikuta says of Comic Market. “You brave the center of this typhoon so as to gain some of its energy.” Routinely Kikuta will spend the entire day speaking with fans at Comiket, signing autographs and receiving discs of their arrangements of his music.

Following Comic Market 76 was a live concert called “Chokkana,” held at the Studio Coast in Shin-Kiba. The auditorium has a history of hosting videogame music events, and was the scene of last year’s EXTRA Hyper Game Music Event. For bands that are big enough to perform at Chokkana, landing a recording deal is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, it likely won’t be for vocal arrangements of games like Xenogears and Mega Man X, which are in many cases the original motivations for creating music for Comiket.

"At events like these, you have the chance to see your listeners with your own eyes," says K-shi. "People tell you they are looking forward to your next album and say 'Gambatte kudasai.' Those weren't the kinds of direct words of encouragement that I could hope to receive working as a programmer, so this is something that motivates me to attend these events."


[Game composer Hiroki Kikuta holding a copy of the manga "Raven," which he penned himself at the age of 26. Photos by Jeriaska]