Comiket. The world's largest comic convention as well as Japan's largest indoor public gathering of doujinshi publishing circles seeking to distribute their creations to others who share their interests. Held twice a year at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, over a half million attendees congregate to purchase self-published works by amateur and professional artists alike, hawking their creations of original manga as well as parodied material based on other creators' works. Other forms of doujin also available at the event include video game software, music and even hentai, which is sexually explicit in nature. Because they sell in such limited numbers, avid fans gather early at the start of the three day event, waiting in line for as long as five hours to purchase works from famous authors as well as limited-edition items. It is also common practice for some fans to dress as their favorite characters, as the event also provides a designated area for such cosplayers to assemble. With permission from the cosplayer, fans typically take numerous photos of their best-liked and most beloved characters.
"I can't believe you talked me into this," Akira griped, yet her protest seemed to fall upon deaf ears. Preoccupied as several fans snapped their picture, Takumi appeared totally absorbed in all the attention that their cosplaying was bringing them.
Mingling with the thousands of other cosplayers that had gathered on the roof of the eight-story structure, whose main focal point was its four massive inverted pyramids, Takumi and Akira changed into their selected attire immediately upon arrival. Choosing to cosplay as the male lead from one of his favorite anime, Suguru from 'Mahoromatic', Takumi wore a simple white dress shirt along with a pair of navy trousers and matching blazer, the character's school uniform. To complete the look, he donned an oversized pair of metal-rim glasses. Of course the illusion would not be complete without the title character to accompany her master. Despite her objections, Akira reluctantly agreed to cosplay as the maid Mahoro. Basically wearing the same outfit that she wore at the school festival's maid café to help out Takumi's cooking club, a few alterations had been made. Instead of the traditional black one-piece dress that was worn over the white ruffled petticoat, Takumi had fashioned a brilliant blue dress for her to wear, which he took great care in hand sewing so that it would closely resemble the outfit from the anime. To complete the ensemble she wore a large white apron over the dress and topped it all off with a traditional maid's headpiece.
"Come on, Akira, try to smile more," Takumi urged after posing for a fan. "You should be happy that everyone finds you so adorable.
"Adorable? Takumi, ninja are not supposed to be adorable!"
"Well today you're not a ninja. Today you're Mahoro Andou, the android maid to me, Suguru Misato."
"You're really getting into this, aren't you?" Akira remarked, seeming rather amused by his commitment to the role.
"I just think it's fun to simply let loose and assume the identity of another character, if just for a few hours."
Before she could respond, two more fans approached them, each dressed as characters from 'Inuyasha'. One of them, a young Chinese girl, was cosplaying as the female lead, Kagome, while her much older brother was dressed as the title character and clearly didn't appear too happy in having to wear the rather cumbersome red-robed outfit.
"Wow, you two look great!" Takumi complimented, proceeding to take a picture of the two.
"Thanks," the girl replied.
"Sis, can I please change after this?" her brother complained. "It's embarrassing having to wear this thing."
"Don't be ridiculous, we just got here and I want to go around and talk to a few more people. Besides, you look cute in it."
"Well I sure don't feel cute."
"Welcome to my nightmare," Akira sympathized.
"See, sis, she understands."
"Inuyasha… SIT!" she commanded, using her character's trademark line, which she would use whenever he was being difficult.
"This is so embarrassing," her poor, tormented brother lamented.
"Sorry about that," she apologized to Takumi as she took out her camera. "Brothers can be so difficult sometimes. Anyway, I wanted to say that you guys look like such an adorable couple. Do you mind?
Indicating with her camera and motioning with her arm for them to pose closer together to each other, Takumi graciously accommodated her by huddling up close to Akira and placing his arm around her.
Sighing heavily, a somewhat frustrated Akira turned to Takumi, then, cracking a smile inquired, "Remind me again why I'm doing this?"
Leaning over and planting a loving kiss of appreciation upon her cheek, Takumi remarked, "Because you've got a kind heart and I love you for it."
"Aww, kawaii!" the girl squealed in delight at their affection. "Thanks a lot. Well, guess we'll see you around. Come on, Inuyasha."
Watching the two depart, Akira then commented, "Poor guy, I know exactly how he feels."
"Oh come on, Akira, it's not that bad. Besides…"
Before he could finish, another fan approached armed with a camcorder in one hand and carrying a bag filled with doujinshi in the other.
Pulling one of the doujinshi from his bag and handing it to Takumi, he then beseeched, "Would it be alright if I shot some footage of you holding this while Mahoro says her famous line?"
"Of course," Takumi was happy to oblige.
"Uh, line?" Akira asked with a puzzled look.
"Yeah," Takumi then reminded her, "remember what I told you? Mahoro is extremely hostile towards anything perverted. She's always confiscating Suguru's stash of pornographic magazines and constantly scolding him with that famous line."
"Oh, that," she then recalled.
Begrudgingly prepared to recite the trademark line, she suddenly noticed that the doujinshi Takumi was holding, and now thumbing through, contained numerous indecent images of nude women.
"Give me that!" she abruptly demanded, snatching the hand-drawn manga out of his hands.
"That's great!" the delighted fan eagerly remarked, still shooting and now zooming in on a most annoyed Akira, thinking that she was just playing the part. "Now say the line."
Getting ready to object to his request, Akira actually obliged him and figured that the line seemed quite appropriate anyway, considering the situation.
"Ecchi na no wa ikenai to omoimasu," she sternly admonished, which roughly translates to 'I think that dirty thoughts are bad'.
"Awesome!" the fan gratefully replied, then receiving his doujinshi back from Akira. "You sounded just like her. You almost had me convinced that you really meant it. Thanks a lot."
"Almost?" Takumi uttered under his breath with a smirk as the fan departed. "Sounded pretty convincing to me."
"Shut up!" a still annoyed Akira replied. "So is that the kind of stuff that they sell here?"
"Well, yeah, but not all of it is like that."
"Well it had better not be," she declared. "And I better not catch you buying or even looking through that kind of garbage."
Takumi couldn't help but to snicker at her stern objections, shaking his head in amusement, totally amazed at her dead-on portrayal of the character.
"What's so funny?"
"Oh, Akira, that was priceless. If you only knew how suited to this role that you really are."
"Huh? Uh, thanks, I think," she said somewhat confused, trying to recall her initial argument, then insisted, "Uh, don't try and change the subject. I mean it, I don't want you looking at any of that hentai smut."
"Okay, okay," he said laughing, finally giving in to her stringent demands.
Realizing that he seemed to be making light of the matter, Akira continued to stress, "I'm serious, Takumi!"
"Well, where do you want to start?" an astonished Takumi asked, looking out over the enormous convention floor layout and the hundreds of vendors who were set up to sell their wares.
Anxious to browse through all the various doujin that the event had to offer, Takumi led Akira down to the main show floor, not even bothering to change out of their cosplay outfits. However, having never been here before, he was extremely overwhelmed at the sheer number of attendees that were jammed into the convention center and didn't know where to begin.
"This is nuts!" Akira commented on the vast amount of people in attendance. "It's wall to wall people in here. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Absolutely. I'm totally up for the adventure," Takumi confidently stated.
"Okay," she sighed. "But I'm not… uh, Takumi?"
Almost losing sight of him, Akira eventually spotted Takumi eagerly browsing through some shojo doujinshi at a nearby table. Before she could admonish him for walking off, Akira instead decided to pick up a copy of the same doujinshi that he seemed to find so fascinating. Flipping through it, she could immediately tell that this form of shojo romance simply didn't appeal to her.
"What's the matter, Akira, don't you like it?" Takumi asked, noticing her disinterest.
"It's alright, I guess, but it's just not my thing."
"Oh, well that's okay. There's plenty of other stuff to choose from. This show has something for everyone. I'm sure you'll find something that's to your liking."
"Hmmm, I have an idea," Takumi suggested. "Since we have such different tastes, why don't we split up and explore the show on our own?"
"I don't know, Takumi, this place is so big that we might lose each other."
"We could just meet up later at some agreed upon location. How about if we meet up for lunch in say, two hours?"
"I guess that would be alright, still…" Akira added with trepidation.
"Don't forget, we can just contact each other with our cell phones if we do happen to get lost."
"That's true," Akira replied, now a bit more at ease. "So what kind of places do they have to eat at here? Probably just some expensive fast food."
"Well yeah, there is that, but there are some nicer places too, like an Italian restaurant. But of course that would be way too expensive. I figured we could just grab a bite from the cafeteria or the ramen shop."
"Where's this Italian restaurant at?"
Pulling out a guide map of the convention center, Takumi looked over all the various eateries until he found the one that he was looking for.
"Ah, here it is. It's on the eighth floor, the very top of the conference center and it looks like it provides a really nice scenic view of the area."
"Excellent, then that's where we're eating."
"What's the matter, don't you like Italian food?"
"I love it, but it's just that…"
"What, it's too expensive?"
"Look, Takumi, we came all this way to have a good time. Although, I'm sure you'll get more enjoyment out of the experience than I will. However, as long as we're here we might as well make the most of it. Don't worry, I've got it covered so I wish you'd stop worrying about money."
"I know, I just didn't want you to have to…"
"Takumi, please. I insist."
"Well, alright. Thanks, Akira."
"Don't mention it," Akira replied, checking her watch and confirming, "Alright, so two hours from now in front of the restaurant."
"Right," Takumi concurred as he then began to snicker under his breath.
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry, I was just thinking," he continued to chuckle. "It's going to seem kind of strange to the wait staff when they see a maid paying for her master's meal."
Managing to crack a smile in amusement, Akira just shook her head and remarked, "You're enjoying this way too much."
Forcing her way through the hordes of people, on top of constantly being stopped by fans asking for a photo, Akira didn't seem to be enjoying herself very much. Even though it had only been a half an hour, she wasn't having much luck in finding any doujinshi that appealed to her.
Frustrated, but feeling obligated as she posed yet again for another photograph, she was surprised when she thought she heard a familiar voice.
"Hey, come on pal, leave her alone. Can't you see she wants to be left alone? This isn't the place for photos anyway."
"Uh, thanks," Akira gratefully replied as the overzealous fan scurried off. Turning around to personally thank the stranger, Akira was taken aback as she recognized, "Ryuske-san?"
Standing behind a table with multiple copies of several different doujinshi titles spread out, the white-haired teen was also surprised to see the sometimes-stubborn ninja girl. Wearing a black T-shirt with his band's name, Serial Mama, silk-screened across the front, Ryuske had previously encountered her and Takumi a few months back when he had become an unwitting suspect in sabotaging the school play. Ever suspicious of him, but cleared and also befriended by Takumi, Akira still had some misgivings about him.
"Wha… what are you doing here?" Akira skeptically asked.
"What's it look like? Trying to sell my doujinshi, of course. How about you? I take it that you came here with Takumi-san. So where is he?"
"He's making the rounds. I'm sure he'll be by here eventually."
"What, don't tell me you lost him?"
"No, I didn't lose him!" she annoyingly shot back. "He just thought that we should split up so we'd be free to look at things that are to our own personal liking. We agreed to meet up later."
"Ah, that was smart of him," he snidely commented. "Probably didn't want you looking over his shoulder while he looks through some of the more… ahem, mature material."
"Oh relax. He's a good kid. You really should learn to trust him more."
"I don't need you telling me to… what's so funny?"
Unable to contain his laughter any longer, Ryuske remarked, "I'm sorry, but it's hard to take you seriously while you're dressed like that. Last time I saw you in a similar getup was when you were helping Takumi-san with his cooking club's maid café. You looked adorable then and you look…"
"Don't patronize me!" Akira angrily shot back. "Look, let's get something straight. I don't like y…"
"HEY!" Ryuske abruptly cut her off as he spied someone leaning over with a camera by Akira, attempting to get a panty shot.
Coming around from his table, Ryuske quickly snatched the digital camera from the young voyeur while Akira seemed oblivious to what had just transpired.
"Hey, give me my camera back, man! I didn't do anything."
"Ryuske-san, what are you…" an angered Akira stopped herself short when Ryuske held the back of the camera up to her face, displaying the last image that was in it's memory.
Turning a deep shade of red, an extremely embarrassed Akira was stunned as Ryuske began to remove the memory card from the camera. Throwing it onto the floor, he then proceeded to crush it under the weight of his heel before throwing the camera back at it's now frightened owner. Akira meanwhile just continued to look on in disbelief.
"Now get the hell out of here, you perv!"
Returning back behind his table as the teen fled in terror, Akira stood in awe at Ryuske's chivalrous gesture, now feeling somewhat remorseful for her previous comment.
"Sorry about that," Ryuske offered, "but you really have to watch yourself around here. At an event this big you're bound to meet all kinds."
"Uh, th… thank you," she humbly replied.
Still rather flustered, Akira attempted to quickly change the subject as she then began to pick up a copy of one Ryuske's doujinshi.
Proceeding to flip through it, Akira seemed pleasantly surprised at the quality of his work, prompting her to inquire, "You… you actually drew this?"
"You bet," he proudly informed her. "That's actually the tenth and latest issue of the series that you're looking at right now. It's set during the Edo period and is basically about the adventures of a ronin who travels the countryside. But he never settles down in any one town for very long since he's continually on the run, falsely accused of murdering his master."
Totally mesmerized and never once taking her eyes off the pages, Akira was forced to admit, "This is… this is really good. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not that great," she now began to backtrack, ashamed to admit that she was thoroughly enjoying it, "but it's… not bad."
"Thanks. You see I'm a big Akira Kurosawa fan and this is sort of a homage to one his more famous films, 'Yojimbo'. You ever see it?"
"What are you kidding? I love that fi..." she excitedly began to exclaim before suddenly changing to a more gruff tone. "Uh, I mean, of course I have. Who hasn't? After all, he's like the god of Japanese cinema."
Attempting to deny the fact that they may share similar interests, Akira quickly buried her head back into the doujinshi, hoping to avoid any further questions.
"So ah, how much is it," she then inquired.
"Alright, I guess I can help you out," she offered, handing him the money.
"Thanks, I appreciate it," he gratefully replied. "You enjoy that now, okay?"
Slowly beginning to walk away, Akira then abruptly stopped, pausing momentarily to ponder over her sudden indecisiveness. Swallowing her pride, she turned back around and returned to Ryuske's table.
"Uh, you know what," Akira finally confessed, "I think maybe I should get the first nine issues as well."
"Really? Gee thanks," Ryuske excitedly replied, gathering up the remaining nine issues and placing them in a bag for her.
"Yeah well, don't get the wrong idea. I just figured that the story would make more sense if I started from the very beginning."
"Oh, of course," he understandably remarked with a wink.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Well, individual issues are 800 yen, but since you're buying the whole series I can let you have them for…"
"I don't want any special treatment from you," she stubbornly shot back, taking her money out and forcibly handing it to him. "I'll pay what everybody else is paying."
"Uh, okay, sure," he replied somewhat confused, watching as she quickly picked up the bag with her recent purchase and hurriedly tried to leave. "Oh wait a minute, you gave me too much money. It was only 7200 yen but you gave me 10,000. Let me get you your change."
"Don't worry about it."
"What are you talking about, I can't take…"
"Just consider it an advance for your next issue."
"My next…" Ryuske slowly replied, seeming at quite a loss at her generosity.
"You are going to make another issue, aren't you?"
"Well sure, but…"
"Good. Then just be sure that you tell me the moment that it's finished."
"Uh, of course, absolutely," he happily agreed. "You'll be the first to know."
"Alright then," she satisfactorily replied, momentarily flashing an appreciative smile. "I uh, guess I'll see you later then."
"See ya, and thanks again. Say hi to Takumi-san for me," he requested as she departed. "Or better yet, tell him to stop on by."
"I will," she called back to him.
Once she felt that she was far enough away, Akira suddenly felt more at ease and dropped the front that she had been putting on, allowing a big grin of complacency to overtake her.
"Akira?" Takumi called out in the large crowd that was passing him by. Looking about in front of the Italian restaurant where they had agreed to meet, Takumi finally spotted Akira a little further down, seated on the floor with her back against the wall and her head buried in a doujinshi. "Oh, there you are. What are you reading?"
"Huh? Oh, ah, nothing," Akira embarrassingly denied as her head shot up.
Quickly slamming the pages of the tome shut and jumping to her feet, Akira immediately threw it back into one of the two bags that she was carrying.
"Wait, let me see it," a now curious Takumi requested, reaching into her bag and pulling it back out. "You sure seemed intensely into it."
"N… no I wasn't. I just didn't hear you right away when you called me because of all the people here and…"
"Hmmm, 'The Fugitive Ronin', Takumi read the doujin's title aloud, "by Ryuske Tanaka. Huh? Ryuske Tanaka? Say isn't that…"
"Uh, we better hurry up," Akira abruptly interjected, trying to change the subject in hopes that he wouldn't figure out the identity of the author. "The restaurant looks busy so we should hurry up and get in line. I'm starving, aren't you?"
"Yeah, sure, but… Whoa!" a startled Takumi cried out as Akira hurriedly grabbed him by the arm and dragged him over to the restaurant. "Akira, slow down!"
Hastily giving her name to the hostess, the two then took a seat on a bench in the restaurant's foyer, waiting for their name to be called.
Realizing that she was acting kind of strange, Takumi didn't want to press the matter and instead observed, "Wow, you sure bought a lot of stuff, more than twice as much as me in fact. Told you this place had something for everyone. Now aren't you glad that you came?"
"Okay, okay. I admit it," she graciously conceded. "Aside from the cosplaying, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. I actually found quite a bit of interesting doujinshi. There are some really talented people here."
"I know. A lot of famous manga-ka, like Ken Akamatsu, got their start here in fact," Takumi pointed out, continuing to eye her two bags.
"Is that so?" Akira casually remarked, seeming more interested in concealing the contents of her bags as she moved them further off to the side.
Thinking for a moment, Takumi assured her, "Relax, I won't look. Besides, I already know anyway."
"You… you do?"
"Mmm hmm. But don't worry, I won't judge you for it," he cleverly added. "I just think that it's kind of funny that you're buying the very stuff that only earlier you forbid me from even looking at."
"What are you…" Akira didn't seem to know what he was talking about but then quickly realized, "Oh, n… no. It's not what you think. I didn't buy any…"
"It's okay," he reassured her, desperately trying to contain himself, "it's nothing to be embarrassed about. It doesn't bother me in the least; you're free to look at whatever you like, even if it is hentai. I just think that you should allow me the same type of freedom."
"IT'S NOT HENTAI!" she adamantly denied, prompting her to quickly slap a hand to her mouth and turn beet red from embarrassment, now drawing the attention of several people around her.
Unable to refrain any longer, Takumi instantly broke out laughing, easily amused by her naiveté.
"Oh that was classic," Takumi said, wiping the tears from his eyes. "I'm sorry, Akira, but I just couldn't help myself. Plus the mere fact that you're cosplaying as Mahoro makes it all the more apropos. Come on, I know you wouldn't buy that kind of stuff and I know that it's just Ryuske-san's doujinshi; I ran into him earlier anyway."
"You… you did?" she was disillusioned to hear. "Great, he must have told you about that embarrassing photo then."
"Photo? He didn't mention anything about that. He just told me that he was really happy that you had bought all ten issues of his doujinshi."
"Of course. Akira, I know you two have had your differences, but you don't have to hide the fact that you like his work. I think it's great that you two finally found a common ground."
"Okay, fine. But that still doesn't mean that I… wait a minute," Akira now began to realize. "Earlier you said that it didn't bother you if I looked at hentai, so long as I provide you with the same freedom. Interesting choice of words."
"Uh, wha… what do you mean?" Takumi nervously asked, gripping the bag with his recent purchases rather tightly.
"Come on, let's see what's in the bag," she demanded, looking at him rather suspiciously with her arms folded.
"It… it's just some shojo manga, I swear."
"Okuzaki, party of two," the hostess called out.
"Oh good, our table's ready," Takumi was relieved to hear, quickly jumping up out of his seat. "Come on, Akira, I'm starving, aren't you?"
"Don't try and change the subject," she chided, now following him and the hostess to their table. "Takumi, I'm serious. You better not have bought any…"
"You know, maybe I should ask Ryuske-san about this so-called embarrassing photo," Takumi casually suggested as the hostess seated them.
Observing the rather smug expression on his face, Akira then sighed heavily, realizing that she had been trumped.
"Think you're pretty clever, don't you?" she said with chagrin. Not quite ready to be outdone, Akira simply flashed him an underhanded grin as she conceded, "Alright, Takumi, I'll let you have this one, but I just have one thing to say to you."
"Oh, and what's that?"
Standing up and pointing directly at his bag, Akira proceeded to wag her finger at him in an accusing yet playful manner and proclaimed, "Ecchi na no wa ikenai to omoimasu!" Intentionally making the announcement so that the people around their table would hear her.
Unlike earlier, Akira seemed to take great satisfaction when the other diners and fellow otaku applauded her recitation of the line, clearly being familiar with the anime of origin. With all the attention now drawn to him, an embarrassed Takumi just sat squirming in his chair.
Feeling quite contented with her little act of retribution, Akira sat back down and confidently admitted, "You know, I think I'm starting to like this."