Monday, May 3, 2010

Free Comic Book Day in Tokyo!

So a friend and I got all dressed up for Free Comic Book Day...

Just kidding. Those are a couple of amarori (sweet Lolita) girls in Harajuku, not far from the former Blister store, which is now just an empty building with the familiar orange sign still hanging over it.

Blister itself has moved to Hamacho, just a few doors down from the Sumida River. It's pretty close to the station and you should have no problems getting there-- provided you take the correct train from Shinjuku. Which took me thirty minutes to find. I believe I ended up going via the Keio Line when I should have been on the Toei Oedo line. But don't hold me to that. Tokyo's subways are confusing to me and I don't want to be responsible for your ending up in Kawasaki or Yokohama because of my dumb mistakes.

Blister is a shadow of its former glory. I believe they're concentrating more on their online business and the new location doesn't have as much display space anyway. Where once you found racks of the latest action figures and statues, now there are just a few shelves with a somewhat joyless, uninspired appearance. The Comedian gazed sightlessly from inside a DC Direct package, but there was nothing from the new Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie, nothing of Hot Toys' storied Dark Knight 1/6th scale series beyond a display Joker, no Diamond Select Star Trek Kirks and Spocks (just some leftovers from the 2009 Trek flick, but I'm just not that into Simon Pegg). Not even a Michael Jackson toy. At least I hope they're concentrating on the online market. Maybe the competition from the hobby shops of Akihabara was just too much for them.

When Blister first opened in Shibuya, it featured three floors of pop culture insanity. The familiar Spider-Man statue guarded the front alongside Darth Vader and they displayed one of Tobey Maguire's actual costumes from the Spidey film series inside. Then it moved to a smaller but even cooler location in Harajuku, near the intersection where FRUiTS's photographers cool-farm with cameras, across from Laforet, in an alley just behind the Gap (which is also gone now, too). Free Comic Book Day 2009 was a major happening there and the store was packed with happy customers who kept the employees a-hoppin'.

This year? Well, I don't know how day one went because I was in Mitaka with friends. I had to go for day two and Hamacho wasn't exactly a frenzy of activity. That's one sleepy little neighborhood. Blister had about as many employees present as customers. The friendly, long-haired guy at the door offered me my choice of five free comics. I got Bongo's Bongo Comics Free-For-All!, Image's Fractured Fables (I spotted the Mike Allred cover and had to have it), Dark Horse's Doctor Solar/Magnus Robot Fighter two-fer, Drawn & Quarterly's John Stanley Library, Archie Comics's Archie Summer Splash! #1.

I meant to pick up Fantagraphics's Weathercraft, but by the time I saw it, the guy had already loaded my loot into the plastic bag. My Japanese wasn't up to the task of asking him to replace one of the comics, so I just shrugged and hit the new comics shelf. Once again, this was loaded with mainstream monthlies for the most part: Dark Horse, DC and Marvel.

I really hope the store saw more action Saturday, because I still get a glow when I remember the previous year's festival atmosphere; but then, Harajuku is an insane carnival on the weekends anyway. This year, a father was taking his little son in as I arrived and there were already a couple of young women browsing the toys. And that was it. I also missed seeing the Blister crew. The trio working Sunday were nice guys, very helpful, but Blister used to also have several hip female employees, some with funky haircuts and facial piercings. Where were they?

I couldn't help feeling a little sad at the minimal turnout and the lack of stock. Despite that, Blister is still the place to go for your American comic book fix in Tokyo. As far as I know, they have no competition. I loaded up on BPRD, Conan the Cimmerian and the few issues of Marvel's New Mutants series I'd missed, plus some random finds. They didn't have some of the books I specifically hoped to buy; possibly they'd sold out. All the back issues were half-priced, which put them close to what I would've paid for them in the States.

Overall, I couldn't shake the feeling, "I came all this way for this?" I blame the location. It's tiny and no longer on a major thoroughfare or in a trendy neighborhood. It's just in a quiet little place where people walk their dogs and air their futons. And go elsewhere to shop and party.

I have a feeling Blister won't be around for Free Comic Book Day 2011. And that would be tragic.


foctobar said...

Um, yeah, the location is not cool at all... And reading what the store has been the previous years, it's sad...
I went ot Saturday afternoon, and there were maybe 8-10 people, but even though I can't say it was crowded, it kind of felt that way because of the lack of space.

Joel Bryan said...

It makes me wonder what happened. The economy? The lack of interest in American comics in the Japanese market? The massive toy/model/hobby shop conglomerations in Akihabara?

In my hometown there, we had a store called Sun Sun Toys. It's run by a very nice guy but was kind of a letdown after seeing the stuff at Blister. Now Sun Sun has much more than Blister. Quite a turnaround.