Editorial, General

Some Thoughts on 2013

It has been somewhat of an eventful year in the world of English manga publishing. From the dominance of Attack on Titan to the closure of PictureBox, this is the Manga Widget 2013 year in review; let’s talk about comics!

attack-on-titan-vol-1Attack on Titan is the real game changer this year. Manga hasn’t had a ‘next hit’ like this since the premier of the now aging Naruto. Almost every volume has been spending a ton of time on the NYT Best Seller list Top 10. Kodansha and Vertical, in an attempt to strike the anvil while the fire’s hot or some other such metaphor, have licensed 3 spinoff titles; Attack on Titan: No Regrets, Attack on Titan: High School and Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (both the manga and the light novels). Whether or not these books can make money and keep the Titans rolling along as the favorite property in print will be determined in 2014.

There’s no great way to say this, so let’s just be blunt: It’s a damn shame that PictureBox is closing up shop. Dan Nadel is a big voice in alternate comics, and I’m sure his work with ARTBOOK/D.A.P. will be fulfilling and likely a more stable position for his family. Although we have never met, I wish him well. I have no doubt he will continue to be an impressive voice within the industry, but without PictureBox, manga publishing in the USA takes a big step backward.

The Last of the MohicansA publisher going out of business is no new thing in this market. We’ve lost CMX and Tokyopop just to name two, but very few publishers are working with the kind of alt comics that PictureBox and Ryan Holmberg were bringing to the English market. While it appears that Holmberg has found a pulisher for his Alternate Manga Masters line, the 10-Cent line, under which Osamu Tezuka’s Mysterious Underground Men and  Shigeru Sugiura’s Last of the Mohicans were published, is without a publisher at this time, with no news. Baring one of the other boutique publishers like Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, or Last Gasp picking up the line and its aesthetic, it is unlikely that more of these classic titles will be published in the USA. This is a huge bummer. These books are fantastic, and Holmberg’s essays put into perspective the titles and their importance to the manga cannon. Part of the reason 2013 was such a great year for manga was this 10-Cent line. Thanks Dan and Ryan for working hard on these books.

pinkThis was the year of josei. Vertical Inc. published some of the best comics of the year, thanks in part to their work on pinkHelter Skelter, and Utsubora. Viz continues to sneak some smuttier josei (the original being Butterflies, Flowers) into their Shojo Beat lineup. Midnight Secretary and Happy Marriage!? seem to be doing okay, and I’ve read some positive reviews. I really liked the first few volumes of Butterflies, Flowers, and I’m looking to finish out the series when I work through some of my backlog.

I’ve noticed a trend of more lux book releases from some of the biggest manga publishers in the USA. The traditional Tokyopop paperback is becoming less of a standard. Yen Press (A Bride’s Story, Thermae Romae), Viz (Sunny), Kodansha USA (Vinland Saga) all have hardbacks currently in publication. These books seem to be more niche content, and they all have received a lot of critical support. Part of me thinks that this is a sign that the average age of the manga consumer is increasing. Maybe it’s just the paying readers that are getting older. It could be that this is the only way that these publishers can turn a profit on these lower volume titles. Perhaps it is a combination. Of note, Vertical Inc. continues to publish very beautiful hardcovers – but that’s more their MO, despite given their recent expansion into more mainstream manga.

Digital platforms continue to bustle with the release of manga into eBook formats. Even print stalwarts like Vertical Inc. have entered the digital realm. What has been particularly interesting is the expansion into the smaller digital networks like the B&N nook and the Kobo eReader format, and not just the Kindle / iOS systems. Backlist titles are seeing a resurgence of popularity in these platforms, which is reasonable. There is a larger market looking for older gems and willing to take a risk on $5 for 200+ pages of comics on an easily accessible platform.

Crunchyroll Initial OfferingsOther digital services have popped up in the past 3 months, including CrunchyRoll’s digital manga service, which is a simulpub for Kodansha comics like Attack on Titan and Fairy Tail as well as other anime-tied series and some off the wall releases. Mangabox, a digital comics platform from Dena, is publishing spin-offs and other comics mostly from Kodansha on a daily update iOS platform. It is unclear to me how the service can turn a profit, but it has already kicked up some interest with the variety of titles and its unique release format.

Yen Press Final IssueThe digital side isn’t all butterflies and roses. Yen Press has/will be shuttering its Yen Plus anthology magazine. The anthology went digital 2 years into its run in 2010, and has been running in relative seclusion for the past 3 years. I won’t spill all my beans, because I’m going to be talking with Lori Henderson from Manga Xanadu later this month about Yen Plus, but I will say that with Shonen Jump Alpha competing at a better release rate and cost, it was fairly hard to justify the Yen Plus purchase. Check out the Manga Xanadu podcast for more of my thoughts on the subject.

On a more personal note, the world of comics is opening up quite a bit more for me. I’m reading more alt comics and historical comics than I ever have, and I’m exploring a lot more now than ever before. I’m working through C.F’s Mere and Michael DeForge’s Very Casual. I loved Paul Pope’s Battling Boy. I have work by Lisa Hanawalt and Charles Forsman on my stack – I’m hoping that this expanded reading will give me better insight into comics as a medium. You may start seeing more non-manga reviews on MW coming soon.

As far as the blog goes, starting in the new year, we’ll be having a series of giveaways and hopefully more consistent posts.

What do you think are the most influential events from 2013? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section or on twitter.

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Review

Review: Pink

pink is the second title by Kyoko Okazaki to be published by Vertical this year.

pink is the second title by Kyoko Okazaki to be published by Vertical this year.

Kyoko Okazaki is one of the greatest mangaka to see publication in 2013. Her work is the foundation that many of my favorite josei mangaka have built from, and her influence is evident in the work of  contemporary mangaka like Moyoco Anno. Vertical Inc. released her Helter Skelter earlier this year, and comes back to the well with the 2010 reissue of a comic that broke her into the manga scene in 1989.

Yumi is a young office girl whose job can’t keep her happy. For one, it is boring. Second, and most important, it doesn’t pay her enough to keep her pet crocodile, Croc, in food. To make extra cash, she moonlights as a prostitute. She gets entangled with a college student and novelist wannabe Haru when she finds out he is having sex with her stepmom for money. After submitting him to the test of being naked and locked in a room alone with a hungry crocodile, the two become entangled in a visceral, heavy relationship that is one part tragedy, one part farce.

The characters in pink are all capitalism junkies. Haru wants to write a great novel, not for the art of it, but for money. Yumi is turning tricks to make cash; the details of her sex life are more about transactions than passions. Her passions are always “things” even when they can’t be. Haru, Yumi’s stepmom, Yumi’s stepsister, and Yumi herself are all in the thrall of the Bubble. The lavish recklessness of the period bounces off the panels. And the art! Okazaki has that enviable skill of being able to reduce her cartooning to bareness at times, but it always feels extravagant. From the curves to the tantrums, this comic is always captivating.

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pink was published at the height of the 80’s Bubble economy, and deals with a lot of themes that will seems familiar to the people who went through the ruins of the 2007-2008 Housing Bubble. The fact that this comic is 25 years old yet still feels like a contemporary tale speaks volumes about how well the comic is constructed. It also shows that the themes explored in pink are still relevant to readers today. To my reading, there’s a lot of symbolism in the pet crocodile. He represents Yumi’s autonomy, or perhaps the ideals of capitalism. Only when the croc disappears does she move into a more serious relationship with Haru, and the way she reacts when she finds out what happened to the croc is emblematic of the way she deals with all of her problems. It’s cynical, it’s awful, and it’s hilarious.

Vertical has done a wonderful job with this paperback. The quality of the printing, the eye-popping color insert, and the lovely matte finish of the cover make this book a joy to hold and look at. This is the company that is printing some of the most lux manga on the market, and that shows with pink.

pink is clearly one of the best manga published this year, and likely one of the best comics of 2013. It has already made a few year-end lists, and for good reason. The passions of pink, its tragedies and its victories, are so compelling, so ostentatious, and ultimately, so warped, that you can’t help but be drawn in.

croc

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Editorial

Manga Thanksgiving 2013

It’s been a few years since I did a Thanksgiving post; hopefully everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving in the USA, and a safe Black Friday. This year I wanted to make a highlights real of all the things I’m thankful for. The publishing world has changed a lot in the past five years, and my activity on MW has waxed and waned. This year has been a great year to be a fan, and I’m happy to be back at the wheel.

#1: PictureBox’s 10 Cent Manga Line

The Mysterious Underground Men

Under the editorial direction of Ryan Holmberg, PictureBox’s 10 Cent Manga Line takes a curatorial look at seminal manga. The two titles they’ve released so far, The Last of the Mohicans by Sugiura Shigeru and The Mysterious Underground Men by Osamu Tezuka, are both fascinating looks at manga in different eras. Shigeru’s work is a surreal reimagining of the classic James Fennimore Cooper novel, and the Tezuka manga is a fascinating look at young Tezuka’s comics inspiration – traces of Dagwood and Disney can be found throughout this work. The production value of these two books is stellar, and the comics themselves are a joy to behold.

#2: The Successful Completion of DMP’s Unico/Atomcat/Triton Kickstarter

The Last of the Mohicans

There’s been a lot of Tezuka news this year. The biggest, of course, is that DMP licensed the entire Tezuka catalog from Tezuka Pro, with most series in digital, and the potential for more print manga. The driving force behind all of that was likely the successful completion of DMP’s Unico Kickstarter. We knew from previous excursions under the direction of Ben and Kwame that single books could be licensed and published using a Kickstarter model. This Kickstarter showed us that the model works for multiple books. The final product that DMP was able to put out aren’t the luxury collector products that Vertical Inc. puts out, but the fact that they came out on time and with minimal complications means that the future is bright for Tezuka manga.

This full color Tezuka manga set the stage for a year of Tezuka titles.

#3: Vertical Took a Chance on Josei

For a long time, I’ve been a champion of josei manga. There is a lot of great content out there, but publishers have been hesitant to publish it since Tokyopop did so poorly with it originally. The content that Tokyopop published was good, but it lacked an audience when the market was still fairly young. Now Vertical has tried the market with a collection of books that are beautiful and haunting, including Kyoko Okazaki’s amazing Pink and Helter Skelter, Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, and the gorgeous Utsubora by Asumiko Nakamura. All of these books are a must read, must own for dedicated manga fans. I hope that Vertical does well with these comics so we can see more josei content in 2014.

#4: Manga Market on the Uptick

The 2007 manga crash and the bankruptcy of Borders did a number on manga sales. Part of the crash was paring away of the C and D list titles coming across from Tokyopop and figuring out what the market will bear, all while under the weight of scanlations. But at the Kodansha USA AMA on reddit, we learned that the market is recovering. Kodansha is doing better than it has in a few years, Yen Press is up significantly, and small publisher Seven Seas Entertainment is up over 100% from last year. Is this because manga fans are starting to age and have a stronger source of disposable income, or is it a swell of manga fans? This will probably become more evident over the next year or so.

What things are you thankful for this year? Let me know in the comments!

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Review

Review: From the New World, Vol. 1

The relationship between manga and anime is a fruitful one; anime studios may pick a popular manga to adapt into a television show, a manga might be written as an adaptation of a popular anime work. Often times, these different works are based around some of the same core ideas and characters, but they are completely different.  Studios might make changes in storylines, in tone, or in other stylistic elements because the manga isn’t completed yet, or the manga might shorten certain storylines in order to fit them more appealingly into a print format. But what happens when you toss the Japanese fiction market into the mix? That’s the source of one of Vertical Inc.’s brand new releases, From the New World.

From the New World, Vol. 1Originally, From the New World was a high-fantasy fiction novel published in 2008. Written by Yusuke Kishi, the novel won the 29th Japan SF Grand Prize. Yusuke Kishi’s work has been published in English by Vertical Inc – his novel The Crimson Labyrinth was originally published in English in 2006. I’m not privy to the decisions book publishers make regarding fiction adaptations, but it was clear that this property was deemed a likely success in the shonen market. Four years after the book was originally published, it received a manga adaptation, and an anime adaptation shortly thereafter.

As a comic, From the New World is a really interesting piece of fiction. Humans have developed telekinesis and other psychic powers a millenium into the future. As children, they learn to develop those powers. In the background, however, more disturbing things are happening. Children who step out of line or who don’t make the grade often go missing. There are rumors of a “Dupe Cat” that hunts down the weak. And very strange and creepy things start happening after the students go off on summer vacation.

Most readers will come to From the New World via the anime simulcast on Crunchyroll. I had the opportunity to read the first volume of the manga, and then watched the first 7 episodes of the anime, for comparison. Which leads me to a question: how do you review From the New World? Is it enough to discuss the manga, or should we also discuss the anime adaptation? Both are now available in English for the first time.

What fans of the property will realize is that while there is a lot that is similar in the two adaptations, there is a lot that is different as well. Stylistic choices and costume redesigns abound. The storylines between the two follow a similar path, but take different steps to get there. By the time we reach the end of volume 1 of the manga, we have skipped a few scenes from the anime, and the cast is still largely together in one place.

The manga is also quite a bit more explicit than the anime. There are a few scenes in the manga that, to be frank, give it its +16 year old rating. How this plays into the storyline will probably come up at some point, but at this point into the anime, we already have some more contextual information about the scenes in question. I’m certain this content was written to titillate. I’m certain this will even drive some of the sales of the manga. Whether the explicit content at the end of volume 1 can be used to drive forward the story will have to be seen in volume 2, but at this point, it seems gratuitous to me.

The tone of From the New World is almost like a mix of the moe fan-favorite K-On! and another Vertical release, Knights of Sidonia. There are elements of that unfettered joy that permeate the first volume, coupled with the unhinging fact that, although we can’t see what’s happening, we know that a lot of things are going wrong. The image of hypercute girls stacking cards juxtaposed against the body horror of the Morph Rats is a really interesting element of the series, and lends to its unsettling nature. The world building is fantastic, but there is a lot that isn’t revealed in this first volume.

As a physical product, From the New World is the Vertical compact size – the same size as their release of Keiko Suenobu’s Limit. It’s slightly smaller than Knights of Sidonia, and approximately a half an inch smaller in width and height compared to the standard Tokyopop/Viz tankōbon.  Check out MW_alt for images.

Overall, I think that this type of high-fantasy is extremely rare in manga being localized currently, and I like what I’ve read so far, despite my misgivings about the explicit content in the first volume. And as for the anime along with the manga? Well, think of them as complementary. Both the anime and the manga bring their own information to the table. Without the anime, I would be a bit confused about some of the content in the manga. Without the manga, I would have put together much less about the storyline. Together, they create a fuller picture of this fantastic and strange new world that Kishi has imagined.

If anything, reading From the New World has convinced me to check out Kishi’s other fiction, and to watch some anime (something I hardly ever do). I think it’s a good start to what could potentially be a very strong series.

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Editorial

Things We Learned From the AMA

Kodansha USA did an Ask Me Anything on reddit last week. Although I was unable to participate, there were some interesting questions asked, and a little data here and there that are worth exploring.

1. We finally learned what happened with the Vinland Saga V1/Amazon SNAFU. The short answer is that Amazon was shorted books, and because of this, pushed back the release date 2 weeks (this was over a month ago). Kodansha states they don’t know why preorders were cancelled.

Vinland Saga, V.1I was one of many loud and grumpy voices involved in the general social media questioning of Kodansha when the Vinland Saga issue first came to light. I was one of the first to preorder the book, and I still don’t have a copy. Amazon cancelling my preorder was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m no longer interested in getting Vinland Saga as it is released. I cancelled my preorder of volume 2. I’m sure it’s a fine book. But I also know that I’m not interested in getting boogered on another deal like this. I’ve been preordering manga from various publishers for 3 years now, and I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this. Amazon isn’t the only party at fault here.


Of note: Amazon still doesn’t have a listing for a physical copy of volume 1.

2. Manga is on the upswing – and some publishers are doing leaps and bounds better. Dallas Middaugh delivered some interesting news via Bookscan – most manga publishers are doing better now than previous years. This is not really a surprise, since the ’07 manga crash and Borders’ closing did a lot of damage to the market. Of note,  Seven Seas Entertainment is selling approximately 100% more books than last year.

monstermusume_vol1_full

This uptick in sales is likely associated with two factors – a more active social media prevalence, and an uptick in licensing. The first set of licenses really started hitting shelves in late 2011, with Gunslinger Girl and A Certain Scientific Railgun, both of which were pretty popular with a certain piece of the anime fandom. They’ve picked up titles like the Alice in the Country of… series, as well as recent additions Monster Musume and A Centaur’s Life.

Seven Seas has found a niche in the market – their catalog has a large amount of moe, harem, and otaku-centric  titles. The moral here, if there is one, is sell what people want to buy, feathers, scales, and all. And talk about it a lot.

3. Some fans still don’t realize that Attack on Titan is published in English. Which is unfortunate, but ultimately, a sign of the way that things work in the fandom. When cool projects like PBS Idea Channel use pirated content on their YouTube show, you know there is a problem. Many people still don’t realize that manga aggregator sites are hosting pirated content.

4. Crunchyroll and its dealings with Kodansha Comics Japan were not monitored or connected to Kodansha USA. It seems odd, but Kodansha USA benefits by selling collected editions of manga currently available (but not in full) at Crunchyroll. In addition, CR gives weekly readers of UQ Holder, Fairy Tail, and Attack on Titan a chance to go to a legitimate website instead of an aggregator. The more you legitimize the content, the more likely people will pay something for it, right?

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