I’ve been an anime and manga fan for long time, and there have been some titles that were thought to be more far off dreams than actual candidates for licensing. One of those dreams was getting anything from Leiji Matsumoto, co-creator of Space Battleship Yamato, and creator of Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, and Queen Emeraldas among many others. At best, all we had were 5 volumes of the second Galaxy Express 999 manga series published by Viz back in the late 90s-2000s. But now, it seems the flood gates have opened as new licenses are being announced left and right.
A couple of tweets came across my Twitter timeline making some unfavorable comments about a panel at SDCC 2016; “Comics vs Manga: Which is Better.” The panel was supposed to have a “panel of experts” in both comics and manga, and looked to compare things such as getting started, diversity, plot, sales, and fandom. I didn’t attend the panel, but I respect the commentor’s opinion. And the description of the panel didn’t make me think I should doubt them.
I wasn’t sold on Bleach when it was first announced, but fortunately, I had a subscription to Shonen Jump back in the day, and read the first few chapters, and was hooked. I really liked the characters and the world that Kubo had created for them. I was a huge Bleach fan, buying the books as they came out, watching the anime, and even collecting the toys from Toynami, several sets of gashapon, and the trading cards. I loved the first arc in Soul Society.
Viz Media’s digital strategy and I have not gotten along very well. For the longest time after Viz released their Vizmanga app, I couldn’t install it because Google Play kept saying it wasn’t compatible with my Android tablet. I finally had to go through Amazon’s App Store and install it through there. I had something to say about that.
Wondercon, for those who may not know, is a younger sibling to Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic Con. For many years it was held up north in San Francisco, but starting in 2012 is moved down to Southern California in the LA area. It’s first four years were spent taking over the Anaheim Convention Center, but this year, the con moved up to the Los Angeles Convention Center. Since its move down to SoCal, its major manga publisher presence has been practically non-existent. Other than a Viz Media booth the first year in 2012, there have been no panels or booths on the exhibition floor. Not even vendors selling manga come to the show. So imagine my excitement when I learned that Kodansha Comics would be coming to Wondercon, and have both a booth AND a panel!
A few weeks ago my Twitter TL is was filled with comments about a post that went up on Vice about Tokyopop. It is a very long puff piece that espouses the virtues of the old Tokyopop, blames its fall on the economy, and then puffs it back up with all the great things they will be doing. Continue reading They Never Learn
I’ve never denied it. I’m a crazy cat lady. I’ve grown up with cats and can barely remember a time when I didn’t have a little furball as a pet. So when tweets about the Japanese game Neko Atsume, or Cat Collecting, started appearing in my time line, I had to check it out. Calling it a game might give the wrong impression. It starts out with just a typical looking back yard, and using fish as currency, you can buy toys and better quality food to attract cats to come to your yard and play with your toys. The thing is though, you can’t be watching. You have to close or reduce the game for the cats to come. It’s sort of random who will come and when.
Recently I was tagged by Ash Brown of the Experiments in Manga blog to join in the game of Manga Tag that been making the rounds of manga blogs and vlogs. I thought it would be fun to join in and share some pictures of the manga I have stacked all over the house.
Tokyopop, the former manga publisher that ceased publication and closed its doors in 2011 has been slowly coming back to life. In the last few years it has begun showing signs it might want to return to the stage, starting with a newsletter soon after shutting down, publishing more Hetalia in conjunction with Rightstuf, and the bringing back their website and making the OEL titles they still held rights to available as eBooks. In June, the website made mention of Tokyopop “evolving”, and that evolution was revealed at their panel at Anime Expo.
The panel was headed by founder Stu Levy, who announced the company would start publishing manga again in 2016. They had no titles to announced, but claimed they were looking to license “hidden gems that are not yet noticed” from small and independent publishers. They also planned to publish art books and will consider light novels.
On the multimedia side, Levy said the company had 20 properties lined for both animation and live action, and highlighted Knockouts, a Ikkitousen knockoff with a live action concept trailer, and Riding Shotgun, one of their OEL properties that only got two volumes, which already attempted an indigogo crowd-sharing project to create an animated series. Also announced was a youtube series of anime reviews.
The final announcement was a comics app for iOS and Android called “POP Comics”. The app would be free to readers, and would allow users to upload their own comics to share, while retaining 100% of their copyright and creative control, and getting a 70/30 split of any ad-generated revenue.
It all sounds reasonable. Sure, there are plenty of titles out there being ignored by the big publishers with ties to Japanese companies. Yes, there are fans who would love to see manga and/or manga inspired stories adapted to animation and/or live action. Yes, there are lots and lots of creators who want to get their works out to a wider audience. It appears that Tokyopop has learned from their past and are trying to make up for the bad reputation they got in the manga and comics community. Not a lot of people are buying it though.
As soon as the tweet went out about POP Comics and Tokyopop doing portfolio reviews, creators who had worked with Tokyopop previously came out and started tweeting warnings and telling their stories. Every single one had the same message. Don’t trust Tokyopop or Stu Levy. Blog posts and articles came out written by creators or that interviewed creators, mostly warning NOT to give up any of their rights. No one seemed to believe Stu when he said at the panel creators will keep their copyright and creative control. But when you read about what a lot of them went through, you can’t really blame them for their mistrust.
And with some of the statements Levy made, it’s easy to see why fans would feel the same way. For many people, Tokyopop was their introduction not just to manga, but to comics in general. Their website, before they went to that awful “3.0 update,” was where a lot of manga bloggers like Kate Dacey got their start, talking about manga and building an audience. They introduced a lot of creators that went on to do bigger and better things; Svenlana Chmakova, Amy Reader Hadley, Becky Clooney, and Sophie Campbell. They did do a lot of good things for the budding manga community, which I think is what made some of Levy’s statements feel like a betrayal. The most memorable for me was, after another round of layoffs were announced, Levy posted on his twitter feed:
Wow #GDC2011 is blowing my mind. Why have I been stuck in such an old-school, out-of-touch industry for so long?! (yes I mean books!)
Levy has always been his own worst enemy. He seemed to have ADD when it came to initiatives at Tokyopop. He would jump on one idea and stay with it for a while until a new shiny came along and he was jumping on that, leaving the previous unfinished. Everything Tokyopop did at the time seemed half-assed. If something seemed to be going somewhere, it would be left to its own devices, whether it could stand on it own yet or not to chase down the next, “big thing.” Always seemed to be about what ever Levy was excited about at the time, whether it was writing kids books, making movies, or social media, what really mattered, the books became less and less important to the company as Levy lost interest. He burned a lot of bridges with fans the closing of publishing in 2011. It’s going to take a lot to rebuild them, if they can be rebuilt at all.
With these new announcements, it seems that Tokyopop will try to balance their different interests instead of jumping from one to another haphazardly. They encompass everything that Levy tried to do previously, but not so ostentatiously. Manga, multimedia and social media. The next several months will be crucial for the company as they (hopefully) announce titles and launch their app.
But what I really wonder is, has Levy really learned from the past? Brigid Alverson talked with Levy at San Diego Comic Con for Comic Book Resources and some of the answers he gave really feels like the doesn’t think any *he* did was to blame for the company’s downfall. He admits mistakes were made, but not by him. He boils it down to too much too fast, creators weren’t ready, audience wasn’t ready. Not once does he address or even acknowledge the lack of editorial for many creators that no doubt led to books being created poorly and audiences not liking. He tried to spin the “too much too fast” as he was too big-hearted and wanted to help creators get published. Come on Stu, step up. It’s time for some personal accountability.
Another think I don’t like that he said was about the creators not being given their properties back. He claims it was purely business and that most didn’t make back their advances, but if they wanted to pay, they could have them back. Well as to why most didn’t sell, see above. Also marketing is usually required for books to sell, and that seemed to be missing too. It really looks like a lot of creators were set up to fail just so Tokyopop could get a bunch of properties cheap that they could sell the IP for. Though, if they didn’t sell, who would want to buy those IP, which makes Tokyopop holding on to them make no sense. I’m certainly not going to buy into an IP without the original creator, or that was a proven failure in the market.
So, is this new Tokyopop a phoenix rising from the ashes, or zombie shambling out of its grave? I’m really not sure yet. I want to be optimistic about the former, but the more hear about Tokyopop’s practices under Levy’s direction, the more I fear it will be the latter. The question that really needs to be asked, is, does Tokyopop in general, and Stu Levy specifically, deserve another chance? The old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me,” comes to mind. Tokyopop fooled fans once that they were serious about a come back after the 2008 restructuring. We do not intend to be fooled again.
I have really grown to like digital manga. Considering the lack of space I currently have, and the difficulty I have in letting things go, being able to stack digital files is a lot easier than physical books. And they’re a lot easier to carry. I can carry several different titles to suit what ever my mood is in just my tablet, and it’s a lot easier to eat and read on a tablet that can stand on its own and doesn’t need one of my hands to hold it open.
The Vizmanga app has been one of these platforms that I’ve been buying my manga on, though reluctantly lately. One of my problems with it is that there is no way to back up the titles I purchase. They can only be downloaded and viewed through the app. This isn’t so much a problem if something happens to my device. I can just download them again on the new one. But what if something happens to Viz and their servers go down? They say everything will still be available and working through the app.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Viz’s mature titles are not available to download and read through the app. They can only be read online through a PC/Mac with flash. This is actually very limiting. The whole purpose of digital manga is to be able to read it anytime, anywhere, just like the print, but more conveniently. Limiting the ability to read manga I supposedly own is not convenient. I am more often in an environment where I can’t get online with my device and the available PC is not flash enabled. Yes, I can read something else, but that isn’t really the point. I love digital manga because it’s supposed to give more freedom in what I read and when. Viz banning their own titles from their own app is actually ludicrous to me. If you are going to sell Mature manga on your site that is supposed to be available through your app than make ALL OF IT available. Don’t say “You can read all of these titles you’ve bought anytime, anywhere, but don’t even think about those titles.”
I’ve partially solved this problem by not buying anymore Mature manga through the Vizmanga app or website. I should be able to read any title I’ve bought anytime I want, and should not be limited by whatever hangups a publisher has about their own titles. But this now means I have my digital manga divided up between apps, and even some series. I shouldn’t have to have multiple apps to get titles from the same publisher, but to make digital manga work for me, I just have to, and I really think that’s wrong.
No matter what the culture, knowledge has been equated with power. For centuries, this knowledge has been stored as words in books. Whether it’s a list of names or a wizard’s tome, books have been regarded as being magical. It’s no different in manga. There are several titles that feature books and the power of words with the ability to create, transport its readers to other worlds, and even kill.
Fushigi Yugi and it’s prequel Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, both feature a magical book, The Universe of the Four Gods, that pulls the main characters, Miaka and Yui in the original, and Takiko in the prequel, into its story. Each of the girls is found to be a Priestess of one of the four gods, and Miaka and Takiko are tasked with finding the celestial warriors after which they can summon their god and make a wish The book itself isn’t used much in the story, but is the catalyst for the girls to start their adventures. Fushigi Yugi is available in 6 omnibus editions and Genbu Kaiden just finished its print run at 12, and both titles are available at Vizmanga.com
Read or Die and the related Read or Dream, isn’t so much about books themselves having power, but what they are made of, paper as having the power. In Read or Die, Yomiko Readman, a papermaster who can control paper and shape it into anything she wants. Yomiko is a secret agent for the British Library, and uses her powers to keep the peace. She loves books and often spends her money on them rather than food. Read of Dream is a spin-off of read or Die and follows three sister papermasters in Hong Kong, who run a detective agency. The three sisters, Maggie, Michelle and Anita, are very different and control different elements of papermastry. Like Yomiko, Maggie and Michelle are big book lovers, but surprisingly Anita hates books. Both titles are four volumes each and are available in print.
In Muhyo and Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation, Muhyo is an executor, a graduate from the Magical Law School that allows him to be Judge, Jury and Executioner on supernatural beings found to be breaking the law. He does this through his Book of Magic Law, a thick tome that holds all the laws of magic and allows Muhyo to pass judgement on the wrong-doers and summon the envoys that take them to either heaven, hell or the river styx. The Book of Magic Law is Muhyo’s proof of being an executor and no one can use his book but him. The series went 18 volumes and is available in both print and digital.
In the world of Kiichi and the Magic Books, people known as Librarians travel the land bringing books that people can borrow and read. Mototaro, one such librarian is also special. He has the power to make images in books come to life. Part of the reason he travels is to find old books that have become unstable; the pictures come to life on their own. This series was published by CMX and is unfortunately out of print, but a great story if you can find all five volumes.
In Death Note, while the book, the Death Note has power, it’s what’s written inside that makes it work. The Death Note is a book used by Shinigami, Death Gods, to send people to the afterlife. One Death God, Ryuk, drops his death note into the human world to see what happens. It is found by high school boy Light Yagami. With the death note, he can write anyone’s name into and that person will die of a heart attack if no means of death is provided. Light uses the Death Note to go on his own personal killing spree, intent on cleaning the world or criminals, until only people he deems worthy live. Death Note was a big hit when it came out and had anime adaptation, though came under some criticism as kids around the world came up with their own “death notes”, writing names of people they wanted hurt or dead in them. There are 13 volumes in print, digital, box set, or omnibus editions.
Books aren’t always necessary to hold power, sometimes just a word is all that is needed. Alice 19th is about Alice, a high school girl destined to become a Lotis Master. Lotis Masters use the power of words to reach the inner heart of others and banish the darkness from their hearts. Here, there are no books, just words used to find the darkness in people, and turn that darkness into words to be banished. There are also maram words, dark reflections of lotis words. Alice 19th was written by Yuu Watase, the creator of Fushigi Yugi and Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. It went for 7 volumes and can be found in both print and digital.
In Natsume’s Book of Friends, there is a book, but it’s what’s written in it that matters. Takashi Natsume has the ability to see spirits and yokai. He moves in with some relatives and finds his grandmother’s book of friends, a book filled with the names of yokai his grandmother fought and won the names of. With the book, Natsume has power over these spirits. While he doesn’t want this power, there are other spirits who do, and Natsume is hunted by them until he befriends Madara, a power ayakashi, who makes a deal with Natsume to protect him until he dies a natural death, at which point Madara can take the book. Here, names have the power, as it forms a contract between the spirit and the human, and only Natsume’s breath can release the name and end the contract. This series is still ongoing with 17 volumes available in print and digital.