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.
Viz Media has been expanding its line of titles recently, reaching into the superhero genre that is usually reserved for American comics. While much of shonen manga features characters that could be seen as super-heroes, they aren’t quite like the superheroes Americans grew up with. With the growing popularity of superheroes in American mainstream media, it’s not too surprising that we’re seeing more superhero manga coming over.
Tiger and Bunny – This series began as an anime which spawned the manga series. It follows the veteran hero Wild Tiger as he take on newbie partner Barnaby Brooks Jr. Both men are NEXTs, people born with super powers. They protect the city of Stern Bild and compete on the TV show HERO TV with several other heroes and have corporate sponsors. Wild Tiger takes being a hero seriously, including the secret identity and fight for Justice. Barnaby seems to be in it for her fame and fortune. These two very different personalities with the same power constantly clash, but not all masks are obvious. The first two volumes of this series were included on the YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teen list for 2014. There are six volumes out, and it is available in print only.
One-Punch Man – This series is a digital only exclusive for Viz Media and is serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump. Saitama has trained for years to become a superhero. He trained so much that he lost all his hair. But his hard work paid off and he became so powerful that he could defeat any villain with a single punch. But it seems he’s too good, as there is no villain out there to challenge him and give his live meaning. The series follows his search for an arch-villain as takes on all kinds of monsters, joins the Hero’s Association and becomes involved in the battle to save the Earth! Just like any good superhero would. This series began as a web comic where it went viral and jumped to print in Japan, but not here yet. There are six volumes available.
My Hero Academia – This series just started in Weekly Shonen Jump. It is a simultaneous release with the first chapter running during Weekly Shonen Jump‘s anniversary month. The series follows Izuku Midoriya an ordinary human in a world of the extraordinary. He is a rare mutation that has no superpowers, but wishes nothing more than to be a superhero. One day he meets All Might, the world’s most famous superhero. He ends up helping All Might, showing he has the most important quality for being a hero; heart. All Might decides to help Izuku and gets him into Yuhei High School, where heroes are cultivated. The mangaka of this series, Kohei Horikoshi, had another series serialized in WSJA. Barrage gained a following here, but only ran for 2 volumes. There are two volumes of My Hero Academia out in Japan, but it looks to have a much brighter future. Viz will release the first volume in print and digital in August.
Ultraman – This series is based on a Japanese TV superhero that originally ran in the 1960s. Ultraman is an alien from the Land of Light. He comes to Earth and takes over the body of a human pilot before he dies, giving him a second chance on life as well as a secret identity for Ultraman. Giant monsters called Kaiju have been attacking Earth, and Ultraman lends his strength to stop them. This manga is written as a direct sequel to the first TV series. Shinjiro is the son of Shin Hayata, the Scientific Special Search Party pilot that first joined with the Giant of Light. Many years have passed since there, and the world is at peace, but the darkness is growing again. Shinjiro, now a teenager, learns he has inherited the “Ultraman factor” from his father, and must take up the mantle of Ultraman to stop this new menace. The series is currently serialized in the online magazine Monthly Hero, and there are 5 volumes out so far. It will be published under the Viz Signature imprint and the first volume will be released in August.
Ratman – This series was originally published by Tokyopop who only released 4 volumes. Viz has picked it up for their Viz Select line. It is about Shuto Kasuragi, a teenage boy who dreams of being a hero. He is kidnapped and tricked by the Jackal Society into using a watch that gives him super powers but also makes him a villain. Instead of giving in or giving up, Shuto uses his new-found powers to become Ratman, an anti-hero who will still fight on the side of justice. You can see a lot of elements from this earlier series in some of the newer ones. Corporate-sponsored heroes, a boys who wants nothing more than to become a hero, and a Hero Association to validate all heroic deeds. The series ended in 2013 and went for 12 volumes. Viz released the first digital volume on March 24th.
Ultimo – This series isn’t a superhero series per say, but it originated from one of the fathers of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee. In collaboration with Hiroyuki Takei, the creator of Shaman King, the story has a lot of Stan Lee’s touches. Teenager Yamato has both money and girl problems, but his life is turned upside down when he finds Ultimo, a peculiar looking puppet. He awakens Ultimo and is drawn into the fight between him and his arch rival Vice, who are battling to see if good or evil is more powerful. The series not only has over-the-top battles, but also delves into reincarnation and time travel. There are currently 12 volumes available in Japan, while the US has 10. The series will reach its climax this July in the new Shonen Jump magazine spin-off. It is available in both print and digital.
When looking for legal manga to read, the selections in English is pretty slim. Readers are limited to eBooks of titles already available in English, the apps Manga Box and Comic Walker which are online only and/or available for a limited time, or Crunchyroll’s all-you-can-read manga which does have several titles not available legally anywhere else, but skews heavily toward the more shonen/senien crowd. If you want more titles directed at women, you need to look elsewhere. Right now, that best elsewhere is Renta!, a Japanese eBook seller that is pushing its English website.
Renta! isn’t a new site. It’s been around since the early 2000s, and has been making manga available in English since 2011. They have recently redesigned the site to attract more female readers by pushing romance, shojo, and ladies titles. At first glance, this looks like a really good site. Just a cursory glance over the site shows lots of titles that aren’t available in English, or would ever be on any publisher’s radar. The translations look well done and the lettering is clean. They even have a section on the site that shows the full translation process to reassure people who there is quality control.
I don’t have a problem with all that. It’s all great, and there are a few tempting titles I wouldn’t mind trying, but I just can’t get over the feeling of deja vu I get when I look at the site. It’s like Jmanga all over. The site doesn’t sell their manga, they rent viewing rights, either for 48 hours or unlimited. This is essentially what Jmanga did. You “bought” the manga, but could only read it online, or later, you could “download” it with their app for offline reading, but you never truly own the manga. This is all well and good until something like what happened with Jmanga, shutdown, takes away everything you’ve invested in.
The other thing they do, just as Jmanga did, is to use “tickets”, essentially points. One point = $1 US, and you can buy tickets in 1, 3, 10, 30, 50, and 100 packages. Oh, did I mention they are also charging 8% tax on ever dollar? So you aren’t paying $1, you are paying $1.08 for each ticket. They seem to think that buying tickets makes buying manga easier. I don’t see the advantage other than to make things more confusing for renters, but that’s just me. Most of the manga is sold by chapter, though there are some full volumes available. I dislike the “selling-per-chapter”, since that can sometimes make a volume more costly. I guess this works for the impatient types, but I’m not one of them. I can wait for the full volume.
Renta! has been around for a while, so they probably won’t just up and disappear like Jmanga did. They already have an established business in Japan, so moving into the Western market is a growth strategy. Focusing on the still underrepresented female market is a smart move. They’ve even gotten a lot of title that were previously available on Jmanga, such as Crayon Shin-chan, the Saito Production titles, and Hirohita.
But, after being burned by Jmanga’s shutdown, and losing all the time and money I invested, I am really gun-shy about doing it again. Renta! has the titles I’m interested in, but not the platform I can get behind. I want and need to have some control over the titles I buy online. Either let me download and back them up like Kindle, Nook and even eManga does, or give me the all-you-can-eat model Crunchyroll has where I’m not investing in a single title but the platform. You can rent to me, but give me the option to rent-to-own. Renta! is the right idea, but on the wrong platform.