New Year Manga Musings

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Hello there. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Well, after four months of the semester from hell (a person’s fingers shouldn’t start uncontrollably twitching from the mere proximity of a keyboard, it isn’t natural) and three weeks of boxing, transporting and unboxing twenty-five years’ accumulation of books and other, less important things, my life appears to have assumed something like a more leisurely semblance of normality. The good news is that the computer no longer has to shut down at nine p.m, and I only have two classes left before blessed graduation, neither of which should have anything resembling the course load from this last semester.

For the curious, yes, this is my first time to move out of my parent’s house. My mother now dreams at night about ways to redecorate my room, and my father has nightmares about my forgetting to lock my door at night and Very Unpleasant Things happening as a result (I was rather proud that he managed to hold out a full forty-four hours before calling), and my cats are sulking because they are no longer allowed to sleep in a bed at night, and may I just say that it’s rather lonely to watch TV without two cats crawling all over me?

Now, one thing about moving is that, somewhere between the fifth box of comics, eighth box of books and third box of DVDs, you have to start wondering how much of it you really are going to reread, or rewatch, and if you’re really getting enough enjoyment out of following it to make yourself that much closer to not being able to pay for rent. A flight of stairs and $495 a month puts certain habits into perspective like you wouldn’t believe. I’d brag about the fact that my manga pull list is currently about one-third smaller than it was two months ago, and my singles pull list is about half the size it was, but there are too many one-shots, minis, and finished titles to take into consideration to really make that claim.

But I digress. After all, this website isn’t about the financial and labor perils of moving, nor is it about the pure evil of the institution known as “college.” Instead, it’s about comics, and, in my case, manga.

Being that it’s the first of the year, or at least the first week, the most obvious thing to do is to talk about certain observations I’ve made during my first full year as a manga reader.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that, in many ways, the American corporate setup for manga mirrors, in some ways, the setup for American comics. With American comics, we have the “Big Two,” Marvel and DC, three other major, but not nearly as large, companies: Image, Dark Horse, and IDW, and then a variety of independent publishers, whose prominence varies. Now, in the American market for Manga, we have two major publishers, Tokyopop and Viz Media, three publishers that aren’t nearly as prominent, but stand out more than the rest: Del Rey, Dark Horse, and ADV, and then several smaller publishers, not nearly as many as with American comics, but they’re still there.

For myself there’s an additional mirroring. For the first seven or eight years of my reading comics I read almost exclusively Marvel comics. Now, however, at least half of my list is DC, while my Marvel list only barely edges out some independents, as I shake my head in what is, at best, confusion over their current antics. Similarly, when I started reading manga, most of the titles I read were from Tokyopop. Now, though, the bulk of my manga reading list is is Viz, and, at first glance, my Tokyopop list has shrunk to almost nothing. That, however, isn’t quite the case, a point that I’ll address momentarily.

In Viz’s case, the reason for this is very easy to see. This last year, Viz Media has launched two new, lower priced lines of manga: the Shojo Beat line at $8.99 a volume, and Shonen Jump advanced, at $7.99 a volume. Because the lower prices make the manga slightly more affordable to readers, Viz is able to release even more titles with fewer worries about readers having to drop one Viz title to start buying another. Similarly, there’s a smaller chance of Viz scaring off buyers by releasing the titles closer together. At $7.95, there isn’t much of a difference between buying one “Rurouni Kenshin” a month, and buying one paperback novel a month.

The reasons for the shift in Tokyopop aren’t as easily noticable, but I think I can fairly easily pin down the “why,” there, too. At first glance, my Tokyopop pull list seems to have dropped to nothing. In actuality, however, I’m only getting a few less titles than I was at this time last year, once you account for the completed titles, there’s just a longer wait between titles. Tokyopop, however, doesn’t seem to be putting out any fewer books. The reason for this, I believe, is the increase in Original English Language (or OEL) Manga. By all reports, OEL manga seems to be popular enough, though, for my part, only one, “Shutterbox,” has interested me enough to pick it up, and, while I did enjoy it, I wouldn’t choose it over certain titles Tokyopop seems to have put on hiatus, or severely slowed down production on. 

Take, for example, one of my earliest manga loves, “Priest.” Book fourteen of “Priest” came out almost exactly one year ago, on January 11, 2005. Since then, book fifteen, the supposedly final book of the series, has been listed at their site, but with no information as to its release date. On the one hand, it’s possible that the book didn’t sell well and was cancelled in the US, though it seems quite odd to publish fourteen volumes of a work, then not bother to put out the last. This, however, doesn’t seem to be overly likely, as they released a $39.99 artbook by the creator of “Priest,” “Justice n Mercy,” in October. For the curious, yes, I own the book, but I tell myself that it’s only because I was able to get it for almost 50% off. It seems highly unlikely that Tokyopop would go through the trouble of releasing a $39.99 hardcover book, if they couldn’t sell a $9.99 book by the same person.

Is OEL manga the cause? I don’t know. I do, however, hold out hope for the conclusion of “Priest,” as “Threads of Time” is returning in February after a nine month wait, with the next volume following it a few months later.

That’s it, then. At least five months of silence and a year’s worth of observations, boiled down to just under twelve hundred words. Hopefully, it was worth the wait. If not, I hope it was at least worth the five minutes it took to read this. Which, if you think about it, is longer than it takes to read some comics these days. And I write for free.

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