The Death of Manga?

Curator's Note

 Just as I was preparing my contribution to the conversation, the word came to me about the death of TokyoPop, one of the few remaining manga publishers in American market. My career has been spent on both sides of the culture machine—I have worked equally as a scholar and as an editor of manga. So as much as I think of the idealistic side, I also consider the business side.

As the entire entertainment market moves slowly but surely to digital distribution, the million-dollar question is how the comics market in general and the manga market in particular will adapt, and whether it will survive. Manga is a superb form of literature, and I do a series of presentations and conventions and conferences extolling its virtues as both literature and as art. But the format is intrinsically connected to social and economic conditions that spawned it. Manga developed in a period after the Pacific War, when no other media was in any shape to successfully compete. Despite the fact that this period produced Japanese film makers who achieved world class status, such as Kurosawa and Ozu, post-war Japan did not have the technical infrastructure or the consumer spending power to produce a film industry such as Hollywood, and the television industry was practically non-existent. Cheap, mass-produced manga perfectly suited the social and material circumstances of the times, and hence it drew both creators and customers. The 400-page manga anthology magazine became a significant social force, no matter how much it was disparaged by cultural and educational elite.

But over the past few years, the work I have done has shifted from localizing manga for print to localizing it for digital distribution. During that same period, I’ve watched the print format manga producers in America bit the dust one after the other. My industry colleagues in Japan have also seen their markets crumble.

Some would say that manga will simply shift from paper to web page. But I think it’s not so simple. When society shifted from the horse-drawn wagon to the truck, it wasn’t just the mode of transport that evolved—the nature of the very goods delivered also changed. And as the consumers move away from manga to television, video games and social media, the energy and resources of Japan’s creative minds shift with them. 



Thanks for contributing to the week. First-hand knowledge of the media industries is always a useful perspective to bring to the table, so I'm pleased you're in the conversation.

My question is relatively straight-forward and deals with Tokyopop's demise. The blogs and forums have been abuzz as to reasons behind the company's shuttering, mostly focusing on labor, Levy's growing disinterest in print, and the crumbling of the brick 'n mortar bookstore.

But as this week theme is globalization and popular culture, I can't help but wonder if manga intends to survive as a global product (print or otherwise), if the Japanese publishers themselves need to be the ones publishing foreign language editions, and/or setting up subsidary companies (i.e., Shogakukan, Shueisha and Viz Media) to maintain the properties. 

What are your thoughts?

Movies, music, magazines, and other print media seem to be surviving in this digital age thanks to the industry's strong corporate presence and intellectual property law. For the manga industry, they do not have enough infrastructure and resources to police illegally scanned and downloaded manga.

That said, an interesting phenomenon is that this illegal manga or so called "scantlons" can contribute to the globalization of manga. I am just amazed by the hard endeavor of Manga fans to scan, translate, and upload Manga for sharing. Almost all Manga is available globally as soon as they are out in Japan because some college students scan, translate, and upload them on the Internet for free sharing and discussion. These students somehow volunteer their time and labor (you know scanning, translating, and cleaning is a hard work) for global distribution.  I am not saying that illegal manga is a good thing, but ironically, it facilitates reaching a large, global audience.



The future of manga in any language is definitely in the hands of the Japanese publishers. Currently, they are already making their Japanese language product available on the internet for a price, and several are already working to make English language editions available. The majority of the work I have done over the past year has been to produce digital editions of classic series for internet distribution. 

This means the Japanese publishers have realized that they no longer need publishing offices operating on foreign soil. Companies like TokyoPop have become irrelevant. All they need are a few production staff to do the localization process. The Japanese can do the digital distribution themselves.

Unfortunately, these projects are currently in the hands of the marketing/business people, not the editors. They simply want to slosh out cheap product and pay cheap costs, instead of paying for quality work. They are counting on the fan-subbers to work for less than MacDonald's wages.


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