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Manga Before Flowers – “Manga for Adults” (Part Two)

In last week’s column, I tried to make a case for the possibilities of adult manga readership in the U.S. and I was pleased to see that my argument was generally well received by this blog’s readers. While there is some inherent tension in enthusiastically recommending Japanese comics on a U.S. comic book blog site, John Thomas cheerfully crushes it, noting, “Manga and [U.S.] comics don’t need to be like Republicans vs Democrats. You CAN enjoy both (I do!) without betraying the other.”

Importantly, Matt Thorn and Chloe F both pointed out that I was incorrect about manga readership in Japan declining in any significant way – that while the numbers were not at as great as they were in the 1990’s, manga sales continue to hold steady. The perception that manga’s readership is not-so-slowly-eroding in Japan is one I accepted without second thought and I appreciate the gentle correction I received from these two.

No one seemed to contest my argument that if manga publishers in the U.S. wish to thrive they need to develop its readership beyond the teen market. There are an estimated 33 manga volumes coming out a week in 2008 (can anyone confirm? I’m a little bit afraid of this number, it just screams “GLUT!” to me and that is not a word I want to hear associated with the manga market in 2008). What in the world are we, and by “we” I suppose I mean the chain bookstores, going to do with all that manga? 33 volumes a week is great number for a manga addict like me who can work at a local comic book store for credit, but what about everyone else? While I hope that many of those manga titles will find their correct market, as a lowly foot soldier at my local comic book store I can say that my manga customers often buy titles published a few years ago that they are only discovering *now.*

I can’t claim to know for sure how U.S. publishers will be capture that teen market as it ages but today’s column attempts to highlight manga titles that could help stem the stereotype that manga (or comics in general) are for kids. And, of course, this is an attempt to entice American comic book readers, conditioned to accept certain kinds of narratives and art styles, to potentially discover manga titles that speaks to their tastes. I believe the titles I offer here would be more to their liking than the shojo and shonen manga titles that tend to predominate the shelves. (Yes, you! You there! You can save me from “conventional wisdom” that there is manga glut in 2008!)

The following recommendations are highly subjective – I’m simply going to explain what I happen to like and why. When I feel my own powers of communication fail to adequately explain the sheer awesomeness of a particular title, I might reference the recommendations kindly shared by commentators on my last post. Thanks to everyone, for sharing your favorites – it might my job this week (& next week) more challenging, but in a good way. I think.

Due to time constraints this week I’m going to focus on science fiction manga and expand out to other genres next week (yup, I’m stretching out this topic for three weeks!)

Genre: Science-Fiction

Eden: It’s an Endless World

eden.jpg

Author Hiroki Endo creates a post-apocalyptic world in which a virus has killed off a significant portion of the population. Although the title’s plot is overly complicated –different military and crime organizations vie for world domination or something — as far as I’m concerned the story is really a coming-of-age narrative about a boy named Elijah, whose father happens to control one of the largest drug cartels in South America. Elijah grows up in a world in which evil happens both intentionally and often simply by default, and we are invited to watch a 15 year old purposefully strip away his own innocence in order to project enough strength to protect what he values most in the world (on the surface he tries to protect loved ones, but more often he is actually protecting his own sense of right and wrong).

The title is more than simply “adult,” as in “mature,” it is actually quite graphic, as Endo mediates upon the ways in which human beings survive their own nature (and sex and violence seem to be his primary vehicles to represent that meditation), more than he actually explores the concept of “survival” in a world decimated by a virus that acts without apparent cause or reason. The art is harshly realistic and beautiful in its clarity, often achieving both effects simultaneously.

Published by: Darkhorse
Released: 9 volumes out of 17 (still on-going in Japan)

ES (Eternal Sabbath)

es.jpg

Fuyumi Soryo, a popular shojo mangaka, creates an emotionally driven science-fiction thriller, as the “ES” in the title stands for two genetically engineered better-than-human clones with extraordinary powers of the mind (i.e. psychic ability) who have escaped the scientists who created them. Post-escape these clones find themselves alone in a human world they don’t understand and eventually battle each other over their place in relation to human beings. The two clones stand in for the possibilities of the human race – they are do not reductively equal “good” and “evil” so much as they come to stand if in for the potential to love and learn versus the potential to simply hate. Complete at eight volumes (the eighth volume due soon from Del Rey), ES excels in narrative and art, as Soryo takes the lessons she learned as a shojo mangaka – the ability to express human emotion and experience – and applies them to the more detail-oriented genre of science fiction.

Significantly, although ES is nominally about the epic battle for humanity between two “male” clones, Soryo’s real protagonist is neurologist Mine Kujyou, a cold intellect who relies primarily upon her powers of reason to guide her through life. Through her interaction with these extraordinary individuals and the people they influence — for good and for ill — she finds must make sense of their humanity and her own.

Published by Del Rey
Released: 7 out of 8 volumes

Parasyte

parasyte.jpg

Parasyte isn’t just about regular old parasites – as the unusual spelling the title of the manga indicates — but about creepy sentient alien parasites that take over the human body. The narrative of this title actually focuses on an alien-body-snatch-gone-wrong, as our protagonist, Shinichi, manages to stop the progress of his parasite before it reaches his brain. Unfortunately, now he’s got to share his body – specifically his left arm as the image above hints at — with this invader and learn to share one vessel with two beings with conflicting values, needs, and desires. The wonder of this title is how well it envisions this strange new life for Shinichi and his new companion (called “Migi”) and the dangers that come with this new existence – many of those dangers coming from more successful alien parasites which wear their victims’ faces and tend to wreak havoc, with occasionally eating human beings and all.

Often shocking and surprising, this title is being released by Del Rey (after Tokyopop let the license lapse) into volumes containing almost 300 pages of weird, creepy, spectacularly strange goodness.

Published by Del Rey
Two volumes released (finished in Japan, will eventually be released as 8 volumes)

Planetes

planetes.jpg

Planetes was one of the first manga I read but I still remember being impressed by its mature storytelling and art. Realistically depicting space travel in the not-so-distant future, the title follows “garbage collectors” in space, but in Planetes “space” is always just a supporting character to the main characters’ lives, dreams, hopes, and experiences. The central character is a young man hoping to become a great space explorer, meanwhile biding his time as a trashman in space, hoping to join a historically significant and dangerous expedition to Jupiter.

I recall the art is excellent (I sadly lack access to copies of the manga as I write this) but most importantly I remembered giving a damn about these so-called “garbage collectors” and their families, romances, setbacks and, in general, their everyday lives.

Published by Tokyopop
Complete at 5 volumes

25 Comments

I’ve heard Planetes is a good read. I need to check it out.
I’d like to see a change in the market, it would free up opportunities for non-Japanese manga artists like myself (Finalist in the last UK Rising Stars of Manga, this year going for the win!). At the moment, you can pitch to a number of publishers, but your chances are seriously low unless the manga you’re pitching is for the teen market. As a relatively well-known UK manga artist put it some months back, “When you pitch, tell them what it’s about, who’s in it and why it’ll appeal to fifteen year old girls”. It’s even more pronounced here in Britain, because we lag behind the US in manga terms by a few years and don’t tend to get so many titles.
I do see attitudes gradually changing though, as the ‘first generation’ manga fans are approaching their late twenties in this country. More mature manga would be great.

ES (Eternal Sabbath) is one that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time! I read her series MARS back when I was first discovering manga and just grabbing anything I could find in the bookstore. I wasn’t even expecting much from it, thinking it was going to be a typical shy girl meets bad boy thing. I was wonderfully surprised at all the twists the series took and especially at all the layers the characters had that kept getting pulled back for us to see as the series went on. Lots of dark stuff in there.

So I’d really like to see that dark stuff she did in MARS in a sci-fi series like ES! But so much manga, so little money and space to keep them all! I definitely want to try out the first volume soon though.

This column of yours is so great! I really love your enthusiasm.

33 a week sounds way off to me, but let’s see. Looking at this week’s confirmed ship list from Diamond, I see that DC is shipping two volumes, Digital Manga Publishing is shipping three, DR Master is shipping one, Vis is shipping 21 (yikes!), and Icarus is shipping one. That’s a grand total of 28. So 33 a week is a possible average, given that Tokyopop isn’t shipping anything this week. It’s also clear that the majority of manga output, at least through Diamond, is coming from one company, so the market there isn’t as different from that of more traditional American comics as one would like to think.

As for a glut, I would have to say, just from looking at the manga walls I see in the local Barnes & Nobles, that most manga published in the US is sitting on the shelf unread while the more perennial favorites (your Dragonballs, your Narutos, your Inuyashas) eat up the majority of the sales. However, this seems to have been the case for the last few years. Everyone keeps predicting a burst to the manga bubble, and it keeps not happening. It’s possible that, while there’s an overwhelmingly large amount of manga out there, the market is still healthy enough to maintain that level of output.

Then again, this is all supposition from me, a decided layman. I’d love to hear from folks experienced in comics and bookstore retail on the subject.

Just a tip for those looking for Eternal Sabbath: double-check to make sure you’re not getting E’S by mistake. They’re two different series that have very similar-looking titles on the spines.

Viz tends to cluster their shipments for a month onto one day, so looking at them as an example is a bit misleading. (I’m looking at the latest “Shojo Beat,” and they have 10 upcoming titles listed, all coming out March 4th.) This is also why Shonen Jump titles can appear to completely dominate the Japanese charts; since they tend to all be released in the same week, naturally they’re over-represented on the sales charts for that week.

From what I’ve heard, the manga market has already gone through a correction, and a massive, sudden collapse isn’t too likely at this point. Publishers who took on more than they could handle (such as ADV) have cut back to more reasonable levels.

As far as what titles sell, remember that manga collections are released on a book model, not a periodical model. This means that a) they don’t have to sell in the month they come out (though that’s usually when sales are highest), and b) they can be reordered from the publisher, so the presence of a complete run on the shelf doesn’t mean no one is buying them. While I’m sure that there are individual titles that aren’t selling in individual locations, a better indicator of industry-wide trouble would be if stores stopped buying later volumes of series because they hadn’t sold the earlier ones, or if large numbers of returned copies turned up in the clearance sections of the bookstore chains. (I’ve heard that rates of return on manga from bookstores are at or below average.)

Would the three recommended titles above be examples of titles that would be standard in any B&N or Borders? Or (to the US Market) are they considered more indy and more likely found online and in comic shops that carry a decent stock of manga?

hi Mer — these titles would generally be standard although “Eden” is shrink-wrapped due to mature content so it is possible it might not show up at some Barnes and Nobles stores (I believe by B&N carries it but I might have to confirm that fact).

Otherwise, ES, Planetes and Parasyte should show up at most chain bookstores.

All this talk about bookstore sales & manga directed towards teens dominating the shelves reminded me of something that happened last year. An employee at my local B. Dalton’s asked for manga recommendations since their shelves were getting bare and they didn’t know what to order because none of them read manga. I wrote down a list (and told her that it was always a good idea to keep Fruits Basket & Naruto in stock since they’re really popular and I’m always seeing young girls standing by them and crying out in horror whenever a volume number is missing. “They don’t have #12!!!! Nooooo!!” can usually be heard throughout the store. Hey, I’m not mocking! I can relate!) and the next time I came back there were some of my recommendations on the shelves.

I talked to her about it, said I was happy and all that, and she mentioned she couldn’t order some of the stuff I listed because “they only wanted her to order teen titles” now I don’t know if “they” was her boss at the store or B&N super secret headquarters (not sure how it all works since I’ve never worked at a bookstore) or what….but I just thought it’d be interesting to mention. It’s not like these were super obscure artsy titles or anything either since it’s such a small store and I wanted the things I recommended to sell for them. So they passed on stuff like Nana, Basara, & Please Save My Earth (plus the latter two still have teen protagonists! but I guess they might not actually be considered “teen titles” in the same way that Hana-Kimi, Beauty Pop, & Ouran High School Host Club are) but I was *extremely* happy that they got all five volumes of Paradise Kiss. Plus soon after I noticed all five were gone which made me even happier.

Mer –

Around here those titles are not standards to be found in ANY store, with the exception of Parasytes. I cannot for the life of me find any “mature” manga titles in any bookstores in my area. The local Borders, Waldenbooks, and B&N’s have rows upon rows upon rows of manga in stock, and 99.9% of it is for children and/or teens.

Mer (and anyone else that’s interested),

If you live by a Barnes & Noble you can always go to their website http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ and click on a book you’re interested in. They have a book locator where you can put in your zip code and it’ll tell you if your store has that particular title in stock. Borders might have something similar but I’m not sure.

http://www.bordersstores.com is the Borders equivalent.

All the titles mentioned are fantastic, particularly Eden and Planetes. Though Eden does contain quite a few inaccurate or incomplete/out-of-context statements about and/or in reference to the Bible.

So even though the chain stores might carry some of these, this is a good time to see if your local comic shop stocks or will order a title you are interested in.

If not, there is always an online store.

For anyone who isn’t already aware of it, a number of bookstores are carrying the titles aimed at older readers in an area separate from the general graphic novels, especially if the series in question happens to be shrinkwrapped. The local Books-A-Million keeps a shelf next to the romance novels for mature reader titles, it’s largely Yaoi but there are a number of other titles placed there as well (everything from Battle Royale and Berserk to Watchmen and Sin City oddly enough).

So if you can’t find a specific title with the rest of the graphic novels you may want to try looking elsewhere in the store.

If it’s got an ISBN, it’s on Amazon.

All manga GNs have an ISBN.

The reconciling of these two generally exclusive groups (stereotypical younger manga fans and older comic book fans) is what I’ve been pondering for some time now… theories and speculation is all I got. I have to wonder if our current “cult of the writer” period really works against manga in the eyes of a western, Big Two-type reader. Most Japanese manga appears in my eyes to be solely created and produced by one individual. There are few examples in western markets, fewer still that can do it well. One could argue the cohesion of a writer/artist being handled by one human being is part of manga’s charm.

Case in point wiki manga-ka, then do the same for gensaku-sha.

It’s really easy to take a risk on a book just based on a writer’s name. Anything by Ellis, Moore, or Gaiman is almost a certain thumb through at the very least when it comes to browsing habits. The culture of manga is just so very, very different. I’d love to see what else lurks in the brain of Hiroaki Samura of Blade of the Immortal, but we’ll have to wait for him to finish up the aforementioned title first. The name “Dark Horse” is the closest thing to feeling like I can trust enough when it comes to manga, seeing how many creators often move on to television or film. This again plays into a slight advantage for western audiences and our “cult of the writer”, BKV and Loeb may have those hollywood gigs, but they haven’t quit their day jobs, as it were.

Am I wrong? Are there manga writers in Japan pumping out 3-6 books at a time with different artists on them that just don’t see their work stateside?

It’s even more pronounced here in Britain, because we lag behind the US in manga terms by a few years and don’t tend to get so many titles.

Do you rely on the “grey” market much in the U.K.? I’ve heard that sometimes that is the only way to get certain manga out there and was just curious about an average consumer’s relationship to the book store versus internet venues to buy manga….

opps, that last post was addressed to Mongoose, my bad!

hi Doug — your information sounds correct, as I also used to work at a chain bookstore and when we did returns we almost never touched the manga section. I also remember that the consumers who came into the bookstore bought quite differently than the ones who come into the comic bookstore — those looking for the newest manga and had to have this. exact. second. tend to come into the bookstore, rather than the comic book store.

In other words, I’m not sure our town has yet trained the manga-philes to come into the comic book shop on shipment date yet….and perhaps we never will, what with Viz training consumers to expect their releases weeks in advance at the bookstore *sigh*

Hey Doug – I can’t tell you who I work for, but it’s a large chain. Some of the previous posters assumptions were correct, some not at all. Return rates for Manga are at the industry book standard. Viz does ship in clumps, and 33/wk is quite high an estimate – probably closer to 18/wk (which is still a big number when you consider things like shelfspace and backlist). I can also tell you that at least two major publishers are exceedingly serious about ‘growing’ their titles and customers – and are working with retailers to do so, slowly but surely. The real problem is that mature titles move much slower for most retailers (save for Yaoi), and you’re left with the question of shelfspace vs sale rate. Also most comic shops have a very difficult time stocking manga because the category is so backlist dependant. Any employee from a major US chain who told you they “can’t order” a specific title was full of it. Each of the major chains have ways of making specific orders for customers, with little to no limitations (of course their overall selection is determined by buyers and planners at corporate headquarters). Your title choices were fairly sound, but in a lot of the big stores they’ll special order titles due to the reasons above. ES is the title you’ll most likely find anywhere who has a buyer worth anything.

In the case of “Please Save My Earth,” it looks like the first volume may be out of print (both Amazon and Borders list it as unavailable). If that’s the case and they weren’t able to locate a copy somewhere in the distribution chain, I can see a store not wanting to stock a 21-volume series where they couldn’t start readers off at the beginning.

“Am I wrong? Are there manga writers in Japan pumping out 3-6 books at a time with different artists on them that just don’t see their work stateside?”

I can’t say I’m aware of any who do–at least, none working on multiple books at the same time. One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of manga–especially shonen manga–comes out weekly, which means creators don’t have anywhere near as much time to devote to other projects. (this is, of course, where assistants come in handy) Shoujo could be a different story (since a lot of that comes out monthly), but I’ll just have to admit ignorance.

To be sure, there are some, like the 4-woman studio CLAMP, that can pull off multiple titles at once, with the same people performing the same duties on each one, but they’re probably more of an exception. There are, however, many professional manga-ka who create short doujinshi (fan comics) to sell at Comic Market.

(now that’s something I’d like to see covered: a look at the Japanese doujinshi market compared to the American back-issue market)

I thought Eden was fascinating for the first few volumes, but it wore me down eventually. Endo does a lot of things really well, but he’s also got a nihilistic streak a mile wide, and eventually–I think I made it eight or nine volumes in–I just felt exhausted by it and gave up.

I wonder if someone will try to publish Endo’s short story collections–I found his work goes down a lot better in small batches, and he gets to be funnier, too.

PlanetES is a fantastic manga, and I wish they’d reprint it in an omnibus format (like that Azumanga collection) so that more people could get their hands on it. I had to read it in pieces over a couple years because it was so hard to find.

Alex: Weren’t Maison Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura coming out at the same time in the 80s? That’s the only high-profile, single-artist case I can think of this late at night. I don’t even know what her publishing schedule was for those books.

For anyone enticed to check out Planetes, I recently had luck finding it cheap at bookcloseouts.com. Also, be sure to look for ‘volume four, part two’ which is the official title of the fifth volume.

“Weren’t Maison Ikkoku and Urusei Yatsura coming out at the same time in the 80s?”

Yes, and they both ran in weekly magazines, so Takahashi was turning out 34 to 36 pages EVERY WEEK.

Naoki Urasawa, featured in the third installment, started
20th century Boys in a weekly mag while still doing Monster
twice a month as well.

[…] Proceed to checkout Filed under: Bookstores, Comic shops, On-line shopping — davidpwelsh @ 11:01 am And now, for no real reason other than I felt like writing about it and the subject kind of came up in the comments following Danielle Leigh’s latest Manga Before Flowers column, a brief look at what I buy where: […]

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