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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2003

THE BOOK REPORT

Manga culture ignites craze in media markets overseas


American boys can now read popular Japanese manga like "One Piece" in an English-language "Shonen Jump" and German girls can read girl's manga in the German-language magazine "Daisuki." Is this a passing fad or the start of a full-scale manga invasion?

Fueled by the penetration of anime into foreign TV markets (about 40 percent of the cartoons in the United States, 80 percent in Italy and some 60 percent worldwide), manga appear poised to shed their cult status and break into mainstream publishing in the U.S. and Europe. And this very lucrative market of teens and young adults is starting to attract the interest of local retailers and publishers, as well as the big three manga makers in Japan -- Kodansha, Shogakukan, and Shueisha -- who as recently as ten years ago had dismissed foreign sales as unviable.

According to Tsukuru (6/03) and the Japanese edition of Newsweek (6/18/03), Japanese publishers have formed tieups with local European publishers to launch several manga magazines for younger readers: "Banzai," "Manga Power," and "Daisuki" in Germany; "Shonen" in France; and "Manga Mania" in Sweden. "Daisuki" was the first shojo manga (girl's comics) magazine to be published outside Asia. In the U.S., however, Shueisha joined forces with Shogakukan subsidiary Viz Communications to form Viz LLC, a joint venture that launched the North American edition of the popular boys' manga magazine "Shonen Jump" in November.

Although foreign comics markets are small -- 36.1 billion yen in France and 4.7 billion yen in the U.S. compared with 520 billion yen in Japan -- manga have been showing impressive growth over the past two or three years. In the United States, sales almost tripled from 2000 to 2002, and the market is now estimated at somewhere between $40 million and $50 million, or a tenth of the anime market. Publishers Weekly (6/16) reports that total sales of graphic novels (including literary graphic novels and non-Japanese manga) surged from about $75 million in 2001 to about $100 million in 2002, and are projected to hit $120 million in 2003.

Nowadays, graphic novels and manga are finding themselves increasingly at home in major bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble, rather than the neighborhood comic book store, and they are also being reviewed by mainstream publications. Other products, such as U.S.-based publisher Tokyopop's cine-manga, which are books based on stills from animated films, including American properties like "Sponge Bob Square Pants," are also starting to enter such general retailers as Target and Wal-Mart. As Hollywood works to create "event" movies, entertainment products are being increasingly cross-merchandised as novelizations, graphic novels, DVDs, and video games.

American companies are also moving into the market. Marvel Comics has launched a line of six monthly manga-style comics under the Tsunami label that will be issued in book form later. Some are entirely in manga style, while others mix American story lines with mangalike art or vice-versa. Random House has announced that, in cooperation with Kodansha, it will publish a line of manga through its science fiction and fantasy outlet Del Rey Books next spring.

At any rate, Japanese pop culture is now a hot commodity in the West. Aside from "Spirited Away" winning an Academy Award and the stir created by Hollywood's remake of the Japanese horror flick "The Ring," Nikkei Weekly (7/7) has reported Sony Pictures is in the process of remaking the anime Astroboy using 3-D computer graphics. Other major Hollywood studios are planning live-action movies based on such manga hits as "Dragonball," "Akira," and "Lupin the Third." Meanwhile, Western editions of manga are increasingly being published in the "authentic" right-to-left format. One American bookseller notes: "[American kids] love it, because it drives their parents crazy" (Publishers Weekly, 6/16).

It is difficult to say how long-lasting or significant the effects of Japanese cool will be. While I found the North American edition of "Shonen Jump" quite attractive and accompanied by lively translations (many other American manga and manga magazines are available at Tower Records in Shibuya), the works themselves are of little interest to anyone without a Y chromosome or beyond the age of 12! And Newsweek-Japan reports that trendy youths in Taiwan and China are already moving on to South Korean pop culture. But there seems to be a another shift under way, led by a new, wired and globalized generation. Members of this new generation include the 18-year-old German manga artist Christina Plaka in "Daisuki" and cyberspace manga artist Fred Gallagher ( www.megatokyo.com), both of whom almost incidentally set their works in Japan.



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