The Manga Counter-Revolution

hisuiconIf you have attended a number of industry panels at the major anime conventions in the last few years you will remember an insistence on there not being a manga bubble. The rapid growth of the U.S. manga industry was the natural pace of a maturing market and that while there might be a slowing of growth there would not be a crash. And here in 2010 we see the end of Go! Comi and CMX, layoffs at VIZ, and uncertain futures for Del Rey, Tokyo-Pop, and Aurora. It seems there has been a manga crash after all.

Over the last few years there have been major changes in both the anime and manga industries of the U.S. While the anime industry was (is) unstable, the manga industry had been on a steep incline with more and more companies entering the market and a huge library of titles gracing shelves. But maybe manga was just playing catch up to its older brother.

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New York Anime Festival 2007

Hisui and Narutaki’s NYAF schedule

Del Rey Panel
ImaginAsia Panel

The Art of Reviewing Anime Panel
Katsushi Ota Q&A
Kobun Shizuno Q&A
Viz Media Panel
Otaku USA Panel
Unicorn Table Concert

Vertical Inc. Panel
State of the Manga Industry
State of the Anime Industry

This was the first anime con in NYC since 2003, but nevertheless I had high hopes for NYAF. They were planning far in advance; they got the Javits Center; the schedule was up almost a month before the convention; and they were advertising. However, this last one was a bit worrisome, NYC is a big place and if everyone in it who likes anime shows up at a con you can expect a freakin’ crowd. Their projected numbers were around 15,000, I am eager to see what the actual was. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t seem that busy. It is not that I want to be squashed between otaku all day but for how big this con seemed like it was going to be, it wasn’t.

Without a doubt, this was definitely a professionally run convention. There were no major schedule changes and everything ran as smooth as silk. Even Otakon at it’s best did not run as smooth as NYAF. I think it could be argued that it ran a little smoother than Anime Expo. I have only gone to Expo once and it was very well run the year I went, 2006, but they still made things a little bit difficult and obtuse. They also had a bunch of schedule changes and mix-ups. So not matter what there is something to be said for professionally run conventions.

Saturday at NYAF, which is always the busiest day at most cons, seemed like a Friday at any other big con. When something like AnimeNEXT gets a crowd like that, it seems fine because they are smaller cons and have smaller expenses. They don’t need as many people to make back their money. Doing anything in Manhattan is expensive. I too wonder if this is the last we shall see of NYAF. First year cons almost always have a low number of attendees, so maybe they will wait and see if this con will grow. If given an chance, I’m sure that this con will grow but it has to be given that chance. According to this, BAAF had 3,500 people during its first year in 2001. Then again, BAAF 2001 was a much smaller affair from what I remember of it. Still, it was a convention that grew in numbers and scope as the years went on. BAAF did occur at another time but it still shows that even in NYC it takes time for a convention to grow. I’m also not really sure what exactly killed BAAF. I have heard several stories but they were more rumors rather than anything close to factual evidence.

Friday started out well for me, I got there around 2:30 since I had silk-screening in the morning. I met up with Kohaku to wander this new experience. The first thing that struck me was how the dealers room was set-up. It was very similar to comic cons and there was a lot of free stuff, which is always a plus. There weren’t too many people so navigation of the area was fairly simple. The entire convention was in a relatively small area but had very wide hallways.

I missed Friday because of work (and the fact that I accidentally FedExed the print out of my ticket to one of our clients). I guess on Monday there was a very confused guy opening up an overnight package. I showed up at around 6:30 to see Narutaki and Kohaku getting out of the convention.

The dealers room was definitely set up like the New York Comic Con when it was at the Javits Center. I don’t remember this convention having more free stuff than any other anime con. But maybe that is because I’m a moody loner that ignores other people where as Narutaki and Kohaku are normal functional human beings. I remember the comic con was pretty packed but things still moved nicely most of the time thanks to the large hallways.

It was also the best day to talk to industry people since there wasn’t a whole ton going on and they weren’t overwhelmed with questions yet. We chatted with Mike Bailiff (I think) from ADV and also Chris Oarr. We also talked with quite a few people over at the newest addition to the manga market, YEN Press. And as per usual, talked with the people from Del Rey as well. Del Rey certainly made a lot of acquisition announcements for the coming year, of which included a light novel of XXXholic and the manga of Gankutsuou.

I’m curious to see what the XXXholic light novel reads like. It was great potential to either be very good or very bad. XXXholic can be very episodic so a random story in the middle is not anything that would be obtrusive. I have not heard anything about the Gankutsuou graphic novel but historically any manga based on an anime is weaker than the original work.

ImaginAsia, I wanted go to to see how the classics were doing. I really wanted them to be going well! And thankfully they are, thanks to the sets being really nice and them being shown on their cable channel. They also have a block of programing that is all Geneon titles, I had to ask what was going to happen to that with the recent news. They said it would remain as is, and they have hopes that Geneon isn’t completely dead yet. I also spoke to them after the panel and asked about Rose of Versailles. I thought I was going to hear the usual about it being expensive, and the creator is problematic. But she told me that the biggest obstacle right now is Riyoko Ikeda wants the manga released first! Well, bring it on people!

Well did they not say that Riyoko Ikeda was not a super crazy lady but she was a super crazy lady who also wants the manga released first. Also Geneon still seems to be in an odd undead limbo between being fully dead and just half dead.

The dealers room, the industry booths, and the artist alley were one big mish-mash. I can’t really find a reason for this, except to possibly just fill the room to make it seem bigger. But after some searching you could find everything you wanted. And of course the dealers room did hold some gems. But this is not really my priority at cons.

I did not buy much this convention most because it was so close to Christmas. I did find it odd that they combined the dealers room and artist alley into one as well. I did pick up a neat Gundam doujinshi where they remade Azumanga Daioh strips with Gundam characters. Any doujinshi with Domon Kasshu and his glowing King of Hearts in a Azumanga strip is worth the price of admission.

The Art of Reviewing Anime panel was rather uneventful, but it did reaffirm my beliefs about the AnswerMan being jaded. I don’t think it’s impossible to work in the industry and still be a fan. Daryl from AWO was there to and it was rather amusing to see him and the AnswerMan saying the completely opposite of the other. But the Katsushi Ota panel was wonderful! Thank you Del Rey for bringing him. He is the editor of Faust which Del Rey announced they would be releasing parts of. It is a light novel anthology series that has illustration accompaniment. This will definitely be an experiment here in the U.S. and I’ve very excited about it. I asked him about digital distribution and he said there was something big coming up later this year that he couldn’t talk about.

Jaded? The tomb of a Chinese Emperor is not as jaded as Zac Bertschy. A noir gumshoe is not as jaded as Zac Bertschy. The fact that he did not light up cigarettes to put them out on members of the audience was somewhat surprising.

Well if nothing else, Katsushi Ota provided me with the highlight of the con. Kinoko Nasu who writes for Type-Moon (games like Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night) also has written for Faust so you know I was at this panel. I like the idea of light novels in general so I was probably going to go anyway, but once I found out they might be announcing some works by Nasu, I was there in a flash. Faust seems pretty interesting. They have a collective mix of authors and artists working on the book. We will only be getting selected parts of the Japanese Fausts but as long as we get Garden of Sinners, DDD, and see their CLAMP artwork I’m happy. I asked Ota what his impressions of Nasu were and he gave me both an amusing story and a definite insight into the man. That was awesome. I also thought that their boxed line of books looked nice.

I am always interested in more light novels being released, since I’ve such a big reader, so this is a dream some true to me. Ota seems to be smart, insightful, and has a desire to bring creative people together into projects. Anthologies haven’t been bigger sellers in the U.S. but I hope this turns that around. It will have short stories and also excerpts from longer works.

At the end Katsushi Ota gave me the first two books of DDD and then took my picture with the books and promised to send the pictures to Nasu himself. WIN! That is the second Japanese creator that now has a picture of me. Without a doubt my favorite part of the convention.

The Guest of Honor was Kobun Shizuno. At first Patrick Macias asked him about how he became a director in the anime industry and what he though of the industry in general. Then Shizuno showed a pretty long clip of his newest show, Cross Climber. It seems to be about a full immersion virtual reality MMO with a sinister secret purpose. Then a bunch of people asked him questions about the Evangelion movies that he could not answer. The most interesting part was listening to how Shizuno worked his way through the industry to become a director. I sort of wished the people from the audience had asked him some more interesting questions. I did like that someone asked him a Princess Nine question. That show does not get enough love.

You are kinder than I was. I was practically leaping from my seat in outrage at the crappy questions. Two questions were not about his OWN work but about Ginax works. This man is a director, not a film critic, you shouldn’t be asking what he thinks of other peoples’ work. Not to mention there was only time for about 5 or 6 questions so them being wasted was quite a frustration. After this panel we also man into Dave and Joel from Fast Karate and talked with them a bit.

I had never heard of Unicorn Table before they were announced as the musical guests. But I am always up to hear some J-pop! So the concert was something of a high priority for me, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were 10 or 11 songs, which was more than I could have hoped for. We pushed our way to the second row and enjoyed quite a show! We survived the otaku stink for nearly an hour and a half. Although, I wasn’t crazy about her solo songs in the middle, the entire band was the best part. They really got the crowd up and cheering. There was even a raffle at the end, they gave away a t-shirt, a DVD, and a small bag.

Unicorn Table was pretty fun, although my favorite part was when the guitarist and the bassist just started to rock out while the main singer was changing costumes. I stayed away from the madness at the front of the concert and enjoyed myself in the back. I also have no need to be around stinking touchy-feely otaku.

The panels were all industry run and this was my biggest complaint. I really like a mix, I always go to many industry panels but I also like things about older anime or some aspect of anime. I hope this can be remedied next time around. The best things were the state of the industry panels where people from all over got together for a round-table of what’s been going on in the last year. As can be imagined, the anime one had a lot of what if’s and what can be done. It was really informative.

I’m not sure why they did not have any fan run panels. I admit when fan panels are bad they are very bad but they also could have had some good fan runs panels. It might be that as a professionally run convention they did not want to take the risk of a non-guest/nonprofessional run panel. Excluding fan run panels cuts down on your poorly done panels but also excludes a good many interesting panels that could exist.

It was really interesting to hear the two state of industry panels. The manga panel was happy talk and full of what are we going to do next. The anime panel was full of what can we do to pull ourselves out of this mess. Both panels talked about digital distribution. The manga panel speculated on why they were doing so well and how they could keep up their success. On the anime panel, they discussed why sales were down, what they could do to counter it, and what their hopes for digital distribution were. John O’Donnell, from CMX, definitely stole the show during the anime round-table. His answers/tirades were insightful if a little harsh.

I feel like this was a small con that seemed bigger because of the industry involvement but really it wasn’t anything like Otakon. A small con dressed up in big con clothes. Then again, it was its first year and also it is the winter…in NYC, not exactly the most inviting scenario. I also feel like it should have gone on longer into the night. Panels running till 8 or 9 at least and showings till at least then if not later. We know they could do it since the concert went on till almost 10. Overall, I had a good time and learned a lot. It wasn’t the best time I’ve ever had at a convention but I look forward to another one of these, if there is one.

I like having a con basically in my back yard. I’m sure I would fly halfway across the country to go to NYAF, but I will definitely take a subway ride again next year. It was not my favorite con but I had a good time and it did everything I need a con to do. I was never at a real loss of what to do; there was always something interesting going on. I sort of wish I had had some more time to see some of the movies they premiered on the big screen but there were too many good panels. Too many good things is never a real problem. It proves that a for profit convention can be done in an acceptable manner. If NYAF takes what they did this year, and grows, it has the potential to be one of the big name East Coast cons. I look forward to seeing how things turn out next year.

Kinokuniya Grand Opening Bash

Kinokuniya has always been a cool place. But now with a new store opening, and very close to another store called Book Off, it just got better. I love the thought of actually seeing more talks/events on manga outside of conventions.

I wonder how many talks/events we will see after the first month. It would be cool to have something going on at the store at least once a month. Little events like that tend to be good for business. Maybe a certain pair of sexy and fashionable bloggers should look into doing some sort of panel lecture at Kinokuniya. Maybe we should as well. I’m not sure they would want non-professionals, but it might be worth looking into.

BTW – If you are ever in New York you should check out Book Off. It’s a used book store so its selection is rather random but it also means that its books are very cheap. You can stumble on some amazing finds if you are lucky. The only real downside is the fact that the temperature is always weird in that store and it sort of gives me a weird vibe. I don’t think anyone else has that problem though.

The store itself is very sleek and modern looking. The first floor has a small gallery space where the current exhibit is Vagabond by Takehiko Inoue, Hataraki Man by Moyoco Anno, and Silent Service by Kaiji Kawaguchi. I am hoping this will be a changing gallery, maybe every few months. They have really expanded their magazine section. There are significantly more music and manga magazines. Both of which I looked at with pure joy. I even saw a few photobooks in the music magazine section as well.

I found it interesting that the gallery was all seinen manga. Seinen much like josei is not very popular in America, but Kinokuniya is mainly a Japanese book store so I guess seinen would be more popular with the people who would shop at Kinokuniya. Either way, it’s nice to see a little visibility for some really good manga targeted at an older audience. Maybe I’m very naive but maybe some teens looking for Nate the Ninja might look into some more sophisticated manga due to this. It probably will never happen but I can dream can’t I?

Other than that the new store has a very modern look. I also like the wider selection of manga magazine collections. They greatly increased the number of seinen and josei magazines. I might pick up a few the next time I am there. I was lame and only picked up a copy of Jump Square but I was curious what titles where staring in it as it was the magazine’s first issue. Hey it has the newest chapter of Claymore and Nobuhiro Watsuki’s new manga, Embalming – Another Tale of Frankenstein. I’m thinking about getting Morning, Big Comic Spirits, or Young Animal the next time I go.

In fact, I don’t remember the old store carrying any seinen collections. I could be wrong but they definitely have a wider variety of ages at this store. Although I couldn’t find a copy of Afternoon, I’ll have to ask next time.

The second floor is almost exclusively manga, both in English and Japanese. Both have huge displays of the newest books out. I really like this, it has a nice impact and it’s easy to see when something is out that you might not have realized. There is a decent artbook section, too. I do feel like the shojo manga in Japanese shrank from the previous store but all the other sections seemed to have grown. By the way, if you hate going to a bookstore and feeling like the manga you are buying has already been used 10 times over, Kinokuniya is the place for you. They wrap all their English books (Japanese have always been wrapped) and unlike at Barnes and Noble people don’t ignore it. There is a help desk and a cafe as well.

There is definitely a nice selection of both English and Japanese books now. I’m curious why there is such a small Japanese shojo selection but I’m not really going to complain about it as it effects you and Kohaku more than me. I sometimes wish I could take a flip through some of the Japanese books, if for nothing else the covers can be misleading. Series that look horrifically sexual on the cover can sometimes be rather tame in reality and other times series that look safe can be horrifically graphic on the inside. But I guess that is the price you pay for getting to buy pristine books.

I will testify to that being the case. Some shojo manga you think looks really cutesy ends up being smut! And sometimes even the other way around, all the special art can really give you a wrong impression.

I wish I had taken a look at the cafe. It seemed interesting but I totally forgot to look until after we left. I’m curious what their selection was and how good their prices were. There was also a decent toy section on the second floor. It was no Toy Toyko but it had all the common toys you see at most comic shops.

The basement seemed to have all the travel books, kids books and art and book supplies. Narutaki found two cute little pencil boards that doubled as Hirigana and Katakana cheat sheets. There was also a good selection of learning Japanese books including two different learning Japanese with manga series.

The event space is on the second floor right next to the cafe. When there isn’t an event there are easily moved floor displays. It was nice having the windows to the street behind the guests. However, it was really a noisy area being next to the cafe and having people moving about so much.

Well, it seemed the cafe space also was used by people to sit in on the events as much as eat (sometimes both). I really did not notice the noise as much as you, but I tend to actively tune other people out as much as I can.

Del Rey had their usual crew along for the ride. I have met all of them at different conventions, minus one. They are all fairly knowledgeable, entertaining and very talkative. They had a person for each sect of the publishing process essentially, from acquisitions to editorial to translations to production to publicity. I had a fairly good idea of what the process was already but it was still interesting hearing them go through it.

There were at least four different people in the audience who seemed interested in creating some sort of Amerimanga. There was also that guy who was either writing for a financial magazine or was some sort of odd investor because he kept asking questions about the manga industry and how one might be able to profit off of manga. If nothing else we got some early proof materials from Kitchen Princess. That is unique if nothing else.

Brian Camp ran the second panel about overlooked or unknown anime that had been released at one time in America. He mention that he used to be a regular contributor to Animerica and has taught a class about anime at the School of Visual Arts. Although his book, Anime Classics ZETTAI!, was mostly about about anime easily available in the U.S. most of the anime he talked about on the panel was no longer in print in America or never available at all. He oddly enough did not talk much about his book and mostly talked about some rather obscure anime. Not the best salesman in that respect ( :) ) but he did talk about some interesting shows.

Brian Camp gave us a big helping of old and fairly unknown titles that have never made it to U.S. shores, with a few exceptions. But everything was hard to get and unavailable. Actually, I don’t believe the panel was supposed to be all about pimping his book but rather a showing and he just happened to write a book too. I always like adding bits and pieces of information so this was a great way to do that. Not only did I actually see part of shows that I had only heard of, I also saw two incredibly rare films in anime history: Anju to zushio-maru and Hakujaden.

I was impressed by the choices he made because they were not the standard collection of anime people use in the overlooked classics panels. In fact, I would say it was the overlooked classics of the overlooked classics panel. Star of The Giants and Attack No. 1 are both fairly well known animes in Japan but since they are sports anime (and old sports anime at that) almost nobody in America know them. I only knew about Panda and the Magic Serpent (Hakujaden) because of AWO. I never heard of Arion and it was definitely a unique anime due to it’s use of actual greek legends (as opposed to Saint Seiya) to tell its own story. The Little Mermaid was also a good example on how the anime adpatation was far different than the Disney version.

It was also being billed as cosplay day and anyone in costume got 10% off all their purchases. Despite that I did not see that many people cosplaying. I’m not sure if that made me happy or sad but it was definitely interesting. Maybe people did not want to dress as Nate the Ninja at a bookstore (not that it stopped everyone).

Overall, it was a fine little trip. Learned a bit and chatted with people in the industry. And we walked away with some free stuff from Del Rey and Viz, entered to win free airfare to Japan, signed up for a drawing to get a free ticket to NY Anime Festival, and bought a couple of phonebooks. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. Can’t wait for later in the month to see the mural painted on the second floor!

Narutaki Currently!
Watching Shion no Ou
Reading One Piece
Listening to Evangelion OSTs

Hisu (Brainwasher Detective) Currently:
Watching Mushishi
Reading The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
Listening to Daia no Hana by Yoriko

Top 5 old anime I would like to watch
1. Legend of the Galatic Heroes
2. Touch
3. Dororo
4. Ashita no Joe
5. Princess Knight