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Sean William Scott

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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Manga Controversies 

The editing of Tenjo Tenge

I'll admit, I haven't exactly been taking this situation seriously. My initial reaction has been "if it looks like porn, and is by a creator whose best known work is porn" you have to make a very persuasive argument that all the fan service (which is far more extreme than anything I'm used to seeing in similar titles, not to mention the rape) is integral to the story in order to convince me that it isn't actually porn. And so far, no one has really managed to do that. But, okay, okay, I'll take the word of all the outraged manga fans out there, and I'll accept that this title isn't porn. That still leaves me with my most serious question, why did DC think that this title would be a good fit with their corporate culture? Unfortunately, since DC now seems to not want to talk about the book at all, and just wants the whole issue to go away, it doesn't look like we're ever going to get an answer. So, yes, editing the book was an incredibly stupid decision on DC's part, and it has created such negative publicity and ill-will it may have very well killed their manga line. But I can't help but think that DC would rather have a bunch of manga fans writing angry posts on message boards and blogs than Bill O'Reilly doing a segment on "DC Comics, publishers of Superman, are selling porn to your kids" as images from an unedited Tenjo Tenge flash on the screen. Which could very well have happened if the wrong person got their hands on the book and it was a slow news day.

The editing of I"s

I know exactly how this one happened. Viz didn't want a repeat of this. If Scholastic does your school's book fair, you can't get Shonen Jump because one kid in Pennsylvania had an over-sensitive parent. So even though the Shonen Jump Advanced line is supposed to be for teens and up, this is America we're talking about, where a middle-aged woman's nipple being seen for a split-second at a football game nearly destroyed civilization as we know it. So boobies are bad. So, again, bad decision, sure to upset fans, but I'm sure Viz would rather deal with angry people on message boards and blogs than more angry parents or negative national publicity on a slow news day. And as far as edits go, pasting two tiny little stars over exposed nipples is probably both the least offensive way to "clean up" the image, and also the best way to highlight the breasts in the first place. Were I in a deconstructive mood, I might suggest that the person who actually did the edit may have been well aware of that.

The editing of Descendants of Darkness

This is a far more serious case of editing on Viz's part. Given the content of the book, and given the overall tone of their shojo line, mature content and situations have been par for the course. In fact, I was rather under the impression that the whole point of the Shojo Beat line was to offer shojo titles aimed at a younger audience than most of their shojo output. So to significantly edit a sex scene, to the point of unintelligibility, that wasn't all that explicit in the first place, in a series that has already had graphic violence and strong sexual suggestiveness, is really baffling. And there's a cynical part of me that wonders if the characters in question had been an underage boy and girl, rather than two underage boys, would the scene have been left unchanged? I'd hope not, but teen sexuality is a very tricky subject in America, and most people would rather just pretend that gay teenagers don't exist at all rather than try to deal with their sexuality on top of it. So the best conclusion I can come to, again, is that a manga publisher is trying to shield themselves from negative publicity in the wake of an increasingly puritanical American society, and is willing to brave outrage from fans to do so.

Now, what I'd like to happen, though I don't expect it will, is for DC and Viz to recall the edited volumes of Tenjo Tenge and Descendants of Darkness, publish unedited versions, and give retailers full credit for unsold copes they return to DC. And I'd also like to see them, not apologize, but at least offer up some acknowledgement that the editing was a piss-poor decision. I'm actually okay with the changes to I"s, because they are so minor and trivial, and because anything with the name "Shonen Jump" on it is going to be perceived as a "kids book," and I, also, would rather deal with an angry manga fan with good cause to be angry than an angry parent with too much free time.

Unflipped manga is bad

Yes, of course there's an aura of faux-authenticity to unflipped manga. Hell, I'd go so far as to say there's an element of fetishization to it. That's part of the appeal. Now, I read a lot of manga, and most of it at this point is unflipped, and whether or not you can read unflipped manga seems to vary from person to person. Some people can pick up "the knack" and some can't. It does require you to think about the layout of the page, and the elements on it, because it is a somewhat counter-intuitive method of reading, at least for those of us trained to read from right to left. But if anything, I think this method of reading, that forces you to think about layout, actually also makes you pay a little more attention to the art-work and the craftsmanship of the artists than reading a traditionally formatted comic does. I notice the differences in manga artists styles and techniques far more readily than I do the differences in your average super-hero artists work, precisely because I'm paying more attention to the pages. And it seems to me that leaving the work in the formatting that the original artist intended, and putting a little more effort into reading it, isn't too much to ask of people.

Manga is bad for girls

Several very intelligent people have already weighed in on the subject. This is one of those very rare situations of debate online in which all the participants are arguing with sincerity and with good, well-reasoned points backed with textual and anecdotal evidence. I almost have nothing to say, other than to point out that everyone's right and nobody's wrong. Yes, lots of manga titles have bad role models, not just for girls but for everyone. And yes, some people will always mistake bad role models for good ones. And some people are not mature enough to look at a work of fiction and not realize that it shouldn't be a model for real life behavior. But the problem isn't in the fiction, it's the reaction to the fiction, and the solution is to try to encourage people to be better readers, more aware readers, and most importantly, readers capable of critically thinking about what they're reading. And that's not a problem that can be fixed by asking for better or more socially conscious manga. That's a problem that can only be fixed by improving the general levels of discourse and education in the country as a whole.

What my actual problem with "American Manga" is

Now, let me say first off, that a good deal of the material that Tokyopop has on their schedule by American creators does look like it's quality material. Well, okay, except for Sokora Refugees, but that's a manga controversy I don't even want to get into. But I have a gut reaction against the very concept of "American manga," and perhaps it's unfair, but most of the time when I look at it I see work that has placed the superficial aspects of the art style over the substance of the story. It's like trying to write like Donald Barthelme without understanding why he wrote the way he did, you just like the way his words are laid out across the page. The closest work I can think of that actually approaches the substance of manga story-telling, without aping the style, is Oni's line of original graphic novels. In that line they've grasped the idea of branching out the number of genres, and give you a substantial amount of story, and their romance titles have actual emotional resonance. Also, in my mind at least, the very idea of "American manga" always makes me think primarily of Antarctic Press, and the vast majority of the titles they publish are so bad it's almost become a "guilt by association" type of thing. So, yeah, my objection to "American manga" is irrational and unfair.

Responding to Monday's post

Chris Butcher--I'll keep the fan-bases in mind once we do the final orders. I don't pay too much attention to on-line anime or manga fandom. If I did, I suspect I'd go crazy with rage and never want to look at another manga title ever again (they way I often feel about American comics after a bad day at work). I'd also probably have noticed the deep interest in those titles. And no, we can't give the sports manga away. We had a slight interest in Prince of Tennis because a customer was a fan of the anime series, but that's about it.

Re: Oh my Goddess (lots of people had comments on that)--Yes, they do appear to be changing the book to an unflipped format. My gut reaction is that this is "too little, too late" and most fans of the book have already moved on to other titles.

JennyN--No, I was not aware of the on-line interest in the work of the mangaka responsible for Seimaiden, and since our shojo fans in particular pay a lot of attention to anime fandom on-line and in the real world, that probably will affect our ordering. I just finished the first volume of RG Veda, and "raw" is a good word for it. It's definitely not one of their better works, but you can easily see the potential in it.

Matt--Good to know that Yotsuba&! lives up to the promise contained in the solicitations.

Steve Pheley and Jim Kosmicki--I haven't paid too much attention to Chrono Crusade, so my comments on fan service were based on my very brief looks at it as it came into the store. I'm glad to know it's actually an enjoyable book and it's not as fan service heavy as I feared.

Dan Coyle--I actually took a close look at Remote Monday afternoon, and thought that while the police aspects of the story looked promising, the art was a little rough for my taste and the fan service was more pronounced than I really wanted to deal with. I tried to track the number of up-skirt shots of the main character and very quickly lost count. I don't mind a little fan service once in awhile (Tuxedo Gin is one of my favorite manga titles), but it felt a little excessive to me in this book.

Lupin III started out with really strong sales, but now I think we have one subscriber for it, and that's it. I bought the first six or seven volumes, and really enjoyed it, I think Monkey Punch has a great, unique style. But the sameness and repetitiveness of the series just got to be overwhelming and I had to drop it. Plus, they keep pumping out volumes with no end in sight, and it gets to be a bit overwhelming.

BTW, if you still are interested in those Wounded Man volumes, drop me or Mike an e-mail, and we can get the cost/shipping information to you.


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