The Current State of Weekly Magazine and Jump

Every once in a while, I take a look at the various shonen magazines out there and see what is already licensed, likely to be licensed, and highly unlikely to be licensed. The shonen market can be vicious, and now that Kodansha is mostly back to normal over here, and Viz is where it’s always been, I want to take a look at their two magazines and see where we are today, and where we could be in the future.

(Look, I apologize to Shonen Sunday fans, but… no. It’s a mug’s game. Viz will probably license Silver Spoon when it get enough volumes. That’s all I got. I wish it sold better.)

I’ll start with Magazine, which has a slightly broader variety of content, though it also panders more towards the older teen/younger man who likes breasts and panties more than Jump does. (Arguably Jump panders more to the yaoi fangirl lately as well, but that’s a highly controversial topic, and it’s easy to see their core titles as still all being for young teen boys.)

Magazine’s final issue of 2011 (pictured above) has 24 stories in it. Five of those are licensed in some way or another: Air Gear, Negima, Fairy Tail, Bloody Monday (the current series is the ‘Final (3rd) Season’, Kodansha has licensed the first so far), and Cage of Eden. Another series which is on break this issue is also licensed: Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. And a 7th series was licensed by Del Rey but is currently in that limbo state of “It’s not cancelled, we’re just never releasing any more of it”: Code:Breaker. Lastly, Vertical has licensed the recently finished Onizuka manga, GTO: Shonan 14 Days.

That leaves a lot of stuff in the current magazine that’s never hit North American shores. (And yes, there are other options as well: popular series now finished but still unlicensed, like Yankee-kun to Megane-chan, and other ‘licensed by Del Rey but probably cancelled’ old series such as Suzuka and School Rumble. But I’m looking at the current magazine.)

First, there are the brand new, just started series that are too new to get a handle on. These include Star Children, which debuts in this issue, and seems to be about an astronaut school. Tanteiken Sherdock is about the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes as a cute small dog, and is from the author of cult favorite Psychometrer Eiji. Lastly, there’s Dragon Collection: Ryuu o Suberumono, which is apparently based on a video game, and honestly might have the best chance to get picked up of this whole lot, especially if Deltora Quest does well.

Then there are the gag manga, most of which never get licensed over here as the humor frequently never translates well, is very ‘Osaka-style’, and has art styles that are best described as stylized (i.e., they are unpretty). Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei is an exception to this, but then it also has more pages and more of a plot than most gag manga. (Well, pseudo-plot.) Zeus no Tane, Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san, and Mou, Shimasen Kara have very little chance of making it to these shores. There’s also Seitokai Yakuindomo, which has an anime to its name. However, it has another major killer: it’s an entire manga about sex jokes. If you like seeing young high school girls make jokes about their hymens and the male lead’s penis every single page, then it’s perfect for you. Otherwise, I’m fairly sure Kodansha is happy to leave it as a Japanese phenomenon.

There are also a large number of sports manga, many of which have multiple volumes, and almost all of which are unlikely to appear here. Daiya no A (baseball), Ahiru no Sora (basketball), Area no Kishi (soccer), and Baby Steps (tennis). I’ll also throw Gamaran in here, which is in the Edo period, but still is unlikely to be licensed as it’s a martial arts manga with fighting on almost every page. Lastly, we have Hajime no Ippo, which deserves special mention as it’s not only a boxing manga but also has so many volumes that Dallas Middaugh would have a heart attack just trying to schedule it.

Now we have the rest of the magazine. A-Bout is a delinquents series, and I’ve discussed the popularity of these in Japan as opposed to America before. Kimi to Iru Machi is a romantic comedy from the author of Suzuka. If Suzuka didn’t sell here (and they tried – it had fancy oversize volumes and everything) why try something by the same artist? AKB49 – Renai Kinshi Jourei is the sort of thing that might get licensed if it were shoujo (it’s about celebrity singers, it features a guy cross-dressing as a girl, etc.) – but it’s not shoujo. It’s also a tie-in to real life idol singers, and thus might be too ‘Japan-specific’. There is GE – Good Ending, another romantic comedy/drama. Shonen romantic comedies don’t sell anymore, as their fans tend to read them online and them complain about each chapter being the ‘last one they’ll ever read’ a lot. This one also apparently has one of those casts that makes you want to kill everyone in it with fire. Lastly, we have Tobaku Haouden Rei: Gyankihen. First off, gambling is a uniquely popular Japanese shonen genre that really hasn’t taken off here. Second, it has Pointy Chin Syndrome, and its faces are simply too ‘interesting’ to be licensed. Third, it’s a sequel.

So, really, I think we’re good with Magazine titles for the moment. Kodansha and Vertical might agree with me, seeing as their new licenses came from the Magazine spinoffs instead.

Jump this week has twenty-one series in it, eight of which have been licensed: One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, Bakuman, Toriko, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Reborn!, and Hunter x Hunter. There’s also Gintama, which is still running in Japan but has been cancelled here. (Of note: Bleach has been incredibly unpopular in Japan recently. After the end of the ‘Aizen’ arc, it plummeted to the bottom of Jump’s TOC (which is partly based on a reader poll), and with one or two exceptions has remained there since. I doubt it will be cancelled anytime soon, however.)

Again, let’s start by removing the gag manga. This includes Genson! Kodai Seibutsushi Pakki, which involves dinosaurs, and is fairly new; and Inamaru Dashi, which is about kindergartners and I imagine loaded with hard-to-translate jokes.

We can also remove the very recent series, which we don’t know enough about to see how they’ll do. Nise Koi, a romantic comedy about two high school kids who are from rival yakuza families and forced to date. Kagami no Kuni no Harisugawa is a rather strange title about a magic mirror, but is essentially another romantic comedy. And Kurogane is a kendo manga, which is one strike against it, and is also named Kurogane. Do we really need another manga called Kurogane on these shores?

In its own separate level of licensing hell is Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo, aka Kochikame. It’s 176 volumes, and is a comedy about a doofus cop and his wacky misadventures. I’ve talked about it before. Maybe – MAYBE – If Shueisha forces Viz to release some sort of best-of, a la Oishinbo. Otherwise forget it.

What’s left? More series I’ve discussed before, and also talked about how they aren’t very licensable before. Sket Dance, about a group of high school kids who form a club devoted to odd jobs, is too similar to the recently cancelled Gintama. (The two series even crossed over recently in Japan, with Gin noting the similarities.) Beelzebub is highly promising, with lots of fights, several supernatural demons, and the son of Satan. Sadly, the son of Satan is a naked infant, and we see his naked infant penis a lot. A whole lot. If it was licensed, it would be Dr. Slump times twelve, and fans would have a complete freakout. Kuroku no Basket is a basketball manga, and while interesting, wouldn’t be licensed till Viz finishes Slam Dunk anyway. And Medaka Box I’ve given its own page in the past, and despite now having an upcoming anime produced by Gainax, I still think it has the same issues with being licensed. It’s now the most promising of that category, though.

The other promising unlicensed title here is Magico, a fantasy about a girl with sealed memories who has the potential for world-destroying dark magic, and the sorcerer who protects her from the entire world trying to kill her. It’s fairly new, and has sunk to the bottom of the magazine, but if it survives it seems very promising. And last in the magazine is ST&RS, another manga about an astronaut academy (which predates the one in Magazine), which is very likely to be cancelled soon. If you want an astronaut manga, either read Twin Spica or read Uchu Kyodai from Kodansha’s Weekly Morning.

So what have we learned here? That I would not want to be the sort of person who makes licensing decisions, as I tend to be very cynical. Also, there’s a lot of interesting unlicensed stuff out there regardless. Don’t take my talking about these series being hopeless cases for licenses meaning I think they’re bad. Some are excellent, some are guilty pleasures, and some are just fun. Which of them would you license if you suddenly had a publishing company, permission from Japan and a huge amount of money? (I’m sure that day will come soon for all of us…)

License Request Day: Watashi Ni xx Shinasai!

Much as we’d all like to see Kodansha Comics go the extra mile and start licensing from Morning, Evening, Kiss and Be Love, I think it is fairly safe to say that when NYAF rolls around this year, you’re going to be seeing a lot of Shonen Magazine and Nakayoshi titles. It’s simply safer to put out a title you know has a built-in market, and cute shoujo romance for teens is one such market. So I decided to take a look at the most recent Nakayoshi and see which of their unlicensed long-running series looked like they might come out over here.

It was rather surprising, mostly as there are so few long-running series. Almost the entire magazine consists of stuff that’s either brand new, or started last year and only has one collected volume to date. It’s a marked contrast from something like, say, Shonen Jump, where even the mid-range titles like Medaka Box just hit Volume 10. So, to start with, I eliminated for consideration any series that had 1 or fewer volumes. Though I do suspect that once Kimi no Neiro (by the author of Orange Planet, Instant Teen, etc.) gets a few more under its belt that the licensors will come calling.

I also eliminated Hell Girl R, as I seem to recall Hell Girl didn’t do as well as Del Rey thought (plus I honestly didn’t really like it that much), and Arisa, which of course is already coming out over here, and at 7+ Volumes is Nakayoshi’s oldest running series (not counting the gag comic Wankorobee, and considering PreCure and Hell Girl spinoffs to be new series, rather than the same franchise).

This left a grand total of 1 title, which of course is the one in my header. The author, Ema Toyama, is also familiar to North American fans from her series I Am Here!, the 2nd omnibus of which ships from Kodansha next month. Toyama-san is a rather busy author, currently having five ongoing series, including two in Nakayoshi; the other, Kamikami Kaeshi, is about a shut-in who has gods in her hair, and recently ported over from sister magazine Nakayoshi Lovely. She has Hyakuen!, which is about two contrasting female roommates, one extravagant and one thrifty, running in Square Enix’s Gangan Online; Pocha Pocha Suieibu, about a swimming club, in Houbunsha’s Manga Time Family; and the entertainingly named GDGD-DOGS, a shoujo manga series with a reverse harem that’s running in Kodansha’s new-ish magazine Aria.

And then there’s Watashi Ni xx Shinasai!, which is at 6 volumes and counting. The title translates loosely as ‘Do xx to me!’, a title that will no doubt have to be changed when it comes out over here, as it makes it sound far racier than it is. The heroine may sound very familiar to those who have read Tokyopop’s The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko: Yukina loves to look at people and make observations about them to herself, being instantly aware when a girl cut her hair wrong that she was trying to imitate an idol singer, or that a guy plays too many RPG games. Unfortunately her skin is cold and her eyes far too sharp, so she does’t have anyone who’s willing to get close to her.

She also has a secret she’s concealing from her school: she’s a famous cell-phone novelist who everyone adores. Unfortunately, she’s not all that good at romance, mostly due to her complete lack of contact with anyone except her cousin. Her characters always stay good friends, and she’s getting more and more letters getting frustrated with this. So she tries to figure out what to do about it. As she wanders the halls, she runs into a girl confessing to Shigure, the #1 guy in class. He turns her down nicely, and everything seems fine… till he drops a notebook that shows dates all the girls in class confessed to him, and tick marks by their names. Yukina’s is the only name not checked.

When she confronts him with the notebook, he admits it, and sneeringly notes that it’s far easier to go through life being nice to the boys and girls and adapting his personality to please. He expects her to be disappointed and rush off. He is sadly mistaken. She was stressing about how to get a guy to pretend to fall in love with her for ‘love experience’ in her cell-phone novels, and now she can use him without feeling guilty, by blackmailing him. And thus is born a very odd partnership…

If this sounds somewhat cookie-cutter to you, welcome to shoujo manga. But it certainly sounds good to me. I like observant heroines who don’t take crap from guys, and this one also looks to have a fun side (she confronts him by asking “Did you drop this golden notebook, or this silver notebook?”). Now to be fair, this may not last; given the lead is a cold personality, I fully expect the hero to get her all flushed and twitchy, especially given the basic premise. Still, it sounds like it could do fairly well here, and given Kodansha Comics’ tendencies and the lack of other huge Nakayoshi series, I would not be that surprised to see it over here sometime in 2012.

Top Properties for the Big Three (License request Day)

Time to geek out, folks! A media magazine, Tsukuru, recently posted a list of the top 15 properties for each of the top three manga publishers: Shueisha, Kodansha, and Shogakukan. It’s only for the period from April 2010 to March 2011, i.e. the last year. And it’s a very good look at what sells in Japan, and how that doesn’t always correspond with what sells in America.

Shueisha’s list:
1) One Piece
2) Naruto
3) Kimi Ni Todoke
4) Bleach
5) Real
6) Bakuman
7) Reborn!
8) Gintama
9) D.Gray-Man
10) New Prince of Tennis
11) Toriko
12) Tenjou Tenge
13) Gantz
14) Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan
15) (tie) KochiKame
15) (tie) Mayoi Neko Overrun
15) (tie) Beelzebub

As you can see, Viz are pretty much on the case here. All these are licensed there with the exception of New Prince of Tennis (old one still going); Gantz (Dark Horse has it); KochiKame (169 volumes, unlicensable); and Mayoi Neko Overrun and Beelzebub. Of those last two, MNO is fairly new, and also is a harem comedy, something which doesn’t sell as well here as people expect. And Beelzebub has nudity issues, even if it’s baby nudity, and is also about delinquents.

As for Gintama, well, what can you do? We don’t even know why it’s being discontinued here, really. We assume sales, but who knows? Maybe the creator pulled his approval; maybe the translator burned out (it’s a notoriously hard series to translate). All you can do is sigh and hope tastes eventually change…

On to Kodansha, which shows the widest variance between Japanese and North American tastes:

1) Nodame Cantabile
2) Vagabond
3) Saint Young Men
4) Fairy Tail
5) Big Windup!
6) (tie) Billy Bat
6) (tie) Moyashimon
8) (tie) GTO: Shonan 14 Days
8) (tie) Hajime no Ippo
10) Initial D
11) xxxHOLIC
12) Ahiru no Sora
13) Ace of Diamonds
14) Mahou Sensei Negima!
15) Kindaichi Case Files

…man, if I’m Kodansha USA and I’m reading that list, I’d want to cry. Let’s see, hiatus series; owned by Viz; unlicensable; Kodansha USA; sports manga; Urasawa, so who knows?; hiatus series; sequel to out-of-print title; unlicensable sports manga; out of print; owned by Del Rey; sports manga; sports manga; Kodansha USA, and notoriously bad seller cancelled and out of print here. That’s 2 proven sellers for the new company in a list of 15. I don’t really know what to say, and don’t want to turn this into a ‘why doesn’t sports manga/josei manga/etc. sell’ post, so let’s move on…

1) Case Closed (Detective Conan)
2) Hayate the Combat Butler
3) Cross Game
4) Major
5) (tie) Kekkaishi
5) (tie) Kyō, Koi o Hajimemasu
7) Iryu – Team Medical Dragon
8) Oishinbo
9) (tie) Kanojo wa Uso wo Aishisugiteru
9) (tie) Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!!
11) (tie) Rin-Ne
11) (tie) Kenjiro Hata Shoki Sakuhinshu
13) Kenichi the Mightiest Disciple
14) (tie) Bokutachi wa Shitte Shimatta
14) (tie) Dr. Koto Shinryoujo
14) (tie) Gaku

Despite having many titles that make me think “no way are we ever seeing that”, this is a more promising list than Kodansha’s. 5 of the titles are being released by Viz: Case Closed, Hayate, Cross Game, Kekkaishi, and Rin-Ne; a 6th got a special collector’s edition, Oishinbo. Of the rest, Major is a sports manga and is 74 volumes. No. Team Medical Dragon and Dr. Koto are both long medical drama mangas that would do well as a Viz Signature title if Viz Signature titles sold better than they are right now. Kenichi has all sorts of issues, being overly long and unlikely to stop anytime soon. And Gaku is about mountain climbing. Oh yes, and Kenjiro Hata’s one-shot collection, which isn’t going to come out over here if Hayate doesn’t sell better.

That leaves four other titles, all shoujo series. Two run in Cheese! and two in Shoujo Comic, neither of which are what Viz tends to mine for shoujo series (they hit up Betsucomi the most). Kyo Koi wa Hajimemasu in particular was made for the Black Bird crowd. Of the others, Kanojo wa Uso wo Aishisugiteru is about a moody composer and his cute high-school girlfriend who’s in a band. Shoujo K-On? Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!! is a complicated romantic manga about a group of people all in love with someone else, and would sell more to the Butterflies Flowers/Ai Ore crowd. It also had an anime. Lastly, we have Bokutachi wa Shitte Shimatta, which again is about a shy girl and a handsome bishonen guy, and is by the author of Kare First Love, which Viz put out a while ago.

So, let’s sum up: the series I think will be licensed within the next year or two? New Prince of Tennis, Mayoi Neko Overrun, and two of the four shoujo series from Shogakukan. As for what I’d LIKE to see licensed, regardless of ‘sellability’? Saint Young Men and the two medical dramas. Oh yes, and un-hiatusing Nodame and Moyashimon would be nice as well. :)