Christmastime: Thoughts on 2011

In two days it will be my 2nd anniversary of manga blogging. Of course, I won’t post about it then, as I’ll be far too busy writing up and linking the new Manga Moveable Feast, which will be discussing Sailor Moon. But since my stack of books to review keeps getting higher, and Lord knows I’ll do anything to avoid doing things that are pressuring me (hi, stack of Viz books!), I thought I’d discuss what I thought of this year.

Overall, a mixed bag. (And I’m pretty sire that art is final, sadly.) Tokyopop had its faults as a company, God knows, but they also put out a pile of series I adored. Viz slowed to a crawl a number of series I follow, presumably for sales reasons. Kodansha’s reboot was great, and Sailor Moon is fantastic, but they give the impression of working with a very small staff, given the number of obvious proofreading errors that plague their books. And in general a lot of 2011 was watching the economy continue to contract, and seeing it affect everyone in the business.

But it certainly had its high points as well. JManga, even if it’s not what we hoped it would be, has introduced me to a number of stellar series. Viz also came out roaring with their digital platform, and are doing the speedup to (near) simultaneous release that folks clamored for. Yen Press and Kodansha also rolled out digital platforms. I admit that a lot of the digital manga arena seems to be ‘won’t you buy this proprietary device that you can only get our manga on?’, but I’m hoping 2012 will include more options for those of us who don’t own iPads.

Series I love ended in 2011! Fullmetal Alchemist, Eyeshield 21, Seiho Boys’ High School, Black Jack. New series I love began! Blue Exorcist, Oresama Teacher, The Drops of God. New reprints of Love Hina and Sailor Moon. And yes, some series were cancelled: Gintama. And, in non-manga high points, the big news of the year was Pogo *finally* coming out from Fantagraphics.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2012. New series like Devil and Her Love Song, which promises to be awesome. Shonen Jump Alpha, even if it doesn’t have Medaka Box just yet. Vertical trying to change its image a bit from ‘they don’t publish mainstream’ by picking up GTO and Flowers of Evil. More from JManga, hopefully at a faster pace than the 1-per-week they settled into after their debut. Some great stuff from Yen, including the Durarara!! manga and Until Death Do Us Part. And, of course, Vol. 23 of Excel Saga. I’ll be there, shouting from the rooftops as always.

Any wishes for the new year? I wish that some of the mid-range publishers who were all giving stuff to Tokyopop got together and figured out what they’re going to do now. Hakusensha in particular is in trouble if their one venue is now “One Viz license per year”. Yes, I realize that they probably feel pretty burned by Stu Levy and reluctant to deal with North America right now, but still. I’d like to see some titles available digitally that are back catalog titles – such as Ranma, or Excel Saga, or Please Save My Earth – rather than just “new and popular”. I’d also be interested in companies doing some digital only – maybe that’s how we can see ‘tricky’ series such as Medaka Box or Sket Dance. Of course, I realize digital only is very unpopular with folks, but… And I’d like to see the economy turn around, and folks buy more manga, so that we can get even more licenses.

I’d ask for a pony, but I did discover Friendship Is Magic this year, so I am content with Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and the others for now. :D

Lastly, thanks to everyone who reads and comments at my blog for a great year. I particularly want to thank Melinda, Kate, Michelle and David at Manga Bookshelf, both for asking me to join and for immediately welcoming me. It’s been a rough December for our group, as you are no doubt aware, but I hope that 2012 finds joy and happiness all round, for both the Manga Bookshelf team and its readers.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Some thoughts on the last year

Today is the one-year anniversary of this blog, and to commemorate it I’d like to avoid doing a best and worst list as we see so often this time of year. I like so much of what I review that thinking of bests is a helpless cause, and I really don’t like to talk about bad manga unless it’s really, irredeemably bad. Merely mediocre manga doesn’t deserve brickbats. (Qwaser of Stigmata was really bad, though. You have my permission to bash it.)

So, what did this year mean to me on the blog?

1) Shilling for lost causes. Nothing made me happier this year than telling people at great length about titles most of them don’t read, most of which are poor-selling, and several of which weren’t even that good, they just hit the right buttons for me personally to really enjoy them. I am especially happy that some of these reviews *did* inspire people to pick up the manga, and I hope they got as much enjoyment out of it as I did. So, for Excel Saga, Gatcha Gacha, I Hate You More Than Anyone!, Teru Teru x Shonen, and The Magic Touch, I thank 2010.

2) The One Piece speedup. I remember when Viz announced this it was greeted with disbelief and derision. Naruto had the sales to support 4 volumes a month, just. What was Viz thinking bringing a lower-selling title such as One Piece up to speed with 5 volumes a month for 6 months? It will be a disaster! And to be fair, One Piece fans have been used to getting the short end of the stick. But all turned out surprisingly well, as the volumes did sell well, and nowadays One Piece is, though not at Naruto levels, a fairly strong seller. Moreover, reading the series in huge gulps allowed readers to power through arcs both weak and strong, and introduced everyone to the marvel that was Water Seven and Enies Lobby. Most importantly, it allowed other bloggers to join in in the One Piece MMF, which showered love and affection on Japan’s favorite rubber pirate manga. Here’s looking for more One Piece goodness in 2011.

3) The Shoujo Beat goes on. As I looked over my reviews, it became quite clear that over half of them were shoujo of some sort or another. Clearly it’s the genre that appeals to me most, and I thank 2010 for letting me take delight in the adventures of Kyoko and Ren, Asuka and Ryo, Sawako and Kazehaya, Hikari and Kei, Misaki and Usui, and Odette in general. While the right shonen property has been shown to have huge sales impact, I believe that shoujo has been shown to be the more consistent seller across the board, which is likely why we’re seeing so much of it. In 2011, I hope to be entertained by more adorably sweet girls who heal the hearts of sullen guys with tragic pasts, or alternately, by strong and stubborn yet dense as lead girls being teased by handsome and flirty guys.

4) That pesky economy. I noted to Deb Aoki the other day how I hadn’t regarded the fall of CMX as a ‘surprise’ of the year, mostly as, given their sales, my reaction was more “Ah, they finally noticed it existed.” CMX, after a rough start, carved out a niche of cult shoujo manga that appealed greatly to me, and I still feel the loss of I Hate You More Than Anyone! and Teru Teru x Shonen. Go! Comi likewise quietly died this year (very quietly – as in silently), and their relationship with Akita Shoten gave us some of the more eccentric manga in North America. Both will be dearly missed by manga bloggers, if not necessarily by consumers. (Del Rey also closed this year, though that was for reasons other than economic ones, and they have now come out of their cocoon as Kodansha USA.)

5) Things other than manga. The heading of the blog notes I write about ‘mostly manga’, which is certainly true. But sometimes I feel a need to discuss other things. I thank everyone for putting up with me going on about how I would stage Shakespeare plays, or analyzing Woody Woodpecker cartoons, or just gushing about Frank Zappa concerts. Hopefully I’ll be doing this more in 2011 as well – I need to restart the Woody reviews, and talk about the Zappa 1979 tour (oh, those Inca Roads guitar solos…), and Arden is releasing Merchant of Venice 3rd Edition this February. God knows how I’d talk about how to stage THAT today…

6) You, the reader. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Sappy as it may be, this blog wouldn’t happen without the support that I get from those who read it, as well as my fellow bloggers on Twitter. I had initially started this thinking that writing to a schedule where I forced myself to put out a post a day would help me when it came to working on a few of my unfinished anime fanfics that I had lying around. That didn’t happen at all (the one-per-day rule has been broken a lot, especially this fall, and I ended up writing only one fic this year, though I’m working on a Zetsubou story, and I have an idea for a Lupin fic). I know that I can be somewhat hard to handle at times. My tastes are eclectic, I tend to like almost everything I review, I geek out in embarrassing fashion about publishers and magazines in Japan, and a lot of my reviews are less critiques than rambles. (Wow, look at that self-deprecation. I could be a manga author…) (Oh yes, and the parenthetical asides. So many parenthetical asides.) But simply put, this year has simply been a hell of a lot of fun. The blog has been great, talking with people on Twitter has been fantastic, I loved meeting everyone at NYAF and MangaNext, and hope to see people at Anime Boston and Anime North in 2011.

Roll on, 2011! What fresh excitement will you bring? Here’s hoping I’m still blogging when Christmas 2011 rolls around.