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Originally, this was supposed to be an article about self-awareness and how it could be the key to help saving the manga industry. And then out of the blue, the big digital manga initiative that was considered to be a “savior of manga”, JManga goes kaput. So what now and does Japan even care?
After the news broke out about JManga and browsing Twitter for immediate reactions, here are my thoughts. I think the JManga staff arguably had to work with tough management. When I saw their people at NYCC 2012 last year, they were trying hard to get themselves out there. Of course, numbers and quantifiable data still matter in the end. It’s all about the paper and the service probably didn’t generate enough. It’s really tough to run a marathon when one is constantly stressing speed over stamina.
Part of me believes that Japanese publishers don’t give a damn about the West. Why? This thinking started from my days working with Samurai Beat Radio. The project covered Japanese music artists. My colleague, who’s a Japanese radio personality in NYC, told me about the life of a Japanese businessman overseas. They come to a foreign country, do their business, and just go back home. That’s it. No real emotional attachment whatsoever. I noticed that with regards to Japanese music artists that come to anime conventions and local concerts across the U.S. Yeah, some come back every few years, but they don’t truly develop that much of a presence as you think they do.
Face it, the total sales numbers from manga markets outside of Japan will never come close to total manga sales in Japan. Hell, the total can’t even beat the sales the One Piece manga has generated in Japan. We’re just a convenience to Japan. Though what interests me is how much anime studios seem to care more the overseas market than the manga publishers.
Japanese culture expert, Roland Kelts, recently wrote about how the online anime revolution has finally begun. Look at what Crunchyroll has done ever since they became legit. I think we need to look at what CR did to become big in the first place. Yes, they were illegal and had to take down their videos in the beginning. But you know what they did afterwards get to where they are today? THEY WENT TO JAPAN AND TALKED WITH JAPANESE ANIME STUDIOS.
Am I suggesting that we need a few hardcore, computer-literate, international-born manga fans to travel to Japan and talk to manga publishers in order for a digital manga initiative to save the day? After all, we’re the ones who really love the stuff to death. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. An interesting dilemma is the fact that anime is more relevant than manga. Why do you think we have a lot of anime conventions and few conventions focusing on manga? It’s tough to beat voice actors and anime studios bringing the characters and story to life to provide a very immersive and more easily consumable experience to people. Because of this, the anime community is much larger than the manga community.
Though there lies another problem: a majority of anime series come from manga. Where else did Naruto and BLEACH come from? Anime’s survival is linked to manga’s survival as well. Unless more people start coming up with more light novels with titles containing a bazillion words, things could get really catastrophic. Isn’t that why Shueisha is stressing to find the next great battle manga?