Manga Answerman - Who Decides Which Ecchi Manga Get Shrinkwrapped?

by Deb Aoki,

Some ecchi manga gets shrink-wrapped for retail but some doesn't – how does that get decided? Is it entirely on the publisher to shrink-wrap certain types of content? Does the store handle it themselves? Is there a rulebook for manga shrink-wrapping? I'm so confused!

Shrink-wrapped or not shrink-wrapped… why are some manga for “mature” readers sold in bookstores wrapped in plastic, and why are some left unwrapped?

My general take on the shrink-wrapping decision (based on what I've noticed from books I've received) is that the decision is made by the publisher, largely based on a few factors:

◉ Cover protection: Books with fragile or delicate covers may get shrink-wrapped to prevent them getting shopworn, scuffed or damaged in transit or while on the shelves as readers browse and read the book

◉ “Gift with purchase” extras: This includes stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh! cards or a mini-bonus comic (such as the one included with Seven Seas Entertainment's edition of The Ancient Magus' Bride Vol. 6)

◉ Content: does it have content that might be inappropriate for younger readers?

It's this last group of shrink-wrapped books that you're probably most interested in, so let's dive into the how's and why's of that.

First off, for books in N. America, the responsibility and cost of shrink-wrapping a given book is largely with the publisher. One key word here is “cost” – given the sometimes slim profit margins of publishing, no one likes to add more expenses when putting out a book. So if it's not necessary to shrink-wrap a book, a publisher will likely not do it.

However, publishers also don't like getting complaints about inappropriate content being made too readily available to younger readers, so shrink-wrapping is a way to address that issue and still allow the books to be sold in a general bookstore without being shelved in a more restrictive way (such as an “adults only” section), or worse yet, not available in a bookstore or comic shop at all.

Now, as for why some ecchi manga is wrapped for your protection and some aren't – it's helpful to remember that the content of manga published in N. America, unlike movies, are not rated by some overall governing body like the Motion Picture Association of America – they are rated by the publishers themselves. Some publishers have age ratings on the covers of their manga, and some don't.

So part of the decision on what gets wrapped and what doesn't comes from the publisher. If the content is rated “M/Mature, for readers 18 and older” because of sexually explicit or exceptionally violent material, then the publisher may opt to offer it as a wrapped title. The standard for what HAS to be wrapped and what's ok to leave unwrapped may vary from publisher to publisher, with larger companies tending to err on the side of caution, just to be safe.

Another part of the decision may come from the bookstores / distributors. As part of their decision to stock or not stock a given manga title on their shelves, the book buyers, a.k.a. the people at large bookstore chains who decide on what to order from publishers, may opt to stock a title that has risqué content, but ask the publisher that it be wrapped before they offer it on their shelves.

Some bookstores may shrink-wrap titles themselves after they receive an unwrapped copy from the publisher. Many Japanese bookstores like Kinokuniya shrink-wrap most of their manga, risque or not, to protect them from being shopworn by people who like to read manga before buying. (or never buying in some cases, but I digress)

So why are some ecchi manga left unwrapped? Again, that's a decision made either by the publisher or the bookseller – or sometimes, it's a case where an individual reader made the decision at the shelves, and just ripped off the shrink-wrap so they could take a look at what's inside, and then left the unwrapped book on the shelf for others to look at/read.

It's hard to say with any certainty which of these factors may have led to a given book you might consider to be raunchy to be left unwrapped… but let's look at this another way: at this point, the manga publishing business in N. America hasn't been hit with the kind of content restrictions that the U.S. comics biz had to deal with from the 1950's to early 2000's when The Comics Code Authority screened almost all comics published for unacceptable conten, and most of us would like to keep free from overly restrictive government or industry oversight. (for more on the Comics Code Authority, check out this handy overview!)

In some uninformed circles, manga has a rep for having content that crosses the line between risqué and illegal simply because of how many characters with large eyes tend to look “underage.” Given the history of comics censorship in N. America, no one wants to risk kicking the hornet's nest to the point where stricter regulations would prevent manga from being imported and published here. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is keeping an eye out for these types of threats to manga publishing in N. America, with their “Manga is Not a Crime” campaign. If you're curious about their work, and the ways they're trying to protect manga readers, comic shops, libraries and booksellers, visit their site.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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