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Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - I Want It, Manga Style!

While things for me, don't often go as planned, I can at least end the year on a consistent note by, once again, being late with my column. So, in an attempt to distract you from the fact that I'm not going to talk about Anime clubs this week, I've decided to take a look at something that stands to change the way many of you read Manga in North America. With the many changes in the types of Anime that are being licensed, it's usually up to the Manga version of a series to test the waters. For most companies, Manga is a cheaper alternative than distributing an Anime title, so many are willing to take a chance on the more obscure titles.

2002 has proven to be a banner year for Manga with many more Manga titles making their way to American shores. The biggest single change comes from TOKYOPOP, thanks to their 100% Authentic Manga line. Featuring un-flipped pages with the original Japanese sound effects, TOKYOPOP's Authentic line proved that the Mass Anime/Manga Market were ready for Manga in its original form. Sure, un-flipped Manga titles are nothing new, with Viz leading the way with a few of its titles, but considering the rest of their line, its obvious that many in the industry still feel flipped and edited will continue to sell to a larger market. Of course, the sales of TOKYOPOP's material, as well as their penetration into mass market areas such as Suncoast prove the standard wisdom wrong.

While TOKYOPOP's success is a siginificant event in the history of Manga, it's what has appeared at the end of 2002 that should carry Manga in North America to the next level. Mirroring the standard for Japanese Manga, comes two regular anthologies in the form of Shonen Jump from Viz, and Raijin Comics from Gutsoon Entertainment. Much like un-flipped Manga, anthologies are nothing new to the market, but what sets these two apart from previous attempts lies in how they are being handled.

Each issue of both anthologies brings some of the hottest titles from Japan in their original un-flipped formats. While this takes a bit of adjustment, both anthologies do a good showing how each magazine should be read. Shonen Jump keeps it fairly simple with arrows at the top of most pages while Raijin takes it a step further by placing numbers in each panel, indicating the order they should be read. As is typical with Viz's publications, they've gone ahead and translated everything into English. This includes signs as well as the sound effects. With their experience in this field, the changes in the artwork are hardly noticeable. Raijin on the other hand leaves the sound effects intact. Near the end of each issue is the Sound Effects Corner that discusses Kakimoji, better known as the sound effects in manga. Each effect gets a thorough explanation, as well as example panels showing the different forms it could appear in. Considering the artistic nature of many of the Kakimoji, it will take a while to adjust to them, but thanks to context, the meanings of many should be clear.

In terms of price, both magazines are even at $4.95 each per issue. Considering Shonen Jump is currently at 300+ pages with 6 titles and Raijin is at 200+ with 6 titles, a reader is getting a lot for their 5 bucks. What's sure to cause headaches though is the yearly subscription rate for each. For one year of Shonen Jump, you can expect to pay $19.95. (This is the current charter subscriber rate, and could go up at any time). For one year of Raijin Comics, the going rate is $189.60. While it seems clear which one is the better deal, there's a bit of a trick involved here. Shonen Jump is a monthly magazine, with a year subscription consisting of 12 issues. Raijin is a weekly anthology, with a year subscription featuring 48 issues. Throw in the "free" issue of Raijin Game & Anime that comes with each issue, and that's actually 96 magazines for that price.

Now I've mentioned the bit about the second magazine that comes with a subscription to Raijin, so I should probably talk about that. Raijin Game & Anime, RGA for short, is an 18 – 20 page magazine that discusses current Anime/Manga trends direct from Japan. On its own, it sells for 99 cents. While Raijin features some news tidbits, and a few side articles such as the sound effects lessons, they leave all the major news to RGA. Shonen Jump takes a bit of a different stand, by including news and interviews as filler between the series in its pages. Following form Issue 1, most of these are quick Q&As with the creative forces behind each series, but Issue 2 takes a slightly different stance as a few of the extras seem more like inside jokes. Most of these simply serve as a reminder that Viz is targeting the younger, 14 – 25 aged crowd with this magazine with a heavy leaning towards the teen side of that demographic. Shonen Jump also focuses on toy reviews and game strategies. With 2 of their titles being quite popular among the mass market, expect lots of this type of coverage in the future.

Before jumping into the line up for each anthology, I wanted to quickly mention one negative that I encountered with Raijin Comics. In an attempt to beat the rush, as well as take advantage of the freebies they were offering for charter subscribers, I signed up for a full year subscription to Raijin. Due to some bad planning on my part, my credit card didn't go through. Of course, I was completely oblivious to this thanks to a lot of things going on, and it wasn't until a week before the first issue was due to ship that I noticed I hadn't been charged. While I do admit it was my own fault for not following up, it would have been nice to have received a courtesy email stating there were problems with my card. I quickly emailed customer service, as not to miss the first issue, but this is where the real problem hit. Two weeks after I sent my first email (with a total of 3 emails sent during that time period) I finally get an email stating that there was a problem with my credit card and I would need to do another order. By this point, I had already missed the first 2 issues, as well as the subscription freebie of the Fist of the Blue Sky DVD. I've since gotten the first 2 issues thanks to their back issue offers, but I'm simply out of luck when it comes to the DVD. I do realize that this is probably a very isolated event, but it's the slow down in response from customer service that gets at me. While I would hardly consider myself a problem customer, it's often how a company responds to any problem that can make or break a company. Gutsoon is still new to North America, so this can really fall into the growing pains category.

Now comes the good bit. This is where Shonen Jump and Raijin Comics stand to succeed; with the selection of titles featured in each. Both are heavily skewed towards the male audience in the Anime/Manga community. Shonen Jump is sticking with name recognition putting 2 major franchises in the same book. Raijin Comics is going more with name recognition of its artists, relying on names such as Hojo Tsukasa, the man behind City Hunter and Hara Tetsuo of Fist of the North Star fame. Both are full of action, with Raijin taking the lead in terms of maturity and drama.

The Line Up
Shonen Jump: relying more on series recognition and sticking with high action mixed with humor, Shonen Jump has the edge in terms of a larger audience appeal right off the bat. Raijin Comics: taking a more dramatic approach, Raijin is staying true to the nature of many "shonen" manga from Japan. More dramatic, with less humor, the titles here prove the need for the mature content label on the front cover.
Dragonball Z: basically the anchor for Shonen Jump, Dragonball Z did quite well on its own in a monthly comic form. With exposure on Cartoon Network, Dragonball Z has brought Anime to the masses. Focusing on fierce battles with typical Akira Toriyama humor to boot. For those keeping score, Shonen Jump starts in the middle of the Dragonball Z tale after the Frieza Saga. With toy and game tie-ins this is the title that will draw the mass market to Shonen Jump. Bomber Girl: Imagine a world where villains are vicious beyond imagine and only bounty hunters can save the innocents of the world. Throw in a good mix of humor and T&A and you've got Bomber Girl. Bomber Girl starts with a simple premise and adds in a voluptuous lead character to titillate the readers attention. While not exactly original in nature, this series helps break up the seriousness of many of the other series.
Yu-Gi-Oh: serving back up for Dragonball Z is the king of games. Coming in with its own mass market appeal, Yu-Gi-Oh will be the other main draw for Shonen Jump. The good news for true fans of this show is Viz's treatment of the translation. Retaining the original character names, with minor notes on their names from the TV show, the manga will be closer to the original than the Anime. Again, the toy and game tie-in won't hurt as Shonen Jump builds its audience. City Hunter: Hojo Tsukasa is a name well known in Manga circles, with City Hunter being his lead title. Some of the City Hunter movies and OVAs have managed to make it over to North America with limited success. Sticking with the old standard of a knight in shining armor who's a class A pervert, City Hunter mixes elements of many popular detective stories to produce a dramatic storyline with humor to break up the dramatic scenes.
YuYu Hakusho: This is what I meant by familiar titles. Viz is packing Shonen Jump with mass market appeal by printing yet another of Cartoon Network's success stories. Much like Yu-Gi-Oh, Hakusho's manga had yet to make an appearance in North America. Still in the early stages of building a mass market audience, YuYu Hakusho's storyline will balance well against Yu-Gi-Oh. Fist of the Blue Sky: Hara Tetsuo, creator of Fist of the North Star, explores the story before his famous series in this prequel set in Japan in the early 20th century. In a style that is almost unfamiliar to casual Manga fans, Fist of the Blue Sky tells the story of Yan Wang, the King of Death. High action, with very dramatic story-telling.
One Piece: The end of first run episodes of Dragonball Z approaches as Cartoon Network is set to air the final episodes sometime in early 2003. So it's nice to see the series that will most likely serve as heir-apparent get exposure thanks to Shonen Jump. One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy as he makes his way in the world on his quest to be Pirate King. Following the path of DBZ, this is a quest story, with a large ensemble cast and huge battles lasting many episodes. The manga mixes humor and drama in just the right way to produce a strong storyline. The First President of Japan: serving as another very serious tale, is a story that in these current times seems almost prophetic. Japan is close to open elections for the first time in its history, when a defiant North Korea strikes out at its neighbors. Now the newly elected Prime Minister must balance world affairs while struggling with the social tensions in Japan. This series should be a very different type of tale for the North American audience to absorb, especially with its lack of magical girls, kung fu artists or alien invaders.
Sandland: Sometimes you just can't keep a good man down. Or in the case of Akira Toriyama, sometimes you just can't keep a good man away from a pen. Mr. Toriyama goes back to his roots with a new quest story based around a whole new cast of characters. The artwork is all Toriyama as his characters must find a new source of water for the people of Sandland. Baki The Grappler: the first in Raijins sports titles, Baki revolves around the sport of martial arts. Baki, wearing a white belt, is set to be a challenge to the four time defending champ. Sports Anime and Manga have had a hard time catching on in North America, so Raijin is taking a chance by including them in their line up. The story of Baki is very compelling and stands a chance even with the ardent of DBZ fans.
Naruto: Making its premiere in issue number two comes Naruto, a series that just recently saw the release of an Anime in Japan. Staying in line with all the other titles in Shonen Jump, Naruto follows a young boy that yearns to be the greatest of all ninja. There is the minor inconvenience of being involved with the legendary nine-tail fox demon, as well as the fact that he's simply not all that good at being a ninja. Naruto proves to be another strong title with a wild mix of humor and drama. Slam Dunk: rounding out the sports genre Manga in Raijin is Slam Dunk which follows the adventures of Sakuragi who joins the school basketball team for all the wrong reasons. This series is quite popular in Japan where sports Anime are as well watched as any other genres. Slam Dunk has the honor of being a well established series, having been around for quite a while, with an equally popular Anime series. Baki and Slam Dunk should do quite well paving the way for future sports related Anime and Manga.
Shaman King: Set to premiere in issue 3 is the last of the titles Viz included in their initial sneak preview issue. Of the titles in Shonen Jump, this is the one I know the least about. The artwork comes across as a mix of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, with the epic fight scenes of Dragonball Z and One Piece included. Guardian Angel Getten: in line with Bomber Girl comes Guardian Angel Getten, mired in the roots of one of those quirky romantic comedies. The strong artwork and good storytelling mixed in with a bit of humor and romance should go a long way in balancing out the heaviness of many of the other series. Set to premiere with issue 3, this one got a good introduction with issue 0 of Raijin that was handed out at Anime Expo.

Despite Raijin's lack of series recognition and Shonen Jump's leaning towards a younger audience; both anthologies have the potential to do great things for Manga over the next year. When it comes down to it, though, Shonen Jump has the edge in mass market appeal. It's lower price and popular titles will make it king for quite a while. Don't turn your back on Raijin though, as it has pooled together a strong pool of talent with some of the biggest names from the Manga industry. Given time, and more exposure fans will flock to Raijin for its strong series. Raijin's true potential lies in the fact that the series in its pages are fresh, often first run series that can't be found anywhere else. Most of Shonen Jump's series have been seen in North America in one form or another, and many have already ended their runs in Japan.

The real strength from both of these anthologies lies with the fact that the anthology format gives the companies a lot of flexibility in what series they include. Raijin, running mostly first run series, will be able to get more fresh material into the hands of the fans, while Shonen Jump will have an outlet for some of the less popular series they've licensed. With its current series choices, Shonen Jump will remain a bit behind similar publications in Japan, but should do well thanks to the mass market appeal already present in its 2 lead titles.

Manga has experienced a revolution in the year 2002, and that revolution will continue into 2003. For the entire Anime/Manga industry, Manga does a lot by giving companies a cheap buy-in for a series whose Anime series would be viewed as risky. Raijin Comics and Shonen Jump go one step further by providing a quick and easy path for those series to get into the hands of the fans. While the titles do tend to lean towards a male audience, the stories are still appealing to a wider audience. Manga continues to be a quick fix for when "I want it now", and both Shonen Jump and Raijin Comics are ideal for getting the latest and greatest from Japan while their still fresh.

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