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Thursday, October 13, 2011

TOKYOPOP Uses Revive - But Is It Super Effective?

You may soon be seeing the Tokyopop robofish
on new manga volumes in a bookstore near you.
Via ANN: Tokyopop Confirms Intent To Publish Manga Again.

The new TokyopopManga Twitter account confirmed on Wednesday that it is "hoping that [it will] be able to release new manga very soon." The account mentioned it is "laying the groundwork for publishing new manga again," but added that because all of its previous titles had "reverted back to their Japanese publishers" that the company would "have to work to get them back." The Twitter account also stated the company's "ultimate goal is to start publishing manga again."
The Twitter account noted it is "planning on starting with an old license." The account also stated it plans to release manga in both print and digital form.
You can also read some other angles on this development at anime/manga blog Organization Anti-Social Geniuses and otaku blog The last stop on the bus (this link has actual screenshots of some of the conversations at @TokyopopManga).
As for me, I have to admit my initial reaction to reading of Tokyopop's left field revival were . . . less than kind. Below, my gut reaction tweets after first reading of the event on the OA-SG blog.
  • So wait, TOKYOPOP is back & publishing manga again? Let me check my account of f--ks to see how many I can give at this moment. Oh. None.
  • After all that push + pull crap over Hetalia's third volume and the fact that Stu Levy still has a job, I don't care as much as I once did.
  • Plus, I thought they said it was soooo hard getting their manga licenses back? So what the hell are they going to publish? JFC, what a mess.
  • However, if it means getting more ARIA and PAVANE FOR A DEAD GIRL and SAIYUKI RELOAD, I could be ready to believe in TokyoPop again.
My priorities: I has them and they are clearly in order. But more clear than that is my continued bitterness and hostility towards the Tokyopop brand. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice - well, you know. Plus, my initial knee jerk reaction to anything with Stu Levy's name has been for the last couple of years undisguised disgust. 

But - could I actually be glad to see Tokyopop's shaky return to manga publishing in the States? 

After all, Tokyopop is (was) one of the largest manga publishers to emerge in the North American market in the past ten years. Its stranglehold on the market was unmatched, as was its frighteningly large library of licenses, all of which returned to their original owners after the shutdown (although whether or not OEL artists got their rights back is unknown). 

Plus, when it came to snagging hot titles, Tokyopop got a lot of the major manga licenses: Fruits Basket; Sailor Moon; Gravitation; hell, practically every CLAMP manga (except for X/1999) published up to the advent of Del Rey Manga was a TP license. Plus, the yaoi imprint BLU manga was pretty darn quality. Up until its closing early this year, a good number of regular titles on the New York Times' bestselling manga list were bearing Tokyopop's robofish brand.

It could be argued that Tokyopop singlehandedly made manga cool in the United States. This is not to crap on the efforts of such companies as Dark Horse and Viz, but Tokyopop has always been out there, incredibly visible as a publisher and a company persona. It started the manga revolution and rode the wave to great success. I remember Mixx Manga and buying issues of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura issue by issue at the local comic shop. I remember buying those tiny left-to-right graphic novels, as well as when TP went 'authentic' with unflipped releases. They put themselves out there, at conventions and on TV and in print, and soon there wasn't a manga fan who didn't know Tokyopop's name and at least one of their properties.

But. Yes, but.

I can also remember how they tried to royally screw over OEL artists out of the rights to their works. I remember their manga program for beginning manga-ka with its condescending contract that - surprise surprise - wrestled all rights away from the creators. I remember Stu Levy's alter 'writer' ego,  DJ Milky - actually, I kind of wish I didn't remember DJ Milky, it reminds me that Princess Ai exists, good lord.

I remember how Tokyopop pretty much saturated the market with a ton of titles, because they couldn't be arsed to do some kind of quality control when it came to the manga it licensed and pretty much grabbed anything they could get their hands on. I remember how low quality a lot of their early releases were - my Sailor Moon GNs fell apart in a couple of years like tissue paper - and how even later, there were quality issues with a number of their releases. I remember when Tokyopop updated their website, making a lot of the basic functions pretty much useless. I remember the many many many delays on series releases, how they almost started using scanlations for certain titles because of poor sales, how Stu Levy kept making it abundantly clear that he only cared about the audio/visual segment of Tokyopop rather than the print. 

And of course, I think everyone remembers that months after Tokyopop's formal shutdown, they were on their Facebook page, dangling the possibility of releasing Axis Powers Hetalia's third graphic novel in English after all - if there was enough interest in it. Seriously? First, there will always be more than enough interest in Hetalia. Second, given that their publishing branch was still closed at the moment of publishing and that no other titles had the opportunity to get more volumes out, it was cruel to taunt fans with the further reminder that their own respective favorite series would no longer see the light of day in North American markets - and that when it came to the fanbase, Hetalia fans seemed to rank higher than the others in terms of who possibly got what.

Am I being harsh? Well, yeah. Has Tokyopop screwed up in the past? Err, see above. But does Tokyopop deserve a second chance with North American manga fans? I don't know.

No, really, I don't know. I'm not the only one who feels that Tokyopop has burned too many bridges with fans to just start over again. Still, the @TokyopopJapan account has already acknowledged the climb it has ahead of the company to regain the trust and loyalty it lost from a huge chunk of its past fanbase. But could it be that the current manga industry has outgrown Tokyopop? Although it was an integral part of making manga a thing in America, it seems that TP's cultural importance has fallen to the wayside. Perhaps it is time that a new face or two tried to occupy Tokyopop's space in the manga publishing scene - one that is progressive with how it publishes manga and how it advertises said manga, one that prides itself on consistently quality releases and titles people will want to buy no matter what.

Obviously, if Tokyopop wants to succeed, it has to realize that the old business model is no longer going to work. It must follow in the steps of such companies as Viz and DMP and stay innovative in the face of a rattled market. It also needs some smokin' hot licenses so it can hit the ground running (err, Hetalia anyone?) and make up for the loss of Sailor Moon to Kodansha USA. And I do want it to succeed, despite my earlier complaints - but not if it returns with the same old same old that doomed them to begin with.

One thing is for sure: for the second time in 2011, Tokyopop has made itself the manga company to keep our eye on for further developments. It certainly has caught the attention of the blogosphere; now it has to make sure its next act is worth watching.