Monday, June 13, 2011

The End of Tokyopop Manga

This is the fourth post I've written tagged with Marmalade Boy, by the way.
If you're savvy on manga publishing in America, you might already know that Tokyopop shut down its US manga publishing operations on May 31.

I became obsessed with manga when I was about eleven. One of my friends, older and more informed than I was about the medium, took me to a Waldenbooks at a local mall. The manga section only took up one small shelf, crammed next to the cash register. I didn't know too much about what I was looking at, since while I was a comics reader, it was mostly of collections of Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side. I had read a little manga at the beginning of the whole Pokémon craze, a flipped version of Ono Toshihiro's Pokémon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu, when I was about six, but I never went too much beyond that and some dubbed episodes of Sailor Moon. I did draw a lot of Pokémon fan comics, but we don't need to go into that.

She suggested Wataru Yoshizumi's Marmalade Boy to me, licensed by Tokyopop. The cover was pretty unassuming, featuring a smiling girl looking at some unknown thing in the corner, but the story intro hooked me in the minute I skimmed its pages in that store, and I bought it.

I finished the tome in one day. From then on I was at the bookstore almost every week, buying new volumes with as much of my allowance as I could squeeze out of my poor parents. Manga had not yet invaded American bookstores, but in the following decade I would see the comics taking up more and more floorspace, with an increasing number of books on which I would spend increasing amounts of money.

Marmalade Boy was really the official start of my manga obsession. Without that, I wouldn't have gotten crazy in love with anime conventions, or have filled tons of sketchbooks with my drawn characters, or have even felt compelled to help start this blog. And none of that would have happened, really, without Tokyopop.

Obviously, the entire credit doesn't just go to a translator or distributor; the original work, the mangaka him or herself, is what makes the manga. But the point is that I simply wouldn't have been exposed to any of it without a US company that wanted to distribute these Japanese comics. It was mostly shounen comics that were in the US market before the recent manga wave, after all, and while I do appreciate them, shoujo comics were the ones that struck the girly chord in my heart.

I was strangely loyal to Tokyopop translated comics. I did a little mental eye-roll when I saw other American publishers get into the manga business. All of them were just cheap imitators, I thought. I wanted the quality stuff, thanks.

But Tokyopop's translation methods weren't perfect, far from it (read this piece by veteran translator Matt Thorn), nor were their business practices (take Manga Pilots, for example). I remember a friend of mine oh-so-lovingly dubbing it "Tokyopoop," citing issues with Sailor Moon translations. The company also had other problems with localization, and with simply staying true to an original work. Those are the complications of translation, especially that for an American audience perceived to be too unprepared for un-Americanized works. Those are debates, however, for another time.

Let's be honest: I haven't bought manga in a while, a long while. I've outgrown a lot of the manga that I used to read as a preteen and teen, and most of what I do read is covered by scanlators; I guess it's a problem not unlike what's happening in the rest of the publishing industry. The bookstore where I used to shop, a nearby Borders, just shut down (and, in fact, the bookstore chain was formerly a major customer of Tokyopop); the Waldenbooks I used to frequent, the one where I bought my first volume of Marmalade Boy, shut down years before that. The times they are a-changin'.

But you never forget your first. And Tokyopop was a big part of a lot of manga firsts for me. Even if manga isn't as big a part of my life as it used to be, I still have my old collection stashed away in a cabinet, tomes that I can't bear to get rid of. It's funny, but I never get tired of reading them.


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