POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 7, 2010
Optimism would appear to be in increasingly short supply, as far as the U.S. manga industry circa 2010 is concerned.
I say this because of a column I wrote back in August, when Del Rey Manga was in decline but still seemed likely to remain viable in some form. Series such as "Mushishi" and "School Rumble" were being released in multivolume omnibus collections; others, including "Nodame Cantabile," "Gakuen Prince" and "Pumpkin Scissors," were either put on hiatus or canceled. The imprint's website assimilated with Suvudu, parent Random House's catch-all site for science and fantasy books. Public relations efforts dwindled to near invisibility.
"I'm not quite ready to write the obituary for Del Rey yet, as I have in recent months for Go!Comi, Aurora and CMX," I wrote. "Del Rey's woes appear to be indicative of a manga market that remains oversaturated, its recent moves a way to position itself for the future. Let's just hope that correction doesn't end up with Del Rey out of the market in a few years."
The good news is that the correction didn't end up with Del Rey disappearing in a few years. The bad news: It took only a few weeks for it to happen. And the end result, while appearing to have been set in motion about a year ago, still stung when it was announced Monday.
So say goodbye to Del Rey Manga, manga fans, and get ready for another coming-out party for Kodansha Comics. Publisher Random House said it would stop publishing manga under the Del Rey imprint and turn those duties over to Kodansha USA Publishing and its Kodansha Comics imprint. In return, Random House will sell and distribute the publications.
The news generated more skepticism and trepidation than excitement among fans and bloggers online, and for good reason. Ever since Kodansha started withdrawing its material from former partner Tokyopop last August -- with 11 series, including the popular "Initial D" and "Beck," left in limbo -- and prepared to enter the U.S. market, fans have been waiting for some indication that those series would return. What they've gotten instead are a reprint of "Akira" and a handful of titles from the "Ghost in the Shell" franchise. That's not much from a company that has such a rich catalog.
Del Rey's void leaves even more series in the lurch, chief among them the three that put the publisher on the map in the first place: "Negima," "Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle" and "xxxHolic," all of which have at least 15 volumes published stateside. That's a big investment on the part of fans, and losing them now is not a happy prospect.
But there are smaller series that I worry about as well, critical darlings and niche favorites such as the teacher-in-despair comedy "Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei" and the bacteria-laden adventures of "Moyasimon."
As for whether answers are forthcoming any time soon, consider this: Kodansha USA's first move after the announcement was to cancel a panel scheduled for the New York Comic Con and Anime Festival this weekend. So while I'd love to hope that Kodansha becomes every bit as good as Del Rey was in its heyday, you'll have to excuse me if I wait for more tangible results first.
» MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com.