Viz has earned themselves a reputation over the years of over-Americanizing and modifying their titles.  Ranma 1/2 is a good example of this, I distinctly remember one episode where the subtitles had Ranma & Akane’s dads singing Camptown Races.  Lately they have been doing a lot better about this, keeping the Americanization to at least an understandable level and not modifying the actual dialogue much from the original beyond the needs of translation.  They’ve done even better with Shoujo Beat (with one title actually retaining honorifics) and the Shoujo Beat manga titles as well.  Well, for some of them, as Ultra Maniac is absolutely horrid, reflecting Viz at its absolute worst.

The modifications are both major and minor.  Some of the minor ones could be overlooked if it wasn’t for the major ones that follow.  Examples of minor changes are changing 1st years/2nd years/3rs years to 6th graders/7th graders/8th graders.  (Although they leave the classroom signs unchanged, which will likely cause some confusion.)  Another, mostly minor change is that Nina has been given a magic word to use when casting her spells.  The manga doesn’t have one, the first time she casts a spell she says “power up” when she pushes the button, which is appropriate for the spell she’s using.  The second time she says simply “transform” which fits the spell then as well (which is turning the beads she poured into the box into a magic ring).  Now, she says “Spamola”.  I’m not sure if this is the same word they gave her in the Ultra Maniac anime (where Nina was made more of a standard magical girl complete with transformation sequence) or not but it still sounds utterly stupid.

The major changes begin soon however, in chapter 2 in fact.

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Mar
16
Filed Under (Manga, News) by Maestro on 16-03-2005

(Full Disclosure: I’m not a big fan of ADV.  I’ve seen them ignore their customers’ legitimate complaints over things ADV did with releases far too many times.  Still I’m trying to be objective here, and the reasons I don’t care for them have contributed to the problems leading to their current layoffs.)

Publisher’s Weekly has put up a report about ADV laying off and restructuring its manga unit.  Reportedly up to 40 employees have been laid off, although ADV won’t confirm those numbers, only confirm that layoffs took place.  Some quotes from the article and my comments are below, along with a final summation.

John Ledford, cofounder and president of ADV, says the company faces a saturated market and more discerning customers. “Anyone can see that there’s only so much shelf space available to manga and to anime. We’ve adjusted our schedule to keep pace with the opportunities for shelf space.”

Truly I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry in response to this.  Frankly it sounds like Ledford’s placing the blame on the market, retailers (shelf space) and customers.  True all of that played a part, but what he fails to comment on is why ADV tried to muscle into the very firmly established Manga market in such a big way (around 80 titles last year).  When I saw the first ADV Manga titles at the bookstore my first thought was “are they nuts?”  Most of the titles weren’t big name titles, and ADV was a virtual unknown to Manga fans who don’t like/bother with Anime.  Sure Del-Rey/Bantam Books also made a highly publicized, and largely successful, push into Manga as well last year but they’re already a very well known name to book buyers as well as readers.  (Being known to buyers is highly important, as bookstores are more likely to devote shelf space to a publisher they know and trust.)  Even so Del-Rey, wisely I think, decided to differentiate themselves with top tier titles and a more meticulous approach.  While there has been some inconsistency in translation, all of their titles have excellent liner notes, cultural references, extras and full explanations of honorifics, justifying the higher price of $10.95 vs. the more standard $9.95.  Del-Rey also published far fewer titles than ADV did, another wise move (especially looking at it in retrospect now.)

ADV is refocusing its manga publishing on “winners,” Oarr says, and . . . will focus on properties “where we have both sides”–both the manga and anime licenses–pointing to the upcoming release of the much publicized Cromartie High book and anime series.

If I worked in what’s left of ADV’s manga division I’d be printing up resumes and job hunting fast!  Some of ADV’s titles will do great, but thats for older, established series that already have a huge fanbase.  Things like Cromartie High are not likely to do as well as ADV hopes.  Had anyone heard about this title before ADV started advertising it?  Has anyone, besides me, seen the Manga preview in this month’s Anime Insider?  It wasn’t that good.  Perhaps it’s because they took chapters out of context, but it doesn’t appear to matter much, it’s non-sequential humor.  I’m predicting it’ll do poorly, maybe not an absolute bomb, but nowhere near what ADV is hoping for it to do.

ADV also publishes NewType magazine, a category leading anime/manga fan periodical, and much of the editorial and production work for the manga books has been shifted to the staff producing the magazine in a new publishing division.

ADV certainly could use some help on NewType USA!  Most of the “Now Playing” episode synopsizes aren’t even close to what happened.  I can tell this from watching raws on my own and I understand almost no Japanese at all.  Whoever’s being paid to write those doesn’t even seem to be watching the episodes first.  NewType USA is also highly ADV-centric.  Try flipping through one sometime, the majority of the shows showcased, and even the advertising, is all for ADV titles.  If I was a company in competition with ADV with Anime titles I wouldn’t want to pay to advertise in Newtype USA.  Why bother when the majority of magazine caters to the publisher’s titles?

I should note that ADV has caused plenty of ire in the anime industry.  ADV had a tendency in the past to grab up rights to portions of series that another company had already started doing the distribution for.  Normally this might seem like a good business move, but it annoyed many customers too. Having the distributor change mid-series leads to mismatched cover art/naming/etc.  While their competitors have never said so publicly, they’re only human and I doubt they cared for this strategy either.  In more recent years this has been less of a problem since companies are moving to license the whole thing at once, but it may come up again in cases like Girls Bravo which has separate 1st and 2nd seasons, and likely separate licensing as well.

I think the scariest thing is that all indications are that ADV doesn’t realize they dug their own hole with this.  Since there’s still things wrong (Newtype USA and counting on new, relatively unknown titles) they really need to take a good look at what they’re doing and fix the problems.  Otherwise this will likely be only the first of many reports of bad news from ADV.

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Mar
14
Filed Under (Manga) by Maestro on 14-03-2005

A recent article talks about the controversy of public libraries adding manga to their offerings.  As seems to be usual for this type of “controversy”, the naysayers appear to not have bothered to check their facts before spouting off.  Perhaps it’s simply misperception, but there’s no real excuse for it.  You should have the facts before you form an opinion, and you most definitely should have the facts before you make a fool or yourself to the news media.

Some of the arguments are so far off base that I just had to respond.

some people dispute the value of books that feature female characters dressed in sexy outfits

Well yes, that can be a problem, but your kids see female characters dressed in far sexier, skimpier and more revealing outfits daily on TV, in magazine ads, on billboards, etc.  If this is really a concern for you, manga is the least of your problems.  At least the characters in manga aren’t real females dressed scantily!

and sometimes behaving in ways that conform to sexist stereotypes.

Now this is really getting silly.  While they’re not depicted so in actual pictures, there are many classic works of fiction that depict women in sexist stereotypes.  Laura Ingle Wilder’s (famous for Little House on the Prarie) entire series of books does for instance.  Why?  Well she grew up in a time period where women didn’t even have the right to vote and she wrote about her life.  This is just one example, I’m sure there are plenty others, but would these people want Wilder’s books banned as well?

In a recent column in the Deering High School newspaper, senior Colleen Hagyari questions why the school is spending tax dollars to buy “written garbage” such as the “Mew Mew” series, which averages six words a page and features seventh-grade girls who learn to “dress and act like floozies” to get what they want.

Well Ms. Hagyari, I highly recommend you work on your reading comprehension, or perhaps the problem is you didn’t do more than give the Tokyo Mew Mew manga a cursory glance.  I own this whole series, the English translation in fact so we’re talking about the same books here.  The average words per page is much higher than 6, on average throughout a volume it’s probably a good 20 or higher.  Yes there are some pages with very few words, but the art is the focus on them, and the art does all the speaking necessary.  After all, pictures speak louder than words, the same goes for art.  As for the girls “‘dress[ing] and act[ing] like floozies’ to get what they want,” sorry, nope, not even CLOSE.  Their cover is working at the cafe, and they don’t have a choice in the uniforms.  This is, in fact, a standard Japanese practice for businesses to provide the uniforms and employees change at work.  Beyond that if she’s talking about the outfits they’re wearing when transformed, they don’t chose those either, they come with the super powers.

What’s perhaps most telling about this is that Tokyo Mew Mew was written with a young female audience as its target.  To be fair Hagyari is older than the target age (which appears to be middle school age), but that doesn’t excuse her vastly misinformed words.  It’s hard to take a critic serious when it’s blatantly obvious they didn’t actually read the books/manga they’re criticizing.

The cover of another book, “Peach Girl,” depicts a girl with her pants unzipped wearing a shirt that barely covers her breasts, she says. It was promoted on a school bulletin board.

Sure it does, but it’s far less risqué than most magazines targeted at teenage girls.  How can we forget the way Brittany Spears dressed back when she was popular?  Peach Girl’s covers are quite tame in comparison.

“The innuendo is so heavy,” Hagyari said in an interview. “By buying something so trendy and obviously new and exciting, they want to bring kids to the library. But it wasn’t done carefully.”

Quite frankly it appears they were far more careful and responsible than Hagyari was in her criticism.  I fail to see how she thinks she could do better when the librarian(s) actually read the material first and she didn’t.

The school librarian, Ellen McCarthy . . . writes that “Peach Girl” explores racism by telling the story of a dark-skinned girl in a Japanese culture that prizes pale skin. The American Library Association recommended it for high school girls.

This is quite true, in fact I first learned about this form of racism by reading about the story in Peach Girl.  (I’ve never read the manga, but I know the basic storyline.)  What she doesn’t mention (because she may not be aware yet, it happens later on) is that Peach Girl’s story will delve deeply into the horrors of rape.  From what I understand it’s very frank and open about the subject when it comes up and that’s great as it does not flinch away from the truth.  Hopefully no girl will experience rape, but if they have, or do, it cannot hurt to know that what they’re feeling is normal.  It might just make the difference between living and dying as many rape victims try to commit suicide.  (This is something I have dealt with personally as an online friend got date raped and tried to kill herself.)

“I hope we don’t get censors pounding at the door to get the books removed,” McCarthy said. “A lot of people might say they shouldn’t be in a school library, but kids are reading them and they appeal to reluctant readers.”

I find it somewhat amusing that almost the exact same arguments have been made against the Harry Potter books (“they promote witchcraft and the devil!”).  Why is that people will complain their kids aren’t literate but fight tooth and nail to keep the things they WILL read off of library shelves?  Does having a kid mean losing your common sense or something?

In the end though there’s a ray of hope (and sanity):

[Rawding] checks each graphic novel before [her son] reads it, she says, and they discuss it together. At least he’s not hiding the books, she says. “At this age, I’d rather keep everything out on the table.”

Imagine that, a parent actually parenting and taking responsibility for their own kids morals and ethics.  It’s sad that this appears to no longer be the norm, we need more parents like Rawding!

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