Things to Come

Tenamonya Voyagers was pretty awful. It was a cynical, half-hearted space opera that nobody found particularly amusing, and which plainly bored its own animators so much that they simply ended it in the middle. However, it remains a landmark in anime history because when Bandai decided to release this obscure 1999 title in America, they did so solely on the new-fangled DVD format.

The US release of Tenamonya Voyagers was the first real sign that VHS was dead. It was a message to those people who hadn’t yet bought a DVD player that someday soon, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, they would need one if they wanted to see all the new anime, because their VHS was going out of date, and would no longer be supported by new ‘software’.

I mention this in order to point out that Bandai is a company that often thinks way ahead of the curve. And in case you haven’t already heard, Bandai is a company that will now be dropping DVD from its activities in America.

Old orders will be met. In the event that a million people suddenly want a copy of The Girl Who Leapt Through Space, they’ll run off some more. But Bandai America is giving up on DVD and leaving it to others to take the risk on licences, spend the money and get pirated.

You can forget Blu-ray, too. Bandai can’t be bothered with that either. Why should they, when a bright digital future awaits of direct downloads and streaming, hopefully legal?

If you were wondering what this means for you… right now, not a lot. You’ll still see Bandai shows released on DVD by other companies, like Manga Entertainment’s Ghost in the Shell sublicence. But be aware, Bandai America just essentially announced what many in the anime business have been thinking for five years: that the next format is no format, and the smart money is getting out of what the Japanese call ‘packaged goods’ – which is to say the actual, physical discs that anime currently comes on. Ten years from now, I suspect, there will still be DVDs in existence, but they will be much more bespoke, much rarer, and hence much more collectible.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #95, 2012.

Noboru Ishiguro 1938-2012

My obituary of the anime director Noboru Ishiguro is up online now at the Manga UK blog. Never met him myself, but he was one of the most prominent Japanese figures in American fandom – having become a oft-seen and affable attendee at many conventions. I had an odd sense that he would be the next of the big names to go, although according to colleagues who tipped me off as to his condition, when the end came, it was sudden, and belied by his good humour the day before. The story about his name-tag was supplied by Takayuki Karahashi, who was one of the last visitors to see him alive.


Try to control your excitement, for I am on a podcast, talking with Jeremy Graves and Jerome Mazandarani on the pilot edition of Manga UK’s new periodical audio chatfest. They wanted me there for behind-the-scenes gossip, or possibly just because they wanted everyone to have a name that began with “J”.

00:00 Introductions and new releases.

11:52 Discussion on how the disaster in Japan last year affected Manga UK and anime in general. Also Chinese works and Asian music.

37:03 News. Topics include the approaching end of the Bleach anime, new licenses to be announced at Birmingham MCM Expo, details on why the release date for Angel Beats was pushed back and an exclusive announcement.

1:02:27 The Manga UK Community segment. Answering your questions submitted via Facebook and Twitter on a variety of subjects. Not all of them sensible.

You can download it here.

Arctic Air

The Map of My Dead Pilots reads in two ways – as an account of a systematic, scholarly study of the history of plane crashes in Alaska, and as an oral history of the kind of people who are likely to be flying those very planes. As the title implies, some of these figures are mere names in the newspaper archives, and pins stuck in charts. Others are people that Colleen Mondor knew personally, from her days as a dispatcher at a weird little airline in the middle of nowhere.

The two accounts advance on each other – a dispassionate enquiry into aviation history, and a melancholy memoir of life among the ice pilots. Mondor artfully constructs snapshots of a snowbound world where men treat dogs like machines and machines like spouses; where weather is more than just scenery; where everyone has come north with a story they don’t want to tell. She wrestles with what it is to have an authorial mind in a world of harsh truths, as she tries to reconcile academic rigour with narrative romance. There are tantalising snapshots here, from the scarred girl who must relive the moments of her long-ago accident in the eyes of everyone who sees her face, to the nuns who refuse to give up their seats for a hospital-bound teenager. The result is gripping, as a fledgling author finds her style and suddenly takes wing. With a start, Mondor realises what she is really writing about, and lets the reader find out along with her.

Mondor’s pilots gripe that they might as well be bus drivers on the Moon, as if that is not an incredible idea in itself. The US Mail has to get through, not because some Inuit trapper is waiting for a postcard from Puerto Rico, but because the plane that is being vastly overpaid to carry the postcard will now also have hold space for medicine, food and supplies. But this is the land of Mondor, where the shadows lie, as the author sits forlorn amid pieces of broken lives, and carefully builds something beautiful with the fragments. Like an antique, graceful plane thunking onto the landing strip with bingo fuel and a hold full of howling dogs, The Map of My Dead Pilots touches down just in time. Any longer, and this lovely little book would have broken its spell.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Mannerheim: President, Soldier, Spy.

The Japanese John Carter

I’ve got an article up on the Manga UK blog today about the Japanese prequels, sequels and pastiches to John Carter of Mars. This draws, of course, on the work I’ve been doing for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia to chronicle Japanese authors like Hitoshi Yoshioka. There’s also a little bit about Japanese steampunk that doesn’t get any attention abroad.

Spartacus Reviewed

Steve Donoghue at Open Letters reviews my novel Swords and Ashes from a classical perspective, suggesting that the book is loaded with hidden allusions to ancient authors. Indeed it is, and includes nods not only to Cicero’s Verrine Orations and Letters to Atticus, but also Ovid’s Art of Love, Ulpian’s Commentaries on Roman law, and the writings of Seneca, Plutarch, Florus and Frontinus, to name but a few. As a bonus extra, his whole review seems intended as a gentle slap to an acquaintance who think Spartacus was invented by Howard Fast, and that nobody is allowed to write about the American Civil War any more, because Margaret Mitchell has already done it.

Sean Canfield at the Daily Rotation approaches Swords and Ashes from a formalist perspective, as someone who has never seen the TV series, and doesn’t care whose picture is on the cover, or who wrote the book. He demands that the book stands up on its own merits, not attached to any other text or event. A tall order, but one which he finds the book to have met. Now he wants to watch the TV show, which if truth be told is the entire reason why licensors get onboard with tie-ins: as adverts for the next season.

Jesse the Pen of Doom (What were Mr and Mrs Pen of Doom thinking when they gave their son the middle name of “the”?) over at 8 Days a Geek thinks that if you like sex and violence, you will like this. But he also notes what few other reviewers have — the precise moment in series continuity where the book is set, which he praises as a “great bridge between two key points.”

John Neal at Celebrity Cafe: “Clements is able to take readers deeper into the gladiator’s mind and reveal his thoughts and actions… an entertaining read and an excellent companion to the series”

Pilbeam at Defective Geeks: “It’s bloody, violent, vulgar and full of sex. And that’s just in the first chapter”!

Kate Lane at Shadowlocked calls it a “toga ripper”, noting that the nature of reading a book rather than watching a TV show makes sex and violence more garish and disturbing. She says it’s: “a fabulous, well written tale that grabs the reader by the throat and slams them around a tits-, tans- and testosterone- filled version of ancient Rome that leaves them breathless.”

George Sakalis at Extra Hype says: “By Jupiter’s cock, I recommend this book and if the following Spartacus books are like this one, then Titan Books will have a great tie-in series!” With a name like his, I was expecting some flak for the way the book treats Greeks, but it seems he took it all in context, as an example of historically accurate racism. Phew.

“Fitz” at Blogcritics likes the imagery, and quotes one of the scenes I liked the most.

John Redfearn at Bookgeeks finds himself “more interested in trying to work out the rules for deciding when people say ‘the’ or ‘a’ and when they leave them out than in what would happen next.”

Meanwhile, over on Amazon, there’s a growing number of reviews, from a very interesting bunch of readers, seemingly equally divided between those who have seen the TV series, and those who now want to.

[Time travel footnote. The translations are getting some nice notices, too. Here’s Wulf Bengsch getting very enthusiastic auf Deutsch.]