A Glass Half Empty?

kindle mangaLast month’s column discussed the ongoing drift of manga into digital publishing. In the weeks since, new statistics have come to light about just how pervasive digital publishing has become. A recent report by Yano Research revealed that digital manga publishing in the fiscal year ending in spring 2014 raked in an incredible 65 billion yen (£363 million), accounting for a whopping 80% of the entire digital book market in Japan.

zu01Digital publishing continues to rise all over the world. Many of you will actually be reading this article on a digital edition of NEO, so well done all you early adopters, you. But there are other knock-on effects. Manga are going to become less visible in the real world, as e-publishing initiatives slowly strip them from shelves in corner shops and bookstores. I predict the almost total disappearance of erotica from public view, as furtive consumers squirt it all directly onto their tablets without having to slide it under their raincoats. Teen stuff will be next, and their older cousins in mature manga will lag behind. Before long, there will just be a few legacy titles in the Luddite pensioner market, and smaller print-runs for coffee-shop and noodle-bar browsers.

There is also talk of “enhanced” publishing. Once a creative work is “digitally ingested”, you can fiddle with it and add whistles and bells. Manga publishers are talking of sound effects and read-along audio, maybe even flash-animated panels. This is being billed as some form of higher-level augmentation of manga, which leads me to sound a note of doubt.

Will it really mean better manga? Or will it end up meaning really low-rent, stripped-back, bare-bones anime? Just as marketers put a polite spin on cheapo, minimal-choice adventure games by calling them “virtual novels,” will we find anime companies in the future tempted to rebrand themselves as “enhanced manga publishers” in order to get away with the cheapest animation possible?

Of course, it might be a fad. Paper might come back in, like flares. This was all reported in a magazine called Nikkei Computer, which obviously had an interest in bigging up the digital future. Maybe it’s only the magazines that are going digital, while consumers will still want those bespoke reprint volumes in print. But how will all the enhancements work then…? Pop-ups?

[Time travel footnote – Since this article was published, the University of Hertfordshire has revealed that it is transitioning its 2D Animation course into a Digital Comics and Concept Art course… the first sign of the changes to come?]

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 135, 2015.

Paper View

Weekly_Young_Magazine_10th_issue_(2011)2015 begins with an announcement from the Japanese publisher Kodansha that it plans by June to have all 22 of its manga magazines available as digital releases on the day of their print publication. The first three are already in e-stores – Kodansha has chosen to lead with the big hitters Young magazine and the weekly and monthly Shonen.

Of course, this has been a long time coming. The industry was subjected to an unexpected test in 2011, when paper shortages and transportation snarl-ups after the Tohoku Earthquake led several publishers to go straight to digital on a few titles. The “first three” are not even really first, since Morning magazine has been day-date digital since 2013. But Morning is a magazine for grown-ups, whereas this blanket policy will now incorporate all titles, including Afternoon, Evening, and Good Afternoon for the boys, and Be Love, Nakayoshi and Kiss for the girls.

As a spokesman for Kodansha recently confirmed, the big issue in recent years has not only been the logistics, but a basic change in commuter habits. In effect, it is a statement of faith that teens can, and will access their manga on iPads and laptops in increasing numbers. And, just maybe, that within a few years it will be time to phase out paper altogether. Kiss-Plus

When I first went to Japan in 1992, every carriage on the train was packed with people reading books and magazines. Just as in Europe, any railway station concourse was populated with news-stands offering something to keep you busy on your journey. So, too, were the recycling bins, as commuters discarded tonnes of paper daily. But the rise of the cellphone has completely changed that paradigm. Now there is often barely a single book in evidence per carriage, while everybody thumbs at their mobiles, playing Angry Birds or texting their mates.

Kodansha’s move seems to be a wise bet in ensuring that if the reader won’t buy a physical manga to read any more, they will still have the opportunity to squirt it onto their mobile device.

Will we soon see the death of the double-page splash, as editors fret over the size of phone screens? Are panels going to become squarer and less varied? Or will showmen editors start to offer audio effects and narration, leading not to more vibrant comics, but an excuse for cut-rate “anime” with significantly less animation? Digital manga are nothing new, but the drift towards all manga being digital may have some long-term stylistic effects.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 134, 2015.