October 31, 2007
Written by C.N.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how Japanese manga is gradually becoming incorporated into mainstream American culture. This time around, Wired Magazine notes that while manga enjoys continuing growth and increasing popularity among American and European consumers, its fortunes back in Japan are less clear:
As you may have noticed, Japanese comics have gripped the global imagination. Manga sales in the US have tripled in the past four years. Titles like Fruits Basket, Naruto, and Death Note have become fixtures on American best-seller lists. Walk into your local bookstore this afternoon and chances are the manga section is bigger than the science fiction collection.
Europe has caught the bug, too. In the United Kingdom, the Catholic Church is using manga to recruit new priests. One British publisher, in an effort to hippify a national franchise, has begun issuing manga versions of Shakespeare’s plays, including a Romeo and Juliet that reimagines the Montagues and Capulets as rival yakuza families in Tokyo.
Yet in Japan, its birthplace and epicenter, manga’s fortunes are sagging. Circulation of the country’s weekly comic magazines, the essential entry point for any manga series, has fallen by about half over the last decade. Young people are turning their attention away from the printed page and toward the tiny screens on their mobile phones.
Fans and critics complain that manga — which emerged in the years after World War II as an edgy, uniquely Japanese art form — has become as homogenized and risk-averse as the limpest Hollywood blockbuster.
The article describes one potential savior of the Japanese manga industry — copyright piracy. That is, because the existing manga series in Japan are apparently getting stale, amateur manga writers and artists openly “borrow” existing manga characters but add new storylines and plots to them. These limited-run amateur editions serve to revitalize interest and popularity into the entire manga industry.
Technically, this “borrowing” of manga characters by amateurs is illegal. But as the article notes, “Amateur manga remixers aren’t merely replicating someone else’s work. They’re creating something original. And in doing so, they may well be helping, not hindering, the commercial interests of the copyright holders.”
So far, everyone wins. Is this implicit agreement between the copyright holders and amateurs likely to stay in place for long? As long as both sides are making money, it probably will.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "The State of Manga in Japan and the U.S." Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/10/the-state-of-manga-in-japan-and-the-us/> ().
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