Manga Mania (Mania.com)
Date: Thursday, January 29, 2004
2003 proved to be a banner year for manga releases in North America. Every week, manga enthusiasts could find a large variety of offerings from many of the mainstays in the industry as well as some hot titles from a few new upstarts. Fans of manga can also take heart when one of those upstarts is a long established company, simply expanding into a market ripe for growth.
ADV Manga appeared on the stage officially at Anime Expo in 2003. At the previous Anime Expo, ADV was showing off preview copies of Newtype USA which helped fuel early rumors that ADV was getting into the manga business. ADV's preview issue contained the first chapter of the Full Metal Panic manga, with subsequent chapters being printed each month in Newtype's regular run. Word reached fans that Full Metal Panic would be published in graphic novel format, and speculation ran wild. While not truly a surprise, the announcement at 2003's Anime Expo received thunderous applause. From there, Matt Greenfield and David Williams read off the list of upcoming titles. With names such as Full Metal Panic, Azumanga Daioh, Steel Angel Kurumi and Those Who Hunt Elves sounded more like a rehashing of ADV's anime line than a list of upcoming manga titles. Fans were also teased with the announcement of the RahXephon Bible, building hopes that ADV had the rights to the manga. There were also a few titles not related to any anime ADV holds, but a lot of focus was on the familiar titles.
Now, early in 2004, ADV Manga is releasing a steady stream of titles each month. There total releases each month are quite on the volume of industry leaders Viz and TOKYOPOP, but each is making a solid impact in terms of quality and fan attraction. ADV Manga has announced that they have licensed nearly 200 titles with many more in the works. While names have been steadily coming out, and shipping dates slowly announced, the true depth of their line has yet to be seen. Most of their manga titles stay true to the core of ADV's anime releases, mainly action and adventure titles mixing fan service, mecha and light romance. Looking at the overall market, these titles tend to have a larger appeal, not really leaning towards any particular submarket like shoujo titles. ADV Manga is also taking the approach of trying to license both the anime and manga for a particular title, but this is never an easy task as the license for each is often held by different licensors in Japan. A few titles managed to get past them, such as Saiyuki and RahXephon.
While I've already looked at the first volume release of Full Metal Panic, I'll take another look at the series as a whole, and talk about ADV Manga's other big title, Azumanga Daioh.
Full Metal Panic story by Shouji Gatou, art by Retsu Tateo
The flagship title for ADV Manga, Full Metal Panic sets the foundation for the rest of the titles that follow. Sticking with the fan popular Japanese format, the title reads from right to left and even goes as far as mimicking the format of the original Japanese release, minus the dust cover common to most Japanese graphic novels. Full Metal Panic is a fun series mixing high adrenaline military mecha action with high school mischief. While the anime follows much seen in the manga, it tends to focus more on the military aspects of Full Metal Panic, with a few ventures into the funnier, school based storylines. In fact, many of the early tales of the manga make their appearances in the follow-up series, Full Metal Panic Fumoffu. (Fumoffu is a reference to a character that makes his appearance in vol 4 of the manga.) Of course, until Fumoffu is licensed, fans will have to be satisfied with ADV Manga's release of the series to see many of these stories.
Azumanga Daioh creator Kiyohiko Azuma
Azumanga Daioh is a title that has gotten a lot of attention for various reasons. The story focuses around a group of girls and a few of their teachers at a high school in Japan. Written in the format of a 4-panel strip, the story doesn't waste a lot of time on intricate character introductions, or even bother with extended storylines. In fact, most of the strips follow the simple format of setup and punchline with their topic quickly fading as you go on to the next strip. This format allows Azumanga Daioh to be an easy series to get into, as most of the jokes don't require great understanding of the characters involved. Of course, each character has their own set of quirks, which allows devout followers of the series to gain more out of what is going on than casual readers.
So what is the appeal of a series with such a simple premise? The characters come across as very honest and real, the predicaments they find themselves in are very relatable and as a reader, you don't have to put a lot of mental energy into figuring out what is going on. While there are a few critics that contend Azumanga Daioh is simply feeding off of some lolicon vibe, it's really just a funny story about a bunch of high school girls. For those that enjoy a simple story played for laughs, then Azumanga Daioh is a strong recommendation.
ADV Manga, here to stay
With the full resources of the corporate machine behind them, it's clear that ADV Manga has made a commitment for the long haul, and plans to be a major player in the manga market. While they have a large amount of titles at their disposal, they are making the right move by focusing on a few titles each month. The market is already near saturation, and for many of us manga fans on a budget, it's already difficult to get all the titles we want each month.
ADV Manga is also focusing on quality of their releases. While the titles don't have the original dust covers like the original releases, things like the right to left format, color pages and even the size of the book remain consistent with the original Japanese release. While many felt that ADV Manga was sticking with a standard size seen with Full Metal Panic and Azumanga Daioh, Steel Angel Kurumi showed up in the smaller "midget-manga" format. While size isn't that big of an issue, fans should take notice that ADV Manga is paying attention to the details.
While you may feel that I'm particularly biased towards ADV Manga, the truth is I always get excited at the potential for more Manga titles to hit the market. There are tons of anime series in Japan that may never come out in North America, but their manga counterparts stand a better chance in the current manga market. In many ways, a good release of a manga title can often pave the way for its anime series. There are also a ton of gems in manga that never get animated, so having more companies in the market means those gems have a chance of being published.
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Freelance Writer & Adventurer