Manga Goes Digital (Mania.com)
Reprinted with permission by the author
October 15, 2002
As the saying goes, "something old, something new." In that spirit, companies are just like the people that work in them. Both can evolve and change their focus according to market trends, consumer tastes, and the business competition.
A case in point is Digital Manga. For many of you, its name may ring a bell but still you can't quite place what they do or stand for. Well, in this column, I will shed a little more light on this company and some of their plans for the near future.
Books from Nippan
This past summer I reacquainted myself with some of the principals who head this organization. Ed Lewis, Director of Sales, neatly summarized his recent corporate history, "I've been with Digital Manga a little over a year since they purchased the Books Nippan Anime division." Specialty retailers who helped establish the nascent U.S. market for anime and manga should be familiar with his former employer. The U.S. arm of a well-established Japanese bookstore chain, Books Nippan imported a wide array of Japanese entertainment media, from coffee table books to CD soundtracks for popular animated films.
Digital Manga's President, Hikaru Sasahara, was no stranger to these developments. Back in 1998, his small team was on the bleeding edge, trying to produce "digital manga" on CD-ROMs. I remember visiting his Santa Monica office to preview a computerized demo of Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow. I wondered if I was witnessing just a cool concept or the beginning of a new mass market hit for multimedia PCs.
Whether a little ahead of its time or just on a curve that never took off, CD-ROM comics aren't with us today. Whatever the case, Sasahara kept moving. Making the transition to operate a retail store in West Los Angeles, he soon became convinced he had to return to up the food chain to shape the creation and distribution of consumer products, not merely resell them. To pursue that goal, he decided to take control over a listing Books Nippan operation, maintain its base in Carson, California, and continue to be a player across the spectrum of anime merchandising.
Over lunch in Little Toyko on the weekend of a busy Anime Expo, Sasahara admitted that brokering deals is exhausting work. But being an industry insider comes in handy, especially in today's age of lumbering Hollywood studios who have awakened to the anime phenomenon. One particularly recent successes was his agreement with Threshold Entertainment (producers of the Mortal Kombat movies) to develop Madhouse's Ninja Scroll, the critically praised 1994 anime.
Hoping this partnership will bear fruit in the near future, Digital Manga is bringing more products into the U.S. The mission is to please the spectrum of interest than an "otaku" could have: from inspirational art books and utilitarian drawing guides to the special ink pens that real manga illustrators wield. How successful has their efforts been to catering to hobbyists? Let's take a closer look at two of their latest products to find out.
How to Draw Manga Series
Published by Graphic-Sha in Japan, this line of do-it-yourself manuals has been a bona fide smash in America. Over a dozen prior volumes have been published, focusing on genres, genders, and specific types of scenes. For example, How to Draw Anime and Game Characters, vol. 4 covers the principles of human motion and how to illustrate characters who kick butt.
As the popularity of manga continues to rise, naturally readers of all ages try to imitate what entertains them. Signifying the generational change in taste, this line of drawing books has inherited the mantle of Marvel's How to Draw. But in step with the times, this series packs in the poses and adds in as many new spin-offs as possible to slake the insatiable thirst for more instruction. As testament to its attractive sales, imitators have abounded to soak up any spillover interest.
In lieu of providing an introductory course in martial arts, this latest volume does a creditable job depicting a variety of punches, kicks and sequences now familiar to video gamers everywhere. Every pose is accompanied by numerous angles and hints pointing at specific parts of the model's body. Though sample page layouts or depictions of weapons aren't included, the ending creator Q&A is a nice touch ($19.99, b/w, 168 pages).
Virtual Beauties 2020
Jar Jar Binks aside, the future of digital actors and actresses has never looked brighter. Not only was the Academy Award for an animated film won by a 100% computer generated production, but conventional features routinely incorporate FX so seamlessly than viewers can hardly tell where reality leaves off.
Appealing to both the voyeur and the aspiring illustrator, comes this paperback gallery of computer graphics portraits created by leading Japanese artists. Naturally since the creators are men, the models are drawn from the heights of libidinous fantasy. Appropriately, subjects range from the leading lady Aki Ross from the recent Final Fantasy movie to teen idols, and eye-candy from video games such as Ridge Racer.
Each artist in turn shares his style, work habits, and inspiration behind his most popular creations. An added plus are 3D modeling and step-by-step animation techniques with industry software such as 3D Studio Max and Alias|Wavefront Maya. Part pinup and part portfolio, Virtual Beauties shows how far computers have changed art, and how far fanatics have yet to go ($39.95, color, 200 pgs).
Manga in the Millenium
As the manga market has gotten more crowded, it takes more of everything to stand out. Contractual advances. Commitment to quality. Speed of production. Marketing and tie-ins. Aware of the changing playing field, Sasahara wants to build a more direct relationship with fans by providing more information online, as well as coming out with unique product offerings. Having been through the cycles before, Digital Manga will no doubt continue to adapt with the times.