Sunday, December 26, 2021

Theory Musing: An Alternate Take on Anime Licensing... And Why It'd Never Actually Work

On December 11, 2021, Pluto TV started streaming The Gutsy Frog, TMS' 1972-1974 anime adaptation of Yasumi Yoshizawa's comedy manga classic (& one of Shonen Jump's earliest hit manga), an anime which had never seen official English release before, or at least in a fashion that was widely available like this. For example, it had previously had an English subbed broadcast in Hawaii back in the day, which did happen for some anime over the decades, due to Hawaii's notable Japanese population. Unfortunately, it was quickly found out that the subtitle translation for Pluto TV's streams were of "dubious" quality, leaving some to wonder if TMS had actually gone with a literal machine translation, while others wonder if TMS simply just used the same translation as that old Hawaiian broadcast; either way, the translation was absolute crap & made the show hard to enjoy properly. Unfortunately, this is something that has honestly started becoming slightly more common as more companies start offering Japanese media when they traditionally aren't experienced in it beforehand; just look at the translations for Mill Creek's releases of shows like The Ultraman or Gridman: The Hyper Agent. To be honest, I can't exactly fault these companies, as they are simply looking for content to put out, and if there's already an existing translation (no matter how unknown it was publicly in the past) then they'll use it.

However, incidents like these remind me of a concept I've continually had in my head for a number of years, one that would technically reduce the likelihood of subpar translations being used for titles (especially anime) that would otherwise almost never get traditionally licensed. Unfortunately, every time I think about this concept I come to same conclusion... IT'D NEVER WORK OUT. So allow me some time to ruminate my thoughts & feelings regarding this concept.

While the absolute ins & outs of anime licensing will forever remain a trade secret (& for good reason), there have been articles in the past decade that have helped explain the general idea of how it works. Things like how long a license generally lasts (5-7 years has been the usual standard ever since the mid-00s or so), what a "minimum guarantee/MG" is, certain terms of agreements when it comes to stuff like regions & restrictions, & even a rough idea of who to talk to to get things going are now general knowledge, or at least can be found out relatively easily. However, this also means that, for the most part, anime licensing follows a relatively rigid format, one that doesn't really allow for much experimentation to be done. Aside from finer details involving the differences between streaming & home video, licensing an anime usually comes down to the same path, which would be "Get the license for a set amount of time, upon which the licensee has to produce a release with hopes that it will do well enough to not just recoup the total costs of the MG & production of said release, but also continue selling so as to make a profit for the licensee, upon which the original licensor starts getting regular royalty payments for said license". This has been the standard for decades, and doesn't look to change in any way, for good reason.

So what exactly is the point of my concept?

Monday, December 20, 2021

Ninja Bugeicho (Band of Ninja): A Manga Adaptation In Its "Purest" Form?

On October 8, 2021, Noboru Okamoto passed away at age 89, due to aspiration pneumonia; four days later, his brother Tatsuji passed away of interstitial pneumonia. However, Noboru Okamoto was better known by his pen name, Sanpei Shirato, one synonymous with things like the rise of gekiga during the 60s & 70s, the foundation of gekiga magazine Garo, and his penchant for social criticism by way of stories involving ninja, while Tatsuji was an occasional collaborator with his brother. However, what's even more interesting is that Shirato's apparent left-leaning stories were influenced in part by his father, Toki Okamoto (1903-1986), who himself had a notable life. Toki was a well known proletariat painter & good friend of Takiji Kobayashi, author of the 1929 short story Crab Cannery Ship who was summarily tortured & killed in 1933 by the infamous Tokko (a.k.a. the "Thought Police") because of his socialist ideals; Toki was one of the people photographed with Kobayashi's corpse shortly afterwards. Also, in 1929, Toki taught some 19-year old nobody called Akira Kurosawa how to paint... I guess that name rings a bell, right?

Anyway, Noboru Okamoto's dream was to become an equal to his father as an artist, and initially started off drawing images for kamishibai shows. In 1957, he was encouraged by Kazuma Maki (a female mangaka who was also in the same theater troupe as him) to enter manga, so after working under Maki as an assistant for a short bit "Sanpei Shirato" made his professional debut with the short story The Kogarashi Swordsman later that August. After two years of producing rental manga, Shirato made his non-rental debut in 1959 with Ninja Bugeicho/The Ninja Martial Arts Book, later getting the subtitle Kagemaru-den/The Tale of Kagemaru, which was published by Sanyosha (now known as Seirindo), a publisher founded by Katsuichi Nagai, who would later become the first editor-in-chief of Garo magazine. Ninja Bugeicho would run until 1962 for 17 volumes, its length being a rarity at the time (it rivaled the likes of Astro Boy & Tetsujin 28!), and today is not only considered one of the earliest gekiga stories, but it quickly found itself a fervent fanbase among left-leaning students & intellectuals, who felt that its themes mirrored that of the Anpo protests that were happening at the same time; Shirato denied that this was intentional, however. Though a pilot was made for a potential TV anime in 1969 by TCJ (now Eiken), which Shirato apparently denied, Ninja Bugeicho did find itself adapted into film in 1967 by Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas, Mr. LawrenceIn the Realm of the Senses), which over the years has also been referred to as both Band of Ninja & Tales of the Ninja. For the sake of clarity, I'll use Ninja Bugeicho when referring to the manga, but Band of Ninja when referring to the movie.

However, Band of Ninja today is infamous because of the way it was produced, making it possibly the most unique film in Nagisa Oshima's entire catalog... Which, from what I can tell as a complete Oshima neophyte, is definitely saying something.

Monday, December 13, 2021

There's a Whole "Sesang" Out There: North America's History with Korea's Long-Running Manhwa Part 2

While the world of traditional printed Korean manhwa is still around, it's definitely nowhere near the size it was back in the heyday of the medium, i.e. from the 90s to the late-00s. Part of that was due to a double-blow in 1997, which saw both a financial crisis in Eastern Asia (though not Japan or China, interestingly enough) & exclusive to South Korea was the passing of a "Youth Protection Law" that seemingly went a little too far, in some regards. Because of this, & likely other factors, many manhwa magazines eventually went out of business by the late 90s or during the 00s, while even the most successful magazines either consolidated with sibling magazines, slowed down publication pace, or did both. For example, Seoul Cultural's IQ Jump went from weekly to biweekly in mid-2005, followed by Daewon C.I.'s Comic Champ (which had been Boys Champ until 2002) doing the same at the start of 2006, while Haksan Publishing's Chance & Booking magazines both went from biweekly to monthly in 2009, before simply getting fused together into its current form, Chance Plus, in 2012.

What has helped keep these old printed magazines still relevant in today's webtoon-obsessed market? Namely, they've always had some help from their Easterly neighbor...

Wait, in South Korea, Dragon Ball & One Piece are in...
rival magazines?! Whaaaaaaaaaaaa........?????!!!!

Yes, you are not seeing things. Shueisha does not have a singular publishing partner in South Korea, so ever since the 90s it's worked with Seoul Cultural, Daewon C.I, & Haksan. Because of that, while Dragon Ball has been associated with a magazine called "Jump" over there ever since 1989, & it even shares a home with Shogakukan's Detective Conan ("Dogs & cats living together; mass hysteria!"), titles like One Piece, Naruto, Boruto, & even Slam Dunk are associated with Champ, while something like Spy x Family currently runs in Chance Plus. However, also residing in those same magazines are homegrown Korean manhwa, some of which would thrive alongside their Japanese cohorts, so let's return to those long-running manhwa that actually did see English release, and see how much (or little) we actually received of some of the longest manhwa of all time. A couple of them are so long, in fact, that they even rival the likes of Naruto, Bleach, & Gintama; one not only surpasses them all, but is still running to this very day!

TokyoPop was responsible for a literal 2/3 of the titles in this second half, and it just so happens that the first five we'll be covering all come from that publisher.

Monday, December 6, 2021

There's a Whole "Sesang" Out There: North America's History with Korea's Long-Running Manhwa Part 1

On November 18, 2021 it was announced by Wattpad Webtoon Studios that it would launch the "Webtoon Unscrolled" imprint, which would release popular & successful webtoons, a type of manhwa (South Korea's equivalent to Japan's manga) in physical & digital graphic novels, rather than only have them be available in the scrollable "infinite canvas" online format that they have become popular with. Today, whenever anyone thinks of manhwa they instantly think of webtoons, but that concept is actually relatively recent, having only been introduced in 2003 (& not leaving South Korea officially until 2014), while the concept of South Korean comics has been around for much longer than that. The term "manhwa" first came about in the 1920s, while the first manhwa magazine, Manhwa Haengjin ("Comic Parade"), didn't happen until 1948 (though it was quickly shut down), & South Korea's first "boy's manhwa" magazine wasn't until 1988 with Seoul Cultural Publisher's IQ Jump; it's never been confirmed to be named after Shonen Jump, but we all know the truth. From IQ Jump's debut to the time when webtoons started to really overtake printed manhwa (which looks to be around 2010 or so), South Korea had its own competitive printed comic industry that went by mostly unnoticed by the rest of the world... Until the turn of the millennium, that is.

While in Japan it's Sunday, Magazine, & Jump,
in South Korea it's Chance, Champ, &... Jump.
Some things are universal, I guess.

Starting in the early 00s, during the original North American manga boom, numerous manga publishers started licensing various manhwa, in an attempt to expand out into other countries' take on comics; a handful also tried out Chinese manhua. While some series did see great success in English during this time, like Ragnarök by Lee Myung-Jin & Priest by Hyung Min-Woo, most manhwa were seemingly looked at by North American manga fans at the time as nothing more than second-rate, or even seen as "bootleg manga" because of its country of origin, which is unfortunate; luckily, manhwa has continued to see occasional release in English to this day. However, while many shorter manhwa did manage to see complete release (or eat least mostly-complete release) during the 00s, & today most manhwa released in English are shorter series, it should be remembered that manhwa is indeed an entire industry in South Korea, and while webtoons are now the primary way people read them there are still print manhwa magazines to this day, with the big three being Daewon C.I.'s Comic Champ (which debuted in 1991), Haksan Publishing's Chance Plus (its legacy reaching back to 1995), & the aforementioned IQ Jump. In fact, Daewon, Haksan, & Seoul Cultural were where the majority of manhwa were licensed from during the 00s. Because of that history, there are obviously various manhwa that wound up running for long periods of time, & some are even are still running to this day.

Unbeknownst to most, a good number of those long-running manhwa did see English release at one point or another, but unfortunately pretty much all of them wound up being unfinished over here; some got a decent amount released, while others barely went anywhere. So let's take a general look at all the ones I could identify, with a minimum length of 20 volumes, and see how each one of them fared.