Last weekend, there was a disturbance in the Force as the international manga industry reeled from the closure of the US arm of manga publisher Tokyopop. The company’s German branch will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.
The announcement was seen as inevitable, after the loss of several bankable licenses from Japanese publisher Kodansha, as well as the bankruptcy and closure of giant American book chain Borders — one of Tokyopop’s biggest customers. There have also been prominent resignations and mass lay-offs in the US Tokyopop staff, which signaled to industry pundits that the company was in very dire straits.
Although I was never a fan of English-translated manga (I prefer reading manga in Japanese), there is no denying the influence that Tokyopop had over the general manga-buyng public. The publisher not only introduced such venerable titles as Sailormoon to ordinary readers, it was also one of the first publishers who sold “unmirrored” books that read right-to-left — keeping much of the flow and stylistic rhythm of the original Japanese comic intact.
There is also, however, no denying of the publisher’s many goofs. One of my favorite pet peeves with Tokyopop was the horrible, horrible localization of seinen racing manga Initial D. In the Tokyopop version, the charismatic Japanese mountain racers that made up most of the cast of Initial D had morphed into ghetto-slang spouting inner-city street racers — including the sophisticated, moneyed Takahashi brothers. Not cool
However, every cloud has a silver lining — in this case: Kodansha — after letting its contract with Tokyopop expire for several titles, will be bringing back Sailormoon. The Japanese publisher has promised the re-release to be “truer to the original manga” than its previous English incarnation, which fans are hoping translates into Haruka and Michiru no longer masquerading as cousins, and now knowing each other in the Biblical sense of the word.