I was never a fan of Tokyopop, so when news came out that their US arm was folding, my initial reaction was closer to “Fantastic!” than “Oh no!”.
It’s not like I didn’t give the then fledgling publisher a chance to prove itself — I did purchase the odd volume or two from them. However, too many things about the way they produced manga in English irked me, which was why I never evolved from curious passerby to hardcore fan.
Tokyopop translations were subpar.
My first experience with Tokyopop’s horrific translation work was with their much-maligned release of Shigeno Shuuchi’s Initial D. Instead of a moving coming-of-age story set to the beat of fast cars and midnight mountain races, what I got instead was a Southern California street mods scene filled with ghetto blasters and bitches in short skirts. This is Initial D gentlemen, not The Fast and the Furious — I AM DISAPPOINT.
I can’t be bothered to outline every single thing that annoyed me with Tokyopop’s Initial D, as the list would be long and peppered with swear words. I did manage however — after some creative Googling, to find a post on The Reader Eclectic that outlined nearly every single grammatical and translation error in a volume of Tokyopop’s Petshop of Horrors.
It was embarrassing to see how many errors were found — it felt like Tokyopop didn’t even care if they put out a quality translation or not. If the company didn’t do a proper job before releasing a product out into the wild, then why bother doing it at all? Closing shop was probably the best thing they did for their target market — the nearly penniless manga fan.
They flooded the market with mediocre titles.
Tokyopop was all about quantity, not quality; they held a whole slew of licenses for such forgettable series as Cherry Juice, Happy Cafe, and Shrine of the Morning Mist. And although Tokyopop also held the licenses for such watershed titles as Sailormoon and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles, the fact that the English versions of these manga paled in comparison to their Chinese or even French counterparts, meant that even with a sure bet Tokyopop was bound to eff it up.
And don’t get me started on the OEMs (original English manga). Granted, there were a couple of titles that deserved to be published — but they were so few and far between that no one could be bothered fishing them out of an ocean of mediocre art and immature storytelling. Many of the titles from their OEM catalog were simply works by authors who were willing to play ball with Tokyopop, never mind that they still needed a lot of mentoring in both writing and drawing.
Tokyopop also became the international manga industry’s version of self-publishing hell. Anyone — as long as they had clout with Stu Levy and his choir of sycophants, or had money to burn, could get Tokyopop to publish their “manga” and sell them to unsuspecting fans. The most sterling example of this would be Courtney Love’s “Princess Ai” — which in my opinion was a complete waste of paper and Yazawa Ai’s talent.
America’s Greatest Otaku whut?!
When Tokyopop came up with the hare-brained scheme to find America’s Greatest Otaku, I was convinced that the company had hit an all-time low — even for Tokyopop.
Suffering from a lack of sales, the steady defection of its Japanese manga licensees to other publishers (or setting up shop in America on their own), and the omnipresence of torrent and manga-share sites on the internet, it seemed ludicrous for Tokyopop to spend massive amounts of money at AGO instead of using the funds to rehabilitate the floundering company.
The show also reeked of Stu Levy’s thinly disguised plans to market himself as the Messiah of Manga in the English-speaking world (it looks like Manga Therapy thought so too). Instead of the show being about “finding America’s biggest anime fan”, it became “The Stu Levy Show on How to be Otaku LIEK OMG ME”. Uh — no thanks
In conclusion — yes, Tokyopop changed the way manga was viewed in America (and by extension other English-speaking countries all over the world), but not necessarily for the better.
We may have more titles, better distribution, and more affordable books today than we did ten years ago — but those strides were nearly overshadowed by the dodgy translation, lazy editing, and bad marketing moves that had become synonymous with Tokyopop. So sayounara, Tokyopop. I’d like to say I’m sorry to see you go — but let’s face it, I’m not.