Thursday, February 25, 2010

I've gotten into buying manga again. Oh dear.

I spent a lot of money on manga before I went to Japan. Back then, the manga I was buying was usually between $12-$15 a volume. I ended up selling a bunch of those to the used books dept. at Barnes & Noble before I left...and most of the rest during my first visit home.

Ranma 1/2, Gunsmith Cats, Maison Ikkoku, Blade of the Immortal, Vagabond, You're Under Arrest, Battle Angel Alita, Inu Yasha, Fushigi Yuugi, Video Girl Ai, Urusei Yatsura...and probably more that I'm forgetting. I guess these are the ones I wish I didn't have to sell.

Nowadays, manga are a bit cheaper than they were. (That never happens, does it?) Perhaps it's because manga and anime are more popular, so they print more copies; it could also be because localizing manga is a lot easier than it was. They no longer flip the artwork to make it read left to right, for example, and that alleviates the need for a lot of retouching. So...I've started buying manga again, but in a more limited fashion. Hikaru no Go, Oh My Goddess! (which I was buying before), and one other, mentioned below.

Also, the development of high-speed internet has greatly affected how quickly manga gets here from Japan. Before, getting the latest chapters of manga took months after its initial Japanese publication. This led to the rise of "scanlation" groups who would buy manga as it came out in Japan, scan them into graphics files, and insert their own translation via Photoshop.

Now, in addition to trying to shut down these sites (which isn't really working), some companies are trying it themselves.

Rumiko Takahashi, of Ranma and Maison Ikkoku fame, started a new manga, Rin-ne, at just about the same time that I left Japan (April of last year). Back in the day, I would've had to wait until, oh, now, to be able to read it. But Viz Media, the American division of Japanese publisher Shogakukan, has been releasing their own digital translation online pretty much simultaneously with the chapters' original publication in Shonen Sunday. The collected editions are also released the same day that the books come out in Japan.

Rin-ne (or 境界のりんね, if you will) is pretty good, but kind of similar to some of Takahashi's previous work. It could be described as a more lighthearted take on the early parts of Inu-Yasha. You've got the high school girl, Mamiya Sakura, who falls in with the mysterious other person, and they find themselves working together to deal with problems stemming from the supernatural world. In this case, the other person is Rokudo Rinne, a classmate of the protagonist, who is forced by circumstance to work as a shinigami, guiding spirits to their final resting place (sometimes forcibly). Often short of resources, he sometimes has to be very creative in doing his job, and Sakura helps out as much as she can.

One of the things that surprised me the first time that I read Rin-ne was that I can pick out several cultural references that somehow were not noticed by the translators...or at least, they didn't see fit to include them in the notes in back.

For example, Sakura makes mention of how Rinne is using a weather station in back of the school like "Kitaro's Demon Post", which is a reference to Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, a manga drawn by a native of Sakaiminato, the last place in Japan that I lived. In another chapter, one of the devices that Rinne uses in his job says "Zoooooom...IN!" repeatedly. This is a trademark line of the NTV morning show "Zoom In Super!"

...maybe I did live in Japan for too long...

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

I've been a little less geeky than usual...

Somewhere in the mid 1990s, I became interested in Japanese animation and comic books -- anime and manga. I became a fan during the last of the VHS age, and the introduction of the DVD age. Back then, getting anime in its original language, subtitled, was far more expensive -- one or two episodes per tape, for $30-$40. Even dubbed anime was around $20-$30 for a couple of episodes.

I was still a fan when I went to Japan, and for a while I went crazy with buying of anime "memorabilia" (read: crap). However, time and overexposure led me to cut back after a while. A new job with a cut in pay also helped out...

One of the things I did as an anime fan was to write "fan fiction". (The few times I tried creating my own characters, my stories fell firmly in the 90% area of Sturgeon's Law1.) (Come to think of it, I'm not really sure if the rest of my fanfiction output made it out of that 90%...)

Anyway, the bulk of my fan-fiction output is (not very well) hidden on this website somewhere...a few one-shot stories, a songfic, and the first few parts of what would've been an amateur epic. I posted them on an e-mail mailing list called the FFML, where they were fairly well received. However, for a number of reasons, it took me longer and longer to post new stories and new parts of the one story...mirroring the slow decrease of posts on the mailing list. A flood of new fanfics were all of a sudden being posted to Fanfiction.net, and us old-timers on the FFML kind of looked down on most of those. However, since all of the newer fans went there first, coupled with some unfortunate circumstances -- service outages, a need to find new server space (twice in quick succession), etc. -- and a bunch of the old stalwarts giving up on fanfic for some reason or another, led to the FFML becoming pretty much moribund.

As for me personally, I slowed down for several reasons...including a massive continuity mistake in the first chapter, and throwing out my originally planned ending as unworkable...without a new one in mind. Even though I hadn't written anything new in my "epic" in a couple years, I finally broke down and started posting chapters to Fanfiction.net, taking the opportunity to revise a few things as I went. I was surprised to see a few reviews pop up, including one that said the reader had been following the story for a long time, and wondering if I'd ever finish it.

I thought about it, I really did...sometimes I still think about it. But last year, Yumi Touma (voice actress in the anime that I use for fanfiction) wrote something of a fan-fic of her own, a novel which was published by Kodansha in Japan, and Dark Horse in America.Her basic premise has some interesting parallels to mine, although she takes it in a completely different direction. Yikes.

So, my "epic" is in limbo at the moment, awaiting the day when I come up with a new ending, while being as original as possible. I DO want to get back to writing, but I'm not sure when it'll happen. I should post more to Fanfiction.net, a few reviews (either positive or negative) might spur some action on my part...

1 "90% of everything is crud."

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