The end of an era?

I’m currently working on an article for Comics Bulletin about the US shutdown of mainstream manga publisher TOKYOPOP a few weeks ago. The whole mess has me asking a lot of questions about the future of the industry, especially since I’m supposed to be writing it as an investigative piece about what really happened. From what I found, there are multiple layers that contribute to TOKYOPOP’s decline, but one that really sticks out to me is the scanlation “industry.”

Scanlations are fan-translated computer scans of manga titles–many which haven’t been claimed by a US publisher. However, there are popular series like Nana, Death Note, Naruto, etc. that are still being illegally published online. When one site is forced to take the series down, it quickly pops up on another–a never-ending tug of war between publishers trying to recoup their losses and manga fans who want the series on demand for free.

I interviewed one fan who mercilessly blamed consumers of scanlations for the decline of TOKYOPOP and said he preferred owning paperback copies of his manga rather than read online. It made me reflect back on my love for Shojo Beat magazine, a subscription renewed every Christmas for me by mom for about 3 years. I loved flipping through the 300-page magazine all at once, devouring my favorite stories and anxiously guessing what would happen next with my sister.

When Shojo Beat folded and sent a said letter to me in the mail about my subscription, I read my first scanlation. I didn’t even know scanlations existed until a Facebook friend made a comment about reading Nana, my favorite comic in Shojo Beat, on OneManga.com. I immediately went to the site and drooled over all the titles available at the click of a mouse–entirely free. After romance title after title, I explored other genres and discovered my favorite: Death Note. I swear I did nothing that summer but read manga and go to work–I was hooked.

There’s a part of me that will always feel guilty for reading all that manga online for free. It wasn’t helping the mangaka any bit and it was screwing over publishers like TOKYOPOP. But at the same time, my love and interest in other genres wouldn’t have grown if not for OneManga. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who feels like this, but it won’t make it stop. Just as people continue to download music through torrents, scanlation groups will continue to find new host sites to upload their projects.

I don’t think it’s the end of manga, but it’s definitely a threat.

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Earthquake and Cultural Values

I’ve been terrible about keeping this blog up to date, especially after all of the devastation with the tsunami and earthquakes in Japan. It’s almost surreal watching the news videos of the tsunami swallowing whole cities and the earthquake destroying buildings and homes almost effortlessly. My dream has always been to travel to Japan, and it breaks my heart that it will never be the same again.

One story I found particularly interesting among all the coverage of the past few weeks was one of my fellow classmate’s observations about the cultural values of Japan, post-natural disaster (http://www.newsy.com/videos/why-is-there-no-looting-in-japan). Her story focuses on how despite all the destruction, the people were helping each other by sharing their food, cleaning up fallen stores and essentially not stealing or looting, despite how easy it would be. It touched my heart in one clip showing a Japanese man offering his meager pot of soup to one of the American reporters talking to him, smiling humbly and persistently offering a bowl.

It made me wonder if the New Madrid fault line here in Missouri were to suddenly trigger an earthquake, would Americans do the same? The culture of the Mid-West is much different from anywhere in the US, stereotypically portrayed as honest, down-to-earth people who will wave you through the intersection even if they clearly stopped first (I won’t even get into this story, since it drives the Southern girl in my insane!). But if we were to wake up tomorrow and everything was destroyed, what would happen? Sadly, I imagine a “everyone for themselves” type of attitude, especially in a college town like Columbia. I imagine chaos well before the City could restore order. I imagine nothing like what I saw in the Newsy video.

This realization makes me want to fight even harder to travel to Japan one day, to always keep this image in the back of my mind when I interact with people or when someone asks for help. I want to embody this miraculous part of their culture, if not to respect the tradition, but to carry on and hopefully even inspire a similar sense of camaraderie among American people. If there’s one thing we can learn from this tragedy, it’s that money isn’t the answer for quick recovery. It’s unity and tolerance that will help us immediately, and humbleness and strength of will that will carry us forward to the future.