A Very Important Thing About Licensing Manga Fans Don’t Really Understand

October 17th, 2013

In response to the news about Whispered Words, being licensed, a fan expressed a wish that One Peace Books also rescue Poor Poor Lips.  This gives me a good opening to discuss something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while here. There is one very important component to licensing manga that most fans don’t understand.

Sasamekikoto, as I explain in my NYCC report, is owned by Media Factory (who also owns Strawberry Panic!). Poor Poor Lips is owned by Takeshobo. One Peace Books has a relationship with Media Factory, which is how they got this title. Unless they have a relationship with Takeshobo, it is not likely they can get Poor Poor Lips.

All Japanese manga licensing is done based on prior relationship. (This goes for almost every other kind of licensing, as well, but we’ll confine ourselves to discussing manga.) Companies cannot just email Japanese publishers and ask for what individual series they want. It takes time and effort to build personal relationships with the publishers. So do not be surprised if One Peace Books never, ever gets Poor Poor Lips no matter how often you ask them. Seven Seas cannot license a Kodansha title, and Viz gets first dibs on Hakusensha titles (and can block other publishers from getting them, even if they don’t want to publish it themselves.)

This is why, even though Strawberry Panic! might have been popular, it had exactly zero impact on whether we’d ever see Maria-sama ga Miteru in English. In fans’ minds, the titles are similar. In reality, the Media Factory title has no connection at all to the Shueisha title.

In the same way that the demographic target of a book may appear irrelevant to you as a reader, but it informs the way the book was written; it may not seem important to you to understand that one story you read was published by Hobunsha and another by Futabasha. Indeed, to you the “publisher” may be Lililicious or Dynasty Scans. But in the actual business of manga, these distinctions have real meaning. You do not need to know who publishes what book, but be aware that when you send a letter to a western publisher and they reply, “We won’t be getting that book” that is, really, the final word on the matter. Bags of mail can’t change that.

Arguing that you have lack of expertise (or, perhaps, disinterest) in the nitty-gritty of manga genre and publishing is not a strong defense. There is nothing wrong at all with wishing for a thing, of course, but letting fan delusion get in the way of understanding reality, makes it harder to comprehend the why things are the way they are. ^_^

The 600-lb. gorilla in the room is the fundamental fact that western fans often ignore - Japanese manga is published for a Japanese audience. They buy far more of it than we do, by orders of zeroes. Japanese publishers don’t much care if we aren’t happy with panty shots, or can’t tell the difference between a shounen or a seinen title. And it really doesn’t affect them if we ask random publishers to get books they have no access to. But it does, honestly, effect the western publishers. Imagine being the poor schlub who answers emails at Viz, if we all sent them emails begging them to license Collectors. (Which they have first dibs on, since it is a Hakusensha title.) You’d have feel bad for them, wouldn’t you? ^_^; And how much worse, when a publisher gets a license request for something they can’t even ask for, because they don’t speak to that publisher. There’s only so many times they can answer a question like that before it becomes soul-crushing.

It’s perfectly fine to hope that you’ll get to see your favorite manga licensed. It is less fine to respond to news of one license with misguided, randomly targeted desire for something else. Imagine, if you gave your best friend a gift and their response was, “Cool! I really hope I’ll also get this other thing I want, too.”

I encourage Yuri fans to rise above the general level of cluelessness of fandom. The more we know, the better we, as fans, can leverage our buying power and focus it intelligently.

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9 Responses

  1. Cheryl Mason-Middleton says:

    Of course, one option is to learn Japanese and purchase the title directly through the publisher’s website. If you do, you’ll also get to be in on some of the subtleties and nuances that don’t translate into English, and make the story richer, funnier, more imaginative,…

    If you think it’s difficult learning Japanese, well yes, it is, but just the learning will enrich your life and enjoyment!

  2. Yes indeed Cheryl. When you can read the original, a world of options open up. ^_^ Investing in knowledge is never a bad thing.

  3. Lindsey says:

    A lot of the subtleties and nuances still go over my head… especially puns. Well, practice makes perfect I guess. Although I must say, after struggling my way through Sasamekikoto in Japanese, I definitely look forward to reading it in English.

  4. Mars-Flame-Sniper says:

    I’m guessing this is why Seven Seas hasn’t been able to publish any Hayate x Blade since volume 6? From what I remember, it switched publishers in Japan. It’s a shame, since HxB is a fantastic series…

  5. insaneben says:

    Years ago, when I saw that Seven Seas license-rescued Blood Alone, I thought maybe, just maybe, they’d consider giving a few other Media Factory titles another shot (since four out of six of the titles I’d like to see license-rescued were published by Media Factory). Alas, it was a no-go. I also tried the same thing with Kodansha Comics and two titles Del Rey had published prior to Kodansha’s takeover, but once again, I got stonewalled. On top of that, Seven Seas can’t publish any further volumes of Blood Alone since the series switched publishers.

    Long story short, I tried using the “publisher relationship” angle to get a few series license-rescued, but it didn’t work (yet).

    Off-topic, are there any stateside published currently distributing Mag Garden-owned titles?

    • The “relationship angle” isn’t something we, as readers, have control over. Publishing companies make decisions based on more than just a letters from fans. And JP publishers often have their own requirements for western distributors. So all we can do is ask nicely, no more.

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