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May 4, 2013 marked the second anniverary of Free Comic Book Day in the Netherlands. An American institution which I’ve participated in for over a decade now, I was amazed last year to see it brought over to other countries as well.
This year the full selection of free comics was raised from 7 to 10, far less variety than what was offered in the US, but at the same time had many of the charms and stylistic tendencies associated with European comics (even if they may not have been made in Europe!). The comic book store owners I did talk to all seemed to make it a point to tell me that they lose money participating in Free Comic Book Day, and urged me to buy something alongside. In my opinion, this kind of goes against the spirit of Free Comic Book Day in the sense that it isn’t supposed to be a guilt trip, but it might just be a difference in population/costs/other factors which make it not as sustainable as the American FCBD.
Sadly I am mostly illiterate in Dutch so I can’t really talk about the quality of narrative, but I can at least talk about some of the comics which caught my eye, or which most likely would catch yours.
Probably of greatest interest to people would be the Game of Thrones comic, adapted by Tommy Patterson, and actually available in English. I have not read A Song of Ice and Fire, nor have I seen the HBO Game of Thrones, so in terms of accuracy or spirit I can’t really say anything. At the very least the art is vibrant, and I like it way more than Patterson’s previous work on series like Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Next is Sienna, by Desberg, Filmore, and Chetville, about a female government agent. “Sexy women of action” as far as I’ve seen is quite a popular genre here, at least in terms of comics made, and this one takes a more mature and dramatic angle. The art is quite nice, and there’s plenty of violence and (I assume) conspiracy. You can see a small preview here.
De Verborgen Geschiedenis (“The Hidden History”) by Pécau, Kordey, and Chuckry stands out immediately just because of the camel on the cover. As far as I can tell (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the comic appears to mainly be about what its title implies: some mix of conspiracy and secrecy spanning decades. Like both Sienna and even Game of Thrones, it goes for a more serious art style. There’s also a prominent English (?) female military officer in this issue whose name I can’t find. With a prominent scar on her face, she toes the line between sexy and legitimately frightening (more the latter), as her expressions go from cold to menacing throughout the comic. Overall, she comes across as like a female Golgo 13, especially because one scene has her casually waking up surrounded by a pile of naked bodies both male and female.
The last one I want to point is De Legendariërs by Patrick Sobral, due to its overt stylistic influence from anime and manga. Unlike the other three, this one has much more light-hearted feel. Its super-deformed characters and fantasy setting give me the impression of a pre-Playstation Japanese RPG. In fact, the characters look more like a late-80s/90s anime characters instead of current ones anyway, which really harkens back to that era. Anyway, the villain is named “Darkhell.”
So that’s a (very) cursory view of Free Comic Book Day 2013 in the Netherlands. Take my opinions with a grain of salt here, as I can’t give you a true impression of any of them.
And I must ask, for those of you who can read French or Dutch and picked some of these up, which ones impressed you the most?
UPDATE: Small point made below.
Ever since the announcement of the new Genshiken anime, I’ve speculated about the voice cast. Courtesy of one Anonymous Spore and the official anime website, the new cast for the Genshiken Nidaime (or Genshiken II as I prefer to call it) has been revealed, and the big, big shocker is that Mizuhashi Kaori will no longer be playing Ogiue, that most grand of angry, once-traumatized hair-brushed fujoshi.
My initial reaction has been genuine surprise and confusion, as I thought she fit the role tremendously well, and seemed to be well-established as Ogiue. Her Ogiue felt genuinely conflicted about everything, and it’s my favorite role of hers (biased perhaps). She even participated in the Genchoken radio shows with Madarame’s voice actor Hiyama Nobuyuki, and drew a comic about how she landed the role as Ogiue. Even putting aside my own Ogiue fandom I’ve thought for a long time that Mizuhashi ranks among the best voice actors out there.
That said, I think it would be a bit unfair to judge Yamamoto Nozomi before I even get to hear her voice the part of my favorite character. She’s pretty new, but she’s also already played roles such as Yukimura in Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, and Tetora in Joshiraku. When I think about Tetora’s voice in particular, it may actually be a bit closer to how I imagined Ogiue’s voice in my mind when I first read the manga. Actually, Gankyou’s voice would have been even closer, but that’s maybe getting too off-topic.
As for the rest of the cast, you have Uesaka Sumire (Dekomori in Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!) as Yoshitake Rika in addition to performing the opening theme, Uchiyama Yumi as Yajima Mirei (Davi in Dokidoki! Precure, Arata in Saki: Episode of Side A), and a combination of Kakuma Ai and Yamamoto Kazutomi handling the female and male voices of Hato Kenjirou, respectively. If you look at their list of works, all of them are pretty new voice actors, so perhaps there was something on the production side that required the use of newer voices. I read that they may be changing the old characters as well? Or maybe there was just a good old-fashioned scheduling conflict, which even happened with the Genshiken 2 anime and Keiko’s voice actor. In the end, it’s all just speculation, unless someone more familiar with the seiyuu scene could inform me otherwise.
Based on the previous roles of the actors for Yoshitake and Yajima, I can imagine them fitting their roles well, especially if they go for more naturalistic and awkward voices. I think Yajima especially will be a challenge.
In addition, voices aside, the art and character designs look probably the nicest they’ve ever been for Genshiken anime. I guess it all remains to be seen (and heard).
UPDATE: I decided to look at Mizuhashi Kaori’s official site, which isn’t really updated anymore, and what’s really curious is the fact that where once the front page image was of Ogiue in an empty cardboard box, now Ogiue has been replaced by a different character. I’m unsure if it’s meant to be Mizuhashi specifically or if it’s meant to be another one of the characters she played, but just the fact that she used to use an Ogiue image on her front page as early as September 2012 may indicate that she was rather close to the character of Ogiue.
JManga, the digital manga service backed by a number of Japanese publishers, is shutting down. No more points may be purchased, and all titles will be taken down by May 30, 2013. Any remaining points on users’ accounts will be refunded to them in the form of Amazon Gift Cards.
JManga, unlike so many other official manga sites, was at least partly accessible in regions outside of the US, and it was for this reason that I initially supported it in spite of its initial convoluted pricing scheme. Eventually, they changed the pay format to something a little more enticing and easy to understand, but when a friend told me that he wished he could purchase a title that was already on JManga, it made me realize just how unknown the site was. I tried to do my part and encourage others to use JManga, but for one reason or another it apparently wasn’t enough. It’s a shame, because I think they really made some excellent strides in getting manga to a digital format, even if their reader left something to desire in terms of functionality and ease of use.
The news of JManga’s impending demise brought up conversations about piracy and users’ rights that is affecting industries well beyond manga at this point (the Sim City server problems being currently the most prominent), and one of the arguments being made is that it’s in the end the fault of scanlations. I have a problem with this. While I don’t doubt that scanlations impact sales, especially when it comes to the popular titles, the fact is that none of the manga on JManga were heavy hitters. Their famous titles were things that simply don’t sell too well, like volume 1 of Golgo 13. I believe their most successful manga was Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (some of which I purchased and am kind of miffed that it’s going to vanish in a couple of months), which to put it lightly is not a Naruto or a Sailor Moon.
The lineup at JManga was extremely esoteric, and while this had a great amount of appeal for me personally, I’m also aware that the average manga fan, whether they read free manga online or not, is not going to chomp at the bit to go read about a Heian era fujoshi (another purchased title I will miss). Essentially, the titles on JManga were so out there that for the most part they were not the things people would look to scan and distribute, so the traditional argument of piracy doesn’t really apply here. Also, JManga was apparently shackled by the fact that publishers would not hand over their A-List titles. Tokyopop tried the flood of mediocrity approach as well, and that didn’t go so well in the end. While it is possible to say that fans should have subscribed anyway in order to give JManga the opportunity to go after the big titles, as Narutaki over at Reverse Thieves and the Speakeasy podcast pointed out, you can’t expect people to pay money in the hopes that they might someday get the titles that they want, especially if they’re from wildly different genres and demographics.
I could see it argued that manga scanlations created the environment which made publishers fear handing over their major titles, and by extension was the cause for JManga’s demise, but I think this would be overlooking the fact that media companies tend to be conservative about trying out new platforms until they absolutely must. HBO’s business model, for instance, is based on subscriptions to their premium cable service. This is fine and all, but it turns out that people who only want to watch online (legally, mind you) must also buy cable and HBO anyway. Media companies, if they can help it, will dig their feet into the ground to the point that they pretty much have to be dragged kicking and screaming to evolve alongside their potential customers’ habits. As a classic example, would the music industry have even bothered with digital distribution and the mp3 format if something like Napster hadn’t forced them to do so?
This is not me defending piracy as some kind of noble endeavor, but merely making the point that if scanlations did not exist and were not so ubiquitous, then I highly doubt that Japanese manga publishers would have simply decided to put manga online “just because.” In other words, to say that JManga would have been fine had readers of manga behaved all along is I think a flawed argument because there’s a good chance we wouldn’t even have sites like JManga or J-Comi. Valuing creative talent and creative output is still important, but defining that value according to current conventions and blindly accepting the current distribution methods (or lack thereof) is problematic itself. That’s not to say that one must rebel against the system in order to “save manga” or “stick it to the man,” but it would be beneficial to acknowledge where it is flawed, and to also not put blame squarely on the shoulders of readers, especially when the site was not giving them what they want.
The “Golden Ani-Versary of Anime” is a collaborative effort among bloggers, fans, and experts of anime to celebrate the 30th anniversary of anime on television. Coordinated by one Geoff Tebbetts, the plan is to have one article per year from 1963 and the debut of Tetsuwan Atom all the way up to 2012. I’ve included below an excerpt from my entry on the year 1977.
The year 1977 is something of a contradictory time in anime. Although the industry at this point was at the beginning of an animation boom and had been firmly established for over a decade, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact level of experimentation vs. continuation of formulaic trends, simply because in many cases the individual works of 1977 featured both.
The ’70s were the golden age of giant robot anime, and with six super robot-themed anime debuting (as well as five holdovers from the previous year) 1977 was no exception to that trend. Somewhat unfortunately for the robot anime of that year, the legendary arrival of Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979 tends to overshadow them as a whole, but while nothing in 1977 broke the mold as Gundam would, there were a few series which pushed that mold to its very limits. These shows managed to convey new and interesting ideas while working well within established convention, an impressive feat in its own right.
Genshiken info aside, I’m not one to write “breaking news” posts, but I had to report this: Mewtwo will be making its return in the new Pokemon movie, titled Divine Speed (Extremespeed) Genesect and the Rival of Mewtwo.
I still consider the first Pokemon movie to be the best one by far, and a great deal of it had to do with how powerful Mewtwo is as an antagonist and as a complex character in general. In other words, I’m now looking more forward to a Pokemon movie than I have in a long time. The made-for-TV followup, Mewtwo Lives (aka Mewtwo Returns) is also quite good in its own right. In case you never saw it, the conclusion was that Mewtwo basically becomes Batman.
I originally thought that they would have Mewtwo make a return for the Deoxys movie a few years back, as both were powerful psychic beings, but it didn’t happen. That said, Genesect may be a better counterpart for Mewtwo. In the story of the games, Genesect is an ancient Pokemon that was biologically altered by Team Plasma, which makes the genetically-engineered Mewtwo fit well into the story.
Mewtwo has also had an incredible voice actor in all of his previous appearances, theatre actor Ichimura Masachika. Ichimura is probably most famous as the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera, and I hope he’s back for the new movie. If you’re wondering what he sounds like as Mewtwo, he voiced the character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. If you turn on the Japanese mode, you can hear his spoken lines when you win as Mewtwo.
I’ll leave off with some trivia. Did you know that not only is the main antagonist of the first Pokemon movie (Mewtwo) is voiced by the original Japanese Phantom of the Opera, but that the second movie’s antagonist (Gelardan) is voiced by the original Japanese Jean Valjean?
(Taken from Yaraon! Warning: NSFW banners)
As someone who likes to keep track of fujoshi characters in anime and manga, I also tend to keep an eye out for merchandise if only to see how much coverage these characters are getting. Aside from the manga and anime they come from, there tends to be not much else, but one thing I’ve noticed is that, over the past months or so, multiple fujoshi character statue figures have been announced or released… which might actually make 2013 the Year of Fujoshi Figures, but we’ll let that slide.
First up is Wave’s “Beach Queens Shiguma Rika” from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. A member of the “Neighbors’ Club,” Rika is a genius who is not only into homosexuality but also “mechasexuality.” All of the other female characters in her show, as well as from many other series, are in the Beach Queens line.
Next is Ryuusuke’s “Narumi Nakuru” (NSFW) from Mayo Chiki! A glasses-obsessed high school student, she gets her very own episode at the very end of the anime. This figure is not only expensive as all get-out, but it’s gigantic at a whopping 30+ cm in height. An important warning, this figure’s clothing is removable, so it may not be the best display piece.
Then there’s the “Excellent Model Limited Sazanka Bianca” from Aquarion EVOL. I wrote about her recently, and one thing I have to say is that in an interview with the writer of the series, Okada Mari, she mentions that Sazanka was meant to be a much more minor character but that she gained popularity after episode 4, which revealed her status as a fujoshi. Sazanka’s figure is an exclusive.
Coming from the Winter 2012 season is the Nendoroid Koujiro Frau from the popular Robotics;Notes. A programming genius, Frau (real name Furugoori Kona) is something of a recluse, and talks in real life almost entirely in internet slang. Might we expect a full-size figure of her at some point?
Finally, if you want to count it, there’s this “Gray Parka Service’s Homoo.” Homoo is an ascii art-based character from the mesageboard 2ch, and is meant as a parody of fujoshi and their behaviors. It (she?) crawls around on all fours, exclaiming “Homoo!”
So all in all, kind of a crazy year if you happen to be into fujoshi characters and you enjoy buying figures. That said, I have to wonder why there’s this increase, at all. Sure, there was the Ogiue figure from 2007 (which I gladly own), and some Ohno figures before that, but there seems to be an unusually high amount, likely because we’re seeing more fujoshi characters appear in these ensemble cast anime. With more shows out and on the horizon, I would not be surprised at all to see a figure of, say, Akagi Sena from Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii wake ga Nai.
I recently had a conversation online about the industry-backed digital manga site JManga that went something like this:
Guy: Man, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru has nine volumes out in Japan, but only three are scanlated!
Me: You know, most of those volumes are available on JManga.
And then he went and bought all 8 volumes.
Sometimes you’ll hear people pushing for the manga industry who also like to draw lines in the sand between “REAL FANS” who do everything by the book and “filthy pirates who call themselves fans,” as if to say that this explains the industry’s woes. Here, on the other hand, is an example of someone who you can’t categorize as a leech, someone who is willing to pay money for the manga he likes, but simply had no idea that JManga (and its offshoot JManga 7) are actually quite up to date with the titles they carry, or that they even carried them at all. This is also a concern because Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is actually one of JManga’s flagship titles at this point, so it’s even more curious that the guy didn’t know about it.
What this basically reveals is an exposure problem for JManga and other similar sites, one that undoubtedly needs improvement because if the site can’t reach the people who are willing to use its services, what hope does it have for reaching the people who are more hesitant towards it? This is basically why I’m writing this post: I want to make more people aware of JManga as not only a legitimate way to read a lot of manga online and, and not simply as a way to “support the industry,” but as a convenient site which carries titles that readers of manga might very well be looking for.
Did you know that Fujoshi Rumi (aka Otaku-Type Delusion Girl, a title I recommend by the way) is on Jmanga and only one volume away from finishing? How about the fact that they have yaoi and yuri sections in addition to shounen series both well-known and obscure? What if I told you that there are (for some reason) multiple titles about cougar detectives? And from the looks of their recent translation contest, Coppelion, an interesting and timely work about three girls having to traverse a Tokyo devastated by a nuclear fallout from a natural disaster, is going to be available in the future as well.
The site has its flaws, such as the clunkiness of their reader or the fact that not all titles are available in all regions, but they’ve definitely been working on improving the site. In fact, the site used to be United States-only and worked to change that over time. One “problem” I need to address in particular is the fact that I’ve heard people say before that the reason they never used JManga was because their old “pay us to give you an allowance” pricing structure was too much of a commitment, because that is no longer an issue with the site. Now you can pay volume by volume a la carte-style without commitment, but if you subscribe then you can get a little extra every month, which means there is likely a pricing structure more attuned to your needs.
My goal isn’t to push the site over other alternatives and to make you feel guilty about not using the site sooner, but mainly to say that a site like JManga is available, and that it offers some things the scanlation sites don’t. While my readership is a small fraction of the total manga readership and thus my influence limited in scope, I hope for those of you reading that you’ll at least give it a shot, whatever your reasons for being a fan of manga.
I recently donated to Kick-Heart, and it was my very first Kickstarter donation.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s an animation project by Japanese animator/director Yuasa Masaaki, a man whose style can best be described as “experimental and unorthodox.” As someone who not only enjoys variety in animation but also appreciates Yuasa’s work (particularly the brilliant Kaiba), I ended up pledging, but I want everyone to understand that this was my own conclusion, and not one I necessarily expect from others.
As people have rallied for Kick-Heart there’s been good, but there’s also been this problematic message attached to it wherein Kick-Heart is seen as a potential savior of not just the anime industry but of creativity and imagination in anime itself. To some extent, they have a point: there are certain anime that are more commercially viable than others, and this is usually based on what’s trending at the time combined with the economic realities of the time. In that sense, funding this Kickstarter is useful for figuring out if there really is an audience for Yuasa’s brand of works, enough to justify at least a 10-minute animation piece. But then if you’re not part of the audience in the sense that you have little interest in Yuasa’s work, then you shouldn’t feel obligated to maintain a lie just because people are making you feel like you’re industry poison.
I said why I decided to join in, and if my or anyone else’s reasons for donating to Kick-Heart convinced you to donate, feel free to do so. What you shouldn’t feel, however, is pressured to donate out of the “greater good.” Kick-Heart isn’t an intimidation tactic, and it shouldn’t be talked about as such.
People have been making kind of a big deal about how the director of the new anime Psycho-Pass, Motohiro Katsuyuki, has mentioned banning usage of the word “moe” among the staff, in order to counter current trends in anime. I’ve seen some people take this as a psuedo-rallying point, a sort of “BOOYAH! In your face, MOE!” attitude. I’ve seen reactions taking it as an attack on moe, a “Why are you so unenlightened?” response. For me, when I first read about it, I laughed, not because I’m for moe or against it, but I immediately thought of how ambiguous a word like moe could be and how it can potentially impact the creative process by being so ambiguous.
Other than the information we already have, I don’t have any insight into the production of Psycho-Pass so everything from here is purely hypothetical and speculative.
When you think about actually having the word moe be a part of discussions when creating an anime, you inevitably have to deal with “moe” as a conscious effort, and I can imagine it impacting the direction of a work. This is not an inherently bad thing, but I feel that just by banning the word you might end up having to explain things more concretely, or at least in a way that doesn’t use such specialized language. In some ways, I can see how “make it more moe” as a way of describing how something should be can be about as helpful as asking someone to “make it 20% cooler,” as the My Little Pony saying goes.
To say a word is banned doesn’t meant that elements won’t slip back in. Let’s replace “moe” with “hardcore.” Imagine if the interview said, “We banned the word ‘hardcore’ from our staff meetings.” While you might not have direct references to pro wrestling or other similar material, there’s a fair chance some kind of physicality or extreme imagery might make it back in. I don’t know if it’ll really happen with Psycho-Pass, but moe does not need a specific directive for it to appear. Even without the intent behind it, it can still happen.
When it comes to comics, the Netherlands is an interesting country. Situated close to Belgium and France, the Dutch have had close ties with that bande dessinée (Franco-Belgian comics) culture, particularly when it comes to the Flemish comics, but they’ve also developed a comics culture all their own. While I’d learned about this a fair deal before, when I went to the Dutch comics festival “Stripfestival Breda” this past month, I was able to see it much more clearly.
Taking place in the city of Breda and spread across different locations near the center of town, Stripfestival Breda is a two-day event to celebrate comics. There, you could buy comics from a variety of venders, get your picture taken with your favorite characters (whether that means cosplay by fans or actual people hired to dress up), and even meet the artists responsible for all of these comics. Each location specialized in a certain area, such as one for events and awards, though I didn’t attend all of them due to time constraints and other inconveniences such as my lack of Dutch fluency. Instead, I primarily looked at the industry area, located in a theater, and the self-published area, located in the city’s Great Church (every Dutch city seems to have one).
The industry locale was the epicenter of the festival, and companies from both inside and outside of the Netherlands were there. They had plenty of books to sell, but what I found to be most impressive is that in a lot of cases, not only were the artists themselves there, but they were offering free sketches. The biggest booth was the Eppo booth, home of a variety of Dutch comics both classic and new (and in some cases the comics have run long enough to be both), which housed about 8-10 artists each with their own lines. With big names in Dutch comics such as Martin Lodewijk of Agent 327, as well as Jorg de Vos and Roman Molenaar, the artists behind Storm (which is available in English), it was a collection of heavy hitters, but amazingly the lines were short enough that I could get multiple sketches in well under an hour.
In fact, by my estimation, the combined lines between all of the Eppo artists was about as long as a line for Fred Gallagher (Megatokyo) at Otakon. This isn’t to say knock either Fred or the Dutch artists, but just to say that I was amazed by how accessible these artists were.
Interestingly, the most popular comic among young Dutch kids is an Italian series called Geronimo Stilton. I don’t know much about it other than the fact that it features an anthropomorphic journalist mouse who goes on adventures, or whether it’s doing well in the US, but its success was clear as kids line up to take photos with a real Geronimo Stilton, Disneyland-style.
There was definitely a French/Belgian presence as well, though I didn’t spend much time with them, and there were vendors selling a huge variety of comics, including (what I assumed to be) old, hard-to-find items. Many of the vendors sold comics with some erotic content, but there didn’t seem to be any particular separation or shame in it. In some cases they were shrink-wrapped, in some cases they weren’t.
There was some presence for manga and American comics, especially the life-sized Iron Man statue, the anime fan artists who I’ve seen at the Dutch anime cons, and the requisite maid cafe, though they definitely weren’t the main focus. Asking one vendor of superhero comics about the status of American comics in the Netherlands, he told me that The Walking Dead is quite popular.
The independent/alternative comics area was quite a different experience from the hustle and bustle of the industry location, though I think that may have had to do with the fact that it was held in an old-fashioned gothic-style church and featured many art pieces which I might call not very church-like at all. Featured here were many comics which strayed from convention, featuring really erratic character designs and strange subject matter, the artists were not just comics makers but sometimes contemporary art scene artists as well. Items were generally more expensive for the alternative comics than they were for the industry items, but often times not by much.
I spoke to one artist, who told me that his favorite comic was the one that had the sold the least because it wasn’t really to Dutch tastes. Intrigued, I asked him what he meant by Dutch tastes, because I don’t have anywhere near as keen a sense for European comics as I do for American and Japanese, he mentioned that it had to do with round, cartoonish characters with big feet and so on. It’s something I’ll have to do more research on.
In the end, what probably stood out to me most was the fact that gender and age distributions seemed very even. I saw people from five-years-old to fifty-year-sold both male and female lined up at booths, whether it was to buy comics or to meet the artists or their favorite characters, often times for the same series. It made me realize how much comics is a thing for all ages in the Netherlands.