I’ve written regularly about my issues with Dark Horse manga over the years, yet I’ve come to realize something over this past year. Consider all of the series that I’ve been reading this year that have ended: “20th Century Boys,” “Tenjo Tenge,” “Bakuman,” “Saturn Apartments,” and “Slam Dunk.” They’re all titles published by Viz. For years the company has done an excellent job of using all of that “Shonen Jump Money” to fund lesser-known titles that appeal to an older, less mainstream audience. While that description doesn’t necessarily apply to all of the titles I’ve just mentioned, it would appear that they’re not keen on doing that anymore. Whether it’s an ongoing issue with the contraction of the manga market, or a sign that staff at Viz aren’t pushing as hard for more esoteric titles, the fact remains that their line has become a lot less interesting to me as a result.
Though they’ve been announcing new titles throughout the year, nearly all of them are either shonen or shojo titles geared at a younger audience. “Bakuman” and “Slam Dunk” are ostensibly shonen manga that fall into this category as well, but I think their execution transcends their genre definition. They can appeal to kids of all ages in my opinion. Yet there’s nothing in this current crop of titles that suggests the same.
Out of all of them, the only one that I have some interest in is one called “Terra Formars.” Yes, it’s a dumb title, but an appropriate one since its subject matter involves terraforming and Mars. Specifically, terraforming Mars via the application of mold and cockroaches with the end result being that the cockroaches start mutating into a new life form. What I’ve heard of this series seems to suggest “Aliens” on Mars, and given that it seems to be skewing away from the usual subject matter we see in shonen titles, I’m willing to give it a shot. My only concern is that the last time I bought a title based on that reason, it didn’t turn out well.
Of course, even with all of the above-mentioned titles that have ended I’ll still be reading a fair amount of Viz manga this year. They’re still publishing two of the best manga in the market today with “Ooku” and “Real,” with a new volume of the former arriving next month, and the other still on an annual release schedule. Also on that same schedule are “Vagabond” and “Ikigami,” with “Claymore” being published slightly more regularly, and only two volumes left to go with “Bokurano.”
There’s also the fact that there’s also some titles that the company has published over the years that I didn’t get around to picking up when they first came out. “Fullmetal Alchemist” is one that I’ll be getting in their handy three-in-one editions. Having already seen the excellent first anime series, I felt pretty content with what I had and didn’t feel any urgency towards checking out the source material. Now that I’ve heard about how much it differs from the anime and goes in darker directions as well, I’ll be getting these editions when I have the time. There’s also “The House of Five Leaves,” which was on sale as part of the RightStuf’s Christmas sale and I passed it up because I had too much of a backlog at the time. We’ll see about that next year as well.
Then there’s the fact that other publishers will also be putting out interesting-sounding new series this year as well. Vertical has the one-shot “Insufficient Direction” from Myoco Anno about her home life with anime director Hideaki (“Evangelion”) Anno, and Fumi Yoshinaga’s “What Did You Eat Yesterday?” which combines her love of food and gay men. Both sound great, and while I haven’t picked up a whole lot from Fantagraphics’ manga line, they’re doing us all a great service by bringing us more Inio Asano when his “Nijigahara Holograph” arrives in March. Dark Horse only has one new ongoing title announced for this year, but I’m going to be very surprised and angry if “New Lone Wolf and Cub” doesn’t turn out to be better than “Terra Formars.”
So if I won’t be hurting for good manga this year, what was this all about then? For me, it’s just sad to see this company that used to be at the vanguard of catering to an older audience diminished in such a way and not taking any steps to redress that balance. “20th Century Boys” and “Tenjo Tenge” both made the New York Times’ manga bestseller list, so it’s not like there isn’t an audience for these kinds of books. At this point, it does seem like it’s an audience that other companies are more than willing to cater to instead.