Gin Tama Book 23, due out from Viz in August, has been labeled by them the “Final Volume”. This is only true of the U.S. publication run — the series is still going in its native Japan, with 39 books out so far. Some fans have gotten upset at Viz “lying” about the status, but me, I figure they’re being honest about this being the Final [Viz] Volume, with no plans to continue publication. I’d rather see that than an indefinite hiatus, which has much more uncertainty and disappointment attached, at least in my opinion.
The expected assumption is that sales were disappointing. Gin Tama is a very long series, and it’s unlikely that anyone will jump on board at this point, with over 20 volumes published and no free media (cartoon) support. Some expect Viz to come out and say “this series is being canceled because it didn’t sell well enough”. That strikes me as unlikely. It’s not good business or marketing, and especially in the case of a translated series, it runs the risk of insulting the creator or native publisher.
How should Viz have handled this? I’m not sure what fans really want in this case, honestly — unless it’s for Viz to keep losing money putting out another 20 books. They aren’t happy when Viz says “we’re done”, and they aren’t happy when the publisher doesn’t say anything.
Serialized comics, of whatever nationality, tend to decline in sales over time. U.S. superhero comics fight this through publicity stunts — someone dies! — but to work, that requires a familiarity with the characters among the pool of potential readers that manga doesn’t have. The manga equivalent would be a cartoon show or a DVD release, but for this series, that’s already been done here. U.S. comics also change out creative teams, but that doesn’t make sense in manga, which has friendlier policies to authors.
Some have vowed to stop buying series from Viz until all volumes are released. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that will ensure no more long series are brought over to the U.S. It’s unlikely anyone would start on such a lengthy publication in the current market, anyway. (To be fair, some have pointed out that some very long series weren’t known to be such when they started — which is an argument against quick U.S. reprinting.) I am sympathetic to those disappointed by having a comic they like canceled under them, even though I’d never heard of the series until all this came up a couple of weeks ago. (Vertical’s Ed Chavez says Gin Tama sells better in the U.S. than the much-praised 20th Century Boys. However, I’m guessing the latter gets much more critical praise and attention for the company.) I’m also sympathetic to those who are less likely to start a new series after being burned, even though there are other long-running series Viz is continuing to release.
There’s a whole gamut of reactions at this Anime News Network Forum thread. I laughed a little at the “oh, I was going to start reading this, but now I won’t bother” comments. 22 books in, if you haven’t started yet, no wonder the series isn’t succeeding. (Others at the thread have more balanced perspective; overall, there’s a nice spread of reactions.) If you want to demonstrate that Viz made the wrong decision, Gin Tama Book 22 is out in two weeks. Greatly increased sales might convince them they made the wrong decision. If it was to come back, a relaunch with a new “first volume” might give the series new life.