Tokyopop’s Demise Spurs Deep Thinking, Memories of Favorite Series I’ll Miss

While it’s horrible that Tokyopop is closing, at least folks remembering both the good times and bad have resulted in some thought-provoking reading.

Tokyopop Changed the Industry For the Worse…

Matt Thorn blames Stu Levy for depressing the page rate for translators to the point where professionals couldn’t do the job any more:

The point being, there were standards, and even a rookie was guaranteed a decent rate…. Mind you, there was no shortage of enthusiastic otaku willing to work for peanuts. It’s just that no respectable publisher ever seriously considered hiring such people unless they proved themselves, and even then they were paid a decent wage. TokyoPop changed that. Why pay six bucks a page when there’s this kid here who will do something vaguely resembling a “translation” for five bucks a page? Or four? Or even three? I was stunned when I first heard that there were kids at TokyoPop working for three bucks a page. That’s not even close to a living wage.

In comments to a post about Thorn’s post, translator William Flanagan confirms the low wages: “there’s no place for me to go because nearly all of the manga publishers are unwilling to pay professional rates to professionals. And Matt is right that TokyoPop caused the race to the bottom (although the scanslators working for free was another factor).”

That’s a problem in any entertainment field — too many youngsters willing to do ANYTHING to get in, not realizing that companies that rely too much on cheap and free “talent” will create a world where there’s nowhere to go once they are in. Once they need a living wage, to settle down or live like an adult, they won’t get it — they’ll just get replaced by the next kid. That’s why reputable companies don’t staff themselves solely with interns and freelancers.

… And the Better

More importantly, in response to those eager to declare manga dead with Tokyopop’s passing, Brigid Alverson writes the definitive history of the changes Tokyopop brought to comics, concluding “manga did transform the comics world. It took comics out of the hands of fanboys, collectors, and hipsters and made them a truly mass medium.”

On a less political note, a roundtable of manga reviewers share their memories of the company and its titles.

Tokyopop Manga I Loved

As for my library, Tokyopop titles account for 170 of the 529 volumes of manga in my database, 32%, surpassed only by Viz (with 217). That count does include their OEL titles, of which my favorites were Dramacon, Steady Beat, and Kat & Mouse. All created by women, which perhaps isn’t surprising, but I didn’t realize until now that Tokyopop worked with so many female artists in their English-language line.

Speaking of which, I will always be grateful to them for publishing josei that wasn’t just drawn Harlequins or smut, titles such as Tramps Like Us (although I would have preferred something closer to the original “You’re My Pet”), Paradise Kiss, Suppli, and Happy Mania. Thoughtful, beautiful books like Aria and The Voices of a Distant Star made my best-of lists over the years. I was consistently entertained by good genre work from The Kindaichi Case Files and Planetes.

Tokyopop, in fact, published some of the earliest manga series I ever picked up — books like Love Hina and Chobits (before I knew the difference between shonen and shojo or who CLAMP was). I found myself involved in long girls’ romances, with Mars and Marmalade Boy (the first time I found out how a successful anime can drag out a manga series beyond the point it should have stopped), and piquant short ones that I weren’t even sure were love stories, with Suki. I’ve bought INVU twice now, giving it up when volume 4 took four years to appear and then rebuying it when volume 5 came out two years after that. (It’s still not done, either here or in its native Korea.)

The five volumes of Rising Stars of Manga I picked up cheap are part of my collection because of their historical significance. Same for the first three Manga Sutra – Futari H, an attempt to expand into seriously adult manga. Once again, I’m reminded that Tokyopop was the manga publisher that took the most risks, trying things no one else would. I’ll remember them best for that.

4 Comments

  1. James Schee

    Good piece. I’ll always remember Tokyopop as being the publisher of my gateway series into manga, Love Hina. After trying others and just not being able to get into it, that series while not deep was so easily readable.

    Then books like Planetes and Kindaichi Case Files really started showing me the greatness of comics, as these weren’t artsy crap that so many indy comics turn into. These were genre stories in comics form meant for entertainment of people.

    Tokyopop lost its magic over time, the series they released got more generic as time went on or just didn’t match my interests. Its weird, really right now I’m down to only reading only 1 manga series, Nana, right now. The series out there, some even written about on this site, aren’t that interesting to me because they seem to have gone back to what I thought manga was. (fighting, robots or monsters) Sure would be nice to see more of the things Tokyopop helped bring o the forefront when they first started. Wonder who’ll step up, if anyone.

  2. Just to clarify my comment you quoted. There are a few publishers out there who are willing to pay translators professional rates, but they are few and far in between. Also, nearly all the pro translators are very eager to do work for these companies, so even for a translator with lots of experience and a good reputation, it’s a good question whether they’d have any work to assign. Still, I didn’t want to imply that ALL the companies had fallen for the low-wage trap. Several of my clients pay me very well for the work I do.

  3. I did a post myself on my top 10 favorite Tokyopop series. But to be honest my experiences with Tokyopop still aren’t quite over yet. I have a few series from them I haven’t read yet, also I bought the first Lupin III series just last week :)

    Also…UGH I had no idea volume 5 of INVU came out!? And unfortunately to but that single volume selles on Amazon are asking ridiculous amounts! Still I want to to figure out some way to get it at a reasonable price!

  4. [...] days, when manga publishers are going out of business left and right, it was a wonderful reminder to get a press release noting that as of the coming July, Viz will [...]

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