How Much Tezuka Is Too Much?

I’m late covering this news, which Publishers Weekly wrote about over a month ago, but I had some thoughts about the news that Digital Manga will be publishing previously untranslated works by Osamu Tekuza via their Digital Manga Guild. Specifically, their deal with Tezuka Productions Co. Ltd. aims to “bring Tezuka’s backlist of manga titles, which have not yet been adapted and published beyond the shores of Japan, to the English language market, utilizing Digital Manga’s localizing production strong-arm, the Digital Manga Guild to publish and distribute in digital editions.” (I’m not sure “strong-arm” means what they think it means there.)

Digital Manga Guild Osamu Tezuka logo

There are reportedly over 250 works included. Those named are The Three-Eyed One, Vampires, Metamorphosis, Big X, and Rainbow Parakeet, none of which I know anything about. That “not previously available in English” clause is the problem, since the best-known books have already been published here. Viz is digitally releasing the classic Phoenix, which has been out of print for a long while. Vertical put out nice oversized print editions of Message to Adolf as well as paperbacks of the classic shojo Princess Knight and the lengthy Black Jack pulp adventure. Even some of the lesser-known science fiction books were put out by Dark Horse a decade ago, following their release of Tezuka’s Astro Boy, although they’re now out of print. Using these familiar properties in the promotional image, shown here, may thus be misleading, unless Tezuka Productions plans to give digital rights to DMG when other publishers have print rights.

I have qualms about the method used to bring those works here. Since Tezuka is consider the “god of manga”, with his works widely reprinted (even when they should be left in the time period they were created, in my opinion — see Swallowing the Earth or Apollo’s Song), don’t those works deserve professional, paid translation? The DMG relies on fans working for the potential of some reward, maybe, in the future, if the works sell well. I know that method, with no upfront costs, makes it cheap to put out books that may not have much market here (see previous comment, about the difficulty of selling older works), but I am still concerned about the amount (or lack) of oversight given to these translations.

Then again, how much more Tezuka are English readers interested in? It’s as though everything Jack Kirby ever drew was being offered. There’s a small group of dedicated fans who would love the idea, but most modern readers, even while acknowledging the master’s importance, wouldn’t want to read it all. Although perhaps this plan will include some more enjoyable works than the ones that are historically important but hard to enjoy. Will the market support 10 new releases a month, as planned?

How much of this is Hollywood bait? They’re promising a dedicated section of Digital Manga’s online store, to be called “Tezuka World”, “where Hollywood movie and television directors, script writers, and producers will be able to browse through the Tezuka properties and propose treatments for potential Hollywood projects.” Gotta chase that media money!

The project will begin this spring with digital versions of Tezuka books Digital Manga has already published in print. They also intend to release in additional languages once the English versions are available. The rest of the message sounds like they’re recruiting for a cult:

…it’s the Digital Manga Guild’s privilege, pride, and joy to be able to undertake this huge localization task and to help fulfill every manga translator, editor, and typesetter’s dream to work on such high profile projects. Digital Manga welcomes all localizers, especially Tezuka fans, to join the Digital Manga Guild and participate in the localization efforts to bring these great works to the rest of the world….

All facets of this partnership, from the licensing, production, promotion, distribution, and development of Tezuka’s works, are based on a community driven effort, to not only to bring Osamu Tezuka’s high literary and award winning works to hungry fans, but to bring his message of world fellowship to all borders of the globe. So come and be part of the Digital Manga Guild and Tezuka’s world community!

I’m likely too cynical. If the project doesn’t attract a lot of readers, all anyone is out is time, from the translators and editors who worked for free. If it turns out to be widely successful, hey, great! More classic, well-drawn manga to enjoy.

7 Comments

  1. Ralf Haring

    I think I’m pretty much sated with regard to Tezuka. I was very, very pleased with Adolf way back around 2000 and Phoenix was similarly stellar. I remember slogging through the Dark Horse Astro Boy series, though, and I’ve long since sold those off. The thicker one-off works from Vertical were interesting for a time, but I don’t know that I have much desire to reread any of them. I’ll probably start culling those at some point, though I’m glad they reprinted them. Buddha and Black Jack remain the standout offerings from that period of reprints.

  2. Ray Cornwall

    And you can’t buy Black Jack digitally, right? That’s really frustrating…

  3. Oh, I’d forgotten about Buddha — I had trouble reading a serious story with such cartoony figures. (It may have been the first Tezuka I tried. I didn’t yet realize his style.)

    The only digital Tezuka I know of is the Viz Phoenix titles. I don’t think rights for any of the others were part of the deal until now. There was a non-working iPad app for a while — hopefully, that’s gone away.

  4. “…don’t those works deserve professional, paid translation? The DMG relies on fans working for the potential of some reward…”

    Oh man, doesn’t professional, paid translation piss off the otakus? They sure seem to prefer romanji and Engrish to translations that are no more awkward for English readers than the originals are for Japanese readers.

  5. disgruntled fujoshi

    DMP starts project after project…and project after project fizzles out, or is done shoddily. (Look at the Amazon comments regarding Ai no Kusabi volumes 8 and 9. Huge chunks of dialog missing. Male character translated as “she.” Missing illustrations.) I buy their BL, but quality is a crapshoot, series are left hanging for years or dropped, popular titles go OOP. They actually offered OOP titles at their store akadot for wildly inflated prices! $65 for one OOP book!

    Anyway, my point is, if any fans are counting on DMP’s lofty ambitions for getting all this Tezuka into english, be prepared for disappointment and heartbreak, like their BL fans.

  6. disgruntled fujoshi

    *that should be Ai no Kusabi vollumes 7 and 8 (8 is final)

  7. Since Tezuka used a star system in his works (i.e. recycled characters for use in multiple comics), if they really have all of his as yet unlicensed comics, then the promo image would be accurate. Tezuka’s most popular characters – Atom, the Ribbon Knight, etc. – do show up in tons of his other comics, albeit sometimes with different names.

    That might be where this project is leading – “You can see Atom/Ribbon Knight/etc. in a whole new comic!”-type advertising. The last time I went to Japan, I was really surprised how many short Tezuka comics I found that I had never heard of, but which prominently featured his “stars”. A lot of those comics wouldn’t sell well enough to merit a full print run on their own and aren’t available enough for scanlators to get their hands on. If Tezuka Pro is providing the files, however, DMG could be positioned fairly well.

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