Let's Talk About: The Tokyopop Glory Days

It is about that time of year where I get all nostalgic and reminisce about the beginnings of my ongoing interest in anime and manga. While my interest in anime could be traced back to my younger years, manga was more of an interest I acquired as a teenager.

When I think of companies like Tokyopop I just think 'Nothing Gold Can Stay', y'know, like the Robert Frost poem? There are plenty of companies that were simply awesome and then went kind of shit, leaving us reminiscing about the 'good old days'. Companies like this that I can think of are Rareware, Drive-Thru Records, perhaps Sega (let's just say they haven't really done much to impress me lately) and of course the main focus of this article, Tokyopop.

Tokyopop were the dudes who were more or less responsible for popularising manga outside of Japan, alongside Viz. In 2002, Tokyopop launched its line of 100% Authentic Manga, meaning that the comics were printed from right-to-left. While Viz were the company printing the more 'popular' series such as Pokémon Adventures, No Need For Tenchi!, Ranma ½, Case Closed, InuYasha and the Shōnen Jump titles, Tokyopop were bringing us some real manga gems from Japan, which eventually became popular series in their own right. Their slogan was 'leading the manga revolution' and damn right that is what they did. Just flicking to the back of a volume of a Tokyopop manga will most likely bring you to a few pages of adverts, as well as a lists of other mangas available. I am currently holding a copy of Saber Marionette J volume 1, and in the back there are adverts for quality mangas like Love Hina, Chobits, Lupin III and Samurai Deeper Kyo. I usually found that if I liked a particular manga, the adverts would point me in the direction of a manga I would love just as much.

If you have never read Love Hina, do it.

Looking at a list in the front of this volume makes me aware that such series as Battle Royale, Brigadoon, Digimon, GTO, Gundam Wing, Initial D, Marmalade Boy, Miyuki-Chan In Wonderland, Planetes and even Sailor Moon are also available from Tokyopop. That's awesome... gee, Tokyopop you sure spoil us with such variety and choice when it comes to manga. God bless you. There's one problem though. The bit that states 'available in book and comic stores now', well that's only half true.

I must admit, I came to the manga game a tad late. I probably really got into it back in 2006 or 2007, because I discovered the wonder of Love Hina (oh, what a simply incredible manga that is) in my local library. But with my growing interest in manga I would of course, look to the back of a manga to find what other good series existed and then try to hunt them down. To this day I have never, ever seen a single volume of Sailor Moon published by Tokyopop, not in a book shop, or indeed any other shop. I have been in a lot of book shops, and a lot of shops that specialise in comics, believe me. At least Kodansha finally got around to re-publishing it this year. I will now proceed to cross off every manga that I have never found in a shop from the above list to further prove my point:

Battle Royale, Brigadoon, Digimon, GTO, Gundam Wing, Initial D, Marmalade Boy, Miyuki-Chan In Wonderland, Planetes, Sailor Moon

These mangas were not even available to buy from their online store. Of course the reason that these mangas were so hard to find is obviously because they have since gone out of print. If that is the case, why advertise them in the back of your mangas? I have bought Tokyopop mangas brand new from my local Waterstones and found these adverts and lists in the back. Why lie to us Tokyopop? Damn you. Sure, you can probably get these mangas from Amazon or eBay, but not for reasonable prices. What most likely happened was Tokyopop lost the licenses to publish the manga. I'm not really sure how the process works, but Tokyopop should have really tried its best to hang on to its licences. Look at Viz, they have been publishing Ranma ½ since 1993 and sure, it has been reprinted a few times in different formats, but you can still find this series available in most good book shops in one form or another. I remember at one point it was impossible to get your hands on a copy of the first volume of Welcome To The N.H.K., yet the other volumes were a piece of cake to pick up. Why the hell did Tokyopop allow this to happen? Are they insane? Who on earth wants to start reading a manga series from the second volume?!?  I eventually got the reprint, but that's not the point.

Wow, who would have thought, they actually exist!
After Kodansha fucked off and gave their licences to other publishers, Tokyopop started publishing shit. This is where it all started to go downhill for Tokyopop in my opinion. They started publishing fairly mediocre Japanese series, as well as 'Manga' created by Yanks and Brits. When the westerners started getting their works published, Tokyopop lost all of its credibility in my eyes. Art style doesn't necessarily make a man-ga (geddit?), and neither does the nationality of the author (Amazing Agent Luna is a quality orginal-english language manga), but a series like I Luv Halloween, for example, is an okay comic, but in no way shape or form is it a manga. It is way too far removed from everything that makes a manga what it is. The art style is the sort of art style you would find in a DC or Marvel comic. No disrespect to DC or Marvel, by the way, they do their thing the way it should be done. Tokyopop, however were not doing it. Towards the end, Tokyopop really started taking the piss out of its fans by publishing a tonne of god awful western stuff and tried to pass it off as manga, when they were clearly not. I remember at one point seeing a comic published by Tokyopop called Divalicious!... I've never read that comic, so I can't really complain, but what do you expect me to think with a title like that? Really, Tokyopop?

Anyway, the note that the Tokyopop saga ended on was a rather sad one. I loved them for publishing such great manga and getting me into such epic series, yet at the same time I wasn't so happy that they didn't try hard enough to hang on to their licenses. The things that I disliked were probably also what other fans disliked, and due to this and other reasons,  they more or less left the manga game in 2011, although they are still kicking around in one way or another, not really doing much. I still want to complete my Ai Yori Aoshi manga set, but this means trawling through second hand book shops, comic shops that sell left over Tokyopop stock (most often in 4 for £10 deals) as well as Amazon or eBay. If only I still had the simple convenience of buying these books in my local book shop. I remember when my local shop had a massive manga section as well, now it's just one tiny shelf.

Nothing Gold Can Stay.

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