Friday, June 01, 2007

The future of manga

While manga's popularity has been increasing steadily in the States and Europe, with translated manga filling dozens of bookshelves in major bookstores, it's been seeing a slow and steady decline in Japan, along with sales of general publications.

This is not surprising as there are increasingly more alternatives for people when it comes to hobbies. The same thing happened with plastic modeling, and, even with video games that seemed like the hottest thing a while back, we're seeing some stabilization.

One factor to this decline is the increasing desire for instant gratification. In some ways people are getting lazier, leading to the preference from the novel to manga, and now, even from manga to movies. The less work the audience has to do, the easier it is for them to be entertained. Even in America, we see comics taking on a new life and taking over Hollywood, with many of the highest grossing movies either being created from or inspired by comics and manga.

Another factor that is problematic is pirating and free use. The music and software industries suffered because of this, and now it's happening to manga. Although it has not yet become mainstream, more manga is being offered in digital formats, making it easier to copy them. Some have even started the pirating process by scanning individual manga pages themselves. Then there are problems like manga cafes, where customers can read manga to their hearts' content without paying a dime to the creators (while the manga cafes benefit from increased patronage, which is not right in terms of general business principles).

So the battle for content rights will rage on (so I hope), but one thing is certain. Without the audience somehow paying for manga, there will be no manga industry. And without an industry, there won't be much manga to read.

As for me, what matters most is that I can remain the storyteller. The final medium, in some sense, doesn't really matter, although I would like to start off in manga, which is where I can retain the most artistic control.

As for manga, if it gets too pigeon-holed into cliche roles, general interest in it as a medium will wane, and it won't have much of a future outside of pornography and fringe cultures. Manga needs to continue growing both in artistry and in its ability to express relevant human ideas, as is the mark of any good literature.


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