November 29, 2018

Japanese media update

Two years ago, Funimation and Crunchyroll partnered up to cross-license anime streaming rights. A lot has happened since. Crunchyroll was acquired by AT&T (via Warner Media). Sony Pictures purchased Funimation. The joint agreement "ended amicably" in October. Annoyed anime fans will have to purchase two subscriptions for the same content.

At least anime streaming services are reasonably priced. Satellite and cable, not so much. But several new options have emerged, with Xfinity now carrying TV Japan nationwide.

Back in April, TV Japan moved from Dish to DirecTV. Dish handed the slot to Family Gekijyo. Family Gekijyo is Japan's version of channels like MeTV that rerun "classic TV." It's only as good as the shows in rotation. A mixed bag compared even to Family Gekijyo's home network in Japan, the content on Dish is a pale shadow of TV Japan.

If it keeps improving, it might become an attractive addition to (not a substitute for) TV Japan. But after almost a year, I don't see that happening. Mark it down as a lost opportunity.

Though priced the same as TV Japan on DirecTV and Xfinity ($24.99), as an à la carte channel, Family Gekijyo on Dish is the better deal on paper. "International Basic" on Dish is $15.00/month. "Limited Basic" on Xfinity is $20.00/month and "Basic Choice" on DirecTV is $20.99/month.

Which, purely in economic terms, makes TV Japan's exclusive deal with DirecTV (for satellite service) all the more annoying.

TV Japan has its own archive service called "dLibrary Japan" that reruns select programming from its cable/satellite channel. If you already have TV Japan, you will have seen most of the content already. And dLibrary Japan doesn't stream live or almost-live content like sumo tournaments and news.

But at $9.95/month, it might be worth considering if you're not going to subscribe to TV Japan. NHK World carries (English language) news, NHK documentaries, and sumo tournaments (no dramas or non-NHK content) and can be streamed for free.

Speaking of NHK World, the Utah Educational Network now broadcasts NHK World in full on UEN 9.4. KUED 7.2 (PBS) and UEN 9.1 also carry half-hour segments from NHK World in their international news lineups.

Ideally, Family Gekijyo would join TV Japan and NHK World (already free as a public service) in a single Japanese-language package. Alas, that's not going to happen either. So I'll give Family Gekijyo another month or two, stream Crunchyroll, and watch NHK World the old-fashioned way.

Related posts

Streaming Japanese
Family Gekijyo
Sink or stream
Japanese media update (updated)
dLibrary Japan

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November 22, 2018

The Ancient Magus Bride

My preferred approach to analyzing anime is to examine the narratives in terms of interlocking genres. Generally speaking, commercially successful art conforms to established structures and favors certain types and tropes. Storytelling no more needs reinventing than the wheel.

Structure presents no barriers to creativity. Rather, a foundation of the "same old" presents new opportunities to surpass the expectations of the audience in unexpected ways. A prime example is Madoka Magica, which discovered eschatological horror within the magical girl genre.

And invented a whole new way of telling an old story that soon took on a life of its own.

Take an archetypal tale like Beauty and the Beast, mix in western magic, eastern theology, Jungian psychology, and a bit of The X-Files (especially in the balance between the light and heavy dramatic elements), set it in England, and the result is The Ancient Magus Bride.

In her ongoing manga series and twenty-seven episode anime, Kore Yamazaki's unique approach is to mix and match the beastly elements. Aside from his height (six-foot seven or so) and the horned wolf skull that hides his demonic visage, Elias Ainsworth is every inch a proper English gentleman.

Although from all appearances an ordinary Japanese teenager, Chise Hatori is a psychological basketcase. Her mind is as much a beast as is Elias's appearance.

Driven half-mad by her mother's suicide and the second sight that allows her to see the yokai and ayakashi (monsters and magical beings) that populate the mortal realm, Chise resolves to kill herself as well. At the last minute, she is persuaded to sell herself to a trafficker in the black arts.

Elias Ainsworth brings the auction to a halt with an outrageous offer of five million pounds.

He takes Chise to his cottage in the English countryside, where he bluntly admits to acting with ulterior motives. He has identified Chise as a rare "Sleigh Beggy." This Manx term refers to a kind of fairy that once inhabited the Isle of Man. Chise turns out to possess extraordinarily magical powers.

But she has little idea how to use them and every attempt inexorably saps her strength. If nothing is done, she will die in a few short years.

Chise becomes Elias's apprentice and a member of his eccentric family. When not traveling about the British Isles solving paranormal problems like Mulder and Scully, Elias dotes on her and vows to save her life.

His "purchase" of Chise included a marriage contract. Elias treats the marriage as a done deal but doesn't act on it. He is, in fact, bewildered by his growing fondness for her. Like Data in Star Trek, his affection for Chise only heightens the differences between him and the humans among whom he dwells.

And when she leaves, he sits in the living room and sulks. At times like this, Elias is basically every overly-introspective introvert ever. But, of course, the Beauty returns to the Beast, in a stunning and exhilarating scene that casts even the Disney version into shadow.

Except there will be no neat resolution to their strange relationship. Elias has a beastly side considerably more untamed and dangerous than the fairy tale. And yet Chise will later formally propose to him, a scene made all the more poignant precisely because Elias is not a frog about to turn back into a handsome prince.

The second cour picks up when the first left off (the OVA exploring Chise's backstory takes place between the two cours) with little morality plays featuring characters that will play important parts later. And then The Ancient Magus Bride dives into the gothic horror genre in a highly compelling concluding arc.

The story of an immortal longing for death is a darker version of the 2017-2018 season of Lucifer. The immortal in Lucifer is Cain (of Cain and Able). In The Ancient Magus Bride, the immortal is Cartaphilus, the "Wandering Jew" of medieval folklore.

An Armenian archbishop, then visiting England, was asked by the monks of Saint Albans Abbey about the celebrated Joseph of Arimathea, who had spoken to Jesus, and was reported to be still alive. The archbishop answered that he had himself seen such a man in Armenia, and that his name was Cartaphilus, a Jewish shoemaker, who, when Jesus stopped for a second to rest while carrying his cross, hit him and told him, "Go on quicker, Jesus! Go on quicker! Why dost Thou loiter?" to which Jesus is said to have replied, "I shall stand and rest, but thou shalt go on till the last day."

The conflict here focuses on means and ends. Cartaphilus is fascinated by Chise, a magical being doomed to die while he is doomed to live. A supernatural Dr. Frankenstein, he schemes to graft her body into his and absorb its nature. He does not care how many innocents are sacrificed along the way.

Elias, likewise, will do anything to protect Chise, except Chise cannot allow him to do anything, to become a mirror image of Cartaphilus. Ruth (Chise's canine familiar) wryly observes that the relationship has shifted from Elias teaching Chise how to be a mage to Chise teaching Elias how to be an human being.

This is very intense stuff. Thankfully, the high drama is leavened by the use of comical double-takes in the chibi (super-deformed) style. Another constant delight is voice actor Ryota Takeuchi, who plays the part of Elias like a double bass. Visually, The Ancient Magus Bride is a treat from beginning to end.

It can seem at times that the entire budget for the anime went into creating the breathtaking background art, that often brings to mind verdant Turner landscapes. This is Merlin's Albion, the England of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fused with the Shinto cosmology of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

As depicted in anime such as Mary and the Witch's Flower, Witch Hunter Robin, Black Butler, and even Hellsing, Japanese fantasy writers are fascinated with the world that lies beyond the English wardrobe, and delight in fusing together two cultures a literal world apart.

For example, although she began her enchanted life as a banshee, Silky has become a species of brownie known as a silkie, a female spirit "associated with the house rather than the family who lives there. But like a brownie, she is said to perform chores for the family."

The silkie closely resembles the Japanese zashiki warashi, a house spirit that blesses the homes of those who treat it well. Silky is no singing candelabra but she does create a warm and inviting place where this strange menagerie endeavors to become better at being whatever species of the supernatural they happen to be.

The anime follows the manga through volume 9 (March 2018). Kore Yamazaki is still writing the manga. One of her clever touches is titling each episode with a well-known English proverb. (I did the same thing in Angel Falling Softly.)

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November 15, 2018

A parting of the ways (5/7)

In a 12 April 1988 PC Magazine article, "OS/2: A New Beginning for PC Applications," Charles Petzold restated what had become by then the party line amongst the personal computer prognosticators: "Microsoft expects OS/2 to establish the foundations of PC operating systems for the next decade."

Robert Hummel begged to differ. Only a few pages later in his PC Tutor column, he made one of the most spot-on predictions to grace the magazine.

Years from now, when programmers sit around and wax nostalgic, someone is sure to ask, "Remember OS/2?" Everyone will chuckle. Despite the hype and fanfare, I believe OS/2 is going to be short-lived. Rather than getting an improved DOS, we've gotten a new, completely incompatible operating system.

Or as reader Patrick Anderson stated in the 11 October 1988 Letters section,

All the gushing over OS/2 is amazing. It shows how far out of touch the gurus in Redmond and the magazine editors in New York are with real PC users.

But along with Robert Hummel, Ray Duncan was keeping in touch. He'd previously predicted that it'd take ten years for "OS/2's successors to eclipse MS-DOS." But in two October 1990 issues, and then in the 15 January 1991 issue, he drastically collapsed that time frame. Writing in his 16 October 1990 Power Programming column, Duncan observed that

Somewhere along the tortuous path from the original implementation of OS/2, thing went badly awry. A system designed to provide users and programmers with a painless migration path from DOS was transformed into a system designed to sell hardware and compete with Unix.

Two weeks later, Duncan counted up an installed based of 45 million DOS users, and short of an outright catastrophe, predicted 100 million DOS users by 1995. Microsoft, he advised,

should reconcile itself to the marketplace's resistance to the size and complexity of OS/2, and commit itself wholeheartedly to making DOS everything that it can be—regardless of the impact this might have on Microsoft's Joint Development Agreement with IBM or on OS/2 sales.

In fact, he was handing out advice that had already been taken. Microsoft had indeed fully committed itself to "integrating Windows into DOS," and would soon abandon OS/2 in favor of the massive installed base of DOS and Windows applications.

The momentous event—the dissolution of the Joint Development Agreement between IBM and Microsoft—happened that year. As with the hiring of David Cutler in 1988 to design Windows NT, it took a while for the news to leak out, and then everyone was so committed to the established storyline that it took even more time for the news to sink in.

In the meantime, DOS powerhouses like WordPerfect and Lotus invested heavily in OS/2. They were caught flatfooted when Windows took off like a rocket and never recovered. IBM acquired Lotus and it slowly faded away. In the worst deal of the decade, Novell bought WordPerfect and then sold it a few years later to Corel for pennies on the dollar.

Rumors of the "great divorce" between IBM and Microsoft had circulated the previously year, finally prompting coordinated press releases from the two companies in September 1990. The statements "reaffirmed their relationship" and extended the licensing arrangements for DOS, Windows, and OS/2.

"Semantic content: zero" was how Ray Duncan summed up the substance of these press releases. Authoring two separate articles in the 15 January 1991 issue, he again cut to the heart of the matter:

Although IBM and Microsoft agreed to cross-license everything, they committed themselves to nothing in the way of marketing the cross-licensed products. I suspect that Microsoft took a hard look at the startling success of Windows 3.0, compared it with the dismal penetration of the desktop market by OS/2 after three years (less than 2 percent by the most optimistic estimates), and decided to cut its losses.

Two weeks later, John Dvorak observed that "there has been much chitchat about a falling-out between IBM and Microsoft with denials all around, and more and more evidence indicates that the two are going in opposite directions." But then in the 30 April 1991 issue, Dvorak hedged his bets once again to pooh-pooh a report from January of that year.

The biggest fiasco in the industry was the obituary written in Wall Street Journal recently when OS/2 was pronounced dead. Microsoft was supposedly going to drop the product and concentrate on Windows. After all the facts were straightened out it seemed that nothing changed except there was even more talk of a portable OS/2.

Well, the Wall Street Journal got it exactly right. Microsoft handed OS/2 development back to IBM and concentrated its efforts on Windows and the Win32 API. This guaranteed that compliant programs written for DOS-based Windows would also run on NT, thus staving off the drought of applications that had plagued OS/2 from the start.

With that (mostly) "painless migration path from DOS" now in place, the fate of OS/2 was sealed. Five years later, in the PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds, Steve Ballmer recalled the moment when everything went sideways.

We were in a major negotiation in early 1990, right before the Windows launch. We wanted to have IBM on stage with us to launch Windows 3.0 but they wouldn't do the kind of deal that would allow us to profit. It would allow them essentially to take over Windows from us, and we walked away from the deal.

After a decade of tumultuous growth, the weirdest marriage in American corporate history was over. And yet the true believers still couldn't believe that digital Mom and Dad were really getting divorced.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The future that wasn't (6/7)
The future that wasn't (7/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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November 08, 2018

Bakuman (the future)

Another way to watch Bakuman is as a historical document. It is decidedly old school. Pen and ink. Fax machines and copiers. Fat reams of paper stuffed into manila envelopes. It is also the end of an era.

The editors in Bakuman do pay a lot of attention to their spreadsheets. Akito writes on a laptop. But then everything gets printed out on paper. And faxed. Final proofs are hand-delivered.

In one of the more poignant scenes in the series, Moritaka is walking home from a school reunion where everybody was talking up their holiday plans. He glances at his calloused, ink-stained hands and realizes that, aside from gall bladder surgery, he's never taken a day off.

"No regrets," he tells Akito, and Akito agrees. When they got married, he and Kaya barely managed to squeeze in a honeymoon.

That could be changing. There is plenty of talk about the aging of Japan's population. Over the past quarter century, circulation at the major manga magazines dropped by two-thirds as the baby boom echo aged out of the target demographic and into middle age.

But at the same time, manga and anime have gone international and gone online, with Crunchyroll and Netflix leading the way. Justin Sevakis points out that "there has never been more money flowing from international fans to anime productions in the history of the art form."

Even light novels are getting in on the act in a big way, something I would not have predicted just a decade ago.

At Yen Press, a joint venture between Kadokawa and the New York-based Hachette Book Group, Kurt Hassler launched light novel imprint Yen On in 2014, introducing Reki Kawahara's Sword Art Online with the modest goal of publishing 12 books annually. That figure doubled the following year, and now Hassler says that Yen On will release 110 light novels through the rest of this year, representing growth of nearly 1000 percent in four years.

How popular culture is being created is also changing. As depicted in Shirobako, out of sheer necessity, technology has transformed the animation industry. 3DCG animation is only a small part of the revolution.

Even if an artist works initially on paper, everything gets scanned and imported into the animation software where the cleanup, coloring, and actual animation takes place. "Dailies" are generated and tweaked on the fly.

This process allows animation studios (in Japan and Hollywood) to subcontract with companies in South Korea, China, and Vietnam. Work product can be uploaded to and downloaded from the cloud in real time.

When it comes to creating backgrounds, directors like Makoto Shinkai have become masters of Photoshop (Garden of Words may be his most staggeringly gorgeous). This approach is disparaged by purists of the hand-drawn school. I don't care as long as it works.

The first time I saw the opening credit roll for Inari Kon Kon in HD, I was gobsmacked. Sure, it's a Photoshop, but it's breathtakingly beautiful.

When it comes to manga, the silly Eromanga Sensei offers a serious look at the future. Masamune naturally writes on a laptop. Sagiri (the artist) works entirely in the digital domain, using a Cintiq 13HD Wacom tablet (according to people who pay close attention to such things).

When she's finished with an illustration, she simply shoots an email off to her editor with a multi-layer PDF attached.

To be sure, a computer won't be drawing Moritaka's manga for him anytime soon. But the cost and time savings could prove considerable.

To start with, the ink is gone, along with the most physically onerous and time-consuming chores, such as whiting out mistakes (using, yes, Wite-Out) and often redrawing whole pages, manually layering in background textures, and sizing screentone overlays with an Exacto knife.

I grew up in at the end of the typewriter era, when "high-tech" was an IBM Selectric. But after using a primitive word processor on my brother's Apple IIe, there was no going back.

There are productivity gains to be made on both the production and publishing sides. The iconoclastic Shuho Sato adopted the increasingly popular "hybrid" model, his "traditional" publisher dealing with the paper product while he maintains a platform for distributing manga electronically.

We are quickly approaching the day when all commercial art is digital from start to finish. Using platforms like Amazon KDP, you can publish digitally and on paper (print-on-demand) for "free." And then with a push of a button, your book will appear in every Amazon store in the world.

"Free," however, doesn't factor in the costs in time and resources incurred by the writer, which can range from very little to a whole lot. Formatting a professional-looking ebook is a much more straightforward process than formatting a professional-looking print-ready manuscript.

And the eternal challenge still remains of reaching the reader. So perhaps the future of publishers will not be to physically publish but to publicize.

Related posts

Bakuman (the context)
Bakuman (the review)
Bakuman (the anime)
Manga economics
The teen manga artist
The manga development cycle

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November 01, 2018

Bakuman (the review)

Bakuman was created by two best-selling mangaka, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. So it is only natural that the protagonists of their manga about writing manga should also be a writer/illustrator team.

We first meet Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi in the ninth grade. Observing Moritaka's talents as an artist, Akito approaches him and proposes they team up to create manga.

Akito doesn't pluck this idea out of thin air. Nobuhiro Mashiro, Moritaka's uncle, was a mangaka with one published series and an anime adaptation to his credit. Then he literally worked himself to death trying to write another. "I'm not a mangaka," he often said with a wry grin. "I'm a gambler."

Moritaka's parents aren't eager for him to follow in his uncle's footsteps. Akito is also taking a leap. He is the school's top academic performer. Top academic performers aspire to attend Tokyo University, not become mangaka (this class conflict later gets its own story arc).

Helping Moritaka make up his mind is Miho Azuki, the girl he longs for from afar (or from across the classroom or from the adjacent desk).

With a helpful push from Akito, she reveals to Moritaka that she wants to become a voice actor. Moritaka promises to write a manga that will get made into an anime and Miho will star in it. Goofy, yes, but hardly out of sync with the mindset of a couple of ninth graders.

Taking place at arm's length, though, their romance is not terribly consequential in story terms. Rather like Gilbert in Anne of the Island, Miho remains mostly off-screen as Moritaka's muse.

A more emotionally compelling narrative follows the blossoming friendship between Akito and Kaya Miyoshi, Miho's classmate. They squabble like Anne and Gilbert from the first two Green Gables books. The blue-collar Kaya doesn't aspire to a whole lot, other than being with Akito.

But Kaya's down-to-earth nature keeps Akito and Moritaka and the studio on an even keel. Her relationship with Akito matures in a positive direction. It gives the series much of its heart and warmth. The series could have used more Kaya. And Miho needn't have been quite so absent.

The story does start with a few cheats. Moritaka's grandfather lends Moritaka the use of Nobuhiro's studio. Hisashi Sasaki, the managing editor at Shonen Jack, worked with Nobuhiro. So he knows Moritaka, though doesn't do him any favors, other than giving him a fair shot.

A fair shot at Shonen Jack, née Shonen Jump. From the start, Moritaka and Akito aim for the top.

Shonen Jump is the best-selling manga magazine in Japan. At its height during the mid-1980s, it sold a staggering 6.5 million copies a week. Though demographic changes have cut deeply into those numbers, Shonen Jump still boasts a weekly circulation of two million.

In the anime adaptation, the magazine is called Shonen Jack and the publisher is called Yueisha instead of Shueisha. The posters of One Piece and Naruto decorating the lobby walls make it clear what publication they're referring to.

Shonen Jump has a sister publication called Next, where up and coming manga artists can test out their talent. So does Shonen Jack.

One of Moritaka and Akito's submissions ends up on the desk of Akira Hattori. The junior editors at the magazine sort through the submissions to find mangaka with promise. The careers of the editors depend on how well they can develop a mangaka's career and sustain a successful series.

After asking for revisions, Hattori enters the manuscript in an upcoming contest at Next. These contests are another way of recruiting and judging new talent. Moritaka and Akito do well and are invited to submit a one-shot to the prestigious Tezuka Award at the main magazine.

They don't make the final cut but Hattori is sufficiently impressed to ask for more submissions.

In a highly iterative process that any old-school freelance writer is familiar with, they revise and resubmit, revise and resubmit until they get an acceptance. This process takes months, even years. So the the series often makes big jumps in the timeline from episode to episode.

Once they have established their bona fides as artist and writer, they are invited to submit a one-shot that could be serialized. Essentially a pilot episode.

Everything published in Shonen Jack gets rated. A steady stream of reader surveys are compiled twice weekly into spreadsheets. If a one-shot with serialization prospects delivers good ratings, the editor petitions his senior editor to present it at a serialization meeting.

But every new series means an existing one must be canceled. As the managing editor likes to say, "If you write a good manga, you will get published. But not necessarily by us."

While working on their projects and waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down, mangaka often free-lance as assistants. The pressures of turning out two-dozen finished pages every week is such that, once serialized, a mangaka depends on assistants to do the inking and background work.

Eiji Niizuma is a boy genius, the same age as Moritaka and Akito. The managing editor personally recruited him to write for Shonen Jack. When we first meet Niizuma, he is a bundle of ticks and idiosyncrasies, a sort of artistic Sheldon Cooper after a dozen shots of espresso.

But he proves to be a great asset, both as a rival and a friend, with a keen eye for what works and what doesn't (though he's not very good at explaining why). During his short stint as Niizuma's assistant, Moritaka meets several of the other key players in the series (his competition).

First is Shinta Fukuda. Cocky and brash, a rebel in search of a cause, he appoints himself the leader of the new recruits. He aspires to write gritty urban dramas.

In his mid-thirties, Takuro Nakai is the oldest in their circle. He is the most technically proficient artist but hasn't ever been serialized. As each year passes, the odds grow longer and he grows more desperate, a desperation that has produced several self-destructive behavioral quirks.

He eventually teams up with Ko Aoki, who comes to Shonen Jack from the shojo manga side. (The real Shueisha publishes over a dozen manga magazines in all genres.) They get the green light for a series. The question is whether Nakai can hold his personal life together in the meantime.

Although working in utterly unlike genres, Fukuda and Aoki exemplify an important point that Bakuman makes about popular art. In dramas about "artists," the market-driven demands of the audience and the imposition of editorial constraints are typically cast as the bad guys.

In Bakuman they are the unavoidable—and not necessarily unwelcome—reality.

The immense popularity of Shonen Jump pulls in readers of all ages. But the shonen (少年) in Shonen Jump means "boy," the target audience being between ten and fifteen years old. "Fan service" is fine but no nudity. Action is emphasized but the violence can't get gory.

Fukuda could easily write for a seinen magazine, aimed at older teens and college students.

Takao Saito, for example, has been writing Golgo 13 for fifty years. A gritty series about a professional hitman, Golgo 13 runs in Big Comic, a seinen manga magazine. A circulation of 300,000 is nothing to sneeze at. But it is one-sixth that of Young Jump.

Aoki could easily write for one of Yueisha's shojo (少女) magazines. But the most popular shojo manga also have circulations in the mid-six figures. Getting published in Shonen Jump means reaching the biggest audience possible. It also means hewing to the magazine's editorial guidelines.

So her fantasy series must have more vivid action sequences and her romance series must have more fan service. In one of the funnier arcs, Fukuda takes it upon himself to tutor Aoki about how to appeal to the prurient interests of twelve-year-old boys (without outraging their parents).

These compromises are a constant. Action-oriented "battle manga" are the most popular. A mid-list "gag manga" has the most reliable staying power. But Akito turns out to excel at a Rod Serling approach, writing stories with a surreal or paranormal edge that are layered with social commentary.

At first, Hattori suggests that being "the best of the rest" isn't a bad place to end up. Except Moritaka and Akito want to compete at the top with Eiji Niizuma (everything's a competition in a shonen series). In the process, they give every genre a shot, frequently fail, and start over.

But this is a melodrama and not a documentary. They do finally find the success they are looking for. And their editors are there every step of the way. I can't think of another drama series about the arts that gives the lowly editors so big a role and makes them the good guys to boot.

And gives them so many smart things to say about what makes a story successful.

The original Bakuman was published in 176 chapters over four years. The anime ran for 75 episodes in three seasons on NHK Educational television. The art and animation can't match that of a dozen-episode cour from Kyoto Animation. But this is a series where the ideas matter more.

With so much material to generate, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata often fall back on a problem-of-the-week approach to creating drama. While predictable, this is actually a great advantage of the series.

As a result, we get a crash course in every kind of manga, every issue, conflict, and editorial decision that arises in the manga publishing business. The constant search for new ideas, the stress of weekly ratings, the business decisions that go into making a manga into an anime.

And, yes, all those dysfunctional mangaka.

For example, Kazuya Hiramaru, who abruptly quits his job as a salaryman to write a surreal Dilbert-like gag manga about an otter in a business suit. Only to discover, to his horror, that he's abandoned one rat race to join another where the rats have to run even faster.

"At least when I was a salaryman I had weekends off!" he complains to his editor. But poor Hiramaru is cursed to be a talented and popular—if lazy and unmotivated—mangaka. So his Svengalian editor will stop at nothing to trick, coerce, and manipulate him into making his deadlines.

Hiramaru isn't exaggerating too much. As Shuho Sato documents in Manga Poverty, simply breaking even can take a mangaka years. Those assistants get paid out of the mangaka's page-rates. So turning a profit depends on how fast the mangaka can run his production line.

Sure, there will always be writers who produce best-sellers right out of the box and rake in millions. And I certainly enjoy following the adventures of the Richard Castles and Temperance Brennans, who somehow find the time to solve murder mysteries in between writing yet another best-seller.

But back in the real world, commercially successful art requires more work, discipline, single-minded determination, and, yes, creativity than most of us are capable of. Along with a large dose of luck. Which makes me all the more appreciative of those who can pull it off.

Related posts

Bakuman (the context)
Bakuman (the future)
Bakuman (the anime)
Manga economics
The teen manga artist
Manga circulation in Japan
The manga development cycle

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