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Another way to watch Bakuman is as a historical document.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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