So in the interest of nibbling at the hand that feeds me, I wanted to talk a little bit about TWIN SPICA, the new manga series from author Kou Yaginuma, and published in English by the good folks at Vertical publishing.
I want to write about it first and foremost because I thought the first two volumes (now available in better comic and book stores everywhere) are really wonderful stuff. They’re inspiring and strange–a mix of magical realism and science-fiction that’s rare in North American publishing. Essentially, the story is about a group of teenagers that are vying to be a part of Japan’s revamped space program. They enter a highschool set to train young people to go into space (or become support crew) and have trials and tribulations, but it’s set against an awful disaster in the space program that cost hundreds of lives. It’s got drama and pathos, there’s a lot of great research into space and astronaut training that’s evident in the stories, and the lead character’s wistful optimism and is-he-real/isn’t-he-real imaginary friend keeps you guessing at the whole thing. I’m eagerly anticipating the third volume, and the fourth, and the rest of the series really. :)
Now, unfortunately just liking a book isn’t really enough to get me to blog lately (as it is I am late for work typing this out). Yesterday in mentioning this book on twitter, I couldn’t help but mention that people should try it despite it’s cover… And I felt I should elaborate on that a little. As a retailer, I’ve attemped to share my enthusiasm with many customers, but I’ve been thwarted somewhat because… well… you can see that cover right?
The audience for the book in North America is probably older teens and people in their 20s (at least I hope so because the teen market is saturated and full of thieves…). But more importantly, as part of Vertical’s line (folks who have heretofore only published work intended for adults, primarily by Osamu Tezuka) there’s a natural adult crossover. As a bookseller, I look at the people who enjoy Sci-Fi and Drama, people who might’ve really loved the critical-hit / sales-flop PLANETES and want something new to read. But every time I put a copy of Twin Spica in someone’s hands, they take one look at the cover and go “that’s not really my thing”. Why? Well it’s got a moe little girl on a magical background holding glowing orbs… It’s precious, and awkward, and looks verrrrry young by North American standards.
But the book is great.
So I’ve been offering up a money-back guarantee and at that point most people “bite” because I’ve got a good track record with recommendations and there’s almost no risk. But I’m not in every store. I mean, I heard about the book months and months ago through a licensing announcement, and I got excited, and then I saw the art and was convinced that there were two series in Japan called Twin Spica. I’m on board and even I have reservations.
Of course, none of this is to admonish Vertical–far from it. They produced a version very faithful to the Japanese edition, and seeing as this series has a large fan-base they might’ve ended up in a situation similar to the one with Yen Press and the Spice & Wolf novels. Hardcore fans don’t really care if the cover of a book makes it difficult to sell, they want it to be as close to the Japanese as possible without bothering to learn Japanese. They don’t really get that making something a success in the marketplace means that more of that thing can keep coming out in the marketplace, for the most part, and from what I can tell Twin Spica has some very hardcore fans. I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interests to alter the cover design if it meant alienating the people most likely to buy it, but at the same time, I’m kind of in a pickle because that book? Tough sell to the casual manga fan, the 20+ year old manga fan, the non-manga-fan who’d probably enjoy it. Hell, it doesn’t look like any other book Vertical has ever published. Which isn’t even a bad thing. But it does make it pretty difficult to give it a retail context.
Anyway, the point of all of this is: Read Twin Spica. It’s a delightful series that’s off to a great start, and like Vertical’s other recent releases Peepo Choo and Chi’s Sweet Home it’s an interesting step for the company to take, and one they should be rewarded for with sales. Because you really can’t judge this book by its cover.
(You knew that was coming, right?)