Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #1 & #2

There were more manga released each month in 2009 than were released in the entirety of the year 2000. The growth of Japanese-originating comics in the North American comics industry has been phenomenal over the last ten years, with a massive manga boom that never busted (plateaued though), an explosion of material for every gender, every age group, and nearly-every interest. While there are still readers to be initiated and battles to be fought, the preceding decade saw manga arrive in North America; its decades of scouting and waiting paid off in spades for quite a few publishers… and dashed others against the rocks.

There have been thousands of manga released in North America over the past 10 years, but I believe the following 10(-ish) manga were the milestones of the decade, the most important works to be released in English. Depending on how detailed (or long) I wanted this article to go, I could pick 25, 50, 100 manga that serve as milestones, indicative of the industry and the medium and what was and whats to come. But I think I’ve picked 10 manga that paint the most vivid picture of the medium so I’m going to go with those–part of the fun of making lists like these is seeing where opinions differ, and what’s important to the writer (me!).

-> Unfortunately I went on entirely too long about my first two choices, and so I’ve had to break this up into a number of parts. I’m loathe to do that, but I feel like 2000-word chunks is a good length to read a bunch of manga history. So here’s book 1 and 2, chronologically, and hopefully we’ll keep pace for the rest of the week.

Feel free to leave a comment if you like, and without further ado let me present to you The 10 Manga That Changed Comics in the last decade, #1 and #2:

#1: Dragonball #1 (pre-2000) / Dragonball Volume 1 (August 2000). By Akira Toriyama, published by Viz.

Dragon Ball Volume 1, by Akira Toriyama, Published by Viz Media, August 2000

In the waning days of 1999 manga sparked the first fires of potential controversy with its march into North America. The manga version of Akira Toriyama’s popular Dragonball series had started a few years earlier, in the quaint (but then-standard) format of 40 page single-issue comics, each reprinting a chapter (or two) of the Japanese comics phenomenon in English language, for the first time. The series were among the first to be released “unflipped” (or in their original Japanese orientation of right-to-left) by Viz, after it was proven the format would be popular thanks to unflipped releases of the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. It was selected because, sure, it’s a manga phenomenon and was incredibly popular everywhere in the world, but also because it was really good, and that was the REASON it was popular everywhere else in the world. The Dragon Ball manga are hilarious, have fantastic fight scenes, great art, and present a fully-realized sci-fi world that any kid (or the young-at-heart) would love to hang out in. It’s top-notch comics, by one of the best creators in the world.

Oh, and, ALSO because Viz was in the midst of a boom of licensing bucks thanks to BIG! POKEMON! DOLLARS! (they had the rights to the million-selling Pokemon manga series) and the Dragonball and Dragonball Z (a sequel) anime adaptations were doing very well on U.S. Television.

The heavily-edited anime adaptations, I should add.

The manga, owing to the creator’s wishes and the general feeling amongst anime fandom that nothing should ever be edited, ever, was completely unedited and featured boobies, pee-pees, and a bunch of other juvenile, completely hilarious jokes. The comics were very popular too, with more than 4 printings of the early issues topping several hundred-thousand copies. They were so popular that Viz even bundled three or four issues into polybags, and sold them in the mass-market at a slightly discounted price.  They sold them at Toys ‘R’ Us. They sold them in Texas, where a man had to explain to his little kid what boobies and peepees are, and he was none-too-happy about that.

Here’s the CBLDF report about the incident, from March 2000, about the November 1999 event:

And here’s a reproduction of Viz’s Letter From The Editor in the Dragonball comics in August 2000, about the incident and censorship that followed:

We all got lucky. Oh it made the news of course, and Toys ‘R’ Us pulled every comic book from their chain and have never really gotten back into the comics game. Viz… reacted… to narrowly escaping some very hot water, by editing all future Dragonball releases to remove boobies and peepees and tone down all of the sexual humour. By the time the first Dragonball collected edition came out in 2000, this:

became this:

And a lot of folks (me) whined on the internet. Viz had caved to public perception, and decided the fact that selling tens of thousands of Dragonball collections (at the then-standard 6″ x 9″ size, though at a ‘discounted’ price of just $12.95) was much, much more important than publishing the unedited work, and risking legal troubles. Dragon Ball taught us that sometimes the price of mainstream acceptance was watered-down and disappointing content.

It took a few years, and internet petitions, and letters, but right-around the time Dragonball Volume 4 was released, Viz decided to go back to releasing the work unedited, but with an “Ages 13 and Up” warning label on the cover. Read about it here:

But apparently that warning label means jack and squat in the real world, when controversy comes-a-courtin’. Which of course is why Dragon Ball’s boobies and pee-pees made waves again THIS year.  In October of 2009, a  County Councilman from Maryland held up photocopies of panels of Dragon Ball at a school board meeting, decrying the work as filth and trying to use it as leverage for his own bullshit political agenda against the school in question (I may be biased). It caused quite a stir across the internet and in particular amongst librarians, with the vast majority of them coming down firmly in support of the work, though it wasn’t enough to stop the book from getting pulled from all of the school and public libraries in the county. Despite the fact that it’s a bestseller, despite the fact it had multiple warning labels, it was pulled from highschool and even public libraries in that county. Pathetic.

Luckily, Viz hasn’t decided to censor the work again and the recent VizBig editions of Dragonball which collect 3 volumes in one oversized edition, are the most faithful and best-reproduced yet, full of colour pages and cheap too! I highly recommend them. But I think this editorial from August, 2000, is still sadly applicable today:

If anyone has any specific questions about what has been changed, or what “originally” happened in a particular place, please write to me about it. Our intentions aren’t to conceal the truth even if we have to conceal Goku’s genitals. We’ll try our best to keep it as true to the original as possible within the boundaries that have been set upon us. Hopefully someday America will be mature enough as a country that Dragon Ball can be printed as it was originally drawn. – Viz Media, August 2000

Yeah, hopefully, someday.


#2: Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1, March 2000

Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1 - By CLAMP, published by Tokyopop, March 2000

Cardcaptor Sakura was one of the earliest and easily the most-anticipated manga released in English by the all-woman manga collective CLAMP, and Tokyopop made it happen. Originally serialized, much like Dragon Ball / DBZ, as a series of issues (in Tokyopop’s “MIXX CHIX” line of comics… hahaha), the first manga trade paperback was released in March of 2000, at the same time as the fourth issue of the serialization, also included in the book. I have a vague recollection of this being unprecedented at the time, the collected edition of a work arriving on THE SAME DAY as the serialization, but then Tokyopop always were ones to break the rules. It’s no wonder they rushed to get a collection out, as Cardcaptor Sakura had been a much-requested favourite of hardcore anime and manga fans for a few years, with huge communities and fan-bases sprung-up around the adorable, fashionable characters thanks to its genre similarities to the Magical Girl manga/anime Sailor Moon. It was the first manga series targeted not at an existing fandom, but at little girls.

Tokyopop’s format and price-point for these collections were shocking to most manga fans–they were tiny and cheap! The “Pocket Mixx” collections as they called them measured only 4.5″ wide by 6.5″ tall, a little more than 2/3 size of regular manga releases, or about 1/2 standard “comic book” size. Smaller than the Japanese size too. But Tokyopop priced them at only $9.99 a pop, for 200 pages of story, and a combination of the price-point, the ‘unique’ size, and the groundbreakingly fresh and original content drew in readers big-time… despite a bunch of bitching about the quality of the printing. Everyone liked to bitch about Tokyopop’s early releases, but man, did everyone buy them. Cardcaptor Sakura Volume 1 was definitely a hit. A small-scale hit, but still noteworthy from a company whose only major success to date had been the Sailor Moon manga, by Naoko Takeuchi, despite a half-dozen other releases. It was later that year that the series would really blow-up.

But before we get into why it was a huge success, lets go back and talk about Dragon Ball for a moment. You might’ve caught, above, that the Dragon Ball comics had been coming out for almost 3 years before the first collection was released in August of 2000. All manga trade paperback releases to that point were similarly slowly paced, and similarly expensively priced. If anything, the release of Dragon Ball Volume 1 at $12.95 could be read as a reaction to the Pocket Mixx pricing, though even then Viz couldn’t match the prices of the Tokyopop material with Viz’s larger book size and higher production costs. A quick survey of the 3 manga trade paperbacks Viz solicited in the same month as Cardcaptor Sakura Pocket Mixx Volume 1 shows their prices at $15.95 for the two adult releases, and $12.95 for the POKEMON release, which was selling like gangbusters at the time anyway. It was a very different industry.

So if Cardcaptor Sakura Volume 1 was not the first Pocket Mixx release, or the first CLAMP release, or the first shoujo release, why am I mentioning it? 3 Reasons:

    #1: The Creators. While the success of Rumiko Takahashi in North America had already opened a lot of eyes about the lack of Gender disparity amongst manga creators (particularly as opposed to the male-dominated North American industry), CLAMP was not just 1 woman but 4, all immensely skilled, all trading duties on their manga, and they’d come up from the “junior leagues” of doujinshi to do it. They’re majorly inspiring creators for a generation of girls and women (and guys too!). Though CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth and x/1999 were released a few years prior, they had nowhere near the impact or popularity of Cardcaptor Sakura.
    #2: Timing and Audience: While it wasn’t the first shoujo released into North America, or the most popular (this is all post-Sailor Moon remember), it was certainly one of the first, and one of the most successful. With its delicate lines and drawings and exceptionally cute characters and fashions, Sakura’s appeal was clearly aimed at young girls, possibly the first mass-market comic to do so in 30 years, and went allll the way up to creepy 40-something otaku, ensuring a nice broad audience and healthy success. Cardcaptor Sakura was one of the first true moe manga to be released in North America (Google it). It was also the first solo stand-alone title that Tokyopop released after Sailor Moon, giving progressive comic shops (few though they may have been…) something else to sell the die-hard Sailor Moon fans.
    #3: It was the title that really started the manga boom in bookstores.

In preparing a little research for this article, I pinged Kurt Hassler, former buyer for Borders/Waldenbooks, unofficial early-days Tokyopop consultant, and currently Editor-In-Chief of YEN PRESS, publishing Japanese manga, Korean manhwa, original English-language manga, and manga-styled other-media adaptations. Hassler is credited with starting the manga boom in 2000/2001, and for guiding numerous manga pubs towards the market we have today. So I flat-out asked Mr. Hassler about the manga-boom on Twitter, cuz he’d be the person to know:

@Comics212 said:  Kurt, what would you say was the most important book you brought to stores in the early days? Fruits Basket? Kingdom Hearts? A work by Clamp?

@YenPress said: Back in the day, Sailor Moon was the book that really paved the way for manga followed by Cardcaptor Sakura & Dragonball. Cartoon Network’s Toonami block opened a lot of doors for manga. It would be nice to see a network devote some afternoon airtime to anime again.

Cardcaptor Sakura, like most popular manga, spawned an anime tv series in Japan. Unlike most of those anime though, the series was brought to North America. It was dubbed, severely edited, and aired on Friday-afternoon TV as CARDCAPTORS. The series premiered on June 17th 2000 on the KidsWB!, a then-young network but with broad, broad reach. Sailor Moon was only ever available in syndication, getting legendarily bad time-slots and had been off-the-air in most markets for a year or two. CARDCAPTORS debut was massive and instant hit with kids (particularly girls), though it wasn’t without some controversy amongst die-hard fans. The North American release of the series started with the 8th episode–where not-coincidentally the male-co-star Li Syaoran finally shows up, to provide both a male and female lead to “better fit American tastes” or something. Almost all of the Sakura-centric episodes were edited out completely, and the action was ramped-up to turn the series into an action-adventure romp for boys… and girls could watch too if they wanted. And man, did this INFURIATE anime fans!!! Check this out:

So with Tokyopop releasing monthly Cardcaptor Sakura comics, and trade paperback collections of those comics every 4-6 months, COMPLETELY UNEDITED (but fueled by a popular afternoon TV show!) there was suddenly a rush by hardcore fans AND casual viewers alike to the new, AUTHENTIC releases, which as Mr. Hassler said just happened to be in bookstores everywhere thanks to Tokyopop’s previous successes. It’s important to note that, in my estimation, it was this drive to authenticity that really fueled manga through the 00s, for better-or-for-worse. But we’ll get to that later.

Yes, Sailor Moon opened the door for shoujo manga and anime, and other Tokyopop properties appearing around the same time with anime tie-ins like Gundam Wing definitely had some influence, and hell, Dragon Ball Z was (and is) a much more popular property than all of them combined, but Cardcaptor Sakura was in the right place, at the right time, at the right price-point, in the right format, with the right content, appealing entirely to a fanbase that had been otherwise completely abandoned by comics. Basically, it was the perfect book to launch the bookstore boom (though, honestly, it would take until 2002 or 2003 to really kick into gear).

It’s worth noting that Tokyopop re-released the series of tpbs in the now-standard 5.5×7.5 manga format a few years later, in 2004. Eventually they lost the license to the series due to a dust-up with Japanese licensor Kodansha, and at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con publisher Dark Horse Comics announced that, as part of their partnership with Kodansha and CLAMP, they would be re-releasing Cardcaptor Sakura in new omnibus editions with high-quality printing and a new-translation, just in time for the 10th Anniversary of the series in 2010.


Tomorrow: Manga #3 and #4!

– Christopher

15 Replies to “Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #1 & #2”

  1. This is the first I’ve heard of Dark Horse rereleasing Cardcaptor Sakura. I guess I know what I’m getting my niece for her next birthday.

  2. This is cool. They got one of those big sets (like a 3 in 1) of Dragon Ball at my local used bookstore. Are those censored? I’ll have to pick them up if not.

  3. I’d love to get the omnibus version of Cardcaptor Sakura- I guess the printing and translation quality will make up for the inability to carry it around. 😀

  4. I just looked at the Wikipedia article on Cardcaptor Sakura, and it mentioned something I found funny. Apparently, when Cardcaptors was still running, Taco Bell had some tie-in toys. The American Family Association complained about it because of the Clow Cards’ resemblance to Tarot cards. Poor Dr. Dobson might have had an aneurysm if he knew about the other thing that makes the non-Nelvana CCS so remarkable, which is its loose, open, and non-judgmental portrayal of same-sex romance, aimed at children.

  5. Brilliant anaysis. It’s refreshing to find someone who can look at manga from a dispassionate perspective and talk about what happened and what it means.

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