Kodansha USA to take over Del Rey Manga Licenses

To my mind, there hasn’t been a worse publisher launch in the last 5 years than that of Kodansha USA.

I realize that this is a harsh statement, and I’ve refrained from making it for a while now in the hopes that the bumpy path they’ve had would smooth out, and that they might acknowledge and visibly attempt to fix some of their many, many problems. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case as of yet, and today’s announcement of an increase in their responsibilities is, at best, baffling.

The problems with Kodansha USA (also known as Kodansha Comics), as I see them:

1. Every single one of their releases to date have missed their shipping date, and they’re already on a _very_ generous shipping schedule. The result is that some of the bestselling perennials in manga publishing–AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL have been unavailable for nearly 2 years now, and there are no answers to customer concerns why this is so.

2. The pricing on their work seems woefully out of touch with both the realities of the market, the popularity of the material, and their own Japanese pricing strategies. (Part of the blame on this goes to Dark Horse, who set those prices… nearly 10 years ago.)

3. Their reprints of AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL are inferior to the Dark Horse versions in terms of print quality (smearing, reproduction) and paper stock (thinner paper). For the same price.

4. They went back and released an older, less-complete version of Ghost In The Shell, hurting saleability of the title.

5. They’ve been utterly and completely uncommunicative to the press. They don’t even seem to have a website.

So the news this morning that Kodansha USA will take over publishing all of Del Rey Manga’s many bestselling titles? Disappointment bordering on dread. Del Rey’s Tsubasa, XXX-Holic, and Negima, continue to be some of our bestselling manga at the store, and the high-degree of care in preparation that goes into fan-favourite and critically acclaimed titles like Moyasimon, and Mushishi is phenomenal. I have my issues with their publishing set-up (mostly around their scheduling of less profitable titles) but in short, they’re a solid, professional publisher producing great work in a timely fashion and with a great deal of thought about the market and industry–everything Kodansha-USA has shown themselves not to be.

The only thing that gives me hope is this quote:

“In an e-mail interview with Irie, he said that while Kodansha USA Publishing will now directly oversee the publishing of Kodansha-originated English-language manga licenses, Kodansha still plans to “to work with local partners in foreign territories.” He said that Random House will continue, “handling much of the publishing side, such as editorial, production, sales and marketing.” Irie will be based in New York along with KUP general manager Kumi Shimizu.” – From Publisher’s Weekly

To me, that reads as though Random House will be packaging the books for Kodansha USA, which is very different, monetarily, than their current set-up. See, publishers generally absorb the costs of “editing, producing, selling and marketing” manga. If they’re producing that work for someone else, they get _paid_ for it, which is a real reversal! Also, if Del Rey is going to continue marketing, I’m curious as to why Ali Kokmen was let go…

Elsewhere in that interview it is mentioned that the head of Del Rey Manga, Dallas Middaugh, will be moving over to Random House Publisher Services to handle distribution of the line (and I’m glad they’re keeping Dallas Middaugh, he’s very good at his job). So in effect, things will continue more-or-less as they are, except:

– Kodansha USA will be making the publisher-type decisions, like which series get released and how often
– Del Rey no longer has to pay for licenses
– Del Rey is now likely getting paid to package the books for Kodansha
– Del Rey is making a cut on the distribution of the books but the majority of the money’s going to Kodansha.

It looks like Del Rey has divested themselves of _all_ of the risk of manga publishing, moving into a packaging and distribution relationship. Smart move for the bean-counters at Del Rey! And I guess Kodansha USA gets to call themselves a publisher, which I assume will impress someone back in Japan, but they’re not really doing anything other than putting their logo on the book, so far as I can tell.

On paper this looks like it could work out… but then on paper communism looks like a viable option on paper too–it all falls apart when you get to the real world. As I’ve shown, Kodansha USA has a terrible record at absorbing existing licenses and shepherding them to the market. Will Del Rey Manga’s professionalism counteract Kodansha USA’s track record? I honestly don’t know.

But going by that track record, it could be as long as a year before current titles resume their serialization, if AKIRA’s re-publication schedule is anything to go by. I guess all involved have got lots and lots of time to figure it all out?

– Christopher

21 Replies to “Kodansha USA to take over Del Rey Manga Licenses”

  1. There are a few DEL-REY titles I follow, and I’d be disappointed to see them canceled, so this is better news than “we’re not publishing anymore.” But… yeah, KODANSHA’s move into the market has been extremely disappointing… resurrecting the dead oversized format, using old Darkhorse translations, not putting the missing pages back into GHOST IN THE SHELL, dragging their feet on AKIRA… not encouraging.

    This also puts me in mind of the other attempts that Japanese content originators have made to move into the US market, such as TOEI animations attempt to release their own anime, just BUTCHERED popular series SLAM DUNK, and releasing underwhelming series like AIR MASTER. Or BANDAI VISUAL’s just… ODD… handling of marketable series like GUNBUSTER II and SUPER ROBOT WARS, which were released, subs only, 2 episodes to a disc, and for $40-50 each, effectively pricing themselves out of the market for product that absolutely no effort was put into, despite already HAVING a US distributor in BANDAI USA (into which BANDAI VISUAL was eventually folded).

    Japanese content originators just can’t seem to figure out how to make the US market work for them. On the flipside, though, KADOKAWA’s animation division saw greater success by working with various distributors to release their content overseas, having teamed up with BANDAI USA for THE MELANCHOLY OF SUZUMIYA HARUHI, RIGHTSTUF for THE THIRD, and FUNIMATION (now pretty much the only game in town) for FULL METAL PANIC TSR. So, maybe that IS the way to go for KODANSHA; let the people that have already done the work do it for you, and just take the credit. Isn’t that the American Dream?

  2. Great insight as always but I’d like to argue just one of your points, the “less-complete version of Ghost In The Shell” and the effect it has on that titles saleability. The pages that were removed, a gratuitous two-page lesbian sex scene, probably the book more sale-able, or at least, less objectionable. I’d feel less creepy giving it to someone as a gift, at least. Any manga purists who would object to this self-censorship should know that the pages are not included in the Japanese release of GitS and, AFAIK, have only appeared in the Dark Horse editions and meant for a less discerning Direct Market audience.

  3. Inkwell, i don’t know what you’re talking about, I *have* that Japanese version of Ghost in the Shell with the preposterous lesbian-sex-with-bandwidth-exposition scene. It was removed from the initial US release of GitS that I also have sitting around somewhere; I guess they re-released an uncensored version in North America & a censored version in Japan?

  4. I may have been wrong about the exclusion of those pages in the Japanese release, it was something I read a long time ago. My point was that I doubt that someone who was going to buy the Kodansha edition would not do so because there are just a few less titties than there used to be. The printing errors and cheaper paper would probably drive someone away first.

  5. Inkwell>I owned the original release of GiTS from Darkhorse, which is the same as the KODANSHA one, and sold it immediately for the complete, full, version.

    GiTS is an explicitly adult title to begin with, and I can’t imagine anyone BUT manga purists buying such a dense book… it’s already been pretty well proven how aggressively defensive nerds, especially manga/anime nerds, are against ANY form of censorship. Look at the big blow-up about potentially censoring the explicitly sexual scenes featuring an obviously underage girl from the DANCE IN THE VAMPIRE BUND anime… nerds screamed until FUNIMATION agreed to release it UNCENSORED.

    I agree that your thought process behind the logic of leaving out those two pages, but I disagree that it makes it more saleable, because the market has proved otherwise, time an again. It was the same with TENJOU TENGE, which CMX eventually gave up censoring, and DID affect the saleability of the title. Nerds don’t like to be dictated too and they don’t like the idea that someone, somewhere, has something that they don’t.

    As gratuitous and meaningless as those pages might be, their absence is equally gratuitous censoring of an already adult book, and that affects a retailers ability to sell it when an uncensored, complete, and better printed, version exists at a comparable price point (the uncensored 2nd edition from DARKHORSE, which is not yet out of print, as far as I can tell, is actually two dollars cheaper than the KODANSHA oversized re-release). Also, if someone can confirm this for me, the 2nd Edition Darkhorse release comes with Authors Notes and annotations… does the oversized KODANSHA one have these as well? I’m undecided on whether the oversized format also affects saleability, as Shirow’s art is very dense and may actually look better blown up, but the printing is lacking as compared to the Darkhorse release, and the oversized format is very 90’s, and hasn’t been viable with manga fans who are used to the smaller format releases, which is why Darkhorse re-printed them at that size in the first place.

    So… yeah, it’s a tougher sell overall. The AKIRA reprints are especially disappointing, as there were rumored plans of oversized hardcover releases, which sound oh so sexy, as my oversized crappy newsprint ones are yellowed and dog eared, and instead we get a crappier, overpriced, version of the same release from the early 2000’s. Hardcovers of AKIRA would sell, given the popularity of the material, and it’s broad appeal to Euro-comics fans thanks to Otomo’s obvious Moebius influence, though smaller format release at a better price point would also be a real easy sell. KODANSHA did neither, and that just seems like ball dropping to me.

    So, we’ll see what happens with DEL-REY handling things… it’s got to be better than this.

  6. Your piece mentions problems with Kodansha and shipping.

    Every single one of their releases to date have missed their shipping date, and they’re already on a _very_ generous shipping schedule. The result is that some of the bestselling perennials in manga publishing–AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL have been unavailable for nearly 2 years now, and there are no answers to customer concerns why this is so.

    I see the Akira titles all for sale at Amazon and apparently in stock, save for volume 4 which is on pre-order. So I was hoping for clarification on this item since the title does mostly seem available now.

    Were the titles retranslated from scratch (as Dark Horse is doing wonderfully with their rescues of Chobits) or did they just use Dark Horse’s original translations?

    1. The Akira editions Kodansha is reprinting are the exact same editions as the ones Dark Horse released.

      The Kodansha editions missed their original ship dates, but the first 3 are available now.

      There was a 2 year gap between when the Dark Horse editions went out of print and when Kodansha reprinted the first volume. By the time they’re done reprinting the series, volume 6 will have been out of print for nearly 5 years.

  7. I can’t even count the translation errors I have found. I feel as though Kodansha is putting out bad quality because they don’t care. I hope this is because they just aren’t being careful before publishing and not due to the audience they are launching the titles to. I don’t trust this company at all. Here are some errors from just one manga, in Sailor Moon volume 1. On page 173 Usagi says “…I can’t remember when I’ve seen flavored rice rice ball look so delicious!” On page 240 it says umeboshi is pickled apricot. These are simple things. It makes one wonder about more complex translations to come. Don’t they have proof readers? If I am paying more for the product the quality should be better not worse. I guess I will have to continue reading fan translations for Air Gear and hope I find my old Sailor moon mangas.

  8. @Naomi Rori — William Flanagan has been a translator for many years and usually does a very good job. You could always ask him about this on Twitter.

    That said, I will say that Kodansha Comics QC is something to be desired. Further to that, for Negima!, they dropped some of the extras even though the translators translated the materials and both Del Rey and Kodansha had been using the stuff for nearly the whole series.

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