Tag Archives: Mushishi

The Evolution of Manga Editing

My friend Dave threw me a behemoth of an idea my way last night as I was searching for a blog idea that would strike my fancy.  He suggested that I explore the evolution of manga editing, which honestly sounds more like a research paper than a blog post. It would cost me a lot of time and money in order to fully explore the evolution of manga editing, but here’s my go at the idea with only a few series as examples and my own experience under my belt.

So far I have been an editor on little over a dozen manga. As far as manga editors go, I am pretty sure this is a pretty paltry number, but I kind of, sort of just hit the one year mark of working in the manga industry (if you count internships.)

These days, manga editing is really streamlined. Each major company has its own style book and rules to follow and more likely than not, more than one editor reads a manga before it goes to print. Then again, most of the manga publishers these days have been around for years or have other publishers backing them with expectations, rules and editorial talent. There aren’t too many start-up companies around either.

Less than ten years ago, however, it was a bit of a different story. It was only seven years ago that TOKYOPOP first published Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances) by Masami Tsuda. Since there are only two names I recognize on the credits page (the COO and the CEO), I hope no one takes offense to me picking one of my employer’s titles or that the company doesn’t take offense to my criticism of an old series. (Although senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl tells me that all the mistakes I pointed out were corrected to the best of TOKYOPOP’s ability in the omnibus editions.)

I’ve been slowly re-reading Kare Kano over the past few weeks and the first few volumes were utterly painful. There are many things where I’m surely one of the very few who noticed, but there are numerous instances where Japanese text wasn’t erased before the English text was put over it, where the artwork or tones were erased and never replaced properly (or at all) and text intruding awkwardly on artwork, amongst other things. Sure, the editing improved after the first few volumes and I’m more than sure many things were corrected for the omnibus edition of the manga, but I have to say-no wonder legally published manga had/has a reputation of lower quality when compared to scanlated manga! Not that I think it’s true anymore…That was seven years ago, when TOKYOPOP hadn’t even been around for seven years yet! And now, I know for a fact that TOKYOPOP editors are aware of these past mistakes and know what to look out for. You won’t easily see any garish use of photoshop to replace screentones that were erased in the lettering process or an aside comment that never got translated. The company has sharper editors and sharper touch-up artists these days, but back then they were still learning the ropes.

Viz, however, had nearly 20 years to perfect it’s editing craft when it made (what I think) is a fairly big mistake of a different kind. In the first volume of From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa, someone left the word “hella,” a Northern California slang word, in a line. When I first read From Far Away, it struck me more because I really dislike the word (being from Southern CA and all), but now it just seems like an amateurish error that they left it in there when the character never ever uses similar slang past the first chapter. (There is an instance of “omigod” in the first chapter, but I feel that it’s more forgivable because it’s just a slight variation on a very common phrase.)

Is this “hella,” however, as grave a manga-editing offense as messing up the artwork and forgetting to remove Japanese text under the English? Yes, because editing manga in the U.S. isn’t just about making things look just as shiny as the Japanese edition, it’s also about creating an ease of reading for the audience. Editors don’t want readers to be caught up in trying to understand a phrase and it’s important to keep a character’s voice sounding consistent to the readers, so using a fairly local slang word is likely to bother them and create confusion when the character does not continue to speak that way. Is it worse that they didn’t continue to use slang to make the character sound like a young girl through out the volume or worse they left in this one inconsistency? I don’t know, but either way it’s an error.

What I watch for in my editing process is a long list. Basically, I look for mistakes that have been made in the art after the manga has been lettered, I look for all the grammatical and spelling errors you would expect, I look for ways to re-write lines so that they sound smoother in keeping with the manga and the character saying them and I look for other things such as making sure the text doesn’t stray too far out into the bleed zones, making sure the size and format of the text conveys the mood and feel of original and making sure words are hyphenated properly. If there are lines that have not been translated into English, I translate them myself or get the help of someone more fluent than I am. If the translators or re-writers have left multiple choices for me to use in the script, I choose which one is the best and/or write in an explanation of some kind. I never catch every mistake that’s been made whenever I edit, but I figure that will improve with time and, in the mean time, I have other editors supporting me and finding what I missed. It’s a tough process and I’m 100% sure that other manga editors have let mistakes slip through and go to print. For example, Del Rey’s version of Mushishi regularly has text cut off. Either half a sentence will disappear at the ends of a page or you’ll have to seriously crack open your manga’s spine to get at it.

Even so, the way manga is published in the U.S. has improved greatly. There is little or no fear of reading a book right-to-left, which not only makes things more authentic to the reader, but easier for everyone who’s ever had to face changing dialogue because a character is now on the left side instead of the right! While there is major censorship around at some companies (and by censorship, I mean someone has a pair of pants on that they didn’t have before),  no one is re-writing entire manga with American names and American references anymore.  I’ve no doubt in my mind that what I’ve learned as an editor is based on years and years of figuring out what works, what doesn’t and finding the little things that no one caught before. I believe that the editorial process will only continue t0 improve the quality of manga as we editors work on more and more titles. The mistakes that I found, made long ago, are already obsolete in the manga made by those companies as it is!

Geez, Dave. Thanks for the great topic.

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My Manga Birthday Wishlist

As I’m sure none of you know, my birthday is fast approaching and I looooove getting presents. (I can be so spoiled, I know.) But instead of getting me things I’m just going to get myself eventually like a nice, long massage or a puppy, I’d rather get people get me something both easily obtainable and relatively cheap: MANGA!

Now, this July is shaping up to be an excellent month of fantastic manga releases, so why don’t we start with some of the hottest titles about to hit shelves?

First we’ll start off with the manga-influenced Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, which hits stores July 20th. Actually, I’m just going to pin this one on my boyfriend since he so lovingly got me the first five volumes as my Valentine’s Day gift two years ago. Tamar, I’m expecting a copy of Scott Pilgrim and a pair of tickets for the movie adaption with a nice dinner to accompany it. (Don’t ever say I don’t tell you what I want!)

Next up on the list is a bunch of stuff from Vertical, which has a whole BUNCH of awesome manga, including the ones coming out this month. Peepo Choo comes out this month, but I’m probably going to get it for myself so Felipe Smith can sign it at Comic-Con, so skip that and head onto Chi’s Sweet Home and Twin Spica (vol. 1 & 2 because I haven’t gotten to pick up volume 1 yet!) If you really love me, then you’ll throw in a copy Buddha vol. 2 as well.

The next manga publisher that will automatically get me to love your birthday present to me is CMX. I spent a whole day at Anime Expo looking for From Eroica With Love volumes 12 and 13, despite the fact that I had 14 and 15. I’d also love a copy of Stolen Hearts vol. 2, My Darling, Miss Bancho and the first two volumes of The Name of the Flower. There are some other titles that I’d love certain volumes of, but that would make the list too  complicated! (Apothecarius Argentum volume 9!)

Other than that, I’ve been into collecting old TOKYOPOP series like Beck, Planetes and Queen’s Knight (volumes 2, 2 and 11, respectively.) I’ve also been collecting copies of Nextworld (Dark Horse Manga, volume 3, please), Club 9 (Also Dark Horse Manga, volume 2) and Chicago (Viz, volume 2 as well.)

If that doesn’t give you an idea what to get me, then just go find a Borders and hook me up with a nice gift card.

Giving me a birthday gift really is as simple as that.

Oops! I forgot about Mushishi vol. 8! Definitely looking forward to that one!

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Podcasts!

I have to say,  I’ve been a little bit shy about doing podcasts because I’ve never thought of myself as a great speaker, but the opportunity was brought before me and now I’ve been in two anime and manga-related podcasts!

Here are the links so you can check them out:

The most recent is the April MMF podcast for Mushishi at Ed Sizemore’s Manga Out Loud, in which I don’t talk very much because the other participants totally out-shined me! That’s ok, they’re all great reviewers and had a lot more to say about Mushishi’s art, story and depth than I did.  I still had a great time though! Thanks for letting me join, Ed!

The second (which is actually my first podcast ever), hosted by Joseph Medina’s Jammer’s Animovie Blog, is A LOT sillier. But I did talk a lot more about what I know about the manga industry. Either way, we got way off tangent many, many times. There is also a fair amount of off-key singing. I tried…!

I hope you listen to and enjoy these podcasts. Let me know what you think because I’m still a little gun-shy, but I want to do more podcasts now. I’d love some criticism!

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Manga Moveable Feast: Mushishi vol. 1-4

The first time I came across Mushishi was when my really awesome college anime club watched it about two years ago. I picked up the manga in bookstores to take a peek, but it wasn’t high on my list of things to buy. So I never did. UNTIL NOW. -cue dramatic music-

Said club having really terrific taste in anime, I rather loved watching Mushishi although it usually hit me as kind of slow. (It showed right before our dinner break, so I guess I was just anxious for some grub or something.) That was awhile ago so picking up the first four volumes of the Mushishi manga felt familiar, but still rather fresh.

Mushishi is about a “doctor” of sorts named Ginko who researches and deals with cases of mushi, semi-mystical and bug-like primordial beings that coexist alongside plants and animals, but act in many different ways, be they parasitic, otherwise harmful or completely docile. The manga chronicles Ginko’s adventures in no particular order with self-contained plots in each chapter. While some might say it would be easy to start at a random volume, I still feel like it’s best to start at the beginning where Yuki Urushibara is making the effort to explain the mushi and what Ginko does.

Urushibara is specifically unclear as she states in her postscript that there isn’t a particular time attached to Mushishi, although she suspects it is sometime between the Edo and Meiji periods. I’m glad she made this choice because it would be a lot more difficult to do this story in a modern setting, like some manga might which always strikes me as a little B-rated fantasy flick-ish. Thanks to this, Mushishi retains a mystical and timeless quality as it really should be.

Ginko is a really cool protagonist. He seems like a real person despite his strange surroundings who tries very hard at his job and really likes mushi a lot. He regularly attempts to make all the right decision for everybody, but isn’t totally against doing something that will benefit himself or something that technically breaks a taboo. My favorite chapters throughout the first four volumes (I’m planning on picking up the rest on Saturday, so perhaps I can do a second post right before the Manga Moveable Feast ends) are “The Sea of Brushstrokes” (vol. 2) about a girl born with a mushi sealed inside her right leg who must write about killing mushi in order to expel it, “The Fish Gaze” (vol.3) which is about Ginko’s past and how he got his strange features, “Picking the Empty Cocoon” (vol. 4) about a girl who takes care of a certain kind of mushi and the loss of her sister to this mushi and “In the Cage” (vol. 4) about a family that is trapped inside a bamboo grove by a white bamboo mushi.

This manga reminds me a lot of Natsume’s Book of Friends mixed with Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (in a sort of action-packed with interesting characters way) so if you like either of those manga you’ll probably be interested in Mushishi.

The art starts out a bit on the difficult side of sketchy at first, but eventually comes into it’s own as the manga moves on.  While I’m perfectly content with the style, if you really really like super clean artwork, then this manga isn’t for you.  All in all, I think it really suits the story and it’s mysterious subjects, but I won’t lie that a few years ago I probably would have frowned a little at this style. I used to really admire clean lines.

While I rather like the art and the story, I have some complaints from a editor’s perspective. From volume 1 I was extremely annoyed by the choice of font for the narratives. I was really hoping it would go away after the first volume, but no such luck. It also had some spiky strokes (usually white  lines around the font to make it show up against darker panels, etc.)  that just looked so unnatural to me. I know this is kind of a really picky thing to complain about, but font choice is pretty important and this particular font pretty much reminded me of the way Papyrus is misused for every single “ancient”-looking thing out there. I hate Papyrus with a passion if you can’t tell. I personally would have chosen something that looked more handwritten and similar to the wavy brushstrokes that are used to draw the mushi.

Another problem I had with the book was that Del Rey seemed completely unaware that some of the dialogue was in the bleed zone. (The bleed zone is some buffer space given so nothing important, like dialogue, will be cut off in printing.) This happened consistently through four volumes and it just REALLY pisses me off to have to practically crack the book’s spine just to get at some text in the middle or to see half of a line of text disappear at the bottom of a page. To me this says: SOMEONE WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION, takes me out of the book and makes the whole thing a lot harder to read. They also advertised “special extras” on the back of every volume, but if the special extras were the inclusion of a few pages of the next volume, I could have done without the anticipation. Sure, it’s not in the original Japanese version, but extra pages (in Japanese) of the next volume are NOT that special to me. Am I jaded? Perhaps, but it’s not like I was buying Mushishi for these “special extras” anyway. Overall, the packaging is nice and I like the paper they used for the covers, which isn’t glossy and makes the watercolored cover art to look really awesome. All the covers are pretty, but volume 4 (pictured above) is my favorite so far.

Finally, and this is probably an artistic or editorial decision on the Japanese side to let some of the tones slip over into the word balloons. I don’t know why it bothers me so much because it does seem to fit the whole feel of Mushishi, but it just seems so lazy to me. It’s not that consistent either, although I noticed it usually happens to balloons in landscape scenes. In the end, I guess this is all just stuff I would correct as an editor, if I was the editor.

As whole, I wouldn’t skip Mushishi just because of my little editorial nitpicking. It says something about this series that even after I’ve seen the anime (which is basically a verbatim adaption of the manga), I’ve been more than happy to buy the manga. (Not just for the Feast, but it was an excellent excuse.) I’d even be willing, in a few months time, to pick it up for a casual re-read.

If you would like to read more about Mushishi, check out the other Manga Moveable Feast entries at Manga Worth Reading! Thank you to Ed Sizemore for hosting this month’s event!

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