A few years ago, you couldn’t go into a bookstore without running into an aisle of kids in the manga section, and odds are, they were reading a series published by TokyoPop. Unfortunately, the last few years have not been kind to the company, and TokyoPop has announced this week that they are closing their North American publishing division as of May 31, 2011. They will maintain their film and television operations, as well as their European offices. The news was first reported on The Beat and the Anime News Network and then TokyoPop CEO and founder Stu Levy also confirmed the move on the company’s webpage.
TokyoPop was one of the major publishers of manga boom of the early and mid 2000s. Over its lifetime, the company has released hundreds of volumes of manga, video game and anime soundtracks, magazines, and DVDs. Even more surprising is the timing of the move, as it comes just before the release of the first film produced by TokyoPop, Priest. Priest is based on a Korean Manhwa by Min-Woo Hyung, and was released in the U.S. by TokyoPop, and is reaching the big screen on May 13th, and stars Paul Bettany. Apparently, even the potential money the movie could have made would not have been able to change this decision.
TokyoPop was launched in 1997, originally as Mixx, and began by publishing four titles: Parasyte, Ice Blade, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Sailor Moon. From there, the company expanded, releasing more and more titles. Eventually, they tried to make a big splash by expanding their original English language (OEL) manga. This move was met with some resistance and derision by the creative community, once the contracts were shown to the public, and seen to be less than agreeable for the creators involved. The public never seemed to have as much love for OEL either, as the books never sold as well as the Japanese material that the company released. I did like some of the OEL the company released, such as Becky Cloonan’s East Coast Rising and Dan Hipp’s Gyakushu.
Unfortunately, TokyoPop’s eyes may have been bigger than their stomachs, and they may have released too many titles, especially as the bookstore market dried up. The company saw a restructuring in 2008 and eventually they were forced to lay-off several employees earlier this year. With TokyoPop closing, the fate of many series will be left in the air and I’m sure there are more than a few fans who will be disappointed that their favorite series will not see finished publication in North America.
I will be curious to see what the future holds for other manga publishers. With TokyoPop closing and with DC closing its CMX manga division last year, Dark Horse, Viz, and a few smaller publishers are the only companies releasing manga (officially) in the U.S. There are a wide variety of scanlation sites (websites where fans scan, translate, and release manga and manwha in English), and these sites make it easy for fans to find their favorite series updated, often quicker than they could be published in book form (not to mention, generally for free). Will we soon see the end of the great manga boom? I certainly hope not because I remain a fan of a lot of manga, and there are a lot of great series out there. They are a great change of pace from a lot of the books I read.
We wish all the best for those who are affected by the company closing and hope they all find jobs as soon as possible.