Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Death of the Hit...

Considering the fact that NANA is a part of the genre of manga that is taking the American industry by storm, it isn’t doing so well. At least, not that I’ve seen. I’ve spent the past few days checking the web for indicators of its success state-side, as the level of its success in Japan is already clear to me (twenty-five million copies or so as of the last announcement I heard). However, every “top fifty” list of manga I’ve checked through, from those at to press releases from the various manga companies show no mention of it. And on it isn’t doing so great either, ranked at 57,000 or so (for volume 2), and 100,000 or so for volume 3.

NANA is a cultural smash hit in Japan, akin to the success of Harry Potter in the states (except with only one gender group involved in this). Why it hasn’t been able to follow up that success in America is probably related to the reason why GTO didn’t do nearly as well in America as in Japan.

Well, there’s the established base of readers, for one. Since reading manga in Japan is considered to be at practically the same level as reading a novel, there is a much broader group that a manga-ka can reach. In the states, up until the past few years, publishing a graphic novel or comic book (once considered one and the same) meant targeting a single audience – boys (and the adults who still act like them). Recently the popularity of manga has soared in the states, but still it does not have nearly the recognition as in Japan. I was reading the first volume of Blood Alone a few weeks ago on an airplane flight, and was approached by a flight attendant (a lady in her mid-thirties) who asked me what I was reading, and then remarked that: “my son likes those manga comics too.” At least she knew what to call them.

Of course, there is the cultural phenomenon to consider. NANA taps into a level of the Japanese female psyche that cannot truly resonate over here because of the level of freedom which American women are accustomed to. The anti-organization, roam-and-be-free attitude of Black Nana just doesn’t make as much of an impact as it does in Japan, where women are relegated to very superficial roles in business, and are generally “placed” as the caretaker of the home…and only the home.

Finally there is the fashion. I like the fashion of NANA for the risks it takes, but it’s by no means the fashion guide of the decade. Many of the designs are so outlandish that the only way they can work is in manga, and the movie verifies this to a great degree. For a manga that touts itself as being on the cutting edge of fashion, NANA does a good job – for Japan. But again that whole culture thing comes into play, and what is considered good fashion in Japan might be considered differently in other countries. The majority of Americans I have met are still trying to reconcile their very biased opinions with the rapidly globalizing world (including long-standing biases against the “weird” fashion designs of the Japanese).

It’s funny that as the world has gotten more and more connected, and more and more choices have been placed at our feet, we’ve gotten even pickier about what we want to see and not see, what we buy and don’t buy. The new economy, in which the “hit” no longer matters and it’s the individual preference that rules the day is epitomized by NANA’s failure to significantly impact the American manga market. In the US, at the least, the day of big time success is over, and only by catering to all the various interests of a group can a business be successful.


At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article. Initially I was just drawn in becuase of talk of Nana, but then it got interesting. Shame it's not getting megastar treatment here, but it's understandable. As long as it continues to find its way onto my shelf, I'm fine.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Michael said...

I certainly agree - I've been following it both in the print graphic novel format and in the scanlations availabe online.


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