Anime Expo: Look back with hindsight

For manga and anime fans, Anime Expo is the first of the big summer cons. This year only a handful of manga publishers showed up, but all had plenty of energy and some new announcements to make. That's probably a good snapshot of the manga industry as a whole—there are only a few players left, but the survivors are pretty robust. Anime News Network has pretty exhaustive coverage of the con, and Animanga Nation does a nice job with a more casual feel.

Out of curiousity, I looked over con coverage from previous years to see who is missing this year. Bandai, Digital Manga, Tokyopop and Viz are clearly the survivors of the manga wars, although it was touch-and-go for Tokyopop for a while. Missing from the roster are Dark Horse, Del Rey, Seven Seas, Udon, Yaoi Press, and Yen Press, all of which have appeared at AX in previous years (although not recently), and ADV Manga, Aurora, Broccoli, CMX, DrMaster, and Go! Comi, which have all shut down or at least gone dark.

I thought it would be interesting to see how AX has evolved over the years, so let's climb into the time machine and take a look at past cons.

2006: The big news of AX 2006 was an appearance by the manga collective CLAMP, and that already has a sepia-tinged feel to it. A number of the smaller companies announced new titles: Go! Comi had about five, Broccoli had some new Koge-Donbo books, and Seven Seas announced the yuri title Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ and the ill-fated Kodomo no Jikan (never published because of the controversy over its plot, in which an eight-year-old tries to seduce her teacher). Del Rey had a panel but didn't announce any new titles.

ADV promised "a big presence" at AX but talked mostly about anime; they had already begun to get evasive about their manga, which was coming out more and more slowly, and later that weekend, Tokyopop announced they had taken over the licenses for Tactics, Peacemaker, and Aqua (the prequel to Aria, which they also acquired). Tokyopop also had a robust list of new licenses to announce.

Viz had a special Shojo Beat panel. Dark Horse announced two titles, Dame Dame Saito Nikki, which they never seem to have published, and Satsuma Gishiden, which they started but never finished. (Kate Dacey just named it to her list of The Best Manga You're Not Reading.) Digital only announced one new manga, Vampire Hunter D, which would be released in English before being published in Japanese.

2007: The market was at its peak, and there were lots of publishers and lots of new titles being announced. The brand-new publisher Aurora announced their launch titles. Broccoli announced they were hiring and unveiled a few new titles. CMX announced they would be publishing mature-rated manga in addition to their tamer selections. Dark Horse, Digital, DrMaster, EigoManga, and Go!Comi all had new titles to announce; Go!Comi's focused heavily on creators they had already published, and they also hinted around about their secret project, O-Play, a combination game/visual novel that never did make the splash they expected. Tokyopop discussed cell phone manga and their new ratings system and presented a lineup of Japanese and global titles as well as light novels. Udon showed up but apparently didn't have a panel; they were just in the exhibit hall. Viz was there but didn't announce any new titles.

2008: Still a pretty robust list. ADV admitted that they wouldn't be licensing any new manga but claimed they would finish up the series they had. (This proved not to be the case for most series.) Aurora, Broccoli, CMX, and Go! Comi were all present, but with fewer new licenses and more promotion of existing books. Dark Horse was talking about their CLAMP "mangettes," which were due out last summer and still haven't materialized. Digital was looking good, with special panels for their June and 801 imprints and lots of new licenses to announce. Tokyopop and Viz also had new licenses to announce; Tokyopop had just imploded, split in two, and laid off almost half its staff a few weeks before. Absent from the party: Del Rey, DrMaster, EigoManga, Udon. Yen Press seems to have been around but I see no indication of a booth or a panel.

However, Home Media Magazine has an interesting and prescient article, in which they noted that Viz didn't spring for a booth on the floor and the ADV people were curiously evasive. (The piece is mainly about anime, which crashed before manga did.)

2009: The weekend opened on a somber note, as CPM formally announced it was shutting down (they had been defunct for about two years at that point). Austin Osueke, the president of EigoManga, gave the keynote address, which caused some head-scratching as a lot of people didn't know who they were, and he talked about the fact that manga sales were slipping.

He closed out the keynote by offering a big-picture strategy, saying that the business plan for manga should focus on producing IPs that can be adapted easily into video games and films rather than simply putting books on shelves.

Hmm. Broccoli was missing, having closed its doors in late 2007. Also not in attendance: Aurora, Dark Horse, Del Rey, Digital, DrMaster, Go!Comi, Tokyopop, and Udon. On the upside, CMX announced a heap of new titles, Viz had new titles and news that it was speeding up releases of One Piece, and Yaoi Press announced it would be launching a light novel line. Correction: Digital had a booth, but not a panel. Thanks, Michelle!

2010: The herd has been thinned considerably. Aurora closed its doors earlier this year, although its staff recently announced that they were forming their own publishing company. DC shut down CMX, and Go!Comi and DrMaster have apparently gone defunct. Who's left? Digital, which seems to have survived the shakeout quite nicely with a strategy of sticking to what they do best (mostly yaoi but a few oddball titles with serious fan appeal) and communicating directly with their fans. Viz, which is the biggest manga company and is bankrolled by three Japanese parent companies. And Tokyopop, the plucky survivor of the group, which went through some really tough times but seems to have emerged smaller and stronger. (The one that puzzles me still is EigoManga, which does educational manga; they have a pretty low profile but have outlasted almost everyone else.)

Dark Horse and Del Rey have been quiet on the manga front lately; they still put out books, but we haven't been hearing any breathless announcements from them. Del Rey has been wrapping up its series by putting out omnibus volumes, while Dark Horse has been getting some buzz by republishing CLAMP's work in omnibus form.

And there you have it: A burst of optimism, a meteoric rise, and a quick collapse. The handful of companies left seem to know what they are doing, but I sure do miss the diversity of having all those little publishers putting out all sorts of manga. Maybe next year will be more interesting.

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