'Megatokyo' Kickstarter topples stretch goals

Megatokyo blasted into the manga/webcomics scene in 2000 and quickly became established as one of the first successful non-Japanese manga — so successful that it was translated and published in Japan. The story of two clueless American otaku who go to Tokyo on a whim and have a series of increasingly absurd encounters with the locals, the webcomic picked up a following during the manga boom and apparently never lost it: Creator Fred Gallagher's Kickstarter to make a visual novel version of Megatokyo has raised more than $130,000 (at this writing, it is at an evil 666 percent of the original $20,000 goal) in less than a week.

And in the Kickstarter pitch, Gallagher has another bit of news for Megatokyo fans: Dark Horse will publish an omnibus edition of the first three volumes later this year.

Visual novels are huge in Japan but haven't really cracked the overseas market. Basically, they are choose-your-own-adventure games in which the player experiences the story as a series of text-and-pictures vignettes. The player can take the point of view of different characters and make decisions that will change the course of the game. Alice in the Country of Hearts may be the most popular licensed property based on a visual novel.

Gallagher's initial goal was to raise $20,000 to produce the first phase of a visual-novel adaptation of Megatokyo that would allow readers to experience his version of Tokyo through the eyes of either of the main characters, Piro or Largo. He set a series of stretch goals, all of which have been reached, to add 11 other characters (including Dom, who's a stick figure) to the story. "Since each character's view of the story is different," Gallagher explains in the Kickstarter pitch, "the more playable characters, the more interesting the game will be." Some of the characters are secondary, and their stories will be short. The second phase of development has also been funded, and the third will be funded when the total reaches $150,000, which seems certain to occur. The final stretch goal is what Gallagher calls "Excessively Romantic Content": Visual novels often have a romantic element, something Gallagher doesn't dabble in too much, but for $500,000? He'll go there.

The other bit of news buried in the Kickstarter pitch is, as mentioned above, the Megatokyo omnibus edition that is finally coming out from Dark Horse. The publisher released the first three print volumes of Megatokyo, and then Gallagher moved the title to DC's manga imprint CMX. The sixth volume was published by DC's Wildstorm imprint shortly after CMX was shuttered, in 2010, and there have been no print editions since. The omnibus has been in the works for a while — Gallagher posted the cover art on his DeviantArt site more than a year ago — but it seemed to go away for a while, so it's good news to hear that it's on the docket again.

The popularity of this Kickstarter is evidence of what I think of as the "dark matter" of the manga market: Sales in bookstores and the direct market are down, and there are fewer manga bloggers and websites than there were a few years ago, yet the fandom still seems to be there. While most of the highly successful Kickstarters have been for webcomics projects, Megatokyo is not a general-interest comic — it's a comic for fans, and it's good news to see that that fanbase is still out there.

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