Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Top Ten Manga that Should be Licensed (and Aren't)

It's no secret that the manga and anime industry are shrinking. However, before it shrivels to nothing, there are a few series I would like to see licensed to North America.

This is sort of in response to an article I read on Anime News Network recently which managed to list 7 different series that no one will buy instead of classics and series that deserve a legitimate chance at release. I'm not linking to that article, because there is really nothing there worth bringing up here. I'm only doing this because I want to highlight series that actually deserve licensing.

If this blog has seemed a bit overly focused on Japanese animation and manga recently, I can only apologize as it is not the focus of Wasteland & Sky. There's simply been a lot of stuff posted recently that have opened up old wounds into how badly the industry has stumbled. If you want to know why the industry is not as healthy as it was in the '90s, here is a good sampling as to why.

None of these classics have ever been licensed.

1. Ushio & Tora
by: Kazuhiro Fujita
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 33 volumes (17 re-release)

This series has gone 25+ years without being licensed even once. Now, why should it be licensed? That's easy. The series is an action adventure fantasy that predates many of the cliches current manga and anime are reveling in. I even wrote a whole article about how great the series is. Whether modern fans want to admit it or not, the whole reason North America even has an anime and manga industry, is due to series like this one. A boy finds a magical weapon and goes on a journey to find his destiny. This is adventure in a nutshell, isn't it? How it has been consistently ignored over 25+ years is proof of blinders in the industry.

2. Karakuri Circus
by: Kazuhiro Fujita
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Length: 43 volumes (23 re-release)

Same author, same result as the first. Karakuri Circus is the story of an abandoned boy, a martial arts master, and a living puppet, who become entangled in an evil plot. Karakuri Circus features a long winding story separated into acts that ends up in some very mystical places. Once again, it was never licensed despite being released during the late '90s and early '00s when the industry was at its most popular. How it was passed over is completely inexplicable. And it still hasn't been given a shot.

3. Rokudenashi Blues (Good-For-Nothing Blues)
by: Masanori Morita
Genre: Sports Drama
Length: 42 volumes (21 re-release)

A long time ago in Japan (the late '80s to early '90s, specifically) there was this fad in entertainment focusing on "Delinquent" or "Yankee" characters. These were tough guys who were dissatisfied with the world and wanted to rebel against it by doing whatever they wanted. This sub-genre was so popular that you still occasionally see characters like this pop up in anime and manga now. What makes Rokudenashi Blues different is that it took the concept seriously. It defines the whole delinquent sub-genre. These are lowlifes who know what they are and aim for something better than that. Taison Maeda wants to be the best boxer in the world, but can he do that and still be a nobody, or will he have to search deep within himself and reach for the stars? That this was never licensed is a mystery to me.

4. Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow's Joe)
by: Ikki Kajiwara (writer) & Tetsuya Chiba (art)
Genre: Sports Drama
Length: 20 volumes (10 re-release)

This is probably one of the most important manga series of all time. No wonder it's never been licensed. It's about an orphaned boy named Joe Yabuki who makes his way up through the world of boxing facing all sorts of trials along the way. Basically a story about facing down the impossibilities that life throws at you, the series is a classic. Ashita no Joe's ending about triumphing over the endless hurdles of life is iconic for a reason. We get trashy and disgusting stuff licensed here all the time, but we have yet to get this classic released here. There's simply no excuse for it, unless the manga buying public here is really nonexistent and not worth catering to.

5. City Hunter
by: Tsukasa Hojo
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 35 volumes (18 re-release)

This was licensed, botched, and never actually released in volumes. It is also probably the single biggest missed opportunity in the entire industry. Now, tell me if you heard this before: Ryo Saeba is a Sweeper, a private detective paid to do impossible jobs, who obsesses over pretty girls, rides a sweet car, and fires an awesome gun. It is as cool as it sounds. The series follows Ryo as he completes crazy missions that wouldn't be out of place in an '80s action film. It's quite frankly amazing that this series never had any sort of push over here in North America. Even the anime's release was utterly botched. I have a hard time believing it wouldn't have been huge over here. I still think it can be if someone would wake up and license the thing.

6. Kyo Kara Ore Wa!! (Today, it's My Turn!!)
by: Hiroyuki Nishinori
Genre: Action Comedy
Length: 38 volumes (19 re-release)

So remember when I said I like delinquent series that are about tough guys who grow to be something more? Well, this takes that concept in the other direction while still following it. Takashi Mitsuhashi arrives in a new town and decides to take up being a tough guy. He meets a fellow wannabe named Shinji Ito, and the two stumble through high school as they make more and more enemies who want their heads. The series is as nutty as it is funny. It can get serious at times with some dynamite action, but as a comedy it's quite hysterical. It still manages to have character development like Rokudenashi Blues, but never fails to be as funny as it is good with drama. Honestly, it was a real shame this was never picked up over here. They just don't make manga and anime as wonky as this anymore.

7. Urusei Yatsura
by: Rumiko Takahashi
Genre: Comedy
Length: 34 volumes (17 re-release)

If you're a fan of anime or manga, you've undoubtedly heard the name Rumiko Takahashi before. If you don't, then you probably know her works. Ranma 1/2? Maison Ikkoku? InuYasha? Mermaid Saga? Her early works in particular are classics, but the one work of hers that never got a shot over here is ironically her first. Urusei Yatsura is a gonzo comedy that started so many trends in the medium that it's hard to keep up with. The series stars a pervert named Ataru who meets an alien girl named Lum and hijinks ensue. The best part of Urusei Yatsura involve the situations and characters, and I can't exactly spoil them here. Nonetheless, it is a series that was never given much support over here and probably never will.

8. Ring ni Kakero
by: Masami Kurumada
Genre: Sports Action
Length: 25 volumes (13 re-release)

Recognize the art? Yes, this is by the artist of mega-hit Saint Seiya / Knights of the Zodiac. You want insane action sequences? Creepy ninjas? Over the top fights? Insane references to real life people transposed to the boxing ring? Kurumada is the master of weird, and one of the pioneers of action manga and anime. The story is ostensibly about Ryuuji Takane and his climb up the boxing world, but there is so much other weirdness going on beyond that that it is well worth reading just for the creativity and the manliness. This series changed everything when it originally came out, and it is strange that it still remains an elusive release for North America.

9. Ghost Sweeper Mikami
by: Takashi Shiina
Genre: Fantasy Comedy
Length: 39 volumes (20 re-release)

Another series that has been ripped off a lot, Ghost Sweeper Mikami has only had a movie release over here way back when the anime boom first happened. The thing is, GSM is the type of series that is my Achilles heel when it comes to manga. Serialized action comedy adventures that change from story to story. There's no overarching plot here (like City Hunter), but that doesn't matter. The atmosphere and the characters pull it along all the way to the end. The series is a ball. Ghost Sweeper Mikami is about a Ghost Sweeper named Reiko Mikami and her assistants as they deal with paranormal issues throughout the city. That's all there is, and that's all there needs to be. It's only a shame it never got a proper release here. 

10. Rookies
by: Masanori Morita
Genre: Sports
Length: 24 volumes (12 re-release)

The last one here is actually the strangest series on my list. It's because it's the most typical one here. Written by the writer of Rokudenashi Blues, Rookies is about a new teacher who inspires a baseball team to greater heights. That's all there is to it. Good drama, good characters, and a great read. Despite its basic premise, Rookies always had the chance of being a big hit over here with crossover appeal, but was never given a chance. It still might succeed now if licensed, but I wouldn't hold my breath over it.

Now, here's the big kicker. All those series I listed? They were all mega-hits in Japan. All of them. Every one. None of the series are obscure, or should be unknown to those in charge of licensing series for North America. And yet despite proven success, none of them are licensed or are even on the docket to receive a translation.

So why do these series lay untouched for the shrinking market while material that will not sell is given the chance instead? I don't know. I don't work in the industry. But I do know that those series I listed are all of the kind that made both manga and anime popular over here in the first place, and they still are not licensed.

Nonetheless, they are all worth your time. It's only a shame they you might have to find an unofficial translation (or learn Japanese) in order to experience them.

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