Boom to bust for Japan's manga madness?
Nikkei -- Jun 17
Japanese manga needs a new superhero. Battered by a shrinking population and changing consumer tastes, the once undisputed champion of the country's pop culture is on the ropes as readership plummets.

The days of big moneymakers like "Dragon Ball" and "Captain Tsubasa" are fading into the past. Now, after more than two decades of steady decline, editors and artists are casting about for ways to win back fans to what has arguably been Japan's most successful cultural export.

One idea has been to put a new twist on old themes, as publisher Kodansha is doing with its hit manga mystery series, "The Kindaichi Case Files." The story depicts the adventures of high school student Hajime Kindaichi, who follows in the footsteps of his famous detective grandfather investigating complicated and mysterious crimes.

The series achieved enormous popularity with over 90 million copies sold, and has been translated into English and other languages. Not one to let a good thing slip away, Kodansha used the 25th anniversary of Kindaichi to launch a spinoff.

Titled "Unofficial Tales Behind The Kindaichi Case Files: The Criminals' Files" -- "Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo Gaiden: Hannin-tachi no Jikenbo" in the original Japanese -- the series revisits some of Kindaichi's old cases. This time, however, the stories are told through the eyes of the criminals in a hilariously riveting retell of some of the best episodes, with the culprits explaining how they bungled their crimes.

The spinoff has been a resounding success, having sold more than 1 million copies.

Goku, one of the main characters of "Dragon Ball," was featured in the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. © Getty Images

Tetsuya Fujikawa, 34-year-old editor of Weekly Shonen Magazine -- where the series first appeared -- conceived the spinoff as a way to lure back fans. Initially planned as a one-volume project, the overwhelmingly positive response has led to continuation of the stories.

Chosen to illustrate it was 30-year-old Shimpei Funatsu, who landed the job after his own manga series flopped. While Funatsu still hopes to create another original work, the artist says he is happy about his current role reviving the Kindaichi stories.

Some frown on wasting the talent of promising young manga artists for rehashing old themes. But Fujikawa is unfazed by critics. "Our role is to create entertaining manga content," the editor said. "When there is strong demand for works that can transcend generations, we would be negligent if we failed to leverage the brand's huge appeal."

Ryo Tomoda, editor at rival publisher Hakusensha, is involved in a similar spinoff. He defends the practice, noting that as sales of manga magazines have sagged over the years, it is now "ten times more" difficult to publish a new title than it used to be. "Manga editors appear eager to capitalize on the popularity of bestsellers," the 50-year-old editor said.

In 1994, Weekly Shonen Jump, published by Shueisha, recorded a weekly circulation of 6.53 million copies, a Guinness World Records' mark for a manga magazine. Although the weekly still offers hit titles such as the internationally acclaimed "One Piece," circulation has tumbled to around 1.7 million -- a fate shared by other manga magazines, some of which have gone out of business.

This is not to say manga is dying. According to Japan's Research Institute for Publications, sales of manga e-books were estimated at 171.1 billion yen ($1.57 billion) in 2017, surpassing those of printed publications at 166.6 billion yen for the first time.

News source: Nikkei
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