It used to be that when a book or series went out of print, it would be like hunting for lost treasure. The process would involve significant investment or stay in suspended animation until the time if and when a publisher would pick up the books’ publication rights for a new re-release. Enter ComiXology. In 2017, the cloud-based comic book publishing service teamed with Kodansha Press (Kodansha and ComiXology Originals) to revive and complete several manga series that were long out-of-print, allowing a new generation to binge read these classics in its entirety.
Kodansha Senior Marketing Director Ivan Salazar joined Misaki Kido, Kodansha’s Video and Events Director, to talk about three of Kodansha and ComiXology Originals most successful relaunches, including how the process all started, how the series are going, and what’s in store for the future of the enterprise. Some of these original manga series were unable to complete its original run, and so the partnership offered these creators the opportunity to end the series properly.
Salazar and Kido began with a timeline of the titles released through 2020 and how the relaunch of two of the series (Battle Angel Alita and Shaman King) coincided with their anime or big screen adaptations. They spotlighted four titles: Battle Angel Alita, Beck, Drops of God, and Shaman King.
Yukito Kishiro’s nine-volume classic cyberpunk series Battle Angel Alita takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which a female cyborg with amnesia is discovered by a cybernetics doctor and revived. Akita attempts to rediscover her past and becomes a bounty hunter and a star player in a competitive gladiator-like competition called Motorball.
Battle Angel Alita was one of the first manga that Kido read. Kido introduced a sneak peak of Kishiro’s manga tutorial, in which Kishiro demonstrates his illustration process in pen and ink prior to transferring the drawings to a digital platform.
Kido and Salazar next discussed Harold Sakuishi’s Beck, in which a 14-year old boy meets 16-year old rocker Rysuske Misami and forms a band that battles other bands. Salazar was first introduced to the series in college, and he was excited about the relaunch:
“As much as it’s a story about music, it’s also a story about dreams, about friendship, and about goals.”
Kido shared stories of how the individual scenes were created by Sakuishi, who initially added cues to express when a character was “being musical.” Later on in the series, Sakuishi didn’t have to show these obvious symbols, instead relying on free frames and mood to convey the feeling of music.
Chip Mosher, wine aficionado and head of content at ComiXology, originally championed Tadashi Agi’s (a.k.a. Shin and Yuko Kibayashi) and Shu Okimoto’s Drops of God, a manga series that taps into extra-sensory depictions of touch, taste and smell. According to Salazar, the creators were able to translate that experience for audiences. Added Kido, a lightweight on wine-drinking who likened series creators as “the Beatles of manga”:
“I never really understood the whole culture of wine, but in the particular case with Drops of God, even without having any background knowledge of wine, they break it down for you within the context of the story to the point that I can understand without ever drinking.”
The last manga series the duo covered was Hiroyuki Takei’s 35-volume Shaman King, in which a boy leans the ins and outs of shamanism. The original run ended at Volume 32, but when Takei completed the series for the relaunch, he redrew the covers of each of the books and used the extra three volumes to move the story towards its intended ending.
Salazar and Kido hoped that the four Kodansha and ComiXology Originals relaunches they touched upon would serve as a good introduction to the medium for readers new to manga. Each of the four has a strong emotional appeal, “even if you don’t know much about wine, drift racing or shamanism.”