Manga Sutra and Why Scott Needs to Check Out a Sex Shop

Scott continues his series of posts from the New York Anime Festival.

Manga Sutra

“So you mean to tell me that I can only find this book on Amazon?” I ask Tokyopop’s marketing person. The book in question was Manga Sutra, originally called Futari H in Japan, and it is a title I have great interest in.

“Well no. You can also buy it at sex shops,” she tells me as if it was no big deal.

“Yeah… well…” I give a slight blush over this idea. I picture a darkly lit shop with various phallic objects, leather straps, and tubes of lubrication. “I don’t think I’ll be going to any of those anytime soon…”

“Really?” asks an older female journalist as she joined in the conversation, “You really should. It’s a real groovy time.” The two girls then broke into that “Oh! You’re so bad!” giggle, leaving me to blush some more and move on to my next question.

However, this was a very important point that I don’t think should be brushed over quite so easily as that. When Tokyopop announced that they were going to be releasing the series in America, I was happy but very skeptical on how they were going to treat it. The story takes a somewhat realistic look on sex, taking away the fantasy elements you’d find in pornography and instead focusing on the difficulties one would find in the act. It’s this unique approach to the subject that has made this series the huge success that it is in Japan.

But sex is still a very taboo subject in America, especially in a time when the government focuses on abstinence programs and when the whole nation goes into shock if a bare breast is exposed on national TV. I had my doubts that a successful company like Tokyopop would risk their reputation on bringing such a mainstream sexual comic so casually into our market. And sure enough, I was correct.

Manga Sutra will not be sold in bookstores like Borders or Barnes & Noble. Instead, the only way you could find it is by going online or, as the rep very causally told me, going to a sex shop. True, they say that normal book stores would never sell such a book, but the impression I’m getting is the publisher didn’t even try to put any pressure on the stores.

This makes me wonder to Tokyopop:

Who the hell is going to be your target audience with this series?

In Japan, manga is mainstream enough that you can sell this book to a non-otaku market. For example, take a young college girl who just so happens to overhear her girlfriends talking about the series. This girl probably hasn’t picked up manga since her shoujo days, but the curiosity and allure of sexual performance makes her stroll into the “young men” section of her regular book store and check out a volume. Maybe if she’s too embarrassed to do that, she’d pick up the two exclusive “For Ladies” volumes in the female section of the store. There’s nothing that unusual about this, and I’m sure that’s how this book has sold as well as it did in that country.

But in America, only a manga fan would ever consider reading this in a comic form. A college girl who is not a manga fan would never start because of the subject. One company very clearly said at the convention, “You can’t convince people to start liking manga. They have to fall into becoming fans themselves, and then you can start to appeal to them after that.”

But manga fans are clearly not the market that Tokyopop is going for. By not fighting for it to be in the same area as their other works, they are sheltering all exposure of the title to their biggest potential audience. Manga fans who are not already familiar with the title will never have a chance to see it, and fans who already like the title (like myself) are going to have a hard time finding it.

Instead, they are trying to appeal to the a “sex shop” audience, which is a subculture all its own that sure as hell is not made up of many geeky manga fans. These people are very outgoing exhibitionist, even by the mere fact that they would be seen in a sex shop. They might be curious about the book, but they will quickly realize it’s not for them.

The sex shop audience are already very familiar with intercourse, and probably have already read the many sex guides already available. There is nothing in Manga Sutra that they don’t already know. In fact, they might even consider it boring and completely inaccurate in most cases. Manga Sutra was not made for highly sexual people. It was made for people unfamiliar with it or are still trying to get used to it. So I will be shocked if this book manages to find a market in American sex shops.

So who should Tokyopop be targeting with this title? First of all, the obvious answer is manga fans. You should never try to go outside that demographic with any comic. But along with the college-age audience that it was originally intended for, I think that Tokyopop should also go for the American teenage audience.

There is a big problem with hiding teenage sexuality in this country, and many teens have no choice but to turn to pornography on the internet to find answers and to satisfy their needs. But Manga Sutra could serve as a good alternative to this. It provides a story that is entertaining, funny, and very erotic, which should appeal to any teenager. It also portrays the lead characters as being in a healthy, loving, and most importantly, monogamous marriage. This is something you will never find in pornography but serves as a role model for proper relationships. Since safe-sex and condom usage is not nearly as common placed in the US as it is in Japan, more information would have to be added in the US version on this. But all in all, this would be a very positive book about sex that teens will actually want to read.

But this is all just a liberal fantasy from an otaku wishing that one of his favorite series finds success in America. Ms. Tokyopop Marketing had an advance copy of vol. 1 at the convention, and she generously allowed me to look through it. Each volume of the book in the US is comprised of two volumes of the Japanese version, so it was quite large for a comic. After years of reading the series in Japanese, it was nice to finally see it in English, and in very nice quality as well.

I should enjoy it while I still can. Tokyopop says that they only plan to sell five volumes in America (which are volumes 1-10 in Japan), and then they will decided what to do with the rest of the series after that. I have a feeling we’ll be lucky if the series even makes it that point…

Volume one comes out next week. I’ve already reserved my copy on Amazon since I don’t find myself looking for it at a sex shop anytime soon.

Tokyopop is really screwing up with this one. They are keeping the lid on this series to the manga fans while marketing it to an audience that will never buy it. It could have had some potential, but not like this. Manga Sutra is doomed in America, and that’s a real damn shame.

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