When I first entered the world of manga, my opinion about Viz Media was largely influenced by what I was hearing from fans at the time in the corners of cyberspace I tended to frequent. Those fans viewed the company with disdain–as some sort of corporate behemoth with no respect for their needs and little reverence for the material they produced. Armed with this skewed perspective, though I recognized that Viz had the rights to a lot of really fantastic manga, I viewed their releases as cheap and utilitarian, and the company is a sort of necessary evil.
Looking back now, I have to laugh (and cringe) at my self-righteous “Damn The Man” outlook–as though a company Viz’s size could ever constitute “The Man.” Manga is a niche market in North America no matter how you look at it, and Viz’s relative success in that market is one of the few things that keeps it viable. “Cheap” volumes of popular, epic series can be more accurately described as affordable, and whatever missteps the company has made in terms of adaptation over the years are far outweighed by their successes, both commercial and critical.
Most importantly, it is clear that Viz is primarily staffed with fans–eager, passionate, knowledgeable fans who are in the business of publishing manga because that’s where they most want to be. This has, at least, been my personal experience with every Viz employee I’ve had the pleasure to meet, in person or in cyberspace. And it is with these people in mind that I mourn last evening’s news of new layoffs at the company, reportedly eliminating 40% of its workforce.
I don’t see this as a sign of Viz’s demise–far from it. Like Gia Manry, I don’t believe the company is that weak or that clumsy. This is more likely a carefully measured move made to keep things from approaching a critical point rather than a last-ditch survival effort. And like Brigid Alverson, I doubt Viz will be dropping titles in which they’ve already made a significant investment. This does not, however, lessen the sadness I feel for the nearly-60 Viz employees who just lost their jobs, or even the anxiety I feel on behalf of those remaining who will have to somehow absorb their work.
See this morning’s post at Examiner.com for links and local reactions. Then go out and buy something published by Viz!
Here are links to reviews/discussion of some of my favorite Viz titles:
All My Darling Daughters
Children of the Sea
Crown of Love
Detroit Metal City
High School Debut
Hikaru no Go
Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit
Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You
Natsume’s Book of Friends
They Were Eleven
We Were There