Of course, as we've talked about in this very column, JManga is by no means the first bold, direct entry Japanese publishers have tried to make into the English-speaking market. I am reminded a little bit of an old favorite of mine, Raijin Comics.
Raijin was bold indeed: audacious, even. In the early 2000s, at the same time that Viz was putting the monthly American edition of Shonen Jump up on shelves-- with a selected lineup of titles popular from US TV runs like Dragonball, Yu-Gi-Oh and Yuu Yuu Hakusho-- they were the only people with the guts to debut a rival manga magazine right next to Jump on American bookstore shelves.
But it wasn't just that. Raijin was a weekly anthology, too, just like Japan gets. Of course, we don't have that model here in America for comics. Comics aren't in the mainstream (despite the superhero movies), we hardly have anthologies, and we definitely don't have weekly anthologies of Japanese comics. But Raijin didn't care about all that. Raijin was going to do things Raijin's way, damn it.
That was Raijin's appeal-- grown-up comics straight from Japan with no compromise-- and certainly also what eventually killed it. After all, titles like Baki the Grappler, City Hunter, and The First President of Japan simply didn't have appeal to kids watching anime on TV. They didn't look “anime”: they looked old, and some of these titles were from the 80s! The material they were trying to sell was the direct opposite of what the popular US Shonen Jump had to offer, and probably the direct opposite of what the audience for manga at this time wanted.
(It was also way too violent and gory for kids, but kids like that stuff, so I don't think that was Raijin's biggest problem.)
As a fan of Fist of the North Star, though, I loved it. While the stories were mostly manly tough-guy adventures, the anthology format made for weird shifts in tone as you went through the book. You'd be reading the extreme martial arts action of Grappler Baki, and then a few pages down was a magical girlfriend story (Mamotte Shugogetten), a terrorist thriller (Revenge of Mouflon), or a completely out of place kids' comic (Bow Wow Wata). This may sound really typical for those of you who read manga anthologies, but it was a pleasure we were rarely able to enjoy in America. The magazine also presented little glimpses of otaku culture-- games we'd never play in America, and as such it was pretty fascinating to me at this age.
As a broke teenager, I tried to buy Raijin whenever I could, but I just didn't have the money to buy it every week. Subscribing wouldn't have helped much: I would have needed $200 for a one-year subscription (and the magazine never even made it to 52 issues!). Fans who went that far would eventually end up needing a refund.
Eventually the magazine attempted to compromise by going monthly, but it wouldn't be long after that until Raijin Comics was cancelled altogether. It only ran a year and a half: the final issue promised a return, but even then we knew it wasn't happening. A much more detailed history of Raijin's rise and fall from Christopher Butcher, who was uniquely close to the magazine, is here. (http://bit.ly/72y5bX)
Nearly a decade later, I still miss Raijin Comics, because it's unlikely that we'll ever see anything like it again.