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Manga poverty: The real face of the manga industry

Mention the name  Sato Shuho to an otaku, and you will see a variety of reactions. Most will remember him as one of the prominent mangaka whose works are frequently made into TV drama.

Umizaru japanese poster.jpg
Umizaru (海猿)

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But others will remember him as a lowlife husband whose wife divorced him after he confessed that he has gotten another woman pregnant. Yet others cannot forget his spats with his publisher, TBS and Fuji TV, which were made rather public, even causing the Umizaru movies to be cancelled.  At the same time, he is creating waves in the industry by allowing free use of his works. He placed great emphasis on the fact that he is not making his copyright free, but rather pledging to not enforce it. He has also started his own web publishing site, MangaonWeb, offering budding mangakas an alternative to being exploited by big publishers, organising events and contests.

Recuperating after a stroke, he says it's the curse of the publisher and tv station 

In short, the man is a very complex person to judge. But all these pale in comparison with his short autobiography, titled Manga Poverty. If people find it crazy difficult to start a business, after seeing these figures a budding mangaka faces, nothing seems impossible.

Sato refers to a term called "serialization poverty". Essentially, its when a mangaka gets his first serialization, runs into a huge pile of debt after the title gets cancelled, and that ends his career. This is the biggest stumbling block facing rookies that isn't even very much discussed among either fans or media. Most people do not even know the issues at all, The manga Bakuman, for example, paints a very rosy view of the industry. In the end it might be doing the industry an even bigger disservice by sugarcoating the problems instead of forcing publishers to stop the exploitation of mangakas.

Bakuman, while admitting that it is a gamble, doesn't even come close to discussing the issues.

According to the book, after the serialization of Umizaru, Sato was given a lump sum payment of 10000 yen for each manuscript page, amounting to 800,000 yen a month for 20 pages. Straight away the government moves in and taxes 10%. So it becomes 720,000 yen.

Newbies do not have their own companies, so he has to contract out for assistants. That wipes 470,000 yen. 250,000 yen is left. And he has to pay for meals staff meals too, for apparently it is a industry custom,  so takes away 100,000 yen. 150,000 yen remains. It is already looking scary expensive. Half of his money is gone by simply hiring people.  We then come to art material and data from research. Those cost about 100,000 yen every month. That big fat cheque is now down to 50,000 yen.

And then we come to rental. Sato was in an apartment/office. Rental alone is 70,000 yen monthly. Add utilities and he is running in the red of -70,000 yen EVERY MONTH. The only chance he had of recuperating losses is when volume one gets published. Then there is tankoubon royalties, which are modest in the beginning at best. But before that, most will be crawling through broken glass. Sato had 2 million yen in savings. He was down to 70,000 yen when the first volume was published. If it got cancelled, he probably would have quit. And no one will blame him for doing so. Anyone still feels it is glamourous being a mangaka?

In short, fellow readers, please do not support piracy and buy original volumes of manga. Because for every successful Jump mangaka out there, there are hundreds who are just buried under a mountain of debt. Most are simply normal people with modest salaries trying to pursue their dreams. The industry is already perilous enough without readers trying to rip them off.

Manga Poverty is available on paperback both in English and Japanese, and digitally on Amazon, Kindle, and itunes.
Written by Don

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