365 Days of Manga

Manga: The Complete Guide by Jason Thompson.
The one flaw of “Manga: The Complete Guide,” however, is that it is a book, and after it was published, the manga market kept going, producing more and more manga. Despite my pleas to publishers to stop all manga production so my book would forever be an icy memorial to a frozen world of manga, time marched on, and with every month incredible new manga — Honey and Clover! Black Jack! Moyashimon! — were being released. (And plenty of awful manga too, but that’s another story.)
- Jason Thompson

It's been almost three weeks since Jason Thompson started posting new entries to update the encyclopedic Manga: The Complete Guide on the Suvudu blog. The decision to update the book online rather than through a newly printed edition helps to highlight a few of the differences between contributing for print and web.

There were already several informative online resources for manga when MTCG was published, but that doesn't render a printed version necessarily redundant. A book cataloging every translated manga illustrates in a very tangible way their undeniably massive presence. Print also offers a number of advantages: The book provides a compact package and easy-to-use guide. The titles are cataloged alphabetically for easy search, and are supplemented by a glossary, bibliography, artist index, and introductory material - Pretty much everything needed to get the newcomer up to speed and enough material for the more experienced reader to use as a handy reference. You can get the same information online of course, but you have to be willing to navigate the sprawl of the web and you often have to have some idea of what you're looking for. I usually find myself reaching for my copy of MTCG rather than searching for it at ANN when I need to look-up an unfamiliar title. Your mileage may vary, but I think the book's more user-friendly to beginners and non-otaku. I suspect that most librarians researching for appropriate material for their collections would agree. It's also easier to skim through if the reader isn't searching for anything in particular.

MTCG is a bit too faithful to the film guide books it copies. For example I'm not a fan of the star ratings as there's always something arbitrary about assigning a score to works of art or entertainment. I also believe that a more comprehensive volume should have extensive creator entries in addition to the usual title descriptions. And there's always room to complain about what got left out. But I find myself turning to MTCG than other sources. This doesn't mean I unconditionally agree with the reviews found in the book. But since the book was authored by a relatively small group of people, MTCG embodies a uniform editorial standard and a consistent voice. I can engage with the opinions expressed in the book because I can grasp author's beliefs and biases. By contrast it's annoying to read a review that parrots the company's PR. And it's harder to engage with a wiki that averages the opinions of many contributors: I tend to give less weight to reviews that sound like they were written by committee.

One obvious limitation of every printed material is that they're all finite products: They're all created at a certain time and place. MTCG could never encompass every translated manga because it had to be printed at one point even as new titles were being released. And it becomes more dated with each new release. Publishers usually turn this into an advantage by printing new editions of their guides, so it's interesting that Random House chose not to pursue that option. According to Thompson, he had accumulated around 200 additional reviews, which he promised would increase to 365 when he began blogging the new material. Thus the working title of the new reviews - 365 Days of Manga.

When read as blog posts, the additional material looks kind of anemic. Thompson maintains the exact same format as with the printed versions. Each title contains a demographic assignation, content advisory, star rating, and short description/review. What has been posted so far runs the gamut from shonen fantasy to yaoi romance. The brevity of the posts mimic the entries of the book. But without the book's accessible structure as a supporting framework the blogging approach for each entry feels very scattershot. The posts end up getting buried in the Suvudu blog's collective archive. And it doesn't help that the site's own science fiction/fantasy focus is not really compatible with the wide range of genres found within the manga medium. This looseness is okay for most bloggers, but it doesn't reproduce the original's well-organized and searchable approach.

However every daily posting is accompanied by a manga giveaway, which implies at least a few reasons for this exercise - increasing site traffic and finding new Random House customers. So it probably makes sense to someone in marketing.

It would be ideal if MTCG and 365 Days of Manga were to be merged in the future, whether through a second printed edition, or constituted into its own web domain. I suppose it could happen; after the present online experiment has run its course.