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Pulp Culture
Censored book not a good start

March 10, 2005
By Franklin Harris

If DC Comics was looking for a way to generate buzz for its new CMX manga imprint, it succeeded. But this case may challenge the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Last week, CMX released its first volume of artist Oh! great's series "Tenjho Tenge," one of the most popular manga series in Japan, where it appears serialized in Ultra Jump magazine. But American fans, who had been awaiting CMX's English translation, were disappointed to find that the CMX version is heavily edited. According to fans who have seen the stories as they were published in Japan, CMX made more than 30 changes, covering up nudity and "panty shots," and tightly cropping a rape scene.

Tenjho TengeIn Japan, "Tenjho Tenge" is marketed to readers in their late teens and early 20s. But CMX is marketing the series to younger teens, who, by all accounts, make up the majority of American manga readers. While CMX's marketing strategy may explain the changes, they still aren't sitting well with those fans who are posting their opinions online. They are demanding refunds and threatening to boycott the series unless CMX publishes the series unedited.

These fans have a point. CMX advertises its manga as being "100 percent the way the original Japanese creators want you to see it." And while it is true that CMX convinced Oh! great to sign off on the changes, that doesn't really equate to presenting the book the way Oh! great wanted readers to see it.

Other companies publish manga aimed at mature audiences. Tokyopop's popular "Battle Royale" manga carries a parental warning and is shrink-wrapped to prevent youngsters from flipping through it and seeing depictions of sex and graphic violence. So, why can't CMX do the same?

At deadline, DC Comics had not responded to requests for comment.

Something similar occurred last year, when Del Rey was preparing to debut its first manga titles, and word leaked out that "Negima," a series by popular artist Ken Akamatsu ("Love Hina"), was to be edited to remove some casual nudity. Outraged fans let Del Rey know that a censored "Negima" was unacceptable, and Del Rey took notice. When the company released the first volume of "Negima," the manga was uncensored, shrink-wrapped and labeled as being for older readers. Since then, "Negima" has been one of Del Rey's top sellers, which proves that there is an older audience for manga in addition to the teenagers and that publishers can make a profit by catering to it.

This shouldn't be news to the folks at DC Comics, which already publishes comics for mature readers. In addition to nearly everything that DC publishes under its Vertigo imprint, one CMX manga, "Madara," does carry a "mature readers" warning, which makes CMX's treatment of "Tenjho Tenge" all the more baffling. Also, DC didn't have a problem with depicting a gratuitous rape scene in last year's best-selling "Identity Crisis" mini-series, which didn't even carry a parental warning.

Adding to the controversy is the observation by some fans that, even with the changes CMX has made, "Tenjho Tenge" isn't suitable for younger readers. Even without the nudity, the subject matter is still racy. Again according to those who have seen the Japanese version, a future volume will include a lesbian sex scene, and it's doubtful that concerned parents will be made to feel any more comfortable with that sort of content even if the nudity is obscured.

The best thing CMX could do is admit its mistake, reprint an uncensored version of the first volume and then market the series to its appropriate, older audience. DC Comics is new at the manga business, and it isn't too late to generate good will.

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