Welcome to another Manga Worth Reading interview. These have quickly become one of my favourite posts to write on the site. It’s great to reach out and chat with people who’s content inspires my own. This time we chat with Simply Gee about being a Podcaster, MangaTuber and filming epic collection videos!
Happy New Year! Let’s start with a topical one, do you have any manga-related resolutions?
This year I’m hoping to finally conquer the intimidating discrepancies in my manga reading—most notably, some of Shonen Jump’s most popular titles! It may be a surprise (or maybe not, haha) that I haven’t read or watched a lot of the popular formative titles of my generation. So, with the help of the Shonen Jump app, I’m hoping to fix that this year! I was inspired by the wonderful Mercedez and her own goal of reading the entirety of Naruto for the first time in 2020, and have joined her on that goal. I’m also taking on the Herculean task of trying One Piece at the same time, so who knows if I’ll survive. I’ve got a plan, and have been following it pretty well so far—now to keep it up for the rest of the year!
Are there any trends you’d like to see in manga and anime in the next year or decade?
This is somewhat related to the previous question, but this past year we got the radical accessibility of free (or very cheap), weekly legal releases of Jump (and other) titles being made available via apps and websites. Aside from Viz’s Shonen Jump app, Shueisha’s MangaPlus and MyAnimeList’s free titles on offer, subscription services like Manga Planet and Futekiya have given fans the opportunity and platform to enjoy their favourite creator’s works legally for a monthly fee. I can’t tell you how many incredible series I’ve discovered because of this. Over the next year and decade, I’d like to see more diversification on demographics available, especially with Viz’s offerings. Organising simulpub agreements for the titles in the Shojo Beat imprint is a more complicated issue, and involve a lot more Japanese publishers than the SJ side. Still, it would be nice if we could get some of their Shojo Beat archives at some point.
Manga, manga, manga!
How did you first get into manga?
I think, like most anime fans, it was a natural next step to start reading manga. A lot of my early consumption of manga was via my local library (not my school’s library, although it was available, I was too shy for that!), and my first purchase was a couple of years after that. Initially, I wanted to try and keep my manga reading to series I hadn’t watched the anime for, because I didn’t want to be reading a bunch of stuff I had already seen. Because of this, my first purchase was Genkaku Picasso, a series that I still think is criminally underrated. After a while, my strict limits loosened to reading manga of anime that were only partial adaptations (like Soul Eaterand Blue Exorcist) and ultimately just decided to enjoy both a short while later. Nowadays, I enjoy comparing various adaptations of a story and seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each medium.
What was the first series you read?
I think it was CLAMP’s Shirahime-Syo: Snow Goddess Tales, which is a single volume supernatural shojo. It was a title I read even before I was an anime fan, and I don’t think I liked it very much, haha. Aside from that, I don’t remember.
And do you think it would still hold up today?
Not particularly. I’m not a huge fan of CLAMP; their works are a little too style-over-substance for me. I don’t know how many stories could be told with just the one book. Plus, I don’t particularly trust TokyoPop translations and releases as a general rule. Rereading it now would definitely be easier than the first time though!! Young Gee had never read a right-to-left comic before, so it was a bit of a struggle for me at the time.
Have there been any series that you had a preconception of and it surprised you positively or negatively?
My go-to answer for this is Nabari no Ou by Yuhki Kamatani. I spent years with a negative misperception of the series thanks to the anime adaptation’s trailer that Funimation included on several of their releases at the time. The trailer tried to angle it as an action-comedy, perhaps trying to capitalise on the ninja aspect and Naruto’s popularity. Still, those were the exact things that made me want to avoid it. (As previously mentioned, I’m only now trying to read Naruto.) Even when watching the few manga collection videos over the years that included the series, and the reassurances that it wasn’t a Naruto clone, I wasn’t willing to try. Many, many years later, Kamatani’s more recent work, Our Dreams at Dusk, was making the rounds online as a heartfelt, nuanced story about LGBT characters. Seeing the beautiful art and few snippets of scans floating around, I wondered if the mangaka had any other works and if they were in English. Nabari no Ou was my answer.
I can’t tell you how upset at myself I was that I waited so long to try the series. It is beautiful and poignant and so emotionally raw, and quickly jumped to one of my favourite underrated titles. The first few volumes feel like a debut work, aping off popular tropes of the time, but that quickly changes once Kamatani hits their stride, growing the story and art to something uniquely special by the end. It’s out-of-print now, so it’s hard to recommend, but I do wish more people would read it!
While you’re picking series, what has been your favourite three manga series released in 2019?
First would be Our Dreams at Dusk, which both debuted and ended in 2019. I was smitten from the very first time I saw the series gaining traction online, and it was everything I wanted from it. Seven Seas did a marvellous job all-round, and I sobbed uncontrollably at the end. It’s my number one must-read from 2019
Next would be The Poe Clan, which is classic shojo at its finest. I am eternally grateful for the continued efforts of Rachel Thorn and Fantagraphics Books on bringing Moto Hagio’s manga to English-speaking readers. The series is not only one of Hagio’s most famous works, but had a significant impact on not only her career but the manga industry as a whole!
Finally is Witch Hat Atelier, which blends magic and illustration very literally on the page. This one has beautiful world-building and an intriguing cast. So many phenomenal series came out this year though!
I’ll give a mention to Blue Flag which got its debut in English digitally in 2019, but will release in print in early 2020!! Be sure to try it once it does.
If you could pick any western property to be made into a manga, what would it be and who would you choose as the mangaka?
My first choice would probably be the Earthsea novels, honestly. I recently reread them all, and they are just so beautiful in every way. I know there was an attempt at adaptation with the Ghibli film, but that was honestly a loose ‘inspired by’ version, rather than a true representation of Le Guin’s novels. Earthsea has the quiet sentimentality and purpose of many of my favourite seinen titles, from Mushishi to A Bride’s Story, paired with a grandly spanning story with clear arcs like Vinland Saga.
My first choice of mangaka would be Kaoru Mori, because I’m a huge fan obviously, but also because I think her artwork captures subtle emotion in such a genuine way. For all the magic and dragons, it’s a very intimate human story. There are perhaps not enough maids in Earthsea to keep her attention, but I think she’d love diving into the rich cultures within the archipelago, fictional or not.
Australia and Otaku’s down under
I have a very UK and US-centric perception of the otaku scene. What’s the anime and manga scene like in Australia?
These days, there’s very little difference at all. Our population is a lot smaller than the US or UK, so relative scaling of the market has to be assumed when comparing, but I feel like the otaku community is strong. Conventions are always busy and growing larger each year, although I don’t attend them anymore, haha. When I first became a fan and started collecting, a lot of things were different with regards to local releases. We had a publishing partnership with the now-defunct Chuang Yi, a Singaporean publisher, who released titles like Fullmetal Alchemist, Ouran High School Host Club, Fruits Basket, etc. which had different translations from the Viz or Tokyopop release.
There were also some titles that the US never got until much later (like Twinkle Stars, Are You Alice?, Afterschool Charisma). With the Global Financial Crisis though, a lot of those releases were discontinued, and new distribution deals made with Viz, Kodansha and Yen Press. The few manga you can buy in-store here now are just the US releases. With licensing costs, it’s not viable for an Australian boutique publisher to release manga.
Anime-wise, Madman is still our primary licensor, but a majority of their releases have always been region 4 Funimation discs. Back when the anime community was struggling in the US, we did have some subtitled-only exclusives like Haikyu!!, Blue Exorcist, Tatami Galaxy, Gosick and Nichijou, all of which have since been licensed (and dubbed) since. I think the only exclusive titles they have now (and are OOP, I think) are Nanana’s Buried Treasure and Mushishi Season 2. As a general rule, Madman’s anime releases have to have a dub. Because of this, we don’t get a lot of Sentai’s catalogue released locally.
Again, Australian companies don’t have the funds to make their own dub, so they rely on the US. Often a UK company and Australian company will partner to fund the BluRay release of titles and share the discs, as they are the same region code (B). Our other somewhat active anime licensor is Hanabee, who has just recently returned to anime after many years focused on RoosterTeeth. They are more likely to release sub-only discs (and on BluRay!!) like Monogatari.
Siren Visual is the last of our licensors but doesn’t actually license or sell anything anymore. It’s a shame, as they were my favourite. They gave us the complete series of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster on DVD, Nodame Cantabile, Welcome to Irabu’s Office and more! Now Funimation has expanded distribution to Australia, so a lot of our new releases are just the US set with a rating logo sticker slapped on it (required by law). I already buy a majority of my anime from the US or UK, and now it just seems like English-speaking markets are all getting identical products.
One difference I’ve noticed though is that we do have a lot of anime for sale in stores! There’s always a large section of JB HiFi or Sanity filled with the latest releases, so it’s not hard to find and buy locally. That’s definitely a product of not having a massive online store usage until recently though (we didn’t even get Amazon until 2019!).
From my time in the video game fandom, I’ve seen that Australia has had a rough time with import fees as well as some harsh censorship. Is that something you also experience with anime and manga?
Not at all. Again, that’s thanks to most of our books and discs just being US releases distributed in Australia. I know there’s some strictness on content in video games, which can lead to censorship, but that has more to do with the interactive nature of games I think. There’s never been an anime release censored in Australia that I know of, compared to some strict BBFC requirements that UK companies have had to fulfil in the past (Code Geass is a popular example).
All video media (games/TV/films) has to go through the Rating Bureau and be assigned an age rating (G, PG, M, MA15+ and R18) and display the rating clearly on packaging, but that’s it. If you’re ever seen an Aussie release, you know what I’m talking about—there’s no way you can miss it. A lot of US buyers importing from Australia complain about it ruining the artwork. Still, at least it prevents studios and licensors from being sued by parents for selling misleading products from the cover art, etc. Some weird, dumb censorship laws apply to pornography here, but I don’t think they’re relevant to this conversation, haha.
YouTube and content creation
So how did you get into content creation?
My first attempt was right after I started university in 2011, straight out of high school. I had only been an anime fan for about two years at that point, but the Support The Anime Industry movement had just started on YouTube, where people would post videos about their latest purchases. It was an attempt to encourage people to support US licensors like Funimation and ADV by buying legal releases as more and more companies were going bankrupt (Geneon, Bandai, etc.). It was a weird time for the US economy in general, and the small niche anime industry was hit particularly hard after the anime bubble burst. (It’s a complicated and extensive series of events; I recommend Justin Sevakis’ breakdown of the whole thing on ANN).
That was the culture on anime and manga content on YouTube at the time, and it’s kind of stayed that way for MangaTube since. Whilst anime YouTubers don’t really do haul-type videos any more, BookTube is ALL ABOUT hauls, reading vlogs, reviews and first impressions. MangaTube has a lot of crossover in that sense. Anyways, my first attempt was terrible and I deleted my videos pretty much immediately after posting and moved on with my life, haha. I wasn’t even collecting manga at that point, so it hadn’t been my focus.
Once I tried again on YouTube I was reading (and buying) more manga than anime, so it made more sense for me to talk about that.
What was your impetus for content creating around manga?
I would watch a lot of collection videos on YouTube, hoping to discover new titles. What I found instead was that most collections were the same, cycling through the same dozen long-running shonen. Everyone had the same generic statements (‘One Piece is the best thing ever written’, ‘BLEACH is trash after the third arc’, ‘no, wait, Berserk is the best thing ever written!’) and it was boring for me to watch. No one owned the books I did, or if they did, they hadn’t read them.
There’s only so many times I can listen to a twenty-something tell me that Bakuman is a masterpiece before wanting to rip my hair out, haha. But because of this, I saw there was a gap in titles (and readers) being represented on YouTube. I knew I couldn’t be the only person buying titles like Natsume’s Book of Friends or Antique Bakery, but I might have to be the first one to talk about them in a video.
Luckily, I found my audience pretty quickly, other people, mostly young women, who were also starving for manga videos about titles that weren’t Shonen Jump perennials, and they’ve mostly stuck around since. Finding your niche is essential; I can’t be everything for everyone, and I don’t want to try.
You’ve been creating content for four years now. In those years, what’s been the most significant challenge you’ve had to face as a content creator?
My biggest challenges have all been related to being in the ‘public eye’ somewhat. I’m not a hugely famous person or anything, so sometimes I get overwhelmed with the idea that so many people value what I have to say about comics! I try to just forget about that, and keep talking about the books I want to discuss. Fighting against peer pressure and hype, I guess!
I’ve also had some unsavoury run-ins with people within and from the community sending me inappropriate messages privately. Everything from unwanted sexual advances to trying to belittle or discredit me. Part of it comes from just existing as a woman on the internet; the rest comes from being publicly opinionated, haha. Even so, I like to use my platform to speak about issues that other smaller creators or fans would be dogpiled over. With great power, comes great responsibility, and all that…
You make a mixture of videos on your channel, impressions/reviews, haul videos, and of course, your podcast Read Right to Left (RRtL). Do you have a favourite type of video to make?
I’m lucky that my videos are straightforward for me to make, mainly because I’m lazy, haha. I never script anything (which is probably apparent, with how much I ramble) and editing is just stitching each part together before putting it online. I do everything for my hauls, first impressions, reviews, etc. on my phone, from filming to posting. The podcast episodes are the only anomaly; I record my audio on my PC and edit those videos a little more thoroughly before they’re done. They also take forever to render. For all the extra trouble and work though, they’re my favourite to make, thanks to all the fun I have actively discussing various manga with my wonderful cohost! It’s the one thing I miss out on when making regular videos, or even using Twitter.
As we just mentioned RRtL, how did that collaboration with Ray come about?
It was an idea I had been mulling over for a while before we decided to commit to it. Ray and I talk a lot, privately, on Twitter and have been friends for a couple of years now. We have a lot in common and even joke about sharing a brain between two different bodies. I was inspired to create the podcast after being a guest on a few of the existing podcasts and live streams already in the MangaTube community. While it was a lot of fun, and I am endlessly grateful for people inviting me as a guest, I noticed that a lot of the conversation was focused on those of us in the community making videos, or general discussion topics. Not really any specific titles themselves. I guess it was a matter of noticing a gap in the community again that I thought I could fill.
I kind of jokingly suggested the idea to Ray, and she was all for it! Thus the podcast was born. It’s still reasonably amateur, but I’m generally proud of the episodes we’ve made so far. It’s the type of show and discussion that I wanted to make, and we’ve had very positive feedback from commenters.
It seems like you have a similar taste in manga, is there any series you disagree on?
Nothing major that I’ve noticed yet. I’m a little more forgiving of dumb or iffy shonen tropes than Ray is, she’s a little more self-indulgent with her trashy vampire yuri series than I will ever be. It helps that we’re self-aware of our faults, haha.
You’ve just completed a series of massive collection videos, how long did that take to film and edit?
A long, looong time. You don’t even know. I would film each part in one go, sometimes that meant a solid six hours filming and talking. Then I would edit them together in my usual method: on my phone. One problem, my phone editor has a time length limit of 3 1/2 hours. So I’d make two halves or whatever, and then use another app to join the video files together. The file sizes were also huge, so my phone was struggling, haha. All up I probably spent 9 or 10 full working days on those videos. I’m so happy it’s over.
And finally what’s your favourite thing about being a content creator?
It’s cliche, but all of the wonderful people I’ve met because of it. Whether they also make videos, comment regularly or mainly interacts with me on Twitter. I’ve found a community of friends and fellow fans who I would have never met otherwise. Before MangaTube, I didn’t know how many people read the things I do or had similar (unpopular) opinions, because all I was exposed to was the most popular or common ones.
I don’t regard myself having much influence or impact on other people’s reading. But, it’s been exciting seeing more and more people trying and enjoying titles I love, and watching the manga industry as a whole changing. Licensing is filled to the brim with series and creators I adore right now, and it’s exciting and invigorating to be able to share that love with others in my small way. I treat Youtube as fun, an extension of my hobby, rather than work. And I’ll continue to make videos until it stops being fun.