Welcome to what is the second Manga Worth Reading interview. This time we chat with Uchuu Shelf, a MangaTuber, Podcaster and creator of ‘Where Can I Read Manga’. We touch on all of the important topics, such as Manga Rock, a site based on piracy and building a house out of One Piece tankōbons (a house built from piracy?).
Hi Uchuu Shelf, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Let us get started with an easy one. How’s your day going?
So far, my day is going quite well. (Fingers crossed it stays this way!) Thanks for inviting me for this lil’ Q & A too – I’ll try not to bore the readers!
So how did you first get into manga?
When I was about 11, I started getting into anime beyond stuff like Pokemon and Digimon. Some of the first anime I watched were Chobits, Love Hina, and Naruto. This was back in the day when I didn’t know what torrenting was, and Crunchyroll wasn’t even an idea. I didn’t even know manga existed until I was about 14 though. Having watched Howl’s Moving Castle in theatres, and afterwards going to a nearby comic book store, I was just overwhelmed with shelf after shelf of, what I then called “anime books”. I must have spent a good amount of money.
What was the first series you read?
That would be .hack//Legend of the Twilight by Tatsuya Hamazaki and Rei Izumi. It was a 3-volume series set in an MMORPG called The World, and all the drama that comes along with that. It’s kind of like a precursor to Sword Art Online (and MMO Isekais in general).
And do you think it would still hold up today?
I rebought these earlier this year and read through them in one go. They’re definitely fun, so I might be biased in saying yes, but on the whole, probably not so much.
While you’re picking series, what has been your favourite three manga series released in 2019?
The Brave-Tuber by Takahito Oosaki and Ikuro, for it’s relatability to making Youtube content, and it is a genuinely hilarious manga.
Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest by Aki Irie, for being a gorgeous manga with an incredible cast of characters, and an exciting mystery to boot.
Bakemonogatari by Nisioisin and Oh! Great, because I’ve been a huge Monogatari fan for years, and Oh! Great is one of my top 10 mangaka, so seeing their take on one of my favourite light novels has been an incredible experience.
Weird scenario round
You’re stranded on a Desert Island, you’ve managed to save one series to read while you await rescue, what is it?
Probably One Piece. I haven’t read very much of it, but the worst-case scenario? I can use some of its 90-something volumes for shelter and still have some left to read!.
A more serious answer would be Hiroya Oku’s Gantz. It’s one of my all-time favourite series. There’s always so much going on, that even reading the same volume over and over doesn’t get boring.
You’re in an elevator, and someone notices you holding a tankōbon. What’s your elevator pitch for reading manga to someone unaware of the artform and what manga series would you recommend to as a starting point?
I feel like most people have a general idea of what anime is, so it wouldn’t be too hard. Pretending I’m speaking to someone living under a rock: manga is Japanese comics that are targetted for kids, teens, and adults. Covering a wide range of topics from adventure and friendship, to depression and suicide. They come in pretty much every genre, and have stories, unlike anything you’d read in American comic books.
You’ve been hired to license a western IP to become a manga series. What would you pick and who would you choose as the mangaka?
I have so many books and shows I’d love to see become a manga, but one I’d absolutely love to see is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Go Nagai. I think a ‘retro-style’ (if you will) would suit the series the best.
Uchuu Shelf YouTube channel & Between the Shelves Podcast
So how did you get into content creation?
My day job is a web designer/developer, but aside from it being my job, it’s also something of a hobby. I began collecting manga again in 2016. Around that time, I was looking for a new personal project, so the idea of creating a manga review blog seemed like a no-brainer. It was ⅓ an excuse to design a blog, ⅓ a reason to write about manga, and ⅓ a way to justify my admittedly terrible spending habits.
The Youtube channel came when I was thinking of rebooting the blog, and came across a few YouTubers (now really good friends) who were reviewing manga. I never felt like I had the personality for Youtube, so I never even considered it, but I just gave it a shot one day, and it seems to have stuck.
What was your impetus for content creating around manga?
I don’t know how else to put this, but manga is just really special, and it’s unique. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world. And there’s just so much of it, that there’s bound to be something for everyone. With at least one or two super niche series that ticks all the boxes of being incredible to you.
A big part of creating some of my content is research, so every time I do a video, I learn something new. I learn a bit more about the industry every time I turn my head, and the more I learn, the deeper in love with manga I fall. I love sharing that passion because when I do, I find out I’m not alone. And it’s always fun to meet people who share your love for manga because whether you’re into shojo manga, or strictly read shonen, you still have that common ground.
How did you come up with the name Uchuu Shelf?
So for those who don’t know, uchuu is Japanese for space. Comics are something you can find in every country around the world, but manga is something that feels uniquely not from this world. Some of the stuff you read in manga, you have to take a minute to marvel at the fact that someone sat down and had an idea for this. It’s just incredible! So with the idea of having a shelf full of ‘otherworldly’ books, Uchuu Shelf seemed fitting.
Have there been any series that you had a preconception of and it surprised you positively or negatively?
This might shock a few of my followers, but I didn’t like Black Clover at all when it first came out (which might be surprising considering I wrote two articles for Crunchyroll declaring it the best shonen in years). But my fiancee bought me the first few volumes knowing I was starting my collection again. And now it’s one of my favourite things running in Shonen Jump right now.
So you’re two episodes into a new podcast (Between the Shelves) with On The Shelf, how did that come about?
Callum from On The Shelf and I started our Youtube channels around the same time, and both put out a similar first video (basically about how Inio Asano is an incredible mangaka). We became really good friends pretty much straight away since we shared the exact same taste in manga and anime (except I don’t like Prison School, sorry Callum!). I think one day he just said “let’s do a podcast” and it was an immediate “yes!”
I absolutely love doing them. The best part of Between The Shelves is that it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a podcast, if that makes sense. It feels like I’m just having a chat with a mate.
What’s your favourite thing about being a content creator?
It used to be that creating content was just fun for me, but when my channel started to grow, I started getting comments along the lines of “Hey, I just picked this up because of your video!” and it made me feel so accomplished. But also terrified because I worry people might spend their money on something I recommend then completely hate it!
Manga Rock and ‘Where Can I Read Manga’
I want to commend you for taking a stand against piracy. So how I first found you online was through YouTube suggesting your Manga Rock videos.
Thank you! It’s something I’ve always felt passionately about so I’m glad it’s reached out to people.
Can you tell me a little about why you made those?
I’ve always thought that piracy is a grey area. I can see both ends of the argument, and I’ve admittedly used scans before to read manga (and still do if I have the intention of buying them just to see if I like it first). Still, I think what Manga Rock did – stealing a webcomic artist’s work, profiting off it. Then having the audacity to ‘help the creator make money’ – really crossed a line.
What prompted me to make the videos though was that a lot of people thought Manga Rock was legitimate simply because they were offering a subscription service. I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that no, they weren’t legit, and that none of the money they earned went back to the manga industry.
Was this the impetus for creating ‘Where Can I Read Manga’
When I started tweeting about Manga Rock (before I made the initial video), people would begin to ask me, “well, if I can’t read this here, where can I read manga?”
I thought having a quick tool for people to skim through and find legal manga sources would be beneficial to the industry. After all, the more we buy manga, the more the industry thrives, and the more manga we get. It’s a win-win situation every time you buy a volume!
What are your future goals for ‘Where Can I Read Manga’
A new design, for starters – the current one is good, but I whipped that together really fast. It could be better, but, that might be my inner designer, though; never satisfied with anything I do.
As a designer myself, I understand that.
On the immediate changelog is a list of places to buy manga physically, since people keep asking for this. (I haven’t forgotten you guys – I’ve just been swamped!) Other than that, some of the items on my to-do list for it are a searchable database of series available legally. Plus a tool to find local libraries, and a list of current or upcoming manga sales. But those are a ways away.
As someone that currently has over ten manga out from their local library, I love this idea.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Something people don’t consider is that publishers listen! For example, Seven Seas Entertainment has a monthly survey where you can recommend manga they should license. You can tweet at publishers to license a manga you’d love to buy. You can even do what I do: incessantly bug a publisher for nearly a decade to release a series (thank you Viz for finally releasing Ping Pong). Because chances are, they eventually will! It’s all equal parts, patience and showing your support.