Hayate the Combat Butler: Illustrating Failure of U.S. Anime/Manga System

Hayate the Combat ButlerI’ve been an anime fan for a few years now, going back to 2002, and a manga fan for nearly as long, going to 2003.  As such, I know how the Japanese anime, manga, and light novel markets work to an extent. Depending on the series, an anime adaptation of a light novel or manga may be a fairly faithful adaptation (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood would fall into this category), or it may be an adaptation loosely based on the original series (the various Slayers animes, Love Hina or the first Negima! anime series would fall into this category), or it may just do its own thing (the second Negima!? anime series would fall into this category, and I’ll put the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime series here too since it went off and did its own thing).  For the most part, we fans in the US deal with this with limited problems.

That being said, the Japanese are also notorious for spreading a canon storyline across multiple media platforms. For example, one does not have to have played the ero-game Triangle Hearts 3 (or its sequel anime OVA series Triangle Hearts: Sweet Songs Forever) to get into the Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha anime franchise it spun off.  However, if one has not read the canon bridge manga between Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A’s and Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, one may be confused about references to certain events spoken of in StrikerS. This is more pronounced in the Last Exile franchise, where a bridge manga between Last Exile and its sequel Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing is currently being published in Japan, giving explanation to events leading up to Silver Wing.  In Japan, fans are able to easily bridge those gaps while we in the U.S. are pretty much hosed unless someone scanlates the above-mentioned manga, thus initially revealing a failure in the U.S. system.

Hayate the Combat ButlerThis brings me to Hayate the Combat Butler.  For most fans in the U.S. (myself included), we were introduced to this franchise via the first anime series. Cruchyroll licensed the series and streamed it with subtitles as the series was airing in Japan.  Viz licensed the manga, and this is where we have another revealed failure of the U.S. system.  Although there were lots of raves about the first anime series, few anime fans could be bothered to read the manga from scanlators or from Viz, much less buy it. I did buy the manga from Viz and still do, mainly because I do want to know the whole story, which is apparently not important to most anime fans. (As an aside, it makes me wonder of Kahn the Magnificent of 4Kids notoriety was right when he said, “I think manga is a problem because we’re in a culture that is not a reading culture.  Kid’s today don’t read, they read less today.”)

Because sales of the manga have not been good for Viz, they have slowed their release of Hayate the Combat Butler manga to a mere two volumes a year.  In Japan, four tankoubons are released a year.  This puts the U.S. market over three years (as of this writing) behind our Japanese cousins, and getting further behind with each passing year.  Also, because light novels don’t sell well in the U.S., there’s no way that Viz would license the two light novels published in Japan, though both were aided by Hata-sensei, the manga-ka of the series, and despite the fact that Hata-sensei basically made the first light novel canon (at least partially) by incorporating the destruction of the Video Club building from that novel into the manga.

Hayate the Combat ButlerFast forward to the third TV anime incarnation in the Hayate the Combat Butler franchise, entitled Hayate the Combat Butler: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.  As usual, Crunchyroll has licensed this TV anime series.  However, fans in the U.S. who’ve only been exposed to the first two TV series via Crunchyroll (or where ever) have been thrown into confusion because there are characters in this new TV series that were not present before, nor have they been properly introduced in the new TV series.  That’s because the series is being done for Japanese fans, thus the production team is assuming that at a minimum, those watching this new anime series are caught up with the latest Japanese tankoubon release (currently volume 32 as of this posting, compared with the Viz releasing volume 20 last month, putting the U.S. 3+ years behind Japan).

Thus we see how the U.S. system fails, both from the publishers side and from a fans side of things.  Few read the manga, thus few buy the official release from Viz, thus Viz slows production to a craw, thus even those fans who are keeping up with the Viz releases are confused, to say nothing of those who’ve never read the manga to begin with.

So, what can be done about this?

Hayate the Combat ButlerFor starters, I think that U.S. licensors of anime and manga are going to have to start heavily cross-promoting each other.  At best, I’ve seen small notations on old Del Rey and current Kodansha Comics volumes that will reference an anime series if FUNimation has it.  I did see that Seven Seas (GoManga) mentions that the manga version of A Certain Scientific Railgun is the basis for the hit anime series, but they don’t mention that FUNimation has the anime license.  Transversely, I kinda doubt that FUNimation references the Seven Seas manga releases as the source for their anime, but if they aren’t, they SHOULD be.

In my mind, a U.S. company that licenses an anime based on a manga that is licensed by a U.S. company should arrange a deal with said manga publisher to have an insert placed in the DVD/BD case, promoting the manga (and even a visual ad on the DVD/BD).  I know that in the case of Hayate the Combat Butler, Bandai picked up their toys and went home, but lets assume that Viz license-rescued the anime.  For them, it should be a cinch to throw in an insert for the DVD/BD release showing samples of the manga, and promoting reasons for folks to read it.  Ditto in reverse for the manga release promoting the anime release.  Even if some other company, like FUNimation, license-rescued the anime series, a deal should be reached to do the same thing, with Viz then agreeing to promote the anime version in the manga and on their website.

Hayate the Combat ButlerI’d take this a step further, and state that Viz should arrange to have a deal with Crunchyroll, so that at least one of the sponsored ads for the Hayate the Combat Butler: Can’t Take My Eyes Off You anime is one for the Viz releases of the Hayate the Combat Butler manga.  Even better would be to display ad banners or the like, promoting the manga.  On the Viz side of things, they could have ads on their Hayate the Combat Butler page, touting the Crunchyroll release.

Another thing that needs to be done is that Viz should step up to the plate and provide a legal, digital release current with the Japanese release of Hayate the Combat Butler.  It should be done in a manner similar to how RIN-NE was done, in that it was free for viewing, at least for a time.  That way, people can be directed to the manga to catch up on things they missed, and can legally do so without having to resort to scanlations. Unfortunately, Viz doesn’t even have a digital license for the series, much less do much to promote the manga, thus the continued failure of the system.

As to the culture of non-reading, I’m not sure what can be done about that. Clearly, some manga titles do quite well, such as One Piece, Naruto, and even Negima!  So obviously, someone is reading them.  However, what would get people reluctant to read the source manga of an anime series they claimed to have loved?

Because official releases of anime, and especially manga, are often well behind the releases in Japan, we’ve built a broken system for anime and manga in the U.S.  Although attempts have been made to correct this, resulting in anime series being either simulcast or streamed a short time after their release in Japan, for manga, the problem is much more severe as there have been very few attempts to have an official manga chapter release be done at or very close to the same time as the release in Japan.  This has to change, and good franchises need to be promoted and cross promoted or else the doom of Hayate the Combat Butler could come on other series as well.

Hayate the Combat Butler
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18 Responses to “Hayate the Combat Butler: Illustrating Failure of U.S. Anime/Manga System”

  1. Lan says:

    I think at the beginning of the first episode of the new series, Hayate should have done a quick back story to let us know whats going on. He very nearly did, but things still caused confusion.

    This is a problem with the anime wanting to be set so far ahead of its previous series, nothing else matters.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      >I think at the beginning of the first episode of the new series, Hayate should have done a quick back story to let us know whats going on. He very nearly did, but things still caused confusion.

      I hear ya, but Manglobe is doing what most anime production companies do — assume the viewers are already aware of the information via the manga and go from there. Remember, the Japanese mindset is that a REAL fan would have read the manga, watched all the animes, read the light novels, and then purchased any other products as well.

    • teito klien says:

      well no matter what hayate the combat butler has been one ofthe top 20 anime in 2008 and coming to the first episode concept its basically ment to give a curiosity concept

  2. burnpsy says:

    You’re overlooking an important point.

    The manga wasn’t the only thing that flopped in the Western market – the anime did as well. Why should they go through so much trouble for something that isn’t so popular among paying fans?

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Digital isn’t that expensive to produce. Viz doesn’t have to strip out all the Japanese. They could go the scanlation route and be fine.

      Still, my remarks come from the fact that there are a lot of people who apparently watched the anime via Crunchyroll (or where ever), loved the first two anime series, but are lost when it comes to this latest anime.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      There’s no legal means for fans to “catch up.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think your analysis is spot-on. It is very frustrating that VIZ has slowed its release to twice a year, especially in the middle of the Athena arc, which is my favorite part.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      Yeah, the Athena arc is good stuff, and further proof that Hata-sensei can do an action-related story with heart. I wish Hata-sensei wasn’t quite so obsessed with self-imposed, mandatory, single-chapter gag stories. I like gag stories, but I’d like to see the plot move forward at a somewhat faster pace.

      Of course, the new anime may be his way of advancing a plot element for the manga without having to waste time himself putting it into the manga.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s true most kids don’t read much but that can only explain why light novels have failed. With manga it’s a lot more about the pictures and the reading is often very light, especially in action oriented manga. I think Dan Brown was closer to the truth than Kahn in that artcicle you linked. The problem the industry has is that people aren’t very interested in buying manga on paper anymore because they’re used to reading it on their screens and tablets instead. The only real reason to buy paper manga is to have bragging rights about your collection and many people don’t care about that anymore. You can’t carry those books around but you can have tons of manga always with you on your device.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I’m a big proponent of digital manga, but being an older fan, I do still like the book feel in my hands. Still, Viz apparently never licensed digital rights for Hayate the Combat Butler since it isn’t online. 🙁

  5. Interestingly, the Neon Alley service does something like this, promoting titles not only from Viz (who runs the service), but Funimation and Aniplex as well, both in terms of anime and manga. That said, that cross promotion isn’t as broad as what you’re suggesting, but it’s a step in the right direction.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The good thing about a book is that it is permanent and will last your lifetime. A cloud of electrons is not to be trusted to be permanent. It is a commonly noted fact that when electronic media change, material using that media become unreadable. This is especially a problem for libraries, for instance. I want to hang onto my collection so I can read it later.

    Print manga are for collectors in any event. And obviously someone wants them, or a copy of Action Comics no. 1 would not go for a million bucks.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I agree with the book thing, though they too can be destroyed (flood, fire, etc.), but it is easier to destroy e-books than regular books.

      What needs to happen on the e-book front is a 100% removal of DRM. Allow people to d/l what they want, and back it up where they want. I don’t have the link handy, but there’s a story going around about Amazon in Europe where someone used their Kindle to try to buy from some other Amazon site, violating Amazon’s policies, thus causing Amazon to purge all legally purchased books from the customer’s Kindle. I need to follow up on the case, but that’s something that is a negative on the e-book front.

  7. O-chan says:

    In the end the American anime and manga industry is still a business and that often means that OUR favorite shows won’t get perfect treatment. Viz, Del Rey, Tokyopop, Dark Horse have all fallen victim to this and while it would be nice to be treated exactly like the Japanese fans that’s not always going to be the case.

    There is long list of examples, and keep in mind that streaming rights is not the same as performing well on DVD/Blu-ray. What I’ve noticed is there is a great deal of material available online that may or may not have a viable home media release.

    Reborn is released in it’s entirety on Crunchyroll, yet Viz has only released the first 14 volumes on the manga and stopped. Same with Gintama. Also Reborn doesn’t have a home media release while Gintama is being toyed around with by Sentai.

    Urusei Yatsura was released in it’s entirety, but Viz stopped translating the manga way before Animeigo decided to speed through the series on DVD. Alternatively they finished the manga of Maison Ikkuko first and released the remainder of the series through RightStuf exclusively.

    But not everything is “Viz’s” fault. For example Case Closed was a labor of love by Funimation but they could only feasibly release the first 130 TV episodes and 6 movies, yet Viz still seems to be consistently releasing the manga which is approaching 50 volumes (barring the translation issues).

    Stuff like this comes down to numbers and popularity and I hate to say this but Hayate the Combat Butler may have a STRONG fan following but it most likely doesn’t hit the same numbers like the Shonen Jump trinity, Haruhi, Fate/Stay and Fullmetal Alchemist does. The thing about all of the later is they had strong pushes of cross promotion and the way the anime/manga releases corresponded with each other seem to reflect that (for example the final volumes of FMA came out around the same time Brotherhood finished it’s run on Adult Swim).

    In the end maybe under a different company Hayate may have performed better but I’ve come to accept that not all manga that gets released here is going to bring in the numbers that justify a consistent release and for Viz it’s just business. I tend to look at what series their treating right as opposed which series they dropped (and there are quite a few). I remember when Viz tried to release Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack years ago and stopped after two volumes but then Vertical picked the series up released everything including select censored chapters (in Japan) and put the first three volumes in hardcover. Hayate may get the same treatment one day.

    • AstroNerdBoy says:

      I understand that the American market isn’t the same as the Japanese market. That being said, with today’s technology, companies could license titles for digital release with options to expand said license to print or video media. That way, American’s are current with the Japanese, and everyone gets paid (’cause this content could be put out for free for the general consumer market, with premium purchasers getting better stuff).

  8. David-ism™ says:

    I couldn’t agree with your article more ANB; there were several instances, when in the course of watching the Negima! series for example, that I was completely lost when it came to the later OVAs, simply because those were produced from a standpoint of assuming that the fans were caught-up, or at least had a somewhat working knowledge of the events prior to those depicted in the OVA.

    Now granted, the material was available for me to read via the manga that was being published, but had it not been, I would be in exactly the same situation as you mentioned above.

    Playing Devil’s Advocate for just a moment, though, I would like to point out that many dedicated fans of a series, will seek out the bridging points of their favorite series, should they happen to cross mediums. Though, I’ll be damned if I’m going to go hunt down some older copies of .hack//SIGN just to be 100% clear on what’s happening in the show.

    But yes, I agree that for the casual viewer/reader that doesn’t have access to the resources, or have the time and dedication to hunt down those bits of missing information, something should be handled here in NA that will help the market, and the fans.

    When I was working as a Bakery manager once upon a time ago, I got in a huge shipment of tarts; you know those little angel-food looking round cakes that you will with strawberries and whipped cream?

    To boost sales, and to help out our neighbor Produce section, I arranged for a huge promotional spot right in the middle of the produce section, and convinced the Produce Manager to order in a crap-ton of fresh strawberries to display next to them. The result was a hugely successful promotion, and both of our departments came out ahead.

    I completely agree, that if done right, manga and anime distributors could come out ahead much the same way, if only they didn’t clutch and grope at their licenses with such fear, and single-mindedness.

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