Spoiler Policy, The Novel Test, and the Obligations of Serial Manga

Courtesy of the super-discount section of Half-Price Books, I just picked up a bundle of fun for a little less than 25$. I bought a number of items; manga volumes of Land of the Blindfolded, Lone Wolf and Cub, and R2 (I usually buy some series I’ve never heard of before on principle), Final Fantasy X and X-2, and ten issues of Weekly Shonen Magazine. What am I going to do with that last lot? Well, first, I’m going to take advantage of my ability ot read Japanese and spoil myself the heck out of second-best baseball manga ever Ace of the Diamond, which is 4 years ahead of where scanlators are now. Second, I’m going to take a stab at every series running in that magazine and see if any is solid enough for a tankobon import, something I do occasionally. These two related ideas popped into my head immediately upon seeing the issues, and led me to some thoughts on the concept of a serial medium as it pertains to manga. I thought I’d share.

But first, a tangent. My spoiler policy on anime is a strict 3-year rule: if something is 3 or more years old, I haven’t seen it yet, and I’m not actively watching it or starting in the next 24 hours, I don’t care what gets spoiled. I’ve been following anime and manga on a very active basis for going on 8 years now, so that gives me a couple of reasons to not be too concerned. First, if something is 3 years or older, it’s probably something whose name I’ve encountered at least once while browsing through either rightstuf, myanimelist, anidb, or bookstore shelves. If I’ve encountered the name years ago and haven’t gotten around to it, that means that there’s at least one reason why other things have kept cutting ahead of that show in my mental queue.

Second, I don’t recall a distinct case where knowing about a plot twist before it happened crushed my enjoyment of the twist as it happened. Though it should always be noted that any one study is inconclusive, there have been indications that spoilers can enhance the takeaway from a story. This may be due to the fact that knowing what will happen increases the amount of focus readers/viewers can have on how it happens.

I mean, goodness knows I’ve personally got a nerd stiffy for solid execution. I’ve mentally invented, but haven’t yet defined, the “Why not a novel?” test. When reading a manga and trying to find its good points, the first thing I go to is the question; “Why is this a manga and not a novel? What do the images/panels/speech bubble positions do for the manga that would translate horribly to pure text?” There is inevitably a very good answer for any manga worth its salt, and if you can’t come up with any answer in 5 minutes while having access to the manga, it’s probably something worth being skeet-shot.

So that’s all background, to give you a better idea of my policy on spoilers. This policy on spoilers has led me to a related policy on manga, which is as follows: “If a manga’s good points can’t be picked up from any consecutive 100-page span, that manga is not worth reading.” I’ve developed a regular habit of sampling one or two chapters from the middle of a manga’s run before deciding whether it’s something I really want to read.

Now, I’ve heard argued that this is blasphemous, that it goes against what the creators intended and messes up the viewing experience. That might be true for a 12-episode anime, where things are tightly planned, shaped, and compressed to do as much as possible in as little time as possible.

For weekly serial manga, though? The intentions of the creators are a bit more complicated than a straight-up beginning-to-end story. Almost all manga run in magazines where reader popularity is very important to series survival. It’s tougher to gain new readers when the story happening *right now* isn’t fun, clear, and interesting. Manga that doesn’t gain new readers underperforms in the market relative to those that do. In a world where everyone’s chasing Shueisha’s Weekly Jump juggernaut, such a thing is pretty critical. So in a sense, being able to pick up a series at any point is a part of creator’s intent in regards to serial manga. A lack of attention to this attribute shows an author who’s generally less concerned about reaching readers, which is usually a significant red flag. If I read 2-4 weeks’ worth of manga, I should have a pretty firm grasp on what’s going on. If not, that’s a major problem and definitely worth moving a manga a lot closer to the rear of my massive backlog list. Why would I pick up a manga that’s selectively good in certain conditions when there are plenty of manga out there, including literally hundreds of Kodansha/Shogakukan/Tezuka award winners, that I have yet to try?

This is all my opinion, and has been for a while. If you disagree, feel free to has it shoot me an email or speak your piece in the comments.

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