Saturday, July 23, 2011

K-On! manga US vs. JP review and comparison (Vol. 1)

As any fan knows, K-On! was originally a 4-koma manga series created by the mysterious mangaka Kakifly. It consists of four volumes (well – that was the case, anyway, up until the recent re-launch of the series in Japan. New chapters have resumed, but no full volume has been published yet. At this point, all bets are off as to how long the series will go on) and is currently being published in English by Yen Press.
For the readers of this blog that don’t know (I estimate that to be about 0 people), 4-koma is a type of manga not unlike western four-panel comic strips. Wikipedia can explain it better than me (now, nobody go edit it to read “4-koma is a type of ostrich egg best served with chocolate pudding” or some stupid crap like that to make me look like an idiot, okay?). Kakifly’s K-On! sticks to this format most of the time, although each volume opens with a special chapter in the “usual” manga format which is exclusive to the tankoubon collections (that is; not serialized in the magazines like the rest of the chapters).
Reading the manga after first watching the anime is interesting. The anime follows the manga really closely, at least in the early episodes, but expands on it. For example, in the manga when the Light Music Club first visit the music store where Yui falls in love with her guitar; she gets to buy it straight away (thanks to Mugi, of course). In the anime, however, the story is extended by a subplot featuring the girls taking up a part time job to save up money for the guitar – after which, they return to the store and at that point the story picks up the thread from the manga.
Some fans might say the manga is only popular because of the anime. That it is not really anything out of the ordinary and that Kyoto Animation’s anime adaption is what made K-On! good. Personally, I’d have to agree that the anime is an improvement upon the source material but that’s not to say the original manga isn’t good. It is. It’s funny, it’s charming, and the loveable characters are (for the most part) the same as you know them from the anime. In my opinion, any K-On! fan owe it to themselves to read it – after watching the anime.
The first of the four volumes covers, roughly; the first eight episodes of the anime. Which means, if you’re a relatively new K-On! fan who is keeping up with the anime through Bandai’s US release; it’s safe to read this without spoiling any of the episodes that have yet to be released.
Which brings me to the English version, published by Yen Press last November. How does it hold up to the Japanese edition?
On first glance, it seems the Yen Press version is a pretty close approximation of the Japanese original. The sizes of the books are identical, and the cover art is almost exactly the same – except, naturally, for the English title. Personally, I think this English logo is kind of ugly and much prefer the one used for the anime. That’s a matter of personal taste, though, and not a significant complaint by any means.

There is one way in which the two editions differ significantly, as far as appearance goes. The cover you see on the Japanese one is actually a dust jacket, which is not the case with the US book. This is likely due simply to different standards in the industry. When stripped of its dust jacket, the print revealed on the actual cover of the Japanese book is in fact a couple of – I suppose you could call them – bonus pages of the manga. For the US edition, these two pages have been moved to the inside of the book, to the very back. A good decision, as far as I’m concerned. Fun fact: The two pages in question were both adapted into the anime.
Content-wise, there is another pleasant surprise to be found in the US edition. There are several pages throughout the book that are in full color – even though the Japanese edition has them in black and white! In the Japanese book, only the special volume opening chapters are in color. Apparently, these “extra” color pages where published in color when the manga was serialized in Manga Time Kirara, but reduced to black & white for the tankoubon for some reason. So; kudos to Yen Press for not only getting these pages in color for the US edition, but actually going through the trouble of printing them that way as well.
It’s worth noting that the color pages in the Japanese book (what few there are) are printed on glossy paper, whereas the color pages in the US edition are not. Still, with more pages featured with their original colors intact it is not a bad trade-off.
The last thing to consider is how the material is treated in English. Now, I am far from qualified to judge the accuracy of the translation – but I will say that the English text is light and funny, just as K-On! should be. Some might take issue with how the term “Pop Music Club” is used consistently instead of “Light Music Club” and yeah; it takes some getting used to. I might not necessarily agree with it, but the choice is explained in the “Translation Notes” section in the back of the book (there are four pages worth) and it’s the kind of thing where I really could just shrug and say, “Meh… fair enough”.
So, in conclusion – I think Yen Press has done an overall excellent job while bringing the K-On! manga over to the US. And I highly recommend it.

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