Classic Manga Kimagure Orange Road Coming to Facebook

The news broke at Katsucon over the weekend that the classic Shonen Jump manga Kimagure Orange Road, which has never before been translated into English, will be published digitally in English starting in April, via NTT Solmare's ComicFriends Facebook App and eventually in the Kindle and iBook stores as well.

The manga, which is 18 volumes long, is a love triangle with a supernatural twist, because the main character, Ky?suke, is an esper, and he and his family have had to leave their hometown because of their supernatural powers, which they do their best to conceal. The other two corners of the triangle are Madoka and Hikaru, who are also best friends with one another; in the beginning, at least, Madoka comes off as "whimsical" and sweet, while Hikaru is rougher, although she warms up over time—a classic "tsundere" character. The original series ended rather abruptly, but Matsumoto expanded the ending for the wideban edition.

While the manga has never been published legally in English, the anime was released by AnimEigo in the 1990s. It is now out of print.

Given the popularity of Shonen Jump titles—the magazine is the home of best-sellers Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece—why has it taken so long for Kimagure Orange Road to make it into English? Sean Gaffney wrote an interesting post on this a while ago that goes into the different factors involved in licensing manga. Although Kimagure Orange Road was an influential manga in its time, the romantic-triangle formula (especially with one sweet girl and one tsundere girl) has become commonplace, and the flood of imitators might, ironically, reduce the demand for the original. The fact that the series has already been scanlated might also be a problem, and Gaffney further points out that the 1980s-era art (the series ran from 1984 to 1987) does look dated.

So why now? The advent of digital distribution, and changes in business practices, are making it easier for publishers to release manga that appeal to a small but hard-core group of fans. While digital eliminates the cost of paper, a more important factor may be that the publisher does not have to pay a license fee—in this case, the Japanese publisher seems to be releasing it directly, skipping the U.S. publisher altogether. Will it work? It's too early to say, but the ComicFriends app already has a lot of interesting manga available, and a popular series like this might be the tipping point for them—meaning that it will.

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