Publish and/or perish

April 4, 2008

Writing for The Star-Ledger, Beth Fitzgerald takes a look at the precarious state of Borders. What makes this piece particularly interesting to me is the initial emphasis on customer reaction to the prospect of losing their chain of choice.

Writing for The New York Times, Motoko Rich reports on an effort by HarperCollins to trim the fat. Launching a new imprint, they hope to trade big advances for profit sharing and (even more interesting for people who follow the ins and outs of the Direct Market) eliminating returnability of unsold product:

“Under standard practices, booksellers can return unsold books, saddling publishers with the high costs of shipping and pulping copies. Mr. [Robert S.] Miller [former founding publisher of Hyperion and new HarperColins hire] said the publishers could share with authors any savings from eliminating returns. A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment on HarperCollins’ plans.”

Pinky swear

April 4, 2008

It’s a little strange to constantly expect bloody criminal violence to erupt in a shôjo romantic comedy, but that’s the effect Kiyo Fujiwara’s Wild Ones (Viz) had on me. That it doesn’t is both a relief and a disappointment.

Sachie’s mother has died, and her future is uncertain until her maternal grandfather arrives to take Sachie into his home. Sachie had been told he was dead, so she’s understandably suspicious. She’s even more anxious when she realizes that Grandpa is the leader of a yakuza faction.

Now Sachie has a new school and a house full of tattooed, scarred toughs to deal with, along with the realization that her generally straightforward mother lied to her (for admittedly good reasons). The thugs all dote on her like she’s an adorable kitten they found out in the rain. Grandpa is a little aloof, but he obviously adored Sachie’s mother and seems to have transferred those affections to his granddaughter. And not all of Grandpa’s minions are leathery hoodlums.

Yes, there’s a boy, and his name is Rakuto. He’s class president at Sachie’s school, and Grandpa has given him the task of protecting Sachie. She finds Rakuto unnervingly devoted, and she’s not sure if it’s genuine or if he’s just following orders. He’s dreamy, sure, but is he sincere?

Everything that actually happens in the comic is pleasant enough. The thugs are actually pretty loveable in a ridiculous way, as when they try and find an appropriate birthday gift for the girl. Sachie’s ambivalence about Rakuto is credible and hits some nice emotional notes. But gangster-story expectations kept distracting me.

Fujiwara tends to gloss over Grandpa’s business, which left me to look for traces of it on the fringes. Rakuto explains that Grandpa took him in after his father succumbed to bad debts, and that all of the men in the house arrived under similar circumstances. It’s supposed to illustrate Grandpa’s unlikely benevolence, but it just led me to suspect that he killed all of their parents and took in the boy children to swell his ranks.

It’s not that I want Grandpa’s elegant compound to be riddled with rival gunfire, or for undercover investigators to try and turn Sachie between classes. I’m not sure what it would do to the amiability of the rest of the narrative. But the absence of actual criminal behavior in a criminal milieu is undeniably odd; it’s like a werewolf story where none of the chapters take place during the full moon.

Okay, maybe I do want a few shootouts and undercover stings.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher. And yes, I know that gun control is extraordinarily strict in Japan and that a shootout is extremely unlikely. You know what I mean.)