Spice and Wolf: Tender Sensibilities for Tender People

Manga and light novel publisher Yen Press have unveiled the cover for the upcoming and much-anticipated first volume of Spice and Wolf, which you can see right here.

As you can see from reading the comments there, their decision to make the American edition look absolutely nothing like the original, Japanese edition is not being terribly well received by fans.

This isn’t exactly surprising, given that the most vocal and asinine anime and manga fans tend to be the most stupid and immature, but the criticisms aren’t entirely without merit.

What you have to understand is that Spice and Wolf is a story about economics, financial markets, the power of the Church, and the hardships of itinerant merchants who have anthropomorphic personifications of pagan deities as traveling companions. (I know, but, seriously, it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.)

What part of the new Yen Press cover, exactly, has any relevance to the stuff, you know, inside the book? Alright, there’s Holo, the wise wolf, looking all nekkid, cute, happy, and nekkid, and with a nicely enigmatic smile and all that. (And the wrong hair color, I might add.) But, looking at that cover, what would you think the book was about?

Call me crazy, but I say it looks like a “paranormal romance” about werewolves… possibly really kinky, sex-crazed killer female werewolves… which Spice and Wolf… isn’t.

Now, Yen Press argue that they want to make this appeal more to people who aren’t, you know, comic book readers. And that’s fine. But, seriously, that was the best they could come up with?

What I find either slightly funny or very sad, though, is that “light novels” are basically marketed to teenagers – excuse me, “young adults” in this country – junior-high and high-school students, in other words. (And that’s generally where you find them in brick-and-mortar bookstores, too.) I mean, I know Yen want to expand beyond that core market and all… but are naked wolf-girls really the best way to do that? I know, I know, “sex sells”, but do Yen really think this is a viable – let alone the best – way to attract a broader audience?

Hardcore Spice and Wolf fans? Check.
Hardcore manga, anime, and light-novel fans? Check, probably.
Furry fandom? Check… apparently.

Some of the comments over on Yen’s site have called the cover overly American, and I agree, though probably for different reasons than they had in mind. Sure, the paranormal-romance look is definitely American, but not exclusively so.

No, what – to me – says this is an American cover is that:


someone, somewhere
decided that
- on a book whose core market is probably under 18 years old, no less -
a naked wolf-girl was perfectly okay to show
(albeit mostly hidden in shadows)
but armpit hair wasn’t

I mean, to be fair, Holo doesn’t appear to have armpit hair in the anime, either, but, still… hands up everyone who thinks Holo shaves?

That’s what I thought.

You have to admire their whole scheme about “we know a lot of you are going to be pissed about this, so you can spend ten bucks on a magazine which will include a slipcover with the original illustration on it”, too. Sheer genius.

What I find sort of surprising is that Yen – and all the other light novel publishers, too – seem absolutely unwilling to even consider the possible benefits of short-run / print-on-demand technology. The expensive overheads of translation, editing, layout, and so on are basically one-time costs; creating a “special edition” only available online (through Amazon, say), even with a different cover, is relatively inexpensive, and while the per-book printing costs are higher, there’s no reason you can’t mark up the “special edition” a couple of bucks and still turn a safe profit.

Failing that, why not do what they did with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and produce two separate editions, with different covers? Were sales of Melancholy bad enough to quash that kind of idea?

Published in: Geekiness, General | on September 25th, 2009| No Comments »

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