Just stating the obvious: Anime and manga haven’t been super interesting of late and the fans themselves haven’t evolved much over the last half-decade. Declining sales and profits are symptomatic of a fundamental crisis at the very heart of the otaku world. So where are the new frontiers in Japanese pop culture? For me, the most exciting stuff is happening in the technology sector. Recently, I was knocked out by the Hatsune Miku virtual idol live concert and the augmented reality features used in Konami’s Love Plus game. Now, a new player arrives on the block to potentially revolutionize the way that manga is made and consumed.
Today, the Tokyo-based Web Technology Com Corp. held a press conference for their new software 「コミPo!」(AKA ComiPo!). This “manga sequencer” – the first of it’s kind for the PC – allows users to create their own Japanese comics with all the trimmings: character models, big eyes, facial expressions, panel layouts, dialogue, sound effects, speed lines, the works.
Before we go any further, I strongly suggest you watch the 5 min demo below, which rightfully sent shockwaves throughout the Japanese interwebs since being uploaded on Oct/3.
Three days before today’s press conference, I was invited down to Web Technologies HQ to get a demo from Keiichi Tanaka, General Manager & Solution Sales Division. A manga-ka himself who authored the raunchy Osamu Tezuka parody Minari’s Youthful Days (which was localized by my company jaPRESS), Tanaka explained a few things additional things about the ComiPo! software that aren’t in the YouTube demo video and answered some of my most burning questions.
ComiPo! has been in the works for two years. Most of the grunt work went into the creation of the elaborate user interface. During the early days of development Kentaro Takekuma, manga-ka and co-author of the cult classic “Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga”, was brought in as a consultant and helped the company to make connections to the manga world at large. The “mascot character” models, faces, and expressions for CompiPo! have been created by Kumi Horii. While users can create their own original characters, they also have the option to use Horii's designs as the basis for their manga as well. New DLC packages will go on sale monthly, each featuring new character models and props revolving around a different theme (the first package is a school-themed set as seen in the demo, the second theme will be “fantasy”).
Tanaka believes that the ComiPo! software can evolve in two different directions. It will allow “light users” to explore storytelling and the manga medium simply for fun. Meanwhile, professional artists and editors will also be able to use ComiPro! as a kind of storyboard planner for manga layouts and could conceivably impact the need for assistants in the field.
ComiPo! accepts JPEG and PNG files. Photos can be given a 2-D manga makeover using a built-in illustration filter.
The impressive 3-D modeling feature shown in the video demo and below will not be a part of the launch package. It will debut in a later version of the ComiPro! soft set for next year.
The launch version will be Japanese language only, but options for other languages – including English – are in the works.
Since the general level of “amateur” fan-created manga in Japan is already impressively high, it’s my personal feeling that ComiPo! will have the most appeal outside of Japan, where people want to create comics “in the manga style” but need a lot of help to get there.
Like pretty much everything in the 21st century, copyrights might prove to be tricky territory. ComiPo! will allow the user to make manga for limited business applications (such as fliers), but Web Technology Com Corp. retains rights over the basic building blocks of the program itself (i.e. backgrounds, character models, effects, etc). Still, expect the waters to be tested. How long until someone tries to make Harry Potter / Twilight hentai manga with this thing? Probably about 5 min after the beta goes live…
Speaking of which, the open beta will be made available as a free download at comipo.com in November. The release date for the final version of ComiPo! is set for December in Japan. It will be available in several configurations: a free DL version with limited features, a downloadable version for 6700 yen, and a deluxe software package that will retail in stores for 9700 yen. A flash-based web version with social networking applications is currently in the works. All in all, pretty exciting stuff!
Please contact me via email if you’d like additional information about ComiPo! or would like a direct line to Web Technology Com Corp. Also, if you are some kind of “journalist” and recycle any info from this piece, please remember to credit this blog as a source.