Responding to complaints about the difficulty of gauging the appropriateness of manga titles for children of different ages, Tokyopop is revamping the ratings it places on its books. The modification comes as the publisher plans a series of events and fan discounts to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
Beginning in the fall, Tokyopop will introduce a dramatically redesigned age-rating system created by librarian and graphic novel expert Michele Gorman. The new system, Gorman said, is far more detailed and provides precise definitions and examples of what each rating means. Rapid growth in the sales of graphic novels, particularly manga—which can have explicit content—has forced parents, teachers and librarians to scramble to evaluate an ever-increasing number of unfamiliar titles. Librarians often complain that ratings systems used by comics publishers are not standardized and lack clear guidelines on what, for example, "Older Teen" actually means.
Tokyopop presented the new system (as well as promotional bookmarks) to librarians at the recent ALA Mid-winter meeting and received a warm reception. Tokyopop publisher Mike Kiley said revamping the ratings system was "the right thing to do. We can't forget that most of this material is entertainment for kids. This system has been embraced by schools and libraries because they have to safeguard their readers." Asked if he expected the system to become an industry standard, Kiley said, "That would be cool, but that's not our primary motivation."
Gorman is the author of reference works on graphic novels and also writes about graphic novels and teens for School Library Journal. She described the old rating system used by Tokyopop as simply "not user-friendly." Gorman explained, "It's very subjective. No one knows what 'all-ages' means.' " Gorman said that she created an "objective" system that features the familiar age categories (all-ages, Youth, Teen, Older Teen, etc.) now accompanied by a listing of "content indicators" that strictly define the nature of the material the reader will encounter. Gorman has created 43 content indicators that allow Tokyopop to note not only that content is, say, violent, but also the nature of the violence—from cartoon violence to sexual violence and so on.
Gorman held workshops to train Tokyopop staff to use the system. Individual editors rate each book from the checklist of content indicators and a ratings board of Tokyopop editors and marketers determines the final rating for each title. Tokyopop will continue to use visual icons on the books and will direct parents, teachers and retailers to the Tokyopop Web site for detailed ratings, content indicators and examples of what they mean.
As part of the anniversary celebrations, Tokyopop will place a hanko (Japanese for seal) meaning "10 years" on all its books, advertising, convention booths and display material. Kiley said the company will use its Web site to offer fans a series of discounts throughout the year. And the site, redesigned in 2006, will undergo more changes in the spring to emphasize interactivity and user-created content.
Tokyopop has been instrumental in manga's popularity in the U.S., pioneering publishing manga in its original right-to-left Japanese reading format and introducing the first age-ratings system. Asked what's next, Kiley pointed to continued globalization, "attracting creative kids from all over the world to our manga community." Tokyopop CEO and founder Stuart Levy emphasized the coming of digital distribution. "Manga will literally jump off the page into computers, mobile phones, TV screens, fashion and theater," he said.