As Parish pointed out last week, there are many practical applications to digital distirbution, like reducing shipping costs and better serving a niche audience. But it also serves a broader critical function, making works that have long been out of print available to an audience that might never have found them otherwise. I’m able to find new albums by the Pillows on iTunes for a fraction of what importing a CD would cost. GameTap gave me the opportunity to play games for Sega’s SG-1000, and while you may have to wait a while for new issues to show up on Marvel Comics’ digital service, it’s already host to heaping helpings of the publisher’s iconic Silver Age stories.
But there is so much more waiting to be discovered. Look no further than the father of manga, Osamu Tezuka. For a variety of reasons, only a tiny fraction of his prolific work has been made availible in the U.S., but this may soon change. According to Anime News Network (as reported by Nikkei Net), Tezuka Productions will be posting 700 manga titles and 100 anime titles from the “god of manga” for free on the Internet starting this week. This is the result of the painstaking work that began last year of digitizing and coloring the over 150,000 pages of manga that Tezuka produced in his lifetime. Like the manga itself, this plan seems foolish at first glance, but upon further examination, it actually belies an unexpected sophistication. Why would they just give it away for free? Because they know it’s so good that you will want to buy a copy. It’s a more sane plan than licensing out the same content piecemeal and hoping the work finds its way to a receptive audience. People like to have a physical copy of the media they cherish, and there are few creators more cherished than Tezuka.
And it gets better! Besides planned video retail sites, Tezuka Productions will also be making these works available in English and Korean. With a new Astro Boy film planned for release next fall, the timing couldn’t be better. Tezuka’s works, like his Phoenix, will be given the chance to rise from the ashes and live on in the hearts and minds of new fans the world over. (I’m secretly hoping that some of Tezuka’s experimental shorts like Broken Down Film and Jumping may find a home as well; the versions available on YouTube don’t do them justice.)