Legendary robotic hero Mega Man makes another retro-style return to video game consoles later this year, but fans need not wait to see the classic hero in action. The first volume of Hitoshi Ariga's "Mega Man Megamix" manga will be released for the first time in English on January 27, courtesy of UDON Entertainment. Volumes 2 and 3, completing the series, will be released in April and July, respectively. CBR News spoke with editor Matt Moylan about Ariga's work and the challenges of bringing the title to North America, and we also have an exclusive look at several story pages.
Mega Man - known as Rock Man in Japan - made his video game debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987 with the first of many side-scrolling adventures from Capcom. Nicknamed the Blue Bomber, Mega Man is a noble robot with the ability to shoot small laser pellets out of a canon on his arm and, upon defeating Dr. Wily's evil automatons at the end of each level, could upgrade his weaponry to mimic each boss' abilities. The first six Mega Man games appeared on the original Nintendo system, with "Mega Man 7" and "8" and the new hero "Mega Man X" on early next-generation consoles including the Super NES, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. Several other distinct Mega Man series have appeared since then, and in 2008, the 8-bit style "Mega Man 9" was released on Playstation Network, Wii Ware, and Xbox Live. "Mega Man 10" is due for a similar download-only release this year.
"Mega Man Megamix" is one of several interpretations of the hero outside of the video game series, and is perhaps the most popular manga adaptation. In his introduction to the first English volume, Ariga says that "there may be parts of my manga that seem to stray from the official concept of Mega Man, and my version of his world may seem a little more hardcore than what is generally accepted as the 'Mega Man world.'" He goes on to explain that, when he was working on the manga, the original Mega Man character and series were being geared toward younger children, while the new "Mega Man X" line was tailored for an older audience eager for edgier material. "The Mega Man world in my manga is a representation of how I interpreted his world while playing the games," the artist wrote.
"While there have been many manga adaptations of the various incarnations of Mega Man over the years, Hitoshi Ariga's 'Megamix' series is widely considered as the best of them all," UDON editor Matt Moylan said. "Besides the wonderful artwork, I'd say Ariga's greatest accomplishment is his development of the Robot Masters. These are the unending string of evil (or sometimes mind-controlled) robot bosses which Mega Man battles in each of the video games. In the games, the Robot Masters don't get much characterization – typically Mega Man battles and defeats each of them without a word and moves on. But Ariga has given them all pretty diverse personalities. There's the honor-bound Shadow Man, the conflicted Elec Man, the robot-rights-preaching Wood Man, the just-plain-nuts Heat Man...each Robot master is pretty unique."
Moylan said that stories in "Megamix" volume 1 reference the first three Mega Man games. "While some of the chapters are interpretations of the game events, Ariga also often adds his own skew to things," he told CBR. "For example, in the story 'R Destruction Order' which focuses on 'Mega Man 2,' Mega Man battles the latest set of robot masters, not alone, but with the Robot Masters from 'Mega Man 1' backing him up.
"The stories are not all simply Mega Man vs. Robot Masters either. In the chapter 'Metal Heart,' Mega Man has to team up with the Robot Masters from 'Mega Man 3' to take down a threat to everyone–an out-of-control giant Yellow Devil (another long time baddie of the Mega Man series).
"Later volumes feature the cast of 'Mega Man 4-6,' the Wily Wars bosses, and fan favorites Bass & Treble."
UDON is working from Ariga's original art files, which Moylan said would ensure the best possible reproduction of the art. "Ariga even provided us with some art corrections for mistakes he had made on the original Japanese version, as well as a few new pieces of art," he said.
"This is English readers' first chance to see the manga adventures of the classic Mega Man," Moylan said of the significance of "Megamix's" arrival on our shores. "Having lasted for 20 years, the original Blue Bomber is a video game icon, and fans have been asking to read these stories for years. With the all-new Mega Man 10 game coming in 2010, there's no better time than now for some Mega Man manga."
As to why this manga has not been previously translated, Moylan said that there are several factors to consider, some held in general for all licensed manga and some unique to the Mega Man property. "With the all the intricacies of dealing with a foreign culture, licensing manga has always been a challenge to any publisher. You really have to be familiar with how the Japanese manga business operates, and also know how to be respectful to the Japanese creators and business people if you want to have a chance of licensing a manga series for translation," Moylan said.
"Video game-based manga tends to be tough to sort out the rights for, because there are typically more stakeholders than your average manga series. The English publisher needs to make arrangements with the original artist, the Japanese publisher, the Japanese game company and probably the American wing of the game company. In some cases you might even need to get specific approval from the game's producer on any licensed product," the editor explained. "'Megamix' had the added issue of a new publisher taking over the Japanese rights in the past year, so that added a new wrinkle to everything.
"So, with all these parties, it can get pretty complicated and be a lot of work, which is probably why you don't see a ton of video game manga being released stateside. UDON is lucky enough to have a great relationship already with both Capcom USA and Capcom Japan, so we at least had a head start on that end."
In addition to the licensing concerns, Moylan said that there are also editorial decisions inherent in translating "Mega Man Megamix." "The main challenge in localizing video game manga is following the English names that have already been established in the North American-released games," the editor told CBR. "Back in the 1980s when 'Street Fighter' and 'Mega Man' first started, the game developers changed a lot of character names, either for legal reasons or to try to appeal more to American kids. For example, in Japan many of the Mega Man characters' names are based around a music theme. ‘Mega Man' is known as ‘Rockman,' ‘Proto Man' is known as ‘Blues' etc, so we may have to make a decision on how to proceed if a musical joke is made that needs the original character names to make sense. Another example is Mega Man's creator ‘Dr. Light', who in Japan is called ‘Dr. Right', and most of his robotic creations feature a big letter ‘R' on their chest(R for Right). In this case we decided to preserve the original artwork, and add a note explaining the Japanese to English name change."
As for bringing over more "Mega Man" manga, Moylan said that there is at least one more series on the horizon for UDON. "In addition to 'Megamix,' we've also licensed the 'Mega Man ZX' manga series by Shin Ogino, which will be launching in March 2010," he told CBR. "This story takes place many centuries after the original 'Mega Man' setting, in an era where humans are able to merge with various living ‘biometals' to become Mega Men. Based on the games of the same name, 'Mega Man ZX' is a fun new take on the classic Mega Man property, and the artwork is simply gorgeous!
"And if these first two Mega Man series do well, there are several other Mega Man manga titles we have our eye on. At the top of our list would be 'Mega Man Gigamix,' Hitoshi Ariga's long-awaited follow up to 'Megamix.' This series has just begun in Japan, and fans are already singing 'Gigamix's' praises."
UDON has had success with previous localizations of "Street Fighter" manga titles, also based on Capcom games. Though there are several American comics based on video games, notably UDON's "Street Fighter II" and "Darkstalkers" titles as well as "Mass Effect: Redemption" at Dark Horse, in Japan it is even more common for the worlds of manga and games to intersect. "With manga being accepted by the Japanese masses as a legitimate art/literary form (moreso than comics are accepted here in the West), you definitely find a lot more game-based manga . It also helps that the anime/manga/video game industries are very closely linked in Japan, so there are many manga based on games, games based on manga, games based on anime based on manga, and so on," Moylan said. "Most stories are serialized in giant weekly anthologies first, and later collected in ‘tankobon' format (the thick manga volumes most Westerners know) if popularity warrants it. There are some exceptions, such as Hitoshi Ariga's current 'Mega Man Gigamix' series, which is being released only in tankobon format."
Aside from the feat of getting an English edition of "Mega Man Megamix" into readers' hands, Moylan is also pleased with the DVD-style extras included in each volume. "These books are packed with bonus material! The first volume alone features over 35 pages of bonus stuff," Moylan said. "The bulk of it is detailed character profiles for all the robots who appear, with info on their strengths, powers, construction materials, plus original character sketches by Ariga. Some volumes also feature gag strips touching on some of the sillier aspects of 'Mega Man,' such as the obscure game 'Mega Man Soccer.'
"Each book also contains a piece of a back & forth interview between artist Hitoshi Ariga and 'Mega Man' creator Keiji Inafune. In these discussions, Inafune reveals plenty of tidbits about the challenges and successes of the various Mega Man games. The interview is actually about 6 years old now, so it's quite interesting to compare Inafune's plans and hints about the future of the series, with Mega Man's actual history since then. All around fun stuff!"