14 Mar, 2009

Please Save Off*Beat

By: Isaac Hale

By Jen Lee Quick
Published by TOKYOPOP
Rating: Teen

TOKYOPOP and I go way back. My first manga series were all TOKYOPOP titles: Fruits Basket, Fake, and DN Angel were all gateway manga for my rapidly burgeoning addiction. Six years later I’m here reviewing this stuff. In this sense, I feel a very strong affinity with TOKYOPOP as a company. They opened my eyes to a whole different arena of comics that I would probably never have entered without very accessible titles like those I just mentioned. That being said, I have noticed of late that I follow very few series from the publisher that started it all for me. After some thought, it became clear to me that I simply am not in the demographics targeted with the vast majority of TOKYOPOP’s titles: tween and teenage women (NOTE: Not to imply that somehow women inherently like cute and romantic things more. This is not an inherently gendered preference but is rather derivative of societal gender-roles priming). If you go to TOKYOPOP’s website, it’s easy to see that it is trying to look as much like MySpace as possible. For better or for worse, it’s hard to tell that it’s a publisher’s website at all. Once you do get to the actual listings for the manga, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t a cutesy shojo title. This doesn’t bother me per say, but it saddens me to see that so many of TOKYOPOP’s greatest titles, those with massive crossover appeal, are no longer an evident part of the company’s marketing strategy.

Even though TOKYOPOP’s shojo library has a few gems that I’ve always liked, like Cardcaptor Sakura and Loveless, I have always had a strong preference for the other standout titles in their lineup. On the seinen side, TOKYOPOP published the excellent Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki as well as an early and hilariously translated version of Parasyte (now published by Del Rey). As for shonen manga, TOKYOPOP did a bang-up job with both Beck and GetBackers, and I definitely have enjoyed both series quite a bit. Also balls-to-the-wall awesome are TOKYOPOP’s josei titles, Suppli, Tramps Like Us, and several assorted Erica Sakurazawa works. I’ve also dabbled heavily in TOKYOPOP’s excellent BLU collection. So, even though I’ve enjoyed a select few of TOKYOPOP’s shojo titles, the fantastic titles for me have always been when the company leaves its standard formulae and demographics and tackles genres outside of its standard shojo fare. Sadly, there lies an unfortunate parallel between TOKYOPOP’s various lovely entries in other genres. With the exception of GetBackers and the slow trickle from BLU, non-shojo titles like the excellent ones above have all but ceased to appear.

This brings me to the tragic point in the story where Off*Beat appears. Though I rave about the lovely titles that TOKYOPOP dabbled in above, the thing that has always endeared me and made me very loyal to TOKYOPOP is their OEL line. Titles like Dogby Walks Alone, MBQ, and Fool’s Gold have consistently both but a smile on my face and wowed me with their innovation and mix of manga and American comic tradition. None of the titles in the TOKYOPOP catalog, OEL or otherwise though, is as close to my heart as Jen Lee Quick’s masterpiece Off*Beat. While ostensibly being a teenage shonen-ai romp through NY in which the cunning protagonist uncovers the secrets of his elusive classmate/neighbor/love interest, Off*Beat is much, much more. Beyond the attractive and wholly unique artwork, the engaging story, the laugh-out-loud gags, and a flawless sense of narrative pacing, Off*Beat conveys in a beautiful and almost painful way the coming of age of a gay teenager.

In Off*Beat, Tory Blake is living his life as normal when a new kid, Colin moves in next door to him. Almost immediately Tory suspects that there is more to Colin than meets the eye, and in his unrelenting thirst for knowledge creates many excuses for himself as to why the boy fascinates him so much. Ultimately of course Tory’s invasive spying gets him connected with Colin in person, and Tory schemes a way to be a tutor for Colin and a mutual friend. As the two boys spend more and more time together, Tory’s fascination with Colin becomes as much romantic as intellectual, and Tory begins to struggle between fulfilling his cognitive curiosity and advancing his budding friendship with the ever-mysterious Colin. At the end of the second volume, Tory learns much about Colin’s life and past, and a critical juncture is reached where it is impossible to say whether Colin can overcome his doubts and fears about opening up to others or whether their romantic relationship is doomed before it can even start. And that is where the story has been stuck since TOKYOPOP put the series on Hiatus following volume two’s 2006 release.

As a gay teen and a manga lover, I have often felt unfulfilled when reading comics depicting gay male characters. Yaoi, even the absolute best titles like Kizuna: Bonds of Love and Little Butterfly, have a hard time actually encapsulating many aspects of the gay experience. The best yaoi titles seem to capture the emotions of gay romance in a sensual and romantic way, but fail to grasp the essential nature of the psyches and struggles of gay men (Fumi Yoshinaga’s excellent and sensitive yaoi comics are a possible exception to this rule). Gay comics on the other hand have a different problem. Almost always either autobiographical or senseless smut, gay comics tend to have little of the magic, imagination, or romance that one really looks for in ostensibly sexual comics. Even the best autobiographical gay comics like Tom Bouden’s Max and Sven and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home have most of their sensuality and romance stripped away in the author’s retrospective look at his/her life.

It is with this then that I believe it is both a travesty and a tragedy that Off*Beat has been left hanging without a conclusion for these two-and-a-half long years. More than any manga or comic I’ve ever read, Off*Beat captures the awkwardness and complexity of the emotional rollercoaster of high school romance and sexual awakening. Despite all his efforts to pry open every aspect of Colin’s life, Tory begins to grow into himself, unconsciously growing into his newfound sexuality and emotional maturity. Off*Beat is a coming of age story in a true sense of the term: it is the story of a child growing into an adult not overnight or by catharsis, but rather by awkward self-discovery, deep embarrassment and immense emotional challenges.

In case you couldn’t tell, I wholeheartedly recommend volumes one and two of Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat. In my opinion it is probably one of the best graphic works of our generation. I strongly urge TOKYOPOP to reconsider its decision to drop Off*Beat from its OEL lineup and give the story’s many fans the conclusion we so desperately desire.

If you want to make a difference and help bring back Off*Beat, please write an e-mail to TOKYOPOP for The 100 Letters Campaign. Writing a letter to TOKYOPOP is very quick and easy: they give out e-mail addresses, tips, and guidelines at the campaign website. Please take a few minutes and make a difference in bringing back this amazing series!

* preview of volume one
* Jen Lee Quick’s website

Posted in: Features,

5 Responses to "Please Save Off*Beat"

1 | MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Reviews, charts, other news

March 15th, 2009 at 8:33 am


[...] Hale asks Manga Recon readers to join in a campaign to save Off*Beat, one of the best of the early crop of Tokyopop global [...]

2 | Melinda Beasi

March 30th, 2009 at 7:35 am


Isaac, I thought I should let you know that I ordered both available volumes of Off*Beat, solely on the strength of your recommendation here. I look forward to reading them!

3 | Michelle Smith

March 30th, 2009 at 8:20 am


@Melinda Beasi – I did, too. And Voices of a Distant Star based solely on Melinda’s recommendation. :)

4 | Off*Beat, Volumes 1 & 2 | There it is, Plain as Daylight

May 3rd, 2009 at 8:30 pm


[...] was inspired to pick up OEL manga Off*Beat by Isaac Hale’s post at Manga Recon, Please Save Off*Beat, and now that I’ve read it I’m ready to join his campaign. The story is both [...]

5 | Isaac Hale

May 31st, 2009 at 4:47 pm


Aww, thanks everyone! I love your reviews too =).