Changing Manga Scene - Where Does Viz Stand?

US Manga: Where Does Viz Stand?

With Kodansha making its way Stateside, it begs the question: How will it affect Viz Media?

While the other manga publishers have noted that the manga industry continues to be resilient in North America, though it’s definitely (and perhaps finally) coming to a time of adjustment, as is Hollywood and much of America in general due to the economy and other related international events. After all, a market only expands so long and then it has to slow or even shrink a bit.

However, despite these changes, Viz Media remains the prominent player with about a 55% market share. It will be interesting to see what happens with Kodansha because they are a major retailer in Japan and have some strong ties to the manga world as well.

But first, as with our first Kodansha piece, perhaps a road down memory lane would be useful for the Newsarama family’s mainly super-hero fans?

1986 – Viz Communications was incorporated by co-founders Seiji Horibuchi and Satoru Fujii. Horibuchi obtained a $200,000 in startup capital from Masahiro Ohga, President of Shogakukan Inc.

1988 – Viz entered into a partnership with Eclipse Comics to publish the first Japanese manga translated into English. Some of the company’s earliest series were works by Rumiko Takahashi, also known as the Princess of Manga, like Ranma 1/2, Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku as well as Masaki Kajishima and Hiroki Hayashi's Tenchi Muyo! and Neon Genesis Evangelion manga by Neon Genesis Evangelion manga by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, who's also one of the founding members of Daicon Film (before it changed its name to Gainax) and character designer of the anime studio's Neon Genesis Evengelion anime series.

1995 – Viz started the 80-page Manga Vizion, the company’s first attempt at publishing manga in a monthly anthology format. The anthology serialized Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack, Hiroshi Takashige and Ryoji Minagawa’s Spriggan, Moto Hagio's A, A' and Ouji Hiroi and Ikegami (Spider-Man J) Ryoichi’s Samurai Crusader. It also offered Rumic World by Takahashi Rumiko (Ranma ½), a series of short stories that Takahashi has done throughout her career. Manga Vizion lasted till summer 1998.

1997 – Pulp began publication. It was a mature-themed monthly manga magazine that featured Taiyō Matsumoto's Black and White (aka Tekkon Kinkreet), Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish, Naoki Yamamoto's Dance till Tomorrow, etc. It ran from 1997 to 2002.

1998 – Animerica Extra debuted. The monthly manga anthology magazine carried titles like Yuu Watase's Fushigi Yūgi, CLAMP’s X/1999, Banana Fish, Kia Asamiya’s Steam Detectives, Masakazu Katsura's Video Girl Ai and others. The last issue was published in 2004.

2000 – Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu joined the "comics 1 million club," which included Superman #75 (the "Death of Superman" issue), Batman #500, and Spawn #1.

On September 10, Viz launched all-new daily Pokemon comic strip, including a Sunday color version, in newspapers nationwide.

2002 – Shueisha Inc. became an investor in Viz. At the time of the announcement, Shueisha had an annual sales in excess of $600 million and a 30% share of the sizeable Japanese manga market.

Viz announced its intention to launch a new mass market boys magazine in the US based on Shueisha's Shonen Jump.

The first issue of Shonen Jump debuted in November 2002, with a January 2003 cover date, and sold over 300,000, far exceeding Viz's expected 100,000 copies. It was one of the biggest North American comic titles of 2002. It premiered five new series: Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh, Yu Yu Hakusho and Sand Land.

2005 – Viz and Shogakukan's ShoPro Entertainment merged to form a new entity called Viz Media. The merger combines the forces and properties of Shueisha (40% owner), Shogakukan (40%), and Shogakukan Production Co., Ltd. (20%).

Viz Media launched Shojo Beat, which was marketed as a sister publication to Shonen Jump. It serialized chapters from six manga series: NANA, Absolute Boyfriend, Baby & Me, Crimson Hero, Kaze Hikaru, and Godchild.

Viz Media announced the launch of new Fiction Imprints that will include novels based on popular anime and manga properties with such titles as Full Metal Alchemist: The Land of Sand, Ghost in the Shell: Innocence After The Long Goodbye and Steamboy as well as a Shojo Beat Fiction imprint that carried titles like Socrates In Love and Kamikaze Girls.

Viz Pictures, the live-action feature film division of Viz Media, was incorporated. It will focus on contemporary Japanese movies that have that “kawai (cute) & cool” J-Pop sensibility to younger generations who are exploring J-Pop culture beyond manga and anime.” Viz premiered Kamikaze Girls at the 2005 Los Angeles Film Festival.

2007 – Viz Pictures released seven films. They were: Train Man: Densha Otoko, based on the bestselling book by Hitori Nakano; Linda Linda Linda; The Taste of Tea, by Katsuhito Ishii, the director of the animated segment in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1; Ping Pong, based on the bestselling comic by Taiyo Matsumoto; Hula Girls; Gackt: The Greatest Filmography 1999-2006 Red/Blue; and Honey and Clover, based on the bestselling comic by Chika Umino. DVD releases for all Viz Pictures films were distributed exclusively by Viz Media.

Viz Pictures became part owner of an art-house movie theatre, which is expected to open in winter 2008/2009 in the heart of San Francisco’s Japan Town. The 150-seat movie theatre will be the main attraction within The J-Pop Center, a multi-boutique commercial building that will also house a bookstore, café and several hip fashion boutiques originated in Tokyo.

Viz Pictures licensed from Nippon Television (NTV) the North American theatrical and DVD distribution rights to the live-action feature film Death Note and its sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, based on the Death Note anime and manga series created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata.

April 19, 2008 – Shueisha debuted the exciting prologue chapter of Ultimo (Karakuridōji Ultimo) in [b]Jump SQ.II[b]. Ultimo marked the historic collaboration between Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and Shaman King artist Hiroyuki Takei.

June 19, 2008 – Shueisha made an investment in Shogakukan Production Company Ltd., the licensing and merchandising subsidiary of Japanese publisher Shogakukan. ShoPro will be renamed Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions Co., Ltd.

Viz Media is currently owned by three of Japan's largest creators and licensors of manga and animation, Shueisha, Shogakukan, and Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions.

According to Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Media’s Vice President Sales, Product Marketing, he anticipates steady growth fueled by entry into mass market channels and the launch of manga and anime-based films. “The TokyoPop and Kodansha news simply enlivens a market where the issue is not competition, but rather continued education and expansion,” he told Newsarama. “Collectively, we will continue to create new consumers for manga. We foresee increasingly sophisticated consumers, and a growing understanding of manga as a format and not a genre, as signaled by the launch of VizKids and our ongoing campaigns to feature more Seinen titles for older readers.”

VizKids, as the name implies, targets the younger readers and it carries all-ages titles like Pokemon: The Rise of the Darkrai and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time while Viz Signature with titles such as Naoki Urasawa's Monster and Takao Saito’s Golgo 13 appeals to the older manga readers.

There’s also the VizBig editions, which are essentially omnibus editions of top-selling manga series such as Rurouni Kenshin, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z and Vagabond in a larger 5-3/4 x 8-5/8 size (larger than the standard 5 x 7-1/2 manga) with special premium presentations including new cover art. Viz plans to expand their VizBig line to include shojo titles like Yu Watase’s Fushigi Yūgi and Miki Aihara’s Hot Gimmick next year.

Looking at what’s ahead, Ferreyra said to expect “[n]ew titles from the great manga-ka Takehiko Inoue… and a whole range of innovative packages for the holiday season.”

As far as OEL goes, Viz Media is now accepting submissions for original graphic novels. Marc Weidenbaum, Viz Media’s VP of Original Publishing and Editor-in-Chief of the Shonen Jump and Shonen Jump anthology magazines said, “We are excited by the interest that has been out there since we made the original announcement in April, (previously reported on Newsarama back on April 29) that Viz Media has plans to edit and publish original comics.

“Here's something we [just] announced: we'll be doing our first San Diego Comic-Con portfolio review on Sunday, July 27, from 2 to 4:30 in the Portfolio Review area in the Sails Pavilion. It'll be me, and Eric Searleman, Senior Editor.”

In the end it’s really been about diversity. Viz is also a major licensor and anime distributor. But as companies fold, new ones always emerge. In the end I think it also comes down to the quality of product. There has been a deluge of manga titles that are, to say the least sub-par. And of course I won’t name names but with a shrinking amount of retail shelf space and an ever increasing amount of titles the good ultimately gets sorted from the bad. And fans are becoming savvy enough now with the aid of the internet and such a strong domestic fan community to be able to really seek out what is good. And companies are responding to that.

One of the reasons Viz Media has remained successful is that, apart from manga, they are also an anime distributor. Even though they only offer a few anime titles (Death Note, Naruto, Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, InuYasha and others), each one has been a massive success. On the manga side, they certainly have an ongoing library of old and new titles from Shueisha and Shogakukan to choose from. And the licensing – that has also been a very successful area for Viz Media. Everything from the Bleach video games to Naruto action figures and so on. Many of the recent casualties of the anime and manga arena relied purely on retail sales or few broadcast deals for revenue but even as sales declined, Viz Media could still remain profitable.

What’s next? Could we be looking at Japan’s Big Three vs. the US’ Big Two in the future?

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