With three words—“Japan is over”—Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment (responsible for bringing Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cabbage Patch Kids to the mainstream in the U.S.), sparked a bit of controversy at ICv2’s pre-Anime Festival Conference on Anime and Manga: Inside the Otaku* Generation last week. “Nothing new has come from Japan in ten years. Kids there are tired of manga. They don’t want to carry around a three pound book anymore. They’re more interested in devices. Pretty soon, there won’t be any physical media, just digital,” Kahn said. Rich Johnson, Co-Publishing Director of the new Yen Press (manga/graphic novel imprint of Hachette), begged to differ, saying that, like the U.S. comic book market that was proclaimed dead ten years ago and which has made a comeback, manga is cyclical.
Of course, Kahn and Johnson come from two very different manga worlds, the world of Pokemon (mega-properties, mainstream penetration, household names) versus the manga niche (growing manga/graphic novel shelf space, establishing a category in the U.S.) and both are right. Of the current top 100 licenses in the U.S., only two come from anime/manga (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh), but, on the niche front, the learning curve for manga buyers at big retailers is pretty much over.
More tidbits from the panel (which included reps from VIZ, FUNimation, Anime News Network, Pokemon, BN, Tokyopop, Del Rey Manga):
- Manga shelf space at major retailers is not growing as fast as it did at the beginning of the boom 6-7 years ago, but buyers understand now that graphic novels and manga are not only for kids. Liza Coppola (SVP, VIZ) said they send about 3000 spinner racks to key accounts, creating their own shelf space.
- Manga/graphic novel titles published in the U.S.:
2007: 1468 (projected)
2008: 1731 (projected)
- Yen Press published With the Light, manga about raising a child with autism, in September and according to Rich Johnson, it’s done well. Considered a little “off-beat” in the U.S., a manga title about a serious or mature issue is standard in Japan.
- Panelists credited Sailor Moon (released as a manga title by Tokyopop in 1997) for the boom in girl readers of manga, not only because of its strong female protagonists, but because it was one of the first manga titles of any kind to be sold in mainstream bookstores and not just the dark, exclusionary, female-unfriendly comic bookstore realm. Girls read shojo (girl manga” such as Fruits Basket, Sailor Moon, etc.) and they also make up about half (and sometimes more than half) of the readership of the boy-focused, violent, or gruesome manga.
- Also, the panel on marketing manga to girls expressed cautious hope for the future of shojo on tv as the tween girl demographic is more more likely to be found texting or on MySpace than in front of the TV.
- All anticipate a boom in OEL (original English language) anime/manga in the next few years as the U.S. kids who’ve grown up with it graduate from art school and/or start writing their own.
- Even though the collector quotient of the anime/manga fanbase is still going strong (Liza Coppola mentioned the enthusiastic response to a 5000 copy limited edition series of Naruto last year) like most digital media illegal downloads are posing a considerable threat to the anime industry.
*Otaku: obsessive fans, particularly of anime/manga.