NYCC 2015: A Q&A with Kodansha Comics

Attack on Titan volume 1 cover. Story & Art by Hajime Isayama. Kodansha, 2012.

I was at New York Comic Con (NYCC) this past weekend, and got the opportunity to sit, and chat with the Kodansha execs:

  • Mr. Hiroaki Morita (President of Kodansha Advance Media/Vice-President of Kodansha)
  • Mr. Kohei Furukawa (President and CEO of Kodansha USA/Vice-President and Head of Rights, Media, Digital, and International at Kodansha)
  • Mr. Yasumasa Shimizu (Senior Vice-President of Kodansha)

We had a lovely translator and overall, the interview was fun and not at all awkward. At one point, the raptor from the Jurassic World set up interrupted the interview but what can you do? You can’t compete with a pretty cool animatronic raptor. Enjoy.

How does Kodansha USA approached digital manga in North America?

Mr. Furukawa: Earlier this year, Kodansha established its North American corporate presence by creating Kodansha Advance Media which is focused exclusively on online and digital properties. The beginning of September this year, we finally launched our own digital distribution of our manga. So that’s an initiative to distribute digital properties to North America as well as for our North American rights to our Japanese properties. Based on the company’s establishment, we’ve been making contracts with platforms that you guys are familiar with like Amazon, Kindle and Kobo. We’ve been doing all of the negotiations of these licenses to those platforms ourselves, as well as the marketing, so it is all in house now.

Princess Jellyfish Vol 1. Kodansha.
Princess Jellyfish Vol 1

At Anime Expo, Kodansha USA announced that it had licensed Princess Jellyfish and would be releasing special 2-in-1 editions early next year. We then learned that Crunchyroll made the title available digitally on their online reading platform. Do you find that the audiences between digital readers and fans who prefer print volumes overlap or are they separate buying demographics?

Mr. Furukawa: We’re not thinking about how to market differently but we recognize that there will be certain differences, especially in the age range of the different readerships. The reason we actually started digital distribution was because it is a much more predictable marketing avenue. It’s easier to distribute and it disseminates much faster where more people get to read it. Our number one goal is to, of course, bring in as much Japanese manga to as many readers in America as possible. There is certainly a little bit of a difference but we think even digital marketing leads to print sales.

What goes into selecting manga titles for North American licenses? What considerations are taken into account?

Mr. Shimizu: Strictly speaking, we want the most popular titles to come to the US so that’s the number one rubric. We leave that up to Kodansha USA’s editorial team to decide what might not work, for example, so we take out those properties. Kodansha USA tells the Japan side, “This is what we want”, and then sometimes the Japan side tells Kodansha USA, “You guys should be doing X.” That sort of conversation. There are certain other elements but it’s mostly about what’s going to sell the most.

Samurai Deeper Kyo. l0. Kodansha.
Samurai Deeper Kyo originally in Shonen Magazine Comics.

Back in the 2000s, several Kodansha titles were licensed by TOKYOPOP. When they shut down in North America, many of those titles went into limbo. Is there any chance we might see new life for some of those series (e.g. Beck, Samurai Deeper Kyo)?

Mr. Furukawa: Yes, we absolutely want a revival of properties that have gone to the wayside. Our primary objective is to get it digitized so it gets to the readers faster because they’ve been asking for it. To do that, we actually have had to go back and redo some of the translations. We’ve just begun the process of repackaging everything for the digital versions.

In your opinion, what qualities are required for a manga to become a mega hit like Attack on Titan or Fairy Tail?

Mr. Morita: It has to be interesting [laughs]. It has to be interesting and that means the art has to be interesting, the story has to be interesting, and the characters have to be interesting. I think the number one it has to have global appeal. It has to have a sense of a universe.

There was a discussion online not too long ago regarding western media covering mainstream American comics when they’re successful (i.e. Batman) but huge hits like Attack On Titan aren’t covered nearly as much. Did you anticipate Attack on Titan‘s massive popularity in North America or did it catch you by surprise? Why do you think it resonated with American audiences?

Mr. Furukawa: Just my opinion, but I have a feeling that mainstream comic fans in the US are attracted to American comics like Batman and what not and that the manga market is less recognized as you’ve said but in Attack On Titan, it’s definitely got appeal for an American comics fan. There’s elements of the story that are definitely appealing to American comic fans and not just manga fans. Specifically the plot has elements that are very American, like the horror genre element, the fact that the characters are gigantic, and that it’s  about musculature.

Attack On Titan Vol 1. Kodansha.
Attack On Titan Vol 1

Ah. So very superhero like.

Mr. Furukawa: Yes. Also, part of the global appeal is that Attack On Titan has no nationality. It’s not Japanese. I mean it was created in Japan but the actual story is not about Japanese people. So there’s a certain appeal to that.

It was recently announced that The Seven Deadly Sins anime adaptation would be released on Netflix exclusively. What prompted that decision over offering it on streaming sites like Crunchyroll or Hulu?

Mr. Furukawa: There’s two big reasons. They’re just really bureaucratic actually. The first is that the production company [A-1 Pictures Inc.] responsible for The Seven Deadly Sins…their gateway to American license was through us and it was actually negotiated between a TV production company and Netflix. So that actually was a deal made not necessarily through us. The production company dealt directly with Netflix. The second reason is that Netflix had done Knights of Sidonia successfully so it was just a natural route to take.

Is there anything in particular you liked about working on Saint Young Men?

Mr. Furukawa: [Laughs] I was the Editor-In-Chief at the time that Saint Young Men was out and what I found the most interesting was the never seen before narrative of Jesus and Buddha living together and hanging out and I just thought it was an extremely unique comedy to be a part of.

Hikaru Nakamura, Saint Young Men, Kodansha

Thank you all for taking the time to do this interview and we at WWAC can’t wait for what Kodansha does next.

Ardo Omer

Ardo Omer

Former WWAC editor. Current curmudgeon and Batman's personal assistant. Icon art by Diana Sim.