The 13th volume of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's bestselling manga Neon Genesis Evangelion will be published simultaneously worldwide on November 2, not just in Japan and North America but also in France, Germany, Italy, Korea, China, and the U.S. This international manga laydown is the first of its kind, said Leyla Aker, v-p of publishing for Viz Media, which will publish the U.S. edition both digitally and in print on the same day.
Simultaneous worldwide publication--intended to satisfy manga fans and undermine digital piracy--is a direction that Viz has been moving in with digital releases. Earlier this year, the publisher replaced its monthly print magazine, Shonen Jump, with the digital weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, which carries manga chapters in English just two weeks after they have appeared in Japan. Even that gap will disappear soon, according to Viz executive v-p of publishing Alvin Lu, who told the audience at this year's ICv2 conference at New York Comic Con that "We will be moving to a simultaneous with Japan model very soon" with Shonen Jump Alpha.
Viz plans to re-release the first 12 volumes as print omnibuses that each contain three volumes of the original series. Viz also released all 12 volumes digitally via their iOS and Android apps and online through the Vizmanga.com website. "On the digital side, we started releasing the individual Evangelion chapters of the back volumes, just to kind of see if there was a greater demand on a lower price or if people wanted the full volume," Aker said, "and we found people wanted the full volume." That was older material, however; Aker feels that fans are more interested in reading new material as it comes out, chapter by chapter.
"Hopefully this is the first of many," Aker said about the simultaneous global release. "It's what we hear all the time—everybody wants to have it the same time as in Japan." Aker said the idea came up earlier this year, when licensors met in Tokyo with Kadokawa, the publisher of the Japanese magazine in which Neon Genesis Evangelion is serialized: " volume 13 was going to come out in the fall and someone on Kadokawa's side had landed on the idea of ‘why don't we do this globally simultaneously?" Aker’s immediate reaction was "That's really cool—let's try to do it!"
In Japan, most manga are serialized as single chapters in monthly or weekly magazines, and then the chapters are gathered into a book volume (tankoubon). The individual chapters of Evangelion have already been published in Kadokawa's Young Ace magazine, and the story is continuing there; despite rumors to that effect, volume 13 is not the final volume.
Evangelion, a story about teenagers piloting giant cyborgs, is one of the most iconic anime and manga properties. Toshimichi Ōtsuki, of King Records, and director Hideaki Anno originally conceived of the story as an anime, although the manga began running in Shonen Ace magazine first in order to promote interest in the property. The author of the manga is Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, who also did some of the character designs for the anime, which completed its 26-episode run in 1996. Viz first released Neon Genesis Evangelion in the late 1990s, and over the years they re-released it in several formats, flipped or unflipped, that is, published to read from right to left as it is in the original Japanese-language edition.
Readers like digital comics for a number of reasons, Aker said; they are easily accessible, take up no space, and look good on mobile devices. Digital also allows readers to buy older volumes that may not be available in bookstores. "We do a healthy amount of sales in new volumes, but where we really see the sales is the backlist," Aker said. On the flip side, for newer releases, digital media offer the advantage of speed. "When you are dealing with a digital production schedule, you can go faster than you can with print," said Aker, "So we can use that to get closer to the Japanese release. We are still at the beginning of that, and we will expand in future."
Initially, retailers were concerned that digital sales would cannibalize print sales, but that doesn't seem to have happened, Aker said. "They seem to actually be parallel sales systems in and of themselves, " she said. For one thing, a large part of the manga reading population is too young to have a credit card or a PayPal account. "You see it on fan
boards: I'm 15, so I can't buy off Amazon," Aker said. "In the U.S., one of the things that we do see is a seasonal sales spike after the holidays. You see everyone starting to spend their gift cards. So when they have it, they use it."
When the North American releases are close to, or simultaneous with, the Japanese releases, manga becomes more of a live medium, Aker said. Because new American comics are released every Wednesday, readers form the habit of visiting their comic shops weekly, and there is a weekly rhythm to online comics conversations as well. Manga is more of a book business, so it has lacked that immediacy.
Simultaneous releases give manga fans that sense of immediacy, Aker said, and connect fans around the world. "In the ideal world everybody wants to move to, we would do global simultaneous chapter releases," said Aker. "That is something we are moving to with Shonen Jump Alpha. That was a big consideration in stopping the print version and moving to the online version."
"I can't imagine any publisher is not aware of the way the global marketplace has changed," said Aker, "and the way the fans want to read what they want to read when they want to read it, and the frustration of the English-language fans not to be able to get the material at the same time as the Japanese readers. All these things are in the minds of all of us in the field, in Japan and the U.S."