While most North American comics publishers are preparing for July's San Diego Comic-Con, manga publishers are increasingly putting their focus on Anime Expo, an annual megafest of anime, manga, and other Japanese pop culture content, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center over the July 4 weekend.
Attendance at this year's show hit 100,420, a 10% increase over the 90,500 fans that attended last year. Show officials called it “the biggest year ever for Anime Expo.”
The exhibit hall offered 40% more floor space than previous years, and this year’s show featured more than 100 guest artists and on-site performers. Fans attending Anime Expo are noticeably younger (teens to 20s) than the average Comic-Con attendee, who tends to be in their 20’s to 40’s. The exhibit floor is also dominated by companies from Japan, or companies that focus on content imported or licensed from Japan.
Anime Expo is increasingly the place where the business of manga publishing and anime distribution is hashed out. Almost every North American manga publisher had a presence at Anime Expo this year, with many announcing new titles at the show.
At the Kodansha Comics panel on Saturday, Ben Applegate, director of publishing for Kodansha Comics, cheered the ongoing rebound in manga print sales. “You’re probably seeing all the industry people here smiling, so you know that the manga industry is doing really well," he said. "This resurgence of manga is allowing us to take chances on different series we wouldn’t usually in the past.”
An example of a title that, in the past, Kodansha might have thought was too risky to publish in English is Leiji Matsumoto's Queen Emeraldas, which the publisher is releasing in August. An older, classic SF adventure, the advance hardcovers of the book were sold out by weekend's end.
Kodansha also announced plans to publish Ichi-F, a controversial true-life account of the clean-up efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant by Kazuto Tatsuta. The nonfiction series, which is set for March 2017, chronicles the authors experience as a former laborer at the plant, and caused a stir in Japan when it was first published there. In the wake of efforts to supress media coverage of the catastrophe as well as Tatsuta's unusual presence in the plant (he was an unpublished manga creator who happened to be working there when disaster struck), it is one of the few first-person accounts of what happened at the nuclear facility after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown there.
On the heels of its new joint venture with Japanese manga/prose publisher Kadakowa, Yen Press LLC (Hachette’s graphic novel imprint) made two rounds of new title announcements at the show. Fans were most excited about Erased, a.k.a. Boku Dake ga Inai Machi by Kei Sanbe, a story about a failed manga artist who goes back in time to try and prevent his friends and family from being murdered by a serial killer. Yen will release this 8-volume manga series as four oversized hardcover editions (each new oversized volume will contain two volumes of the original edition) starting in Spring 2017.
Yen also announced Bungo Stray Dogs, a supernatural detective series (with characters based on famous Japanese and Western literary legends reimagined as hot guys) enjoying increasing attention now that the anime version is streaming on Crunchyroll. Yen will publish the manga series starting in December 2016.
Viz Media wowed fans by adding Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt, a perennially popular SF mecha manga and anime series, to its Viz Signature line (for titles that appeal to older readers) for fall 2016.
North America-based indie manga publisher Seven Seas Entertainment touted the strength of its list by announcing 5 new manga series, among them, Dreamin’ Sun by Ichigo Takano (romantic comedy manga), The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku (light novel), and Plum Crazy!, a manga story about a mischievous cat.
Due to cost and tight publication schedules of manga artists, show organizers have generally shied away from bringing manga artists as well as other Japanese artists, to Anime Expo. But after years of carefully building relationships with manga publishers and other Japanese pop culture producers, Anime Expo organizers were able to bring over more than a 100 Japanese artists, animators, musicians and executives to this year’s show.
Viz Media and Aniplex, an anime and J-Pop music producer, hosted manga artist Kazue Kato, the creator of Blue Exorcist, a supernatural action manga. Looking out at a standing-room only hall with more than 3,000 fans, Kato teared up and said, “I didn’t expect to have this many fans here.” A long-awaited second season of the Blue Exorcist anime is now in the works, and will debut sometime in 2017.
On the digital side, Alvin Lu, general manager of Kodansha Advanced Media, which manages digital distribution of Kodansha manga and nonmanga content, announced that several notable out-of-print and incomplete manga series will return to publication in digital formats. Look for the return of Nodame Cantabile, School Rumble, Alive, and Princess Resurrection at the end of July, joining NOiSE by Tsutomu Nihei on Comixology, the digital comics marketplace, and on the Amazon Kindle, with more to be announced at San Diego Comic-Con.
Viz Media also held a launch party to celebrate the newly redesigned Shonen Jump website, the online destination of its weekly digital manga magazine. Viz recently added India, Singapore, and the Philippines to its list of countries where fans can get online access to the latest chapters of such manga hits as One Piece and One-Punch Man.
BookWalker Global, the e-book retail site of Japanese publisher Kadakowa, used the show as a chance to announce an expansion of ts content, adding English-language manga and light novels from Yen Press, its joint venture partner, Yen Press, to its online inventory. BookWalker Global is also now offering English-language versions of Japanese manga and prose works licensed by Yen Press from Japanese publishers other than Kadakowa, including such publishers as Square Enix, ASCII Media Works, and Enterbrain, with plans to add more Yen Press English content every week.