The Viz Media staff had only one new manga title to announce at Comic-Con International in San Diego this year, but they had plenty going on with a bustling booth, a series of fan activities and several panels featuring news about their "Shonen Jump Alpha" digital magazine, their Neon Alley anime channel and a Street Fighter/Sanrio crossover book.
The Viz booth was the largest manga publisher on the exhibit floor, prominently placed between the Dark Horse and Lucasfilm booths. Viz was crowded all weekend long with fans lining up to get gift bags and have their picture taken with a life-size, 3-D Luffy D. Monkey (the lead character from "One Piece"). Anime played on a giant screen as fans moved around the booth getting "passports" stamped for different activities.
The "Shonen Jump Alpha" panel featured announcements of two new series set to run in the magazine. The first, "Takama-Ga-Hara," is also new to the Japanese "Shonen Jump," and "Jump" editor-in-chief Yoshihisa Heishi described it as "a very exciting, stimulating, super high level manga. We have meetings to decide what is going to be serialized before new manga starts, and we really thought this was a battle manga we had never seen the likes of before."
The other addition to the lineup is "Blue Exorcist," which is already licensed by Viz; the audience greeted this news with whoops and applause. Andy Nakatani, editor-in-chief of "Shonen Jump Alpha," said volume 8 of the series is a digital release, ahead of print. Additionally, "Shonen Jump Alpha" will run double chapters for a few weeks, so by the August 20th issue, the chapters are only two weeks behind the Japanese releases. "Shonen Jump Alpha," a weekly digital magazine, runs single chapters of manga two weeks after they appear in Japan.
"Shonen Jump Alpha" editor Urian Brown succinctly summed up "Blue Exorcist." "It's the son of Satan who has to fight his dad in the ultimate battle -- he's going to kill Satan. Christians don't read it for some reason."
"Yes we do!" called a female voice from the audience.
Several editors from the Japanese "Shonen Jump" magazine were guests at the panel. Shuhei Hosono, who has just moved from "Jump Square" (the home magazine of "Blue Exorcist") to "Shonen Jump," said "Blue Exorcist" has been the number one series in the magazine since its launch. "I believe there are three reasons for its popularity," he said. "The first is Kato-sensei's art. The other great thing about it is the main character's identity and how much he cares about family and tries to protect his family. And the third factor is the great characters in the series, both in terms of their character but also their artwork. You can be a fan of any of them."
The panel then shifted to a Q & A session, with digital content editor Misaki Kido peppering the Japanese editors with questions. She started by asking Koji Yoshida, the editor of "Death Note," what creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata are like. "Ohba-sensei has a slanted perspective on life, a twisted guy," said Yoshida. "Usually when I go into a story meeting with Ohba-sensei I would bring out 'This is the kind of thing that would happen after this kind of story, right?' but Ohba-sensei would say 'No, no, no -- normal things are not that interesting, so let's do it differently,' every single time."
As for Obata, Yoshida said, "He is a super nice guy. I think he is one of the nicest manga creators in the industry. And as you know, 'Death Note' is a suspense series which has a lot of text, a lot of story plots and a lot of things happening -- Obata-sensei is always thinking about how to execute those very complex stories, what is happening in the story and new expressions of what nobody has done before."
Brown then had a question for Kengo Monji, the editor of "Bakuman," a manga about two aspiring manga creators. "Do you think 'Bakuman' inspired people or discouraged them from becoming manga-ka?"
"After 'Bakuman,' many junior high school students began bringing manga to us, so I think it encouraged people more than discouraged them," said Monji. He also said when Ohba and Obata first pitched "Bakuman" to the editor of "Shonen Jump," he thought it would be a gossip manga and told them he wasn't interested, but then a new editor came in who approved it but told them it had better not be gossipy.
The first Viz Media panel included the announcement Viz has expanded its digital manga service to the Android platform. Staffers also made a pitch for Viz's new anime fashion/lifestyle brand, Toshin. Details are sketchy at the moment, but there is a Facebook page and fans who "like" it will get newsletters and updates. For shoujo manga fans, the Shojo Beat imprint now has its own Facebook page.
There was one new title announcement at the Viz Media panel: "Street Fighter x Sanrio World View," which features Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters dressed in Street Fighter gear. The book was produced to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the game, and a sticker book was announced as well. A new deluxe box set of "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" was also announced at the panel.
Candice Uyloan, director of marketing, gave more details about their new anime channel, Neon Alley: It is a 24-hour channel allowing the user to watch anime on their TV through their video game console, all dubbed and uncut. A monthly subscription will cost $6.99, and Uyloan said the channel will carry advertising in order to keep the cost low. The promotional video for the service showed a number of different anime, including "Naruto: Shippuden," "Tiger and Bunny" and "InuYasha: The Final Act." The film "Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King" will also be released on Neon Alley, and Eiko Tanaka, the founder and CEO of Studio 4ºC, which produced the film, made guest appearances at the Viz booth and panel.
Later in the show, at the Neon Alley panel, it was announced the game console for Neon Alley would be the PlayStation 3.