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Since When Can Publishers Other Than Viz Publish Jump Titles?

by Deb Aoki,

In the past, it looked like VIZ Media had an automatic license for Shonen Jump's manga. They were the only ones who released those (series). From Rurouni Kenshin, Death Note, Bleach, and others, if Viz didn't want to translate, you could forget to read the manga legally. But recently, (something) unbelievable happened: To Love Ru got license by Seven Seas, years after it finished. Not only that, Yuragi- Sou no Yuuna-san (aka Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs by Tadahiro Miura) the new ecchi manga by Jump also got licensed by Seven Seas.

Me and my friends also assumed that VIZ had an automatic license for Shonen Sunday, but now, after seven years of waiting, Yen Press released Silver Spoon (which was (published in) Shonen Sunday magazine).

What is the cause of this change? It is of course amazing, but I just got interested (in this turn of events).

Well, while it certainly is true that VIZ Media's business relationships with Japanese publishing companies Shueisha (publisher of Shonen Jump and all the various incarnations of Jump magazines like Young Jump, Business Jump, etc.) and Shogakukan (publisher of Shonen Sunday) pretty much gives them the right of first refusal for much of those two companies output of manga, it's ALSO true that Shueisha and Shogakukan publish WAAAAAAY more manga every year in Japan (not to mention a huge back catalog going back decades) than VIZ Media can publish at any given time. The simple reason for this is that the Japanese manga market (and the amount of manga sold in Japan) is much, much greater than it is in North America. More manga is sold in Japan and there are lots of people working behind the scenes (editors, production artists, more comic shops / bookstores with huge manga sections etc.) to make this happen.

By comparison, VIZ Media is a smaller company than Shogakukan and Shueisha. It's simply not financially feasible for VIZ to publish, in print or even in digital-only editions of every manga ever published in Shonen Jump or Shonen Sunday. There's just too many, and there's not enough editorial manpower or financial resources to publish them all. So they have to make choices based on their best estimation on what will sell well in the N. American / English language markets that they serve.

So while VIZ may have right of first refusal for a lot of the Shonen Sunday and Shonen Jump manga series, it doesn't mean that they're the only option for these series to be licensed and published in English. Right of first refusal doesn't mean that all other publishers aren't allow to publish Shogakukan or Shueisha-published manga. If the interest is there from other publishers, and they have the money and submit the right marketing proposal to Shueisha and Shogakukan, then well, anything goes.

Frankly, any N. American manga company can put in bids to license any manga series that they're interested in publishing, and it's been that way for years. Dark Horse publishes GANTZ by Hiroya Oku, which was originally published in Weekly Young Jump (Shueisha), for example.

And the same goes for Hiromu Arakawa's fun in farm school manga Silver Spoon, which was originally published in Shonen Sunday and recently picked up by Yen Press. It probably was something as simple as Yen Press putting in a bid to publish it, and Shogakukan saying “yes.” After all, it's in Shogakukan's interest that Silver Spoon gets published in English rather than not, and if Yen Press is willing to do it, then it's a win-win situation for both companies.

As for Seven Seas licensing To Love Ru andYuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, another factor comes into play: a given manga also has to make sense for their overall brand and be a good fit for their line-up of titles. While VIZ may publish some titles that have “mature” content with violent action or horror scenes (see Terra Formars or Junji Ito's manga), or boys love manga (for example, BL manga on their SuBLime Manga imprint) they tend to shy away from outright ecchi / sexually explicit content, especially on imprints such as Shonen Jump and Shonen Sunday. that have been built up a reputation with readers, librarians, booksellers and comic shops as having primarily teen-friendly content.

Meanwhile, Seven Seas has a wide variety of manga, including a fair amount of titles that have some steamy content (for example, Monster Musume). They also launched a whole separate imprint, Ghost Ship that is expressly for content that is more… well, it's way sexier and saucier and probably has to be wrapped in plastic for your protection.

Having these books aimed at adult readers marketed as a different imprint expressly for adult content allows Seven Seas to offer their books to bookstores and comic shops that 1) are comfortable with comics that have sexually-explicit content and 2) they are willing to take on the risks inherent with stocking such content (See the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's site for some background on the risks that comic shops and bookstores take on when they stock manga with sexually-explicit content).

Again, in this case, it probably was something as simple as Seven Seas putting in an offer to Shueisha to publish these titles on Ghost Ship. Given the right amount of money and marketing plan in the proposal from Seven Seas, Shueisha agreed, and wa-lah, you can now buy To Love Ru and Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs now.

So if your favorite Shonen Jump or Shonen Sunday hasn't been picked up by VIZ, you needn't feel like all is lost and they'll never be published in English. As the manga market in N. America grows, there's also a better chance that more manga and a wider variety of titles will be published, and the “conventional wisdom” you're used to hearing about what does or doesn't get picked up may apply less and less.

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Deb Aoki was the founding editor for About.com Manga, and now writes about manga for Anime News Network and Publishers Weekly. She is also a comics creator/illustrator, and has been a life-long reader of manga (even before it was readily available in English). You can follow her on Twitter at @debaoki.

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