Anime Expo 2007
Keynote: Technology, Entertainment and Licensing

by Mikhail Koulikov,

On the convention schedule, Monday's industry keynote and roundtable were supposed to be devoted to looking at how new technologies can affect the ways anime and manga content is distributed. The keynote speaker for the day would be Jeremy Ross, Tokyopop's Director of New Product Development, with a talk entitled 'Leading the manga r(E)volution.'

Drawing on his title, Ross used his time to talk about the future of manga specifically as Tokyopop sees it. He began the presentation by showing the audience a cartoon drawing showing the regions of the brain of an “average teenager“, with ‘manga’ being one of the regions. This cartoon originally appeared on the cover of the September 4, 2006 issue of New Yorker Magazine. Ross built on the message expressed in the cartoon by also citing various headlines from such major publications as Time Magazine, Business Week and the New York Times, all of which claimed that manga in the US has “come of age” or “entered the mainstream” of popular perception.

He followed the visual presentation with several statistics. According to his figures, the manga market in the US grew from $30 million in 2001 to $300 million in 2005. Some 60% of all graphic novels that are currently sold in the US are manga. At the same time, “manga” as understood to be written and drawn specifically by Japanese creators is accounting for only 25% of Tokyopop's total catalog. To explain this effect, Ross compared the global spread of manga to the way rock music, although born in the US, spread and was adapted in unique ways by cultures throughout the world.

He then emphasized the specific way that “global” (non-Japanese) manga can be used to, in his words, provide the “gene pool for the digital revolution.” Original manga-style works can form the basis for projects across different media and ways of delivering content. Some of the examples of such further growth Ross presented were fairly basic, such as wallpapers and ringtones; others, such as manga reader software for cellphones, PDAs, and portable videogame systems and semi-animated manga on DVD represent the cutting edge of content distribution.

Tokyopop is at the forefront of this “digital revolution.” Projects currently in development include “MangaPods” (manga-based online radio plays) and manga animations for several Tokyopop original manga. Overall, Tokyopop's strategic concept is based on the idea that the company began with a focus on licensing, grew to change that focus on developing original products, but should develop further by licensing both original and already licensed properties and creating new products based on them. Some of Tokyopop's manga titles are particularly suited to development of this kind. A live-action movie based on Tokyopop's Lament of the Lamb manga is currently in production, with a budget of over US$2 million. Ultimately, though, Tokyopop hopes to produce feature films with budgets in the $20-$30 million dollar range, and has been approaching various Hollywood companies with plans to develop movies based on Fruits Basket and Love Hina. Unfortunately, according to Ross, at this point, Hollywood is still more interested at looking at the kinds of projects that were successful in the immediate past, rather than in predicting what will be successful and popular in the near future.

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