Interview: Square Enix's National Manager of Merchandise, Kanji Tashiro

by Zac Bertschy,

Square Enix was on hand at San Diego Comic-Con this year showing off some of their new wares, specifically from their Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts franchises, as well as the debut of the company's new manga merchandise line. We sat down for a few minutes with Kanji Tashiro, the Senior Sales Manager and National Manager of Merchandise for Square Enix to grill him about what the company has in store for the fans.

ANN: So the first thing American fans might notice about your booth is that it focuses on merchandise and manga properties almost exclusively, which seems odd considering that Square Enix is known for their video games. Can you talk about why your focus is on merchandise and manga rather than games?

Well, it doesn't mean we take the games division lightly at all; although Square Enix is probably synonymous with video games here in the United States, in Japan it is one of the biggest publication companies as well, and our figures have been drawing a lot of attention as high-quality merchandise, so we wanted to bring that to the US and introduce it to American fans and show them a different side of Square Enix. A lot of people have been reacting very well to the merchandise, so as a result of that next year we might expand our presence to include games.

You have an evergreen property with the Final Fantasy franchise, but in particular, a lot of your merchandise focuses on Final Fantasy VII. Obviously the game remains tremendously popular, and there's a bunch of new Final Fantasy VII merchandise in your booth; will you maintain that focus? With the game's anniversary having come and gone, will we start seeing less FFVII merchandise?

Well, obviously Final Fantasy VII is still really popular, and while I can't speak for the entire team, to overview what Tetsuya Nomura has said in regards to the game in interviews, FFVII holds a special place in the development team's heart, so they want to revisit it as much as possible. Right now that same team is working on Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Although we don't want to completely rule out the possibility of revisiting Final Fantasy VII, the team has many projects that they have to concentrate on before they can consider it. Regarding the merchandise, the characters from FFVII appear in a lot of other titles, so there are many different versions of Cloud and Sephiroth that haven't been realized as merchandise yet, so the fans can look forward to that.

You're doing a new line of merchandise based on Disney characters that appear in the Kingdom Hearts games. What's it like working with that license? Does Disney have to approve everything, or do you have free creative reign to depict the characters as you would like?

Disney, of course, has the final approval; they actually have approval on every step of the design, from the initial sketches to the color scheme, each step needs approval from Disney. But we've been working with them throughout the Kingdom Hearts series, and we've managed to really gain their trust in the quality of our merchandise, so they listen to us. We are able to be creative with our designs, and they listen with open ears. Naturally their properties are very important to them; the new King Mickey figure we have on display here took a very long time to go through approvals and get the OK, but because of all the hard work, it turned out very well.

What's your best-selling item?

The Cloud and Sephiroth figures from the Advent Children line are probably our top-selling items right now; they're ahead of all the rest. The Cloud & Hardy Daytona Bike set sold really well too; we can't disclose exact numbers right now but we've had a huge number of orders in Europe and North America.

Is there a big difference between what sells really well among the fans in Japan and the fans in North America?

Of course, no matter where you are, the main characters of a franchise are always the top sellers. But if you exclude those, and focus on the supporting cast, in Japan the female characters are the popular ones, and in America the male characters sell better. This is reflected very distinctively in our sales numbers.
One interesting side note to that, we went to an event in France called Japan Expo, and Yuffie is actually the best-selling supporting character there.

You've announced that you're now producing merchandise based on manga titles; some Square Enix owns, like Fullmetal Alchemist, and others you've licensed, like Vagabond. What inspired you to move into manga merchandise? Why Vagabond specifically? And what can we expect to see from the manga line in the future?

When the merchandising division was started at Square Enix, the intention wasn't just to create game merchandise; that wasn't a limit that was set. The team always felt that if they were going to be creating merchandise, they'd want to be working with top-quality items from the industry as a whole, and naturally manga was a good fit. One of the biggest reasons we chose Vagabond was because the merchandising team really, really loves that series and that it would make for some great statues. Also, Vagabond is one of the most popular manga in Japan; it's almost a social phenomenon, so we thought it would make for an appropriate starting point. As for the future of the manga line, well, there are a lot of secrets right now.

We can't disclose the full lineup right now, but we have big plans to expand the line. It won't just include manga licenses; we also plan on creating merchandise based on movies. We can't say which movies right now, but one of them is a big title and people around the world know what it is. It's one of my personal favorites, actually; I'm a big fan of the director of this particular film and working on merchandise for this property is a dream come true for me. I feel bad I can't announce everything to the fans just yet, but I'll be very happy to when the time comes.

For larger versions of the images in this article and for many more photos of Square Enix's Comic-Con booth, please visit our Image Galleries.

Special thanks to Amelia Cantlay for arranging and translating this interview.

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