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Interview: Corp.IAM directors Toshiaki Ueno, Junji Yamada and Ryo Horikawa on Magical Dreamers

by Ko Ransom,

While it may have slipped under many people's radar, an announcement was made earlier this year that signaled the entry of a new company into the burgeoning field of digitally distributed English-language manga. However, unlike many legal applications for reading manga on digital devices, this new initiative was not announced by a publishing company, but rather by Corp.IAM, a Japanese talent agency for voice actors. Also unlike standard digital manga, the project includes actors voicing the parts of the characters within the manga in both Japanese and English. Magical Dreamers, the first title in the project, was introduced to North American fans at Hawaii's Kawaii Kon in March of this year, and ANN went to visit Corp.IAM's offices in Tokyo's Shinjuku district to learn more, speaking to IAM directors Toshiaki Ueno and Junji Yamada, as well as voice actor Ryō Horikawa about the title.

According to the three, plans for Magical Dreamers began to form in 2010, when Horikawa was invited to Seattle's Sakura-Con as a guest. At the convention, they were able to see first-hand the interest fans from around the world held for voice actors. At the same time, Apple's iPad device had happened to come out that weekend, helping lead them to decide on creating a voiced manga application for digital devices that they could sell to fans around the world. Soon after that, they began looking for a still-undiscovered manga artist's story for their project, eventually deciding on Ayumi Kino's Magical Dreamers. They were also introduced to American voice actor and dub director Chris Sabat, who not only stars in the title alongside fellow Vegeta voice actor Horikawa, but also was taken on as the English sound director for the project.

The wide extent of Magical Dreamers' international plans seems somewhat surprising at first, considering that the title has yet to even be tested in Japan. When asked about their aggressive international approach, the three noted that the Japanese economy has been trending downward for a long time, and so when they thought of where they would like to be positioned in five years, their digital, international approach was only natural. This decision seemed to only be strengthened by the groups of interested foreign fans they saw at American anime conventions. Citing their decision to hire a professional American manga translator, the experience of Chris Sabat, and Ryō Horikawa's English speaking and directing abilities, the three also seemed very confident in the quality of the English localization of the manga, though they did admit that finding similar people for other international versions, such as French and Taiwanese editions of the application may be a challenge.

Of course, another large question looms when hearing about the project: why would Corp.IAM, an agency for voice actors, suddenly go into the manga e-publishing business? When asked, they candidly replied that they felt that voice actors, who in almost all cases are considered subcontractors, have very little power and are generally not paid the wages they feel they deserve, especially considering their popularity with fans. In order to change this, they decided to use new technology in order to create intellectual property that Corp.IAM could itself own. When we asked what benefits and drawbacks their position gave them, they stated that while the major publishing companies are, in many cases, able to get to talented manga creators before IAM potentially could, on the other hand, their smaller size makes them faster and more able to adapt to new technology, and that their connections within the voice acting world helps them book talent for the kind of voiced digital manga that they will offer.

The possibilities that new technology seems to offer those outside of the established manga industry was a recurring theme throughout the talk, which may not be surprising considering that both Ueno and Yamada originally came from IT-related companies. The two noted that they hoped to be able to use their project as a platform that provides training and work opportunities to manga artists and voice actors from around the world, as well as a way for fans to interact with manga in new ways. While Magical Dreamers and IAM's manga project appear to have a long road ahead of it, its producers certainly give the impression that they are prepared and excited to branch off and try new things in the young, still-developing field of digital manga.

Before we left, we asked each of the three men who sat down with us if they had any final comments for overseas manga and anime fans. Ueno stressed that if fans were interested in the project, they should buy the first issue of Magical Dreamers, once again emphasizing the quality of its art and its well-known voice cast. Yamada added that their project potentially appealed to not only manga fans around the world, but also those interested in learning and practicing Japanese, as users will be able to easily switch between both written and voiced languages. Finally, Horikawa said that he was excited about the new changes that this project presents to people around the world regardless of nationality, and that it would make him happy if people find it enjoyable or useful in any way.

The Official Website for Magical Dreamers can be found online right here.

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