Interview: Square-Enix's Manga Manager Masaaki Shimizu

by Deb Aoki,

In mid-May 2019, the manga publishing landscape in N. America shifted a bit, as Japanese game and book/magazine/manga publishing giant Square Enix announced that they would start their own dedicated English language publishing division, with production and distribution support from Penguin Random House, one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

While Square Enix has licensed their manga and art book titles to other publishers in the past, and as the interview below mentions, they'll continue to do so, this marks the first time that they will be publishing books through a wholly-owned N. American subsidiary.

In mid-May, they announced four new titles for Fall 2019: a novel from the Final Fantasy XV series, and three manga, including a new “perfect edition” of Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo. At Anime Expo, they added six additional manga titles to round out their early-mid 2020 releases, so far.

Heading up this new Square Enix Manga and Books division will be Masaaki Shimizu, who will be the General Manager and Publisher, Book Publishing Division based out of New York City. Shimizu previously worked with J-Manga, and then with the Square Enix publishing division based in Tokyo, Japan. At the Anime Expo panel, he shared a memory of his first Anime Expo back when it was held in Anaheim, before it moved to the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2008, as well as his personal enthusiasm for manga and anime as a reader and fan.

Two other additions to the Square Enix Manga and Books team are familiar faces to the manga publishing biz in N. America: Leyla Aker, former executive VP of publishing at Viz Media will be the new publishing director for the Square Enix account at Penguin Random House. Tania Biswas, former senior editor at Yen Press will be senior editor at Penguin Random House as well, working on Square Enix Manga and Books.

ANN reached out to Shimizu, and got some additional details about Square Enix Manga and Books, and what we can expect from them in the months to come.

First off, congratulations on launching this new dedicated imprint for Square Enix manga in English with Penguin Random House.

Thank you!
 
What will this new imprint be called, officially?

SQUARE ENIX Manga” and “SQUARE ENIX Books” will be the names of our new imprints.

This imprint is fully owned and operated by Square Enix. This is the first time the company has published manga directly in English, which is a testament to the vitality of manga fandom in the U.S.

Penguin Random House is our service provider, and we're happy to have their expertise and experience in book publishing, sales, and distribution to rely on.

Will these books be available worldwide, or only in certain countries/territories?

These new English editions of Square Enix manga and books will be available worldwide.

Will they all be available as digital releases too, or just in print, or a mix?

It's going to be a mix. Our first priority is print releases for now, but we're also planning digital editions to give people more options to access our content.  
 
I know you (Masaaki Shimizu) will be moving from Tokyo to NYC to head up this effort. Who else will be on staff to launch this new Square Enix publishing division?

Two very talented and experienced manga experts have agreed to devote themselves to helping me get this program going.

First, we are so excited to welcome Ms. Tania Biswas, who recently joined our team as Senior Editor.

As a longtime fan of Square Enix manga, it's no less than an honor to be part of this new publishing program. With the Square Enix brand and its reach helping us to get more great titles into the hands of readers, I'm immensely excited about the possibilities!

Our other incoming team member, Leyla Aker will also bring brains, inspiration and drive to our program, joining in mid-July as our publishing director.

Leyla Aker has been with Viz Media since 2007. In her 12+ years at VIZ, Aker oversaw many key publishing initiatives while at VIZ, including the transition of Shonen Jump from a monthly print magazine to a weekly digital simulpub magazine, launching the SuBLime boys love imprint, and the announcement of VIZ Originals, a publishing project that aims to publish original comics content from creators outside of Japan.

Aker offered this comment after her start at Penguin Random House via email:

I'm tremendously excited to be part of the team working to launch Square Enix's English-language publishing program. I have a lot of professional respect for the company as one that cares deeply about its fans and the quality of its content. And as a fan myself, I'm looking forward to bringing more of its catalog to English-language readers worldwide.

Square Enix manga and light novels are of course not new to readers -- several N. American publishers, including Viz Media (Fullmetal Alchemist, NieR:Automata novel) and Yen Press (Soul Eater, Black Butler and many other titles), Vertical (Arakawa Under the Bridge, Heroman), Seven Seas (Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka), Dark Horse (NieR:Automata and Final Fantasy art books) have published Square Enix titles.

So what factors led to the decision to launch a dedicated, Square Enix publishing imprint now? What will you be able to do now with this new imprint that you weren't able to do when you were licensing titles to other N. American publishers?

We've been very pleased with the performance of our licensing partners in the U.S., and we really hope that our partnership with these publishers will continue for a long time. Having said that, we have been only able to publish 14% of our Japanese catalog in English through our licensees. We believe that this new program will create favorable conditions for us to deliver titles that are not yet available to our readers here.    

We're also cognizant of the limits of licensed publishing, since it requires licensees to take financial risks. By taking on some of that risk ourselves, we have the ability to decide on our own whether to publish titles in English for our authors and readers. We at Square Enix are excited for the opportunity to contribute to our authors/creators’ and readers’ happiness in a more direct way.

Publishing directly will also mean that we can take the North American market into consideration from the very beginning of the planning and development phase of each manga series or book. We may even be able to consider developing original products that cater to readers in North America and other English-speaking regions worldwide.

 What do you see as your biggest opportunity as you launch this imprint?

The biggest opportunity for us is that we now have a direct connection to our readers here with our own products.  This will allow us to learn more about the market and our new audience, and that alone will be an invaluable source for our future opportunities.  
 
What do you see as your biggest challenge ahead of you as you launch this imprint?

Our biggest challenge will be choosing the projects we pursue. There are so many possibilities, but we need to focus on the projects that will really add value for our readers.
 
Will Square Enix continue to license manga to other N. American publishers, or will your focus be more on publishing your top manga, novel and art book titles under your own imprint?

Yes, we will continue to license manga to other North American publishers. We hope to grow the total number of Square Enix titles published in English by licensing to our existing partners, and through our new imprints.

If you had to describe Square Enix in 3 words, what words would you choose?

Diverse
Unforgettable
Happiness

The first word, “diverse,” includes three meanings: (1) Our spirit to respect and foster diversity in society, (2) our determination to provide diverse titles to create a deeper and wider variety of English translated manga, and (3) our hopes to reach beyond existing manga fans and convince new audiences to pick up and read manga and books by providing titles through our own brands and IP.

There are two meanings to the second word, “unforgettable”: (1) Our mission is to provide unforgettable experiences for our fans and (2) we know that this new program will be an unforgettable step forward for our challenging but bright future. (You may remember “Don't forget 3.OCT.11” from Fullmetal Alchemist. For me, this would be “Don't forget 17.MAY.19,” the date we first announced our new imprints.)

The last word, “happiness,” reflects our hope to spread happiness by doing what we do. Your happiness is our happiness.

To be honest with you, these three words all came from either our company's Code of Conduct or Square Enix's Corporate Philosophy (To spread happiness across the globe by providing unforgettable experiences), so they really represent what we stand for.

You've announced 4 titles for starters, and added six more manga titles to your roster at Anime Expo 2019 – how many books do you project you'll be publishing in 2019, and in 2020?

8 books in 2019, 50 books in 2020. It may vary depending on our schedule.  

I'm intrigued by the breadth of what you're going to offer here: manga, novels and art books too. Your first 4 titles give us a taste of what's in store:

  • 1 novel: Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future
  • 3 manga (Hi-Score Girl and A Man and His Cat), plus Soul Eater, a title that was previously published by Yen Press, but returning as a “complete edition.”
  • Plus 6 more manga announced at Anime Expo, including a Boys Love manga (a first for Square Enix!) – Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?! By Yū Toyota, fantasy adventure manga with very long titles like Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town, Marked for Failure, the World's Strongest Sage Reincarnates for a Do-Over, and The Misfit of Demon King Academy: History's Strongest Demon King Reincarnates and Goes to School With His Descendants, a manga version of the Wandering Witch light novel series that is being published by Yen On, and romantic fare like the cosplay-centric story My Dress-Up Darling by Shiniichi Fukuda.

As they say, a first impression is very important, so I'm sure a lot of thought went into selecting your first four titles. Could you tell me more about why you selected these four in particular?
 
In our first announcement, we hoped, to include iconic titles in both gaming and manga, so we included a Final Fantasy novel, and one of our all-time top manga, Soul Eater. We also wanted to announce a few relatively fresh titles, Hi-Score Girl and A Man and His Cat, to represent the depth and breadth of what we can offer.
 
Also, tell me more about this Soul Eater Complete edition – what makes it different that the previously-released edition of this manga?

There will be 17 volumes for the Soul Eater Perfect Edition, in comparison to 25 volumes for the regular edition, so it will feature more pages per book, and the trim size will be larger. All 17 volumes will include original cover illustrations by the author, Atsushi Ohkubo. Also, all the color pages from the original magazine serialization in Monthly Shonen Gangan will be included.
 
The other three titles in your initial line-up are relatively new / current titles. Will you also be publishing older titles from the Square Enix catalog that haven't been published in English before too?
 
We would definitely love to consider those opportunities depending on what kind of response we get from the market.

One thing that sets Square Enix apart from other publishers is that you have deep expertise and a long-standing reputation as a producer of video games in addition to your publishing output. Will you also be publishing art books and game strategy books too?

Yes, we will be publishing art books and game related books. One of our strengths is our video game properties, and we know there are many fans who support these IPs with so much passion.  We believe that it is our duty, as well as our great joy, to spread happiness for people to enjoy our content in different ways.
 
Any other messages or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?

Our new imprints, Square Enix Manga and Square Enix Books, will offer an exciting combination of unforgettable titles for you to enjoy, so please keep an eye out for our upcoming announcements.  For more information, please follow our twitter account, @SquareEnix and visit us at Square Enix-Books.com. 


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