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October 5, 2009

New York Anime Festival: Does This Look Familiar?

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It was déjà vu all over again at New York Anime Festival 2009. After a year of gloomy news in the anime and manga industry, the mood among publishers seemed cautiously upbeat. Four of the five manga publishers at the convention announced new licenses and initiatives, but almost all the new projects relied on familiar creators or crossovers with other media.

Tokyopop was back after a tough 18 months in which the company split in half, laid off over 30 employees, and lost all its licenses from the largest publisher in Japan, Kodansha. Despite these setbacks, senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl and marketing manager Kasia Peikarz announced a number of new titles at NYAF. All the global manga had tie-ins to existing properties:
 
●    Shutter Island, a full-color graphic novel, first published in France, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
●    The Cabin in the Woods, an original story set in the world of the movie of the same name, which is due out next year
●    Priest: Purgatory, an original graphic novel that ties together the upcoming movie with the 11-volume manhwa on which it is based
●    Seekers, a series based on the children’s novels by Warriors author Erin Hunter
●    Warcraft: Mage, one of a series based on the different classes in the World of Warcraft role-playing game
 
Tokyopop’s Japanese licenses include .hack//Link, the latest entry in the popular game-based franchise; Songs and Laughter, a book of short stories by Fruits Basket creator Natsuki Takaya; and Qwasar of Stigmata, a mature-rated series from the creator of My-Hime. Piekarz and Diaz-Przybyl also reminded the audience that Tokyopop will be resuming publication of Aria, Suppli, Tactics, Elemental Gelade, Pick of the Litter, and V.B. Rose, after slowing down its release schedule last year.
 
Del Rey also opted for known quantities with its new Japanese licenses, all of which were from creators already popular with American readers:
 
●    Here I Am, by Ema Toyama (Pixie Pop)
●    Yokai Navi Runa, by Michiyo Kikuta (Mamotte! Lollipop) and Miyoko Ikeda
●    Arisa, by Natsumi Ando (Kitchen Princess)
 
The fourth license announced by marketing director Ali T. Kokmen was Rave Master, which was formerly licensed by Tokyopop. Del Rey will publish the remaining three volumes as an omnibus.
 
Kokmen also announced several new volumes based on Cartoon Network properties. While the earlier volumes of Ben 10 and Bakugan Battle Brawlers manga were simply screen grabs that followed the animated cartoons, the new volumes in these two series are original stories by creators who will be allowed to use their own styles. The new Ben 10 manga will be written by veteran comics writer Peter David and illustrated by Dan Hipp (Gyakushu), while the Bakugan volume will be written by Nunzio DeFillippis and Christina Weir (Amazing Agent Luna) and illustrated by Kriss Sison.
 
Del Rey also completed an interesting circle by bringing in former Nickelodeon Magazine editor Dave Roman to write the manga prequel and adaptation of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Last Airbender—which is based on the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, which spawned a comics version in Nickelodeon Magazine. Alison Wilgus will cowrite the stories. Yokaiden creator Nina Matsumoto, who recently won an Eisner Award for a short story in The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror #14, will handle the art for the prequel, and Joon Choi will illustrate the adaptation.
 
Vertical’s sure thing was a manga license that bloggers have been clamoring for: Chi’s Sweet Home, an all-ages manga about cute cats. To ensure a broader audience, Vertical will be flipping Chi so it reads from left to right and publishing it in full color. Another Japanese license brings a familiar author back to home territory: Peepo Choo, by American artist Felipe Smith. Smith was one of Tokyopop’s freshman class of global manga creators, and his manga MBQ has a devoted following. Smith has moved to Japan and is drawing Peepo Choo for the Japanese magazine Morning 2.
 
Bandai editor Robert Napton devoted half his panel to anime, then followed that up with a presentation on the company’s manga series, all of which are based on its anime: Gurren Laggann, Code Geass, Lucky Star (their best-seller), and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The Code Geass properties include several side stories and retellings that branch off from the main story of the anime. Napton also announced that Eureka 7 and Witchblade would be reprinted as omnibus editions, each of which will include three of the original volumes.
 
Viz’s panel was also dominated by anime, specifically the announcement that they would be streaming the final arc of the InuYasha anime almost simultaneously with the Japanese broadcast, and a reminder of the One-Piece speed-up—they will release five volumes a month from January through April 2010, bringing the American releases up to volume 53 by next June. They did have a few manga announcements, though:
 
●    Gente, a sequel to Natsume Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso

●    Grand Guignol Orchestra, by Godchild creator Kaori Yuki
●    Nice to Meet You Kamisama, by Karakuri Odette creator Julietta Suzuki
●    Library Wars, which got a round of applause from the librarians in the audience
 
Viz also announced two additions to its SIGIKKI website, What’s the Answer? and Bob and His Funky Crew.
 
Overall, the announcements at NYAF had a familiar tone to them. There were a few outliers—Tokyopop announced a handful of yaoi manga for its Blu imprint and Vertical had two science fiction manga that were not tied to any existing franchise—but for the most part, publishers went with creators and properties that have already proven themselves. Every new global manga series that was announced at NYAF was a tie-in to another property, whether a novel, a movie, or a game, and almost all the Japanese licenses were by creators of manga that have sold well, at least within their own niche. Still, the fact that five publishers took the trouble to come to an anime con (the main guest was Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino) is a sign that the field is holding steady even in a down economy.