While at Japan Expo, one of the interesting events that happened was during the Awards Ceremony. Kaze, now a division of Viz, was accepting an award for the best shojo manga published that year: Dengeki Daisy. During his acceptance speech, the new President of Kaze, Hyoe Narita, had some choice words.
He gushed to the French press gathered, talking about how grateful he is for their love of Japanese manga and the success it sees in Europe. He then goes on to talk about his time working in the US -- for a number of years, Mr. Narita was an Executive Vice President at Viz Media in San Francisco. By some accounts, he had been with the company for about 15 years, although I can't say how that splits between his time at Viz Media US and Viz Media Europe. Mr. Narita has nothing but harsh words for the US, saying about how they don't appreciate manga, how difficult it was to sell any there, and how Americans are a bunch of idiots. Quite literally, "America no baka."
It was met with mixed reactions: some of the French press laugh and cheered, others were genuinely perplexed by it. Needless to say, the entire American contingent of press -- Hiroko, myself, and the ANN folks -- were shocked and appaled by this. Several others who I spoke with after the event were similarly offended by what Mr. Narita had to say.
Once I got past the rage, I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that he says this as he's accepting an award for a title that has been a perennial best-seller in the US. I can only guess that when he left Viz Media US, there was a sigh of relief. From what I understand with Mr. Narita, he cut a lot of the senior-level staff once he got to Kaze in order to solidify his position there. The reason I say this is because an insecure man will do anything -- including make brash statements such as this.
It's certainly true that the US is not an easy market -- the comics industry is very entrenched by a certain type of hero. Batman and Wolverine do not pair up well with Kimi ni Todoke and Ouran High School Host Club. It has been, at times, hard to build a manga scene in the US -- France has a much longer and broader tradition of publishing manga. But the US has taken recognition of the manga scene. The Eisners give awards to the genre. The New York Times tracks manga on their bestsellers lists. There is a huge proliferation of anime conventions throughout the states which, collectively, top what the various Japan Expos in France put out. That's not bad for an incredibly niche market.
So to Mr. Narita, I say screw you. We're doing the best we can over here, and with the proliferation of companies funding projects through Kickstarter, we're seeing it grow even more. There's no guarantee that the US will surpass the French market in terms of availability, but there's no need to be needlessly hating as you're doing.
[Image via CartoonBrew]