Viz, the largest publisher of manga in the U.S., announced five new additions to its Viz Kids line yesterday, and they quietly added a twist: Several of the new series are not coming from Japan.
This is news because Viz is really a Japanese company operating in the U.S.; its parent companies are the Japanese publishers Shueisha and Shogakukan and their joint licensing company, Shogakukan-Shueisha Productions. Naturally, Viz has always focused on Japanese manga, and when every other manga publisher in the U.S. started publishing global (non-Japanese) titles, Viz announced its willingness but hung back.
The new Viz lineup changes all that. The press release lists four graphic novels, and three are created specifically for Viz:
Mameshiba on the Loose!, a graphic novel featuring Mameshiba, creatures that are a cross between a bean and a dog. While Mameshiba are popular in Japan (and, like Domo-kun, not necessarily a children's product), Viz's graphic novel is a homegrown effort; the Amazon page lists James Turner as the writer and Jorge Monlongo and Gemma Correll as the artists.
Mr. Men and Little Miss: The Japanese do love their adorable, rounded, anthropomorphic creatures, but Mr. Men and Little Miss were created by British author Roger Hargreaves and have a huge fandom in the U.S. and Europe. Why did Viz choose these? Maybe because there's an animated film in the works, maybe because they are just so awesome. Expect to see Little Miss Sunshine, Mr. Bump, Mr. Strong and Little Miss Daredevil books pop up next spring.
Voltron Force: This is a straight-up tie-in with the Nickelodeon animated series of the same name, which in turn is an updated version of the 1980s cartoon Voltron. I know someone out there is going to be made very happy by this. I couldn't possibly describe it any better than whoever wrote the press release:
VOLTRON FORCE reignites the story of five brave space explorers who pilot mighty robot lions that combine to form Voltron, Defender of the Universe. Joining the team are three new cadets, who have the opportunity of a lifetime to fight alongside their heroes and unlock incredible new powers. Let’s Voltron!
Pokémon Black and White: Viz gets back to basics with the franchise that helped make them what they are today. It looks like these are Japanese manga and not tie-ins or global manga.
The Viz staffers I have talked to over the years always maintained they were open to global manga, but it never seemed to materialize until now. It makes sense to develop the kids' line this way, because the global manga don't compete with the core product—why would you commission someone to draw teen manga when you have the whole Shonen Jump line at your disposal? It may be that manga for young children is not as common or does not translate as well; for whatever reason, there seems to be very little of it available in English.