We interviewed Leighton Kurashima, Upper Deck Product Manager for Yu-Gi-Oh!, and talked about the 2007 Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG releases, and the flow of the game, anime, and manga releases from Japan.

How many SKUs do you have planned this year?
I've got four major releases from January to December.  I have two structure decks and one starter deck.

How many booster expansions?
That's at four.

How many did you do last year?
Same amount.  Except, in the structure deck arena, I had four structure decks come out.

So that was a little bit heavier?
Yes.  We decided that was a lot of structure decks to be out there, and it might help to bring down the amount of structure decks.

Where are you relative to the releases in Japan?  What's the lag between when that comes out there and comes out here?
I think it's about a two to three month gap.

You're right there...
We've been there since 2005.  Whatever comes out in Japan, we're right on the heels.

So the number of U.S. releases basically tracks the number of releases that they have?
This year they did four structure decks, and we opted only for two.

And that was based on response here last year?
Yes. Also, our beginning of the year was really jampacked with product, and we just needed to spread it out a little bit.  We have a lot of items TBD.  I know through August.  I just started work on the August set, and that's releasing next month in Japan.

What's the sales trend on Yu-Gi-Oh!?
It was kind of declining last year toward the end of the year.  The whole goal for 2007 was to try and take the sets and improve them, and that seems to have worked.  In January we saw a little spike, and our March release had a giant release, it's doing very well, it's gotten really good response.

All channels or more in one than another?
For Strike of Neos, the March release, it's pretty much all channels.  I have a good hobby and retail response from that.

The model out there right now for a long lived CCG property is Pokemon.  Do you think Yu-Gi-Oh can maintain that kind of long life?
No doubt.  I think last year Pokemon did a great job marketing their 10 year anniversary.  I think in all, they had eight different Pokemons which you could watch at any given time.  That was just huge for them.  I think the awareness just helped push the overall brand, because it's not trending like that in Japan.  In Japan it's got other anime competitors.

What's the TV situation for Yu-Gi-Oh! right now?
We have the classic Yu-Gi-Oh! running for one hour on Saturdays, and then we also have GX also running on Saturdays.

So no strip?
No strip. 

Is there stuff out in Japan that hasn't come over here yet?
They're in Season 3 on GX and we're just starting Season 3 in GX.  The things they have that we don't have is a Yu-Gi-Oh! R, which is a manga. 

That Viz hasn't done yet?
That Viz hasn't done yet.  And a Yu-Gi-Oh! GX manga, which Shonen Jump just picked up at the start of this year.

I think that will help.  I see 4Kids is reporting declines in the Yu-Gi-Oh! brands, but I think that's more toy driven.
It's the overall license.  I think that's largely due to the amount of times we're on air.  We're trying to work with 4Kids and trying to get it stripped more.

Anything else we should know?
The over-all strategy for me was to grow the brand.  We've made improvements starting in January with our structure deck.  We put in some cards that would help tournament play.  For the March release, we brought back a surprise for the consumer.

So to keep this snowball effect, in August, we have a release where we're expanding the amount of cards we're putting in the sets, so the set size gets larger, and we're throwing in other stuff too.

Is expanding the size something that happened in Japan?
We had requested it for two years, and they're finally giving us an expanded set.  On top of that, the U.S. is getting 10 cards that Japan will not get, so we got a double bonus.  Whether or not that has a huge effect on the market, we'll find out.