With VIZ Media aggressively releasing three volumes per month of the bestselling Naruto manga series this fall (see 'Naruto Manga Goes Nuclear'), we sat down with Gonzalo Ferreyra, Viz Vice President of Sales, and David Rewalt, Director of Retail Marketing, to talk about the details and implications of this plan.  In Part 1, below, of this two part interview, we talk about the rationale for the move and how it will be implemented.  In Part 2 (see 'Interview with Viz's Gonzalo Ferreyra, Part 2'), we talk about the impact on the manga and anime markets.


One of the stated goals of this event was to get the US release dates more closely in line with those in Japan.  What do you see as the benefits of that?

Ferreyra:  It's really about catching up to the releases in Japan, and specifically catching up to the anime releases as they reach these shores.  In early 2008, we will have reached phase two of the storyline, Part Two of the manga, which is called Shippuden in the anime.  That's a break of two and a half years in the narrative; it's two and a half years later when Part Two, or Shippuden begins.  Obviously, Naruto and everybody else is a little older and a little bigger, they physically look different.  The imagery from that series has already started hitting these shores, and it's very important to our Japanese parent companies, and to us as well, to maintain supremacy for the manga as the introducer of the narrative arc.  This was really the only way we could think of to maintain that, to get the 12 volumes out.  We'd move into the new storyline; we'd put ourselves firmly ahead of the anime version that within six months to a year will also be hitting these shores.


What's your goal in terms of the timing of the anime release in Japan versus here?

GF:  We're bringing it closer.  It's still a few years apart.  I don't have the exact dating, but it basically just narrows that gap considerably.


Is one of the goals for that change to reduce the period of time during which illegal downloads are the only way to get copies here?

GF:  Essentially, yes.  Certainly that was a factor in our thinking that we needed to more efficiently bring a legitimate version, a legitimate option for the anime downloads, to market; to narrow the gap, bring it to market more quickly; to cut the amount of time that only the illegitimate versions are available out there.


Is this part of an international strategy, or is it really only happening in the US?

GF:  It really is only happening in the US, I guess because we're the only ones really in a position to have to play this game of catch up with Japan.  Obviously, Japan was on its own original schedule.


In Europe for example?  Are they further ahead?

GF:  They are.  They just released Volume 29 in France, for example.


How are you going to handle the racking issues both in chains and independent stores for that number of volumes for a single title coming out at around the same time?

Rewalt:  For the big box retailers, we're working on solutions.  Floor displays, specifically.  So in the Barnes and Noble and Borders of the world, you'll see specific floor displays that give them that extra added shelf space.


Just for Naruto, the 12 volumes?

DR:  You may not see that display dedicated to just the new release items, it may have some backlist stuff in it as well, but it's really just to extend the shelf space in the store and also to bring an event feel to it, because it is an event to us.


Will the display say 'Naruto Nation' on it?

DR:  We're not sure if we're using the 'Naruto Nation' logo or not, it's certainly something we're working on, but we do want the campaign to have that feel.


We've talked about the anime and manga.  How will this coordinate with the presentation of the Naruto storyline in licensed products, for example in the toy line?

GF:  In terms of the immediate roll-out this year, the license will still focus on Part One.  I'm actually unclear at this point as to how far out..., we probably won't be seeing that new character in licensed products until 2008.  You may see him appear in videogame form in late 2007.


Obviously, the goal is very similar.  It allows our licensing group to go out to our licensees with that new character now, rather than three years from now.  Underlying all this, I should note that if we hadn't embarked on all this, we wouldn't see that new storyline for another two and a half years, so this is our way of getting it.  Really, we wanted to capture it now and get ahead in the storyline.


With the characters being older, does that change the target demo of the property?

GF:  Perhaps a little, I don't think all that much.  It's a very similar story.  It gets a little darker through the original narrative and continues on in that vein.  I think it will attract very much the same customer.  It's not unlike the Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z comparison in terms of the two stages of the same characters and the same narrative arc in two parts.


Click here for Part 2.