We recently caught up with Viz Senior Vice President Liza Coppola to discuss the current state of the manga and anime markets, and what's coming from Viz.  In Part 3, we talk about the anime market, including the relatively nascent shojo market, the sales channels for anime, Viz's live action program, and the comparison between the Japanese and American markets.  In Part 1, we talked about the manga market in the states, where it's sold, the number of releases in 2007 and 2008, and OEL manga.  And in Part 2, we talked about Viz's manga anthologies, the plans for Naruto in 2008, the 'next Naruto,' and Viz's fiction program. 


Switching over to anime, how do you evaluate its status in the U.S. this year?

This year we had some really great properties. We worked with Pokemon USA for the Pokemon movies, and that did very well for us. Then we also had the first Naruto movie that came out. So the anime market for Viz is very strong. The movies are doing a little better than the episodics, but the episodics still have a pretty strong audience. It's exciting to us that we have another distribution channel through  DTO (download to own). There's excitement behind Deathnote and behind the Naruto movie. I think at one point for the Pokemon movie we had six or seven different SKUs out there, because every retailer wanted something exclusive for their customers.


Naruto Uncut has been #1 for two weeks in a row on VideoScan. We've got 22 titles in the top 100 for the week, so we're definitely hitting our stride with the anime titles.


The last time we talked about anime, we talked about shojo anime and the struggles to get it on television in the States. Has anything changed in that regard in the last year and a half?

Shojo is a topic that everybody kind of dances around. We know there's an audience out there, but we just don't know how to tap into it. We have a task force for shojo internally. We're doing a big evaluation in terms of what exactly is the definition of  shojo--is it tweens, is it older girl volumes (which is what Shojo Beat targets)?  Shojo is so broad that I think that's part of the problem, that people say shojo, but you don't know exactly what that target audience is.  But it's definitely a priority for us.


We've got Shojo Beat magazine that's doing really well -- we just celebrated the second anniversary. It's definitely something we're focusing on, I think it's something that we really have to sit down and look at and really define what audience are we going after. Is it the tweens or is it the older teen girls?


The channels for manga seem to us to be shifting. The number of comic stores or similar outlets that are carrying anime seems to have declined, and for the ones that are continuing, their selection may be less.  Suncoast lost a couple hundred retail stores and that took some specialty retail stores out of the malls.  On the other hand, in mass anime  seems to be growing. How would you characterize the channel trends, do you see that channel shift happening in anime?

Wal-Mart hosted the Naruto road show. We have Naruto in there and we have InuYasha. I think the sales guys went in there and pitched, and they got pretty much a thumbs up for 90% of what they presented, which is pretty phenomenal. I do think the mass chains are recognizing that anime is something that draws our customers in.


For the smaller comic book stores, I think it's just a matter of building that program that draws those customers back. We are working very closely with Diamond to build some of those programs and treat them the accounts how they should be treated.  There's such a large fan base that goes into the Diamond stores and mom and pop stores, we basically just need to go out there and build a program for them.


Do you think the number of specialty retail stores has declined in the past 12 months with the loss of Suncoast and some of these other outlets?

I think people are looking at the efficiencies, so I think it's more not so much about specialty or anime stores, I think it's more that people are looking at the number of stores and closing down the low performing stores. It's not necessarily that it's only in our category -- you've got clothing stores that are doing the same thing. I think everybody is looking at it and saying 'How can we do this more efficiently?' Even in Suncoast, even though they are closing stores, they're still looking to gain presence for anime and manga in their stores. They're still looking to do a lot of programs and build that audience base. It's not like they're pulling away completely, they're just looking at which stores to shut down and really focus on the ones that perform well.


Viz started a new division this year, Viz Pictures, which is pursuing a strategy of releasing theatrically live action features from Japan.  What are your plans for the live action division?

They've actually released quite a few films already. Hula Girls is playing in theaters. We made the front page of the entertainment section for San Francisco Chronicle, which was great. Hula Girls is out there, Train Man, Ping-Pong, Kamikaze Girls, so they've got a pretty good slate for the next three years. Viz Pictures is a separate company, but for us it's really great ability to cross-promote and market some of these titles. The live action stuff is carried in different sections than pure anime.  We can say 'If you like this manga or this anime, there's also a live action movie out there,' and run trailers in front of the live action properties for our stuff.


We did a story about six months ago talking about 2006 manga and anime sales in Japan that indicated sales in both categories were soft in 2006. What can you tell us about those trends, and do you think they have any relevance for the future in the States?

There's so much content from parent companies, it really hasn't affected us that much as far as how the market is doing there. I know when we released Movie 1 for Naruto here, they were releasing Movie 4. We still have a ways to go. There's still so much content that is coming down to the U.S., and I also think that there's a lot more focus on the territories outside of Japan as well, it hasn't really affected us.


What do you think the reasons are for the decline in Japan, and do you think those same trends will follow in the States?

I think it's cyclical. I don't think anime/manga is going to go away, because it's so prevalent in that culture, but it's cyclical and it's not as much of a focus in Japan or there's not as many consumers as here, but that doesn't mean that it's not going to come back.


Some people have talked about the competition from other forms of delivery of content for DVDs and manga, that beyond the demographic trends in Japan that are affecting consumer sales that those trends toward more electronic delivery might be something we'd see here.

That's definitely something that's taken away. There's a whole consortium of digital manga over there. Cell phones being very prevalent and being able to watch anime on cell phones. They're much more ahead of us in terms of that. That's probably a reason why there's a decline for manga and anime right now.