Viz, LLC and ShoPro Entertainment will merge this spring into a new company that will be jointly owned by manga giants Shogakukan and Shueisha with licensing powerhouse ShoPro Entertainment Japan. 


Viz, which is currently owned by Shogakukan and Shueisha, is the publisher of such top-selling manga as Rurouni Kenshin, InuYasha, and Naruto; as well as the anime house responsible for the U.S. release of InuYasha, Pokemon, and Ceres, Celestial Legend.  


ShoPro Entertainment has handled U.S. media and product licensing for Shogakukan properties such as MegaMan NT Warrior and Hamtaro.  The new entity will handle North American licensing for Shueisha properties in addition to those controlled by Shogakukan on an all rights basis, including TV broadcast, publishing, home video, consumer products, and promotions. 


Management of the two companies is being consolidated.  Hidemi Fukuhara, currently Vice Chairman of Viz, will be the President and CEO of the new company.  Seiji Horibuchi, who's run Viz since its formation in the U.S., will be the Co-Chairman of the Board.  Hyoe Narita, currently a Senior Vice President of Viz, will be an Executive Vice President of the new company and run its publishing operations.  Akira Fujita and John Easum, currently COO and Sr. Vice President of ShoPro, will be Executive Vice Presidents of the new company.   


Kazuhiko Torishima, Executive Director of Shueisha, Inc., laid out the rationale for the merger.  'At the root of the globally successful Japanese character business is manga,' he said.  'The question we face is how to best communicate and introduce the culture of manga...around the world.  We believe the answer lies in [this new company], which will allow us to unify and manage our business under one roof.  In this regard, we will be able to respond much faster to market needs and thus greatly expand the exposure of manga.'