IKKI Launches Webcomics Site in English and Japanese

If you're a fan of sophisticated seinen manga, the series you like probably came from IKKI Magazine: "House of Five Leaves," "Children of the Sea," "Afterschool Charisma," "Dorohedoro," and "Bokurano: Ours" are all IKKI series, and all were published in North America by Viz.

Now IKKI is cutting out the middleman with a webcomics site that is publishing comics in Japanese and, in at least one case, in English as well: "Pandemonium -Wizard Village-" by Sho Shibamoto, which updates on the second Friday of every month, is presented in both Japanese and English.

Although this seems to be the first of his manga to be translated into English, Shibamoto is building a reputation for himself in Japan: He won the Shogakukan Newcomer Comic Grand Prize for his debut manga, "Baku," and his self-published books "Hiyoko Sangyo Seihin Catalogue [Chick Industry Product Catalogue]" and "Hitorigotonoshiro [Soliloquy Castle]" were selected as jury recommended works in the 11th and 12th Japan Media Arts Festivals. IKKI publishes his "Tsunousagi [The Jackalope]" under its IKKICOMIX Rare imprint.

In an e-mail interview, Yumetaro Toyoda of the IKKI Editorial Department and translator Simona Stanzani explained a bit more about the webcomics site, "Pandemonium," and what we can expect in the future.

First of all, can you tell us a bit about this new website? All the info is in Japanese! What's the idea behind it? How often will it update? Is it available worldwide?

Yumetaro Toyoda: WEB IKKI-PARA is the official website for Monthly IKKI Magazine, a paper manga publication, where we publish information about the current series, etc.

As a forerunner to WEB IKKI-PARA COMICS, in 2010 we started publishing the web manga "Afterschool Charichma," a spin-off of the popular series "Afterschool Charisma." The graphic novel we printed last year was well received too, so we decided to expand our webcomics range—that's how the project was born.

In "Pandemonium"'s case, I thought about doing something that could only be done on the web, and we developed it in a way that was most suitable for Japanese and English dual version publishing, making it readable from left to right with horizontal text in the balloons—as opposed to the regular Japanese style—to facilitate the foreign reader.

We are publishing five series at the present time; excluding the 4-koma "Katawarenowareware," we will upload a new episode once a month for every title. In other words, they are monthly series, available worldwide.

Can you tell us a bit about the creator of "Pandemonium"? He seems to have done at least one comic before. Was it in this same style?

Yumetaro Toyoda: He won the Shogakukan Newcomer Comic Grand Prix, that was his manga debut. After that, we published his work "Tsunousagi [The Jackalope] under the IKKICOMIX rare label," which specializes in new unpublished stories–not serialized on magazine–that get printed directly in graphic novel format, which is highly unusual in Japan. As opposed to "Pandemonium," his first work was in black and white, reading from right to left, Japanese style. This is his second long series.

What challenges did the translation present?

Simona Stanzani: Since I only translated one episode so far, I didn't find any particular difficulty. As opposed to regular manga translation work, this is really real time translation, since as soon as Shibamoto-sensei finishes one episode the editor sends it to me to work on the English version, so I don't actually get to read a whole book as it usually happens. I always tell my students that it's better to read the whole series, at least as many volumes as one can, in order to have a better grasp of the "sekaikan"–view of the world–the author expresses in the work, and also the relationships between the characters, but in this case it's still all in Shibamoto-sensei's head! But the very good thing about working directly with the Japanese editor is that any question or doubt can be cleared right away with an e-mail or a phone call–something that is basically impossible in the normal manga translator working environment, since we don't really have direct access to the production staff in Japan and to ask the smallest question you have to go through the route: translator>local editing staff>local licensing dept>Japanese licensing dept>Editorial dept>maybe if they can they will eventually ask the author>back through the whole chain again. By the time you get an answer, the book might as well already be on the shelves.

What do you like best about this comic?

Yumetaro Toyoda: Pandemonium has actually been created over two years.

At the beginning we were not thinking about web publishing, but... the theme, the motif [idea] and the story settings haven't changed much since then, but there is no doubt that the Tohoku disaster of March 2011–the radioactivity threat and the discrimination towards the affected areas that stemmed from it, etc.–is going to have an impact on the story and its developments from now on.

In that sense, I think this is a story that has to be written now, in 2013, and that's something about it I really like.

Then Shibamoto-sensei's characters (as in his previous work, there is no "human being" in it!) are very cute and catchy, so I also simply think that they are fun to watch.

Simona Stanzani: Like Mr. Toyoda says, the characters are absolutely adorable–though it is a very dramatic theme, the "people" in "Pandemonium" all look like cute–or scary–animals, so there is a gap-moe ["a contradiction in exhibited characteristics that people find cutely attractive" according to What Japan Thinks] effect that makes it really unique. The amazing thing is that you forget that you are looking at non-humans right away, because the story is so compelling. Also, full-color manga is still very rare in Japan and Shibamoto-sensei's art is really wonderful. I love his storytelling, it definitely has an International touch, blending the classic manga style with a Bande Dessinée feel.

Simona, are you located in Japan? How did you get this translation job?

Simona Stanzani: Yes, I have lived in Tokyo since 2007. Because the work of the translator is mainly about shutting yourself in your room in front of a computer, hikikomori-style, I try to get out of the hole as much as possible and go to publishers parties, exhibitions, etc. I met Mr. Toyoda at Natsume Ono's "House of Five Leaves" event and we kept in touch through Twitter, so when he was looking for a manga translator I was the right person in the right place at the right time. Since it is the first time for them to venture into manga translation I guess that working with a veteran in the field feels reassuring, as well.

How long is this comic?

Yumetaro Toyoda: The plan is a year-long serialization.

Will the comics eventually be published in print?

Yumetaro Toyoda: First we will publish them as normal Japanese graphic novels. The series is planned to be concluded in two volumes; the first should go on sale some time this year. The English version has not been determined yet.

Will there be more translated stories?

Yumetaro Toyoda: We would like to make more. Natsume Ono's work–for instance–(we're web-publishing "Kotsure Doushin" ["Lone Constable and Kid," a pun on "Lone Wolf and Cub"], a "House of Five Leaves" spin-off) has been animated and the DVD is on sale overseas, so I guess it can attract some interest from abroad too.

Thanks to Simona Stanzani for translating this interview. Simona is a native of Bologna, Italy, who studied Japanese at the University of Bologna and now lives in Tokyo. She says, "I started translating manga there in 1992 with professional otaku veteran editing group Kappa Boys and I basically never stopped. I guess it probably makes me the most ancient regularly active manga translator in the World (I am not sure whether it's a good thing or not, it makes me feel a bit like a relic :D)." She works with Erica Friedman of ALC to translate yuri titles for JManga, and she also does translation for anime and movies.

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