Exclusive Interview with Mr. Yasuhiro Yamauchi of MANGA NIGHT
Manga Night is dedicated to unpacking the possibilities of manga and expanding its reach with the hopes of bettering society. As part of a Manga and Learning initiative, Manga Night organizes “This is also educational manga! ~Discover the World Project~,” a project promoting “edutainment” (portmanteau of “education” and “entertainment”) through manga. Manga Night also organizes workshops and book selection events at Manga Night BOOKS in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, and Tachikawa Manga Park in Tachikawa City, Tokyo. We sat down with Mr. Yasuhiro Yamauchi, the Representative Director of Manga Night and Rainbow Bird, Inc., and asked him how he started out in the manga industry, what he thinks of the world of manga, and his favorite titles.
Thank you for sitting down with us today. Can you please introduce yourself and how you got started in Manga Night and Rainbow Bird?
Mr. Yamauchi: Hello, my name is Yasuhiro Yamauchi. I am currently the Representative Director of Manga Night and Rainbow Bird Inc. which both work with and focus on manga-related projects and businesses.
A little about myself, I started out as a tax accountant but I always had a love for manga from a young age. Of course, I was also interested in anime and games but because I personally like drawing, manga always had a special place.
So, while studying to become a tax accountant, I learned more about the structures of the world of manga so that I could somehow support creators and manga.
Then, after becoming a tax accountant, I spent much of my off-time working on manga projects which came to be Manga Night.
I see. So, do you have a favorite manga?
Mr. Yamauchi: (laughs) that is a tough question. I probably have about 10,000 manga. But, to narrow it down, I generally like reading shonen and seinen manga. I love stories that center around a gifted main character who is so passionate and keeps growing and improving themself. I guess in that sense, the first title that comes to mind is Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M by Masahito Soda. But of course, I love classics like Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue and I think the first title that got me hooked on manga was Saint Seiya by Masami Kurumada.
Do you have any titles you’re currently hooked on?
Mr. Yamauchi: So many. (laughs) Recently, I’ve been excited about Boruto, which is quite a major title. (laughs)
Yes. (laughs) It’s famous worldwide.
Mr. Yamauchi: Hm… Recently I have also been excited to read Ryujo Senki which is an epic historical fantasy about a housewife taking the world by storm. What’s interesting about this manga is that the author is a researcher and teaches at a university, which makes reading his work all the more exciting.
There’s another manga that I enjoy and actually take part in the production of called Designs by Daisuke Igarashi. It centers around this concept of “genomes” and it’s about a world where human genomes can be redesigned to become an animal or animal genomes can be redesigned to become human. It deals with dilemmas like which species have human rights and stuff. It was recently completed. I love its portrayal of the potential future and its explanations of that world’s situation. I am into stories like that.
It sounds like an interesting story. I will look into that next time. This next question might also be difficult but which manga made a lasting impression on you?
Mr. Yamauchi: Ah… Generation-wise, Dragon Ball. I was in middle school when Shonen Jump was really booming. It was to the point where, every week, all of the stores would be sold out of Shonen Jump the day it came out. At that time, Dragon Ball was definitely in the spotlight along with Slam Dunk. The amazing thing about Dragon Ball is that, even though it’s been about 20, 30 years since its release, it still captures the hearts of children now. That’s what left an impression on me.
Thank you for sharing. Do you enjoy other forms of Japanese pop culture beside manga?
Mr. Yamauchi: I do watch a lot of anime, too. I am also really interested in the media arts scene. I was actually on the creator side at some events where I was part of a team and we had to create a work from concept to final piece.
What kind of events are these?
Mr. Yamauchi: I participate occasionally and one time, it was at Miraikan which is the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The theme of this exhibition was Artificial Life Science x Media Art.
Clearly, you are very proactive and you mentioned earlier that you spent your non-work hours into manga projects. Can you tell us a little more about Manga Night?
Mr. Yamauchi: The Manga Night group was founded about 11 years ago in 2009. At that time, the manga industry was in a recession. When even the comic sales started to fall,
we came up with the idea of having people introduce manga to other people.
These people could be anyone from otaku to casual readers but the point would be to recommend people’s actual favorite titles to each other face to face. It was our way of tying in manga as a binding communication tool. So, for our first event, we borrowed the space of a manga cafe in Jimbocho called Manrakuen. This manga cafe was known for being the oldest as well as the cheapest manga cafe in Tokyo. That was basically the start of Manga Night.
Why did the manga market fall?
Mr. Yamauchi: It was right at the point where kids and young people had more options for entertainment with social media and smartphones entering the scene. So the time left to spend on reading manga slowly decreased.
Were e-books and digital manga not very popular yet?
Mr. Yamauchi: I think it was close to the first generation iPhone. So in that context, digital e-book devices had only a small presence. On top of that, the large publishers weren’t focusing on digital versions.
So, that’s when we organized an event and have about 30 to 50 people come and recommend their favorite titles from a certain genre in groups of about 5 or 6 people.
What kind of members did you have in your Manga Night group?
Mr. Yamauchi: There were mainly many casual manga fans in their mid to late twenties with interest in many different cultures.
Where did the name Manga Night come from?
Mr. Yamauchi: It’s actually just because the origin of our group was to read a lot of manga together at night. (laughs) So it just seemed natural to call it Manga Night.
That makes sense. (laughs) Since its founding, what kind of activities and projects have Manga Night done?
Mr. Yamauchi: After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, we ran an operation to send manga to the people in affected areas. I think we were the first to organize such a thing, so many media outlets featured us and our activities.
Had you already become a registered non-profit organization in 2011?
Mr. Yamauchi: No, we just recently registered as a non-profit corporation in April of this year. But until now, we’ve worked on many endeavors and collaborated with publishers which led to the establishment of Rainbow Bird, Inc. So, we continued organizing events and about seven years ago we offered consulting services to build the Tachikawa Manga Park. I also helped with the planning of the Tokyo One Piece Tower. They both were quite a hit.
Manga Night was created on the foundation that communication is key. And even further, it’s the key to making sure manga doesn’t dissipate, along with quality content of course. We are always trying to ensure that manga doesn’t become dormant and part of traditional culture. Manga has always been popular culture. In order to keep it as popular culture, manga as a tool has great potential to expand meaningfully. For example, Manga Night organizes the project “This is also educational manga! ~Discover the World Project~,” which features works that highlight how manga can be used as a medium for educational purposes. Manga Night BOOKS is also a way for manga and creators to carry on with a different business model.
Manga Night became a general incorporated association with the hopes to achieve the potential of manga as a communication tool.
I see. Manga is obviously part of Japanese culture but what are your thoughts on fans from abroad?
Mr. Yamauchi: I think the fact that it is black and white may be a barrier for some people. So it seems like the general flow is to come from anime then go to manga. At an event last year, I had the chance to talk to people in the manga industry from abroad and they had many anecdotes about the manga market in China. I think China’s own version of manga has been increasing recently. In the US, there is “MANGA Plus” which releases original monochrome chapters simultaneously. So I think by getting the right content and timing, there can and are huge hits.
We’ve been asking and listening to people in France because we are trying to expand overseas with educational manga. I believe the potential for educational manga is extensive. For example, compared to watching anime, reading manga requires the reader to make the characters move and talk in their head. The act of reading and reading aloud would also help with learning language. It may also teach them how to be empathetic towards another person. In these ways, the variety of manga and anime are great tools, and interacting with both would lead to enhanced learning.
You mentioned France, but what are your views on moving forward overseas?
Mr. Yamauchi: There are culture-specific comics like bandes dessinées (BD) in France. Although I think it’d be difficult to read BD in Japanese, finding collaborative innovations like that would create opportunities to learn about each other’s cultures, for example.
Thank you for your answer. Can I ask how you feel about services that provide content to fans abroad like us?
Mr. Yamauchi: I think people in Japan are very happy. (laughs) It’s always fantastic to see the thing you love, being loved by so many others. I also think fans from abroad help give an important insight on which titles will be hits. There are so many titles that were revived thanks to overseas fans like a title I really like called Spirit Circle.
Spirit Circle is currently being released! We’ve also received many comments saying it’s so nostalgic. Thank you for reading it! We have come to our last question. What does manga mean to you personally?
Mr. Yamauchi: From a fan’s perspective, manga is a gateway to worlds I have never been to before. When I was younger, I had issues with my health and that restrained me from playing outside. So instead, I read manga and was able to transport myself to a completely unknown universe. I think I got more into manga compared to anime because I am able to control the time, speed, and amount that I read. I can meet so many different characters from so many different worlds, and I think that really builds my strength to live life.
I notice a lot of TV personalities appearing and sharing their funny expertises. Sometimes their peculiar knowledge comes from manga. (laughs) I believe manga is a way to learn outside of school. Kids that read and experience many stories, I feel, grow up to be strong in life. I think this strength to live life will become more and more important from now on.
Thank you very much, Mr. Yamauchi, for sitting down and talking with us today.
Mr. Yamauchi: Thank you, and I apologize that I talk really fast (laughs)
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