Manga Planet had the opportunity to interview Mr. Kazutaka Sato, the Representative of the International Otaku Expo Association (IOEA), a global association of expos and events which are geared towards enthusiasts of the otaku culture. The goal of IOEA is to share and encourage new and global development within the otaku community by linking together otaku expos and events around the world.
Let’s have a look at what Mr. Sato shared with us about IOEA and his own views of manga!
Could you give us a self-introduction?
Mr. Sato: I’m Kazutaka Sato, the Representative of IOEA. I was born in 1970 and will turn 50 in December this year. Yeah, I’m pretty old! (laughs) I was raised in Tokyo, and have attended Comiket as a customer since I was 12. I started participating in Comiket as a staff member after I turned 18 and started going to university. In 2004, I started a company called Circle.ms, which worked on building web systems for Japanese doujin events. In 2015, we established the IOEA, which has just entered its 6th year of operations the other day.
Do you like anime and manga?
Mr. Sato: I always liked anime and manga ever since I was a kid. When my generation was in middle-school, Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura was extremely popular. Shonen Jump also had its “golden age,” where titles like Dragon Ball and Fist of the North Star were being serialized, so I was greatly influenced by those. In regards to anime, OVAs (original video animations) started being released when I was in university. Back in those days, anime producers tended to shoehorn mature themes into kids’ shows made for TV, as you can see in shows like Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and Gundam. Once cell videos came about, people suddenly had the freedom to make anime for grown-ups, so I spent a lot of time watching those as a young adult.
The first OVA was released in 1983, and back then, Bandai Visual was mass-producing anime of many different genres. The 80s then saw Macross and its derivative works rise in popularity; by the 90s, anime like Patlabor and Gunbuster – which are still popular today – came into production. I lived through both the golden age of manga and the time period where anime became much more diverse, and I also saw doujinshi markets becoming more popular, so I was very big on my otaku hobbies during my teens and 20s!
Which manga title(s) left the biggest impression on you?
Mr. Sato: Urusei Yatsura became a turning point in my life, and I’ve always loved this SF manga called Locke the Superman. Oh My Goddess! was really big amongst my generation, too. Also, although it’s not as popular overseas as Initial D, I really like the racing manga series Wangan Midnight. It contains lots of poems that strike a chord with middle-aged men like me. (laughs)
What kind of organization is IOEA?
Mr. Sato: IOEA is like the UN for otaku events’ business relations; it’s also similar to a think tank in some regards. Currently, there are 140 member events from 50 nations.
We started with 30 events from 17 nations when the IOEA first came about – we approached 2 events in the US, 2 events in Europe, 2 events in Japan, and a handful of events in Asia. I’m grateful that we’ve become such a big family over the last 5 years. I am honestly unsure whether I can visit them all during my lifetime! (laughs)
How did IOEA come about?
Mr. Sato: I initially graduated from university with an engineering degree, then got a job where I worked with computers. I thought it’d be a bad idea to turn my hobbies into work since I’d be too much of a perfectionist, but I figured that I’d be able to make compromises if I was to work with computers rather than manga or anime. (laughs) A bunch of things happened after that and Comiket grew as an event during the latter half of the Showa era, but Comiket was being organized through pen-on-paper methods even after 2000 when it became more normal for people to use computers. After I helped them switch to digital methods, I opened Circle.ms, thinking that “I’d be able to compromise if I was working with event-related infrastructure, rather than the works themselves”.
Circle.ms didn’t have an English website, but we got inquiries about Comiket from people and event organizers across the world. A lot of them were asking how they could participate in Comiket or contact Comiket’s organizers; it was almost like we were Comiket’s liaison officers. Back then, I had no interest in looking outside of Japan, so I was just like, “oh, I guess there are manga and anime fans overseas too.” After about ten years of this, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit in 2011, and the future of Comiket became a little less clear. I visited Paris on holiday around then, stumbled across Japan Expo, and started thinking about what we could do to bridge the gap between Japanese and international otakus, as well as how Comiket could connect with overseas events.
I began researching overseas events between late 2012 and 2013, and eventually met Mr. Sakurai, with whom I established IOEA. He had many connections overseas due to his involvement with the Kawaii Ambassadors program (run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan). After much discussion, we realized that there was hardly any coordination whatsoever between the numerous events across the world. Also, Japan Expo was the only otaku event that had received media coverage in Japan as of 2013, and we wondered if there was a way to get the word out about other overseas events too. We then concluded that we should make an UN-esque organization for otaku events’ business relations. IOEA was then founded as a base for promoting exchanges and the otaku culture, as both business-orientated and fandom-orientated events are an important part of the international otaku landscape. Comiket also focused on their international connections and hosted events such as Comiket Special and the World Otaku Summit, which further helped us grow as an organization.
Can you tell us about IOEA’s activities?
Mr. Sato: As mentioned before, people in Japan don’t know much about international otaku events at all. If they want to see if anything is happening during their overseas trips, the best they can do is look at each event’s website. However, many of these websites look alike, and it’s hard to gauge the scale of the events, see who’s organizing them, and figure out whether they’re business-orientated or fandom-orientated. Our aim is to clarify these points and increase the credibility of our member events. We make event catalogs aimed at Japanese people, and give them out to Japanese government offices, anime companies, and other interested bodies in order to promote international events.
Our group is also able to take care of all aspects of event planning, such as securing venues, finding staff, finding exhibitors, visiting locations, and managing finances. As such, we’re able to act as a consulting service for Japanese companies who may want to exhibit at international events.
In Japan, otakus are sorted into many subgroups, such as anime otakus and train otakus; however, the IOEA welcomes any event as long as they’re geared towards people who have “otaku-like values”. While we don’t charge any membership fees, we do ask that each event be run three times before they apply for our membership – there are so many events that end up being cancelled after being run once or twice! Generally speaking, we welcome new events into the IOEA once the third event has been secured and announced to the public.
Are there any differences between Japanese and overseas otakus? If so, what are the differences?
Mr. Sato: When I first saw overseas otakus at Japan Expo, my first impression wasm “wow, they aren’t that different from Japanese otakus at all.” However, I think the biggest difference is that, unlike Japanese otakus, overseas otakus aren’t bothered too much by the concept of genres. Since Japanese otakus are usually surrounded by otaku stuff as they grow up, they tend to categorize themselves into many subgroups separated by genre. On the other hand, overseas otakus tend to become friends regardless of what they’re into. It’s interesting how overseas artist alleys showcase anime posters and traditional ukiyo-e style pictures side by side, and so forth.
There are also issues with the Japanese language at the root of it, but for kids, the accessibility of anime and manga varies greatly depending on the area. In Europe, many people watch anime like Crayon Shin-chan as kids, but they can’t really access manga unless they actively look for it. In the U.S., kid-friendly anime is hardly aired, so anime otakus who’ve watched anime since childhood are actually quite rare.
In my opinion, it’s difficult for people to start creating manga or anime – rather than just being on the audience side – unless they’ve been reading or watching it as kids, just like it’s difficult for Japanese people to become “native creators” of American-style music or movies. People in Japan or other Asian countries tend to be able to draw manga without much trouble, but people from western countries tend to find it difficult. This is particularly noticeable in the U.S., where amateur artists at artist alleys primarily exhibit posters rather than manga. It’s probably hard for people to fully understand the textual theory of writing manga stories without having read it since childhood.
Nowadays, Japanese and Chinese otakus are really similar in nature, and Chinese-made games tend to become quite popular in Japan too. This is most likely because people in China have been exposed to manga and anime since they were little. I think the otaku movement will sweep across all borders eventually, and there may even be American-made otaku mangas that Japanese people would genuinely be able to enjoy.
Manga Planet offers a subscription service for officially licensed and translated Japanese manga. What do you think about our service?
Mr. Sato: I visit otaku shops every time I attend overseas events, but they usually only stock manga titles that have anime adaptations, except maybe Yotsuba&!. It’s probably difficult to print and publish manga outside of Japan unless they have anime adaptations. I feel like the diversity of manga hasn’t yet been fully communicated to overseas fans, who often aren’t aware that their favorite anime titles were actually based on manga; on the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense from a business point of view to publish paperback copies of less-popular titles in other languages. I think the main strength of digital, subscription-based services – such as Manga Planet – is that there are no physical limits to the number of titles that can be published. It’d really help open the eyes of international audiences to the interesting, deep world of Japanese manga.
I’d also like to note that otakus tend to prefer reading official releases wherever possible. In China, counterfeit manga and anime were very common around 10 years ago, but you hardly see those things these days. While this is partly due to the tightening of law enforcement, I think it’s mostly because owning official releases have become a bit of a status symbol amongst otakus. They’re paying for official releases in order to gloat to their friends about it, rather than to support the creators’ livelihoods. (laughs) Prestige is important to otakus, so it might be good if you could implement systems that reward people with the biggest digital manga libraries, or the people who write the most reviews.
Finally, what does manga mean to you?
Mr. Sato: To me, manga is “the most diverse, high-quality form of storytelling that can be done by one person.” You can derive the same kind of enjoyment from anime, movies, games and manga, but manga is the only one you can truly make by yourself. Since manga is a solo project most of the time, each author’s works have very different characteristics. Anime and games are both made in teams, so it’s more difficult to make unique works unless you’re a genius like Miyazaki from Studio Ghibli; however, there are many unique worlds within the realm of manga. The key strength of novels and manga is the fact you can make it by yourself, but manga covers the widest area since you have to write the story and illustrate it, too.
Interested in reading more interviews? Check out our Interviews tag!
About Manga Planet: Read manga, support artists
In 2012, Manga Planet started as a joint project between Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. and FANTASISTA, INC. to research and explore the ways manga is read throughout the world. Aiming to bring new manga to fans from all over the world and support artists and the industry, Manga Planet pushes for affordability and access to manga through a subscription-based service.
Readers who subscribe to Manga Planet and pay a flat monthly fee of $6.99 will have access to our expanding library of English-language manga. To subscribe, please go to read.mangaplanet.com and create an account. More information is in our guide.