Yen Press will make manga history on Friday by launching the first worldwide simultaneous release of a manga in English and Japanese.
Like the original Soul Eater manga, Soul Eater NOT is set at the Death Weapon Meister Academy, where the students learn to transform into weapons or into the "meisters" who wield them. The "NOT" in the title stands for "Normally Overcome Target," and it refers to the students who are at the academy to learn how to control their power so they can lead a normal life, rather than using them in battle.
Although Soul Eater NOT is a spinoff of Soul Eater, Yen Press publishing director Kurt Hassler said that readers can enjoy it without reading the original. "It's a school comedy in this wacky, fantastical setting of the Soul Eater world," he said. "Soul Eater is comedic enough in and of itself, but this is a great departure from that. It's more character oriented—not that Soul Eater isn’t character oriented, but it is more a slice of life of these characters than pursuing a hard-core plot."
For Soul Eater fans, there are cameos and inside jokes, but, Hassler said, "You don't have to be into the main series to get into Soul Eater NOT."
While Viz's Shonen Jump Alpha digital magazine is running chapters of Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, and three other series within two weeks of their appearance in Japan, it is available only in the U. S. and Canada. Yen Plus is available worldwide.
And this is just the beginning, said Hassler. "This is just what we hope is the first of many," he said. "We want to do simultaneous serialization much more broadly. This is just the first step, and this for us was the ideal property to take that first step with. It was a relatively new series—we weren’t talking about hundreds of chapters that have already gone by. We start simultaneous serialization with chapter 11. It is one of our best selling licenses, and the fact that it is a spinoff, it's an easy intro without a lot of backstory, it has a lot of character focus, that made it an ideal place to start. I'm a huge fan of the artist. His visuals are striking—they have that twisted but cute bizarre appeal to me. His artwork floored me, so starting with Ohkubo-sensei's spinoff work was too good to pass up."
Hassler said Ohkubo is also excited about the project. "I was in Japan a couple of weeks ago, and they were telling us that he has promised his editors he is going to be on time with the serialization so he doesn’t interfere with the schedule," he said.
The simultaneous presentation doesn't require any unusual effort, just some extra attention to deadlines, Hassler says. "Square Enix is great," he said. "They have built in a little bit of lead time for us. We get the material a little ahead of time, so we get a few days to work on translation and lettering. The minute the files are available we are all over it, but it's enough time for us to do the work and do a quality job of it."
Hassler said that simultaneous publication has been part of the plan from the beginning, and he hopes that Yen will do more of it. "When we launched Yen Plus as a digital vehicle—it has been a year and a half now—that was the way we wanted to go then," he said. "It was a matter of waiting for everyone to come around to the idea. It's not an easy discussion to have. There are concerns that a lot of licensors and publishers in Japan have, piracy not being the least of them." But Hassler sees this as a way to combat piracy: "If you listen to the reasons given for scanlations, it's 'We don’t want to wait for the material, it's not available in my territory,'" he said. "This was designed to respond to those concerns. If you take that away, you're left with you just don’t want to pay for it."
Yen Plus is currently a web-only magazine, and Hassler says that while he has thought about making it available on the iPad, like the Yen Press app, that has been more difficult than it might seem. "Yen Plus is available for a limited amount of time, that's how we control the price and pave the way for collected digital editions," he said. "We have thought about making it available on the iPad, it is a logistical question of how we can make it work in the structure that has been set up." Hassler also said he would consider setting up a weekly digital magazine if a series that updates weekly were to become available. "We have the tools," he said. "Soul eater NOT works very well because of the property it is and because it is monthly, it dovetails nicely into the iteration of Yen Plus that exists right now, but that is not to say we are not open to trying a weekly comic."
Hassler said he, and other publishers, know what people want: "They want it quicker, digitally, with no territory restrictions," he said. "We know all this, but knowing it and making it happen are two different things. That's why this is such a major step not just for us but for the industry as well, to have a series online the same day it appears on newsstands in Japan. That's massive, and we hope it is a tipping point. Kudos to Square Enix and Ohkubo-sensei for being very forward-looking with this."