You wouldn't think it if you passed Katsushi Ota on the street, but this energetic thirty-something guy in glasses and a leather jacket is one of Japan's most innovative and influential editors.
His mission? To change the publishing world and lead a new invasion of J-Lit (Japanese literature and light novels) to our shores. His weapon? Faust, Ota's innovative anthology magazine published by Kodansha that features a mix of short stories, articles, comics and illustrations inspired by Japanese manga, anime and video games.
Since its debut in 2003, six volumes of Faust have been published in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Volume 7 will be out in Japan in March 2008 and will introduce Megatokyo by Fred Gallagher to Japanese readers.
Now, Del Rey Manga is introducing an English-language edition of Faust to North American readers in Summer 2008. The first issue will feature stories and illustrations by popular manga creators, including Yun Kouga (Loveless), Takeshi Obata (Death Note), Hajime Ueda (Q-Ko-Chan), and CLAMP (Tsubasa, xxxHolic).
"Our version of Faust is the best of the best," said Mutsumi Miyazaki, Del Rey's Director of Licensing and Acquisitions. "We picked the stories to feature in the U.S. edition and added exclusive interviews just for our edition. This is a very, very special project for us."
"I decided to acquire Faust magazine, simply because it's a wonderful work of art that I think would also appeal to the young readers in US who are interested in Japanese pop-culture," she added. "There are many Japanese manga and novels that have been brought to US thus far, but there's nothing like Faust in the publishing market in US today. Faust is unique and is one of a kind."
To promote Faust's stateside debut in 2008, Del Rey Manga brought Ota-san to New York City as their featured guest at the 2007 New York Anime Festival. Ota-san answered questions at his panel appearance, and also sat down for an interview after the panel. What came out was a lively discussion about manga, light novels, Megatokyo, and what Harry Potter has in common with Nintendo.
Q: First off, can you tell me a little bit about your background as an editor?
Katsushi Ota: I started as shojo manga editor for one year, then moved to prose division in 1998. I'm primarily in charge of the novel division now, working on both Faust and the Kodansha BOX line of illustrated novels.
Q: As I'm flipping through Faust, I'm noticing how distinctive the artwork is. It's nice to see that the artists you've included in Faust have very unique styles and are taking some chances to create something different.
KO: Thank you very much. I appreciate hearing that. The illustrations in Faust do more than just explain a scene, or describe the novel. It's meant to draw in the reader and excite their imagination.
Q: So who chooses the writers and artists that are included in Faust? Do you have a staff of editors who help make these choices?
KO: No editors! I do the whole book. The interviews are done by me as well. I write, I edit the stories, and choose the artists.
Q: Wow, that's a lot of work. No wonder it takes a while to come out! What inspired you to launch Faust? What makes it different than any other magazine out there in Japan?
KO: Over the past five years, I noticed that there were a lot of young writers emerging who are influenced by entertainment media such as manga, anime and games. I wanted to create a venue for those types of writers, so that's why I came up with Faust. It was exceptionally successful -- more than what both I and Kodansha had expected.
Q: Who's the typical reader of Faust in Japan?
KO: They're in their twenties, mostly young male readers. 70% male, 30% female, I think. These young boys don't have money, a girlfriend or a high-powered job yet, so from this kind of inferiority complex, they're really motivated to look for works that interest them. They find a kind of literary escape in these types of novels.
Q: That's interesting. In America, I've heard that boys tend to be "reluctant readers." Do you think Faust's focus on light novels based around the things that boys like, such as manga, anime and video games will find an audience here?
KO: I'd like to give it a try. I believe that readers here will like this. The Taiwan and Korea editions of Faust also attract a mainly male audience. I hope that it will be different for the U.S. (edition), and that more female readers will pick it up.
Q: So how did it happen that you and Del Rey Manga decided to bring Faust to America? Did you approach them or did they approach you?
Mutsumi Miyazaki (Del Rey Manga Director of Licensing & Acquisitions): I reached out to them. As Ota-san was saying, this is an experiment for Kodansha and for Del Rey Manga, and we hope it will be as accepted in the States as it has been in Taiwan and Korea. Faust features a lot of well-known manga artists and writers, such as Yun Kouga (Loveless), so we're hoping that we can draw in this audience that is already interested in these creators' work.
Q: My impression of Faust is that it's considered cutting edge, as magazines go in Japan. Have you featured any stories in Faust that were controversial?
KO: All of the works in Faust are like that. Every time I publish a new volume, I get a lot of praise and criticism. In volume 4, I featured something I called "Faust Literature Boot Camp." I brought five writers to Okinawa and we all stayed there for three nights and four days in a hotel. I locked them up!
I gave them two assignments. One was to write a story about "coming to the big city" as one theme, and for the second assignment, I asked them to write consecutive, related stories, where one writer starts a story, then the next writer continues it, kind of like an "exquisite corpse." We spent 100 working hours together to create the stories.
Q: Wow. So did these authors forgive you for putting them through this experience? (laughs)
KO: (laughs) That's true, it was difficult at times, but the work that came out of this was very beautiful. But one of the writers, Mr. Kitayama told me that over 2 days, he only slept 4 hours.