With America's ever-growing appetite for manga, anime and video games, there's now more Japanese pop culture joy than ever. But anyone who's been to Japan knows that what we're seeing in the U.S. is just the tip of the iceberg. If you know where to look and who to ask, there's a wide world of way-out manga, music, film and fashion in Japan that would blow your mind if you had a chance to experience it for yourself.
That's where Patrick Macias and Izumi Evers, pop culture experts, authors and co-owners of jaPRESS come in. Residing in and reporting from San Francisco and Tokyo, Macias and Evers have made it their mission to act as cross-cultural ambassadors by introducing the coolest and newest bits of Japanese pop culture to America.
In 2007, jaPRESS joined forces with Last Gasp to publish Fumiyo Kouno's universally acclaimed graphic novel, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. Kouno's bittersweet tale of two girls dealing with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima won a place on numerous Best of 2007 lists, including New York Magazine's Top 5 Comics of 2007 list, our Best New Manga Readers Poll, and Best New Manga of 2007 list.
Teaming up with Chronicle Books, Evers and Macias also put out Japanese Schoolgirl Inferno, an outrageously fun guide to the fashions, makeup and mating habits of Gothic Lolitas, Ganguro gals and Fruits fashionistas prowling the streets of Tokyo. jaPRESS is also working with Marui Department store to bring more of Japan's top designers to international fashion fans.
Macias is also the editor in chief of Otaku USA, a bimonthly magazine devoted to manga, anime, Japanese TV and film, video games and music. On top of all that, Macias also frequently posts photos, videos and fashion tidbits at his blog, An Eternal Thought in the Mind of Godzilla.
Between trips to Tokyo and San Francisco, Macias and Evers took time out from their jet-setting schedule to answer a few questions about their recent and upcoming projects.
Q: First off, thank you for agreeing to chat with me! I know you've both got a lot on your plates.
When I look at the list of your past and current projects, I'm impressed by the variety and depth here. You've written several books and were instrumental in the publication of critically-acclaimed manga including Fumiyo Kouno's Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms and Junko Mizuno's Pure Trance. Between the two of you, you've done guest stints on Japanese TV shows, you write a column for Japan Times, you're consulting with a Japanese fashion company, and are now editing Otaku USA magazine. Phew. Did I miss anything?
Patrick Macias: Um... I do a bunch of writing for Japanese language publications too, like columns for magazines like STUDIO VOICE and ASCII Weekly, and I'm working on a new book just for the Japanese market.
Q: Are you able to share what this new book is about?
Patrick Macias: The book's working title is Fierce Legend of American Otaku People. It's going to be a collection of portraits and interviews with US fans of Japanese pop culture, both old and new. There will be some well-known and successful people in there, along with a cross section of other fans that I feel deserve "legendary" status. With a little luck and lots of hard work, it should be out in Japan by the end of the year.
Q: How did you get into becoming a Japanese pop culture expert? What first turned you on to Japanese culture, and what made you decide to pursue this as a full-time job?
Patrick Macias: I liked Godzilla movies when I was a kid, and I liked to write. I just kept drifting in that direction. I wound up working in the editorial department at VIZ during the Pokemon boom and the company published my very first books beginning in the late '90s. I started going to Tokyo regularly around the same time and started doing TV and newspaper/magazine columns over there. I'm just as baffled as anyone else how I wound up here!
Q: What is it about Japanese comics, anime and fashion that fascinates you so much? What makes it unique compared to say, American pop culture?
Patrick Macias: I'm really just a huge geek. I like junk like old Marvel Comics and Republic movie serials as much as Ultraman or anything Osamu (Tezuka) ever did. So it's not really like I consciously chose brand of pop culture over another. I'm rarely ever flat-out bored as a result.
Q: Can you talk a bit about what jaPRESS is? What kind of projects do you work on?
Patrick Macias: jaPRESS is Izumi Evers and Patrick Macias. We originally met at Viz about 10 years ago and we worked on a lot of projects there together, including the magazine Pulp and the book TokyoScope. Izumi started out as a graphic designer, but eventually moved into more behind the scenes work like talent management and overall project coordination.
Nowadays, she does both for jaPRESS: designing and handling the administrative side of the company. I'm usually just writing or editing something. Between us, we're watching where the trends are going in Japan, and obsessively looking into the past for what we might have missed.
Izumi originally incorporated jaPRESS in 2005 to publish Junko Mizuno's Pure Trance outside of Japan. Pure Trance was a little more adult than most manga publishers were willing to take a chance on, and Junko's art style was a little bit different from other manga-ka out there. But the title was very suitable for Last Gasp, so that's how we started working with them.
Q: So if you had to describe what jaPRESS is and what you do in a sentence, what would you say?
Patrick Macias: jaPRESS creates pop culture related content for books, magazines, and the Internet and also works as a consultant for a variety of clients in Japan and in the United States.
BEHIND THE MANGA: TOWN OF EVENING CALMQ: Compared to your other projects, which are hip, kitschy or edgy, Town of Evening Calm is a much more subtle and wistful work. What brought it to your attention, and why did you decide to publish it?
Izumi Evers: I first heard about the book's good reputation from some people in the Japanese publishing industry. Based on what I heard, I figured it would be a title with universal appeal, not just something for Japanese readers only.