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Anime Expo 2015: Ben Applegate Talks Vinland Saga, Noragami, & Blowing Everyone’s Mind

Posted on the 15 July 2015 by Kaminomi @OrganizationASG

Anime Expo 2015: Ben Applegate Talks Vinland Saga, Noragami, & Blowing Everyone’s Mind

It’s been a very interesting year for Ben Applegate so far. He’s now the guy that’s in charge of a lot of people in order to bring Kodansha’s books over to the U.S, and well, it’s not easy. As you’ll read below, Dallas Middaugh is now at Crunchyroll, so he’s had to work pretty hard to make up for the loss. So far so good? Find that out, and also learn the biggest surprise seller this year (HINT: The release schedule for this particular title has been moved up), more on Vinland Saga, and using words to hype up an event unprecedented. And yes, Titans appear briefly as well.

Organization ASG: So you went from Senior Editor to Associate Director of Publishing at Penguin Random House, specifically at Kodansha, how’s it been like?

Ben Applegate: It’s been incredibly hectic. Dallas Middaugh was the person at my job, and he was there for a long time. Really built an incredible program with the most amazing team I’ve ever worked with in my professional life. So my main priority is just to preserve that working environment and kind of keep things going because obviously, going from nothing four years ago to being the second largest manga publisher in the U.S. is an incredible achievement. We want to keep that rolling. It’s been a little rough and very busy but I think we’re doing a great job and the two other editors have really stepped up, they’ve been working very hard over the last couple of months, and we’ve got some really exciting announcements coming up this summer.

OASG: Granted it’s early, but how’s AX been for you so far?

Ben: Well, AX is always a lot of fun–

OASG: This isn’t your first time here, eh?

Ben: No, no, my first time at AX was in 2001. I’m an Angeleno, was born and raised here, so I went back when it was in Long Beach, and I’ve went to the convention when it was in Anaheim. I went to the first one in LA, so I’ve been going to this show for a long, long time.

But AX is always a lot of fun. It’s hectic obviously and I don’t tend to like the shows with tons and tons of people, but what makes AX special among those shows like NYCC, SDCC is that it’s all anime focused and Japanese focused, so there isn’t a chance that manga and anime are kind of shunted off to the side like they do at the bigger comic shows, which I think is great.

OASG: You’re talking about how it’s already hectic this year, I believe it may have something to do with Miki Yoshikawa being here? What went into planning her appearance here?

Ben: Well Crunchyroll actually was the driving force behind that. Miki Yoshikawa is the creator of Yamada-Kun and The Seven Witches, we’re really happy she’s here…we brought actually these pins, which says “Supernatural Studies Club,” it’s a little insignia from the book that actually the author re-touched and colored for us, just for this pin, she sent us a special version of this. So we’re excited she’s here.

OASG: Granted it’s only been a couple volumes out in print, but how’s it done for you so far?

Ben: It’s done ok. The anime’s really driving sales, we’ve only gotten the first two volumes out so it’s still really early days. I’m hoping as more people discover the anime they’ll come on and pick up the manga.

OASG: Aside from Attack on Titan, and Fairy Tail, any titles that have been doing well for you guys, any surprises?

Ben: Yeah, the big star of the year has been Noragami, which was kind of a surprise. We ended up going back to reprint Vol 4 even before it came to the stores because orders were so strong. So Noragami’s been doing great, and the second season of the anime hasn’t even started yet!

OASG: Since the Attack on Titan anime ended has there been any change in manga sales since then?

Ben: Well Attack on Titan is always up and down. The manga starting was a big…acceleration in sales that just seemed to keeping going up and up and up and up and up, of course it eventually leveled out. It going on Toonami was another bump, so during the times when nothing much is happening with the franchise, anime wise, sales tend to slow a little bit, but they’re extraordinary steady, and it’s still by far our best selling series, and we’re looking forward to getting the live action films, which FUNimation licensed, and then eventually if the anime continues we would be prepared for that. (Note: It was announced for 2016 release.)

Anime Expo 2015: Ben Applegate Talks Vinland Saga, Noragami, & Blowing Everyone’s Mind

OASG: So you had Vinland Saga, it got suspended, can you discuss why it got indefinitely suspended?

Ben: I can’t go into a lot of detail on that, but what I can tell you is about the future of the series. We had released 5 hardcovers of Vinland Saga, really beautiful books if I do say so myself, and regardless of the fact that I edited them *laughs* but they were very well received by the Japanese side, and the author really loved them, and he helped us out by providing those exclusive Q & A’s that are in the back of those books, which appear nowhere else. Those are just literally us asking him questions and him answering them just for our books. He provided these really thoughtful, insightful answers, that we’re really grateful for. But the sales by the time we got to Volume 5 were starting to flag a bit, and of course with any series, especially seinen series, sales can take a big hit from volume to volume. Vinland Saga is a very long seinen series, which can be a kiss of death sometimes, so Kodansha doesn’t want to see Vinland Saga sales plunge into nothingness and end up just hobbling along.

So what they said was we’re gonna have the license up to the end of book 7, Japanese volume 14, and then we’re gonna review the sales of 6 and 7. If they’re on par with Book 5, if we can maintain the level that we were at with Book 5, we’ll be able to continue the series. If they continue to drop at the levels they have however, there may be a tough decision to make.

It’s very painful for me to be saying these words right now because it is really close to my heart, and I’ve put a ton of sweat into those books, so I really want to see it continue. I think it’s one of the best manga ever written, in my opinion. I’m hoping the fans will come out and support the books.

OASG: Well, what are your honest expectations on the future of the series then?

Ben: I can’t talk about specific sales numbers, but as I said, as long as they continue to perform as Book 5 performed, the most recent book we put out, as long as they keep performing at that level we will be okay. So for everyone who’s buying the series, they just have to keep buying it. That’s all there is to it.

OASG: So Miki Yoshikawa’s here at AX. Surely you have something in the works for NYCC right?

Ben: In terms of a guest?

OASG: Yes, something, anything *laughs*

Ben: Well yeah, we’re gonna have some really exciting announcements at NYCC. Actually, I so want to tell you right now, but there’s one particular announcement that’s going to blow everyone’s minds…and I can’t say a word about it. But it’s crazy, and you will be amazed. As far as I know it’s unprecedented in the American manga industry.

So please look forward to that!

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