Haikasoru celebrated our two-year anniversary last month, but there’s another anniversary to celebrate…and it’s today! There years ago, on August 4th 2008, I reported for work here at VIZ for the first time. I had no idea what to expect; indeed, I didn’t even know that the imprint I’d been hired to edit had a name yet. Masumi Washington, my supervisor, revealed it—”Haikasoru!”—to me only after lunch.
I’d moved to California from Boston just three days before, and was little prepared. The only piece of furniture I had was a small two-seat couch I had ordered. My dog and I slept on that for a week until my bed arrived. I also had no pants, as I’d had to pack very quickly and had just shoved everything in my dresser into shipping boxes, rather than in my luggage for the flight over. I had no local bank, and with the expense of moving and shipping, just enough money to get to work and back. (Friends fed me for the first two weeks.) I’d also never had a full-time office job before—I was a full-time freelance writer and editor with some small reputation in science fiction, and I had experience in translation, albeit from the Korean and German. Occasionally though, things break out in favor of the “weird” candidate. It actually helped that I wasn’t steeped in anime and manga; the higher-ups wanted someone primarily interested in SF as opposed to Japanese popular culture specifically. So what if I couldn’t use a multi-line phone! (As it turns out, nobody ever calls me anyway.)
The greatest challenge was that in late July 2008, just as I was making my plan to take this job, the global economy shuddered and nearly collapsed utterly. I remember being in the airport, waiting for my ride to my new apartment which I’d rented sight unseen, and watching CNN. I wondered if I’d be stranded in California without a job or means to head back East if the banking crisis took down the already weak publishing sector. I still joke that, as far as I know, I’m the only person in publishing who actually got a job rather than lost one that summer.
Launching a new imprint is difficult in the best of times. Launching one into the teeth of a global economic crisis, and without any popular writers already known to Anglophone audiences, was an immense challenge. It continues to be one, of course. Kindle and other ebook formats have changed all the rules, and in the last eight months over 600 bookstores in the US have just melted into air. We also had to shake the early impression that Haikasoru was another “light novel” imprint—we publish some light novels, but also more mainstream SF—and we had to win the Anglophone SF audience over to a different mode of genre. It’s easy enough to get a lifelong fan to read a single example of Japanese science fiction. Our true task was to convince SF fans that reading that one title wasn’t sufficient for them to say, “Ah, so now I know what Japanese SF is like. I never need look at any such books again.” And we had to do this while competing for shelf space, differentiating our books from manga, creating an ebook strategy, and making sure that we represented Japanese culture and our Japanese authors appropriately. That meant resisting pressure to “whitewash” the covers of our books by keeping Japanese faces off of them, among other things.
And it’s been working. Some of our books have captured a dual SF and Japanese pop culture audience. We’ve had award nominations, like the Shirley Jackson award nomination for ZOO, and victories, like the Special Citation for the Philip K. Dick award for Harmony. I’ve been nominated for the Hugo award for Best Editor, Long Form. I’ll find out how badly I’ve lost the vote in just two weeks! SF readers are taking to our titles, especially the hard SF that’s heavily influenced by classic science fiction. Our readers from anime and manga fandom are endlessly supportive; we couldn’t do it without you guys!
Just how far have we pushed into the mainstream in just three years? Today, MTV Geek News is running an exclusive excerpt of our latest title, Good Luck, Yukikaze! From zero to MTV in three years? I’ll take it!
It’s been a great three years. I hope we’ll have many more together! If you like our books, tell your friends. If you’re eager for a little more leisure reading, check out our books. We’ll continue to experiment and explore every permutation of Japanese SF we can find, and we have a great new slate of titles for 2012 that we can’t wait to show you. Keep in touch, and happy reading. Remember, the future is Japanese!