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The Man Behind Seven Seas:
Getting to Know Jason DeAngelis

by Shannon Fay

Jason DeAngelis launched Seven Seas Entertainment in 2004, and hasn't slept since. But Jason was into anime and manga long before setting sail onto the world manga scene, living in Japan and working as a manga translator. Now he creates his own series and oversees the production of many more world manga titles. Come with us as we sit down with the captain of Seven Seas!

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. When did manga go from being a hobby to something you do for a living?

Jason DeAngelis: Well, I've been reading manga ever since I was 19. That's when I first started studying Japanese, and there were no English translations of manga at the time (well, except for Akira, maybe.) Then, I figured out something amazing -- I could actually earn money for doing something that I loved: translating manga! That was about four years ago, when I translated the first few volumes of Berserk and Gundam Seed. After that, when I founded Seven Seas, manga became my full time career. The truth is I don't really distinguish between career and hobby. I'm doing something that's great fun and I love and I'm lucky enough that it happens to be my job.

Do you still enjoy anime and manga as a hobby, or does working with it all day make it harder to enjoy it in your spare time?

JD: What's that term you used? "Spare time??" Not familiar with it.

Well, I live and breathe manga as part of my daily (and middle-of-the-nightly) work schedule. But when it's time to decompress, believe it or not, I actually read American comics. There's something about seeing grown men running around in tights that somehow sets the mind at ease… I don't get to watch much anime unfortunately. There's only so much entertainment a human mind can take in one day.

What are some series that you like?

JD: I'm still a huge fan of the Berserk manga. I also like Genshiken. Dragon Head is amazing and is one of the most powerful series I've ever read. I also like yuri. (Hehe…who doesn't?) I am watching one anime series which I'm really enjoying right now called Zero's Familiar. It's adorable.

You take on a lot of different jobs at Seven Seas, to say the least. Could you tell us about the different responsibilities you have and how you split your time between them?

JD: It's true -- I'm chief cook and bottle washer. Basically, I do whatever needs to be done. Besides deciding the macro direction of the company overall, I'm down in the trenches overseeing most of the creative decisions. But that's the spirit of our company and the great people who work here. We all wear many hats and do whatever we must to get the job done and ensure the best quality possible.

When did you first become aware of OEL manga? What made you decide to have Seven Seas focus on world manga, rather than translated series?

JD: Actually, before starting Seven Seas, I'd spent very little time in the manga section in US bookstores - since I tend to only read manga in Japanese. So initially I had no awareness of OEL manga. After founding Seven Seas, I realized that there were maybe three OEL titles already out there by Tokyopop. We proceeded to create our four launch titles and released them. As to why we chose to focus on original titles as opposed to translated ones, there are two reasons. 1), creating manga was my passion. It just seemed so much more fun and creative than merely importing them. And 2), I had no connections with Japanese publishers at the time and had no idea how to start licensing. I figured that stuff out later.

I know you've lived in Japan before, but have you had a chance to go there since Seven Seas was created? Has there been any change in how world manga is perceived there?

JD: I go to Japan several times a year to meet with publishers. I love going back; it's like returning home for me. I'm not sure about other OEL, but ours have always been praised by the Japanese. From the outset, they've been extremely supportive of our efforts and said that our books look like they were made in Japan. If there's been any change, it's that OEL is no longer surprising to them. It's becoming rather "normal" and I think many people realize that OEL multimedia hits are inevitable.

The light novel imprint is exciting news, especially to avid readers like myself. Right now I find books like Boogiepop next to manga at my local bookstore, rather than in the young adult section or sci-fi/fantasy. Do you plan to target the books at anime fans, or young adults?

JD: I'm really excited about our light novel imprint too! We'll be targeting manga fans and plan to sell our light novels in the manga section in stores, as opposed to other sections.

How do you decide which novels to translate?

JD: Obviously, we choose what we think will sell, but it's hard to say, since the market for light novels isn't as clear-cut as manga; it's pretty much a new thing. In fact, we're the first company to be launching a dedicated light novel line, releasing them in their original pocket-sized format. We do have a great line-up and I expect an excellent fan response. If so, we'll bring over lots more!

Unlicensed manga and anime can gain a fandom in North America through fan subs and scanslations, but a novel is pretty much only accessible to someone fluent in Japanese. How do you attract a fan base for a novel before its release in English?

JD: We try to choose titles that are already well-known, like Pita-ten, Shinigami no Ballad or Strawberry Panic, or we choose titles that we think are interesting enough to take a chance on, like Kanokon, for example. It has a certain art style and content that should appeal to fans of Fruits Basket and Negima. In terms of attracting a fan base, though, in the end it's all about word-of-mouth. If the material is great, it will stand out on its own and find its audience. The small format that we're publishing these books in is frankly stunning, and it will definitely attract fans who may not have heard of the property otherwise.

A large number of anime are based on light novels, including Boogiepop and the more recent series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. With Seven Seas already involved in different mediums like print, web comics, and flash animation, is there any chance of it entering the anime business and licensing the anime adaptations of the novels you're releasing? The Shinigami no Ballad anime looks beautiful.

JD: Sure. When do we start?

Now that Seven Seas has begun translating manga from Japan and No Man's Land is being translated into French, is there any plans to license world manga from non-English speaking countries for release in English?

JD: No concrete plans, but if the material is high quality and will appeal to fans in our market, then we're open to it. We already work with artists from all over the world.

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