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An article posted on Yahoo! Japan earlier this week takes a closer look at the new “Dragon Ball Room” initiative, an interdepartmental collaboration to support and expand upon the Dragon Ball franchise. In particular, section chief Akio Iyoku discusses the natural inception of the team, as well as the challenges they face when marketing to multiple generations of fans in various countries.
At a new publication planning press conference held by Shueisha in October 2016, one section had everyone involved talking, even without a “new publication” being announced. Its name is the “Dragon Ball Room”. Shueisha’s first ever section devoted exclusively to a single franchise, it is supposed to “take this globally popular major property and expand it even further”, but in concrete terms what exactly does this section do (or what will it do)? And how exactly did it come to be? We asked the section chief Akio Iyoku. According to materials distributed at the planning conference, the Dragon Ball Room is a section for handling all mediation between the author and foreign or domestic licensees and helping with editorial supervision and contracts relating to filming and commercialization of Dragon Ball and other works by Akira Toriyama. According to Iyoku, it’s hard to define the exact timeline of when this section was created, but there were long-running discussions at Shueisha over how to manage a point of contact for outside companies when it came to Dragon Ball, which has finished its serialization. As a result, “they decided to establish a new section for contacting Toriyama-sensei and other things to keep the franchise going indefinitely”.
That raises a question. The TV anime Dragon Ball Super currently airing Sunday mornings is a new series based on Akira Toriyama’s original draft, and is supposed to be running in V-Jump (with artwork by Toyotaro). Iyoku’s answer: “Me and everyone else in charge of Dragon Ball Super are on the V-Jump editorial department and also work at the Dragon Ball Room.” Unpacking that, “The Dragon Ball Room is part of the rights department, and was originally conceived as an integration of the V-Jump editorial department and the rights department. Both were doing the same job, so they decided to do it together.”
Iyoku says that one of the Dragon Ball Room’s major roles is “commercialization inspection”. It seems they coordinate with Toei Animation, who make the TV anime, and “handle editorial supervision, official paperwork… as well as merchandise development. We decide the content of games like the arcade game Super Dragon Ball Heroes or the game series Dragon Ball Xenoverse. By taking part in this merchandise development, we try and make the franchise into an even bigger hit.” The 3DS game Dragon Ball Fusions, aimed at a young audience, features fusions of popular characters not seen in the original story. The members of the Dragon Ball Room thought that this would be something children would enjoy. In addition to domestic merchandise development, another major job for this section is expanding overseas. It seems that the basis for what makes a character popular are slightly different overseas than in Japan: “Overseas, ‘strength’ determines popularity”, he says. One particularly large difference between Japan and overseas is the “incredible popularity” of the movie-original character Broli, who appeared as an enemy in three films (one of which featured a clone of him): “He’s got bulging muscles and gives Goku a tough fight, so the Super Saiyan version of Broli is popular.”
2016 marks Dragon Ball‘s 30th anniversary since its debut in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1986. With the passage of 30 years, Iyoku says that among fans, “There’s a generational shift. Parents are from the generation that experienced the series in real time, and I guess you could say they support their children when they get into Dragon Ball. I think it’s precisely because we’ve reached that timeframe that the series is so popular right now.”At the same time, LINE Stamp is getting the “real time generation” buzzing with content like “the ideal boss Freeza” or “Yamcha goes a little too far”. “Recently they’ve become able to consciously make things that have a different style to them, which is another accomplishment of the Dragon Ball Room. Rather than simply making merchandise, we’re at the point where we can plan things out and go create them together.”
The birth of the Dragon Ball Room is sure to stimulate the Dragon Ball property to evolve even further in 2017.