By Tom Speelman
The writer Greg Hatcher once called our current age of comics “the Golden Age of reprints.” Whether digitally, physically or both, the current boom period for comics has also resulted in huge chunks of long out-of-print material or classic foreign comics that have never before been translated being made available to US audiences for the first time.
Chief among that is manga, but that has a particular challenge. Given the polished manga-to-anime pipeline that sees 90% of all manga released get an anime adaptation, and with the rise of global, legal simulcasting, coupled with the fact that its American audience is overwhelmingly young, American manga publishers overwhelmingly tend to focus on the new and shiny over the classics.
That’s not entirely true, of course—Drawn & Quarterly, Seven Seas Entertainment (who, full disclosure, I freelance for), Dark Horse and many others reprint classic manga all the time, many with new translations or adaptations. Now Viz Media has gotten into the classics game with a long-wanted reprint: Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura.
The first blockbuster hit from the legendary cartoonist, Yatsura ran from 1978 to 1987 in the magazine Weekly Shonen Sunday. Spawning a hit franchise including an anime, multiple films and scores of merchandise, the series invented the “harem” comedy, following the perverted, dimwitted Ataru, his long-suffering girlfriend Shinobu and the crafty, flirtatious alien princess Lum as they bumble through high school hijinks, time travel, encounters with magical imps and more.
Viz previously published the series in the 1990s as Lum and The Return of Lum, but put chapters out of order and eliminated several others, ultimately only releasing 9 volumes before letting the license lapse. But last summer, at the same SDCC that saw Takahashi finally make it into the Eisner Hall of Fame, Viz announced that they’ll be re-releasing Yatsura in 2-in-1 volumes under their VIZ Signature imprint, complete with a new translation.
Ahead of the first volume’s physical and digital release on February 19th, I spoke to editor Amy Yu about why the series came back now, why the time was right to do so, and her own history with Takahashi.
Tom Speelman: How did you get attached to this project? Were you familiar with Yatsura before?
Amy Yu: I’ve always been a Rumiko Takahashi fan, so I was excited when my supervisor approached me with this project. I’d known about Lum from seeing various merchandise with her across the years, but I hadn’t read any of the Urusei Yatsura graphic novels prior to working on this series. Part of the reason was simply that it wasn’t easy to find the English copies.
Speelman: What’s your reading history with Takahashi as a creator?
Yu: The very first manga I ever read was Ranma 1/2 back in high school. (I’d only read and collected American comic books like X-Men prior to that.) I ended up loving that series for all the comedy and joy it brought me, and I consider it my gateway manga. Some of my favorites of Takahashi Sensei’s work include Inuyasha and Mermaid Saga.
Speelman: This is a book that’s long been sought after legally and was published by VIZ in the past. Why did you think the time was right to bring it back?
Yu: Rumiko Takahashi was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2018, and she won the Grand Prix at FIDB Angoulême this year. I’m excited and happy that Takahashi Sensei is getting prestigious and worldwide recognition right now, and I think the timing works perfectly in introducing new fans to her seminal work.
Speelman: What’s the actual process of working with the new translator and letterer been like? Does it draw out the process and make it less rushed since it’s a two-in-one collection?
Yu: In my experience, two-in-one collections with all-new translations are actually more difficult to put together and more time-consuming than a regular graphic novel. It’s similar to putting together a textbook because there are extra pieces to keep track of and check against. I have a very hard-working team on this series, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to work through certain challenges together.
Speelman: From what Amazon listings indicate, this appears to be a quarterly release. What made you determine that was the best idea as a release schedule?
Yu: Production-wise, it makes sense because you don’t want to possibly compromise quality by rushing at a back-breaking speed to get these massive books done.
Speelman: This is the first real classic manga title VIZ has published in quite some time. If Yatsura does well, can we expect to see more classics come back?
Yu: I hope so! I personally can’t guarantee anything like that, of course, but those types of numbers would be incredibly encouraging for acquiring similar types of classic series.
The first 2-in-1 volume of Urusei Yatsura from Viz is available now.
Tom Speelman is a writer/editor/proofreader based out of Lansing, IL. He writes for The Beat, Comic Book Resources, Polygon and other outlets and has edited, adapted and proofed dozens of manga and novels for Seven Seas Entertainment, J-Novel Club and other clients.