Katarina of Irodori Comics on translating doujinshi to English

By: Chiaki Hirai September 23, 20200 Comments
Mine-kun describing himself as asexual

Content Considerations: Discussion of adult content

Editor’s Note: The following e-mail Q-and-A interview edited for flow and length.

Irodori Comics launched its all-ages online doujinshi store “Irodori Lite” in early July. The website focuses on selling self-published comics from Japan translated into English. Though primarily known for publishing pornographic doujinshi, Irodori Sakura’s editor Katarina sat down with Anime Feminist to talk about future plans for the company to publish LGBTQ and all-ages doujinshi, as well as the appeal of translating self published comics into English.

Thank you for joining us for this opportunity.

Thank you for letting us take part!

Starting off, what brought on an interest to publish LGBTQ doujinshi in English for Irodori Comics? And how has Irodori Sakura been received by readers?

Irodori Comics’ slogan is “Doujinshi for Everybody,” but that slogan wouldn’t mean much if we only publish hentai. Because the truth is, many people in the West have this mistaken notion that Doujinshi are just pornographic parodies of popular franchises, when in fact, Doujinshi are simply independently produced manga irrespective of content. As such, there is so much more to Doujinshi than just hentai; a significant proportion of doujinshi are actually original, non-hentai works! So keeping true to our slogan, we decided to invest in publishing a wider range of doujinshi that includes these often overlooked works: for all-ages doujinshi, we have the Irodori Aqua imprint; and for BL, Yuri, and LGBTQ+ topics, we have the Irodori Sakura imprint.

Prior to the launch of these two imprints, we tried releasing a few of these titles under our main Comics line, but the response wasn’t as good as we would have hoped.

By launching our all-ages website (irodorilite.com), however we attracted a wider variety of readers, which includes those who might not be comfortable visiting a website with explicit content. We didn’t want to exclude such readers from enjoying doujinshi. And by doing so we also hope it will be easier for some of the readers to recommend our website to their friends as well. Our Irodori Sakura launch titles—two Yuri and one LGBTQ+ doujinshi focusing on asexuality—did considerably well despite the limited amount of marketing we put into it.

In the future, we’d like to take part in conventions and participate in other activities that provide more exposure for our brand and the artists we represent. We have some great works coming up, so it’d be great if more people get to know about us.

Cover of Mine Kun is Asexual by Isaki Uta, two unconnected portraits of a boy and girl.

Who are your readers? Are you attracting more queer readers or any particular demographics?

It’s hard to say which particular demographic we are currently attracting more of at this point in time. We just launched the imprint after all, but once we start rolling out BL releases, we presume that the demographic will align, accordingly. However, we have seen a lot of vocal queer readers leaving positive comments and quote-retweeting our twitter posts, so we’re happy to see that they’re interested in our works.

For example, many people who read “Mine-kun is Asexual” commented on how the story affected them or how they can relate to it. I believe the work made quite an impact, even more so because not many manga feature asexual characters. We honestly can’t stress enough how great of a work it is. It’s something that despite its relative shortness stays with you for a long time and we’re really happy with all of the positive responses we’re getting.

We also saw people commenting on  “Why Does Love Do This To Me!?” and how they’ve gone through something similar as the two women in the work who like each other but struggle to confess because they can’t read each other’s cues.

Cover of Why Does Love Do This to Me by Ayano Ayano Two women lie next to each other head to toe of each other. They both look lonely

How about you, what attracted you to work on heading up Irodori Sakura in the first place? What sorts of works are you looking forward to working on as editor?

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve been involved with creative communities, be it as a writer or as someone who helps artistic friends improve and connect them with work opportunities. I think that this kind of experience is what made doujinshi more interesting to me soon after I started reading manga, since doujinshi allows for a lot more freedom in terms of expression, and I enjoy seeing how authors improve throughout the years. But what really put doujinshi above manga for me was experiencing the culture of doujinshi in Japan first hand.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to stay there for a year, and whenever I had the chance to visit a doujinshi event, there were two things that left a really deep impression on me. First was the resilience of so many authors who are willing to continuously put out works they hold so dear to their heart out on display for others to judge. Second was the sheer amount of quality and entertaining short (or less short) stories that can be found among doujinshi.

At the time, I honestly could not comprehend why no (or almost no) English licenses of doujinshi existed. I knew that there were different policies that publishers had for these kinds of things; but honestly, this was an excuse that I found hard to accept.

The Irodori lite homepage featuring "I Want You to Only Love My Body" a yuri  comic.

Which brings me to Irodori Comics. Just knowing that they published doujinshi was enough for me to want to be involved with them in some way. Once I learned how much the company values its authors, as well how much they involve the authors themselves in the localization process, all the while remaining transparent about reporting royalties, it really made me want to become more intimately involved.

As a consumer, I really appreciate it when companies are transparent about their operations—something which I feel is really lacking in the publishing industry. At one point for a very long time I even stopped buying any localized releases simply because I didn’t know how much of the money I’d spent actually went back to the author.

Irodori Comics stands for a lot of values I hold dear, so I’m really glad that we got to talk right at the time they were establishing Irodori Sakura and needed someone who knows BL doujinshi and could help more with marketing the company, too. That’s where we found our common ground.

My range of likes is really broad, so honestly I’m excited to work on pretty much anything. That being said, less of the commonly found topics in commercial manga and more of openly LGBTQ+ represented characters is definitely something I’m looking forward to the most. Personally, I’d love to see us experimenting with more obscure genres and themes, but we’ll have to see how many of such works we’ll be able to find and secure.

A screenshot of Irodori light's selection of Aqua titles and genres.

What sorts of additional works do you think Irodori Lite will focus on in the future?

A lot of our current Aqua titles are rom coms, so we’d like to try and branch out and publish other genres, including more obscure titles. As for our all-ages Sakura works, based on the response for works like “Mine-kun is Asexual” and “Why Does Love Do This To Me!?”, we are interested in looking at more titles that touch on identities, confronting feelings, and relationships.

Of course, we’re always open to suggestions and recommendations from people interested in a particular author or work. If so, please feel free to contact us via DM on any of our Twitter accounts, or send us an email at [email protected].

How are you identifying new titles to translate? Do you have any plans to ensure a diversity of topics and stories are covered?

To be perfectly honest, the last thing we want to do is take part in “performative allyship” and brand ourselves as a “LGBTQ+ positive publisher.” Which is why we’re trying to be really careful when attaching the LGBTQ+ tag.

Irodori Sakura IS an imprint under Irodori Comics after all. So a lot of our works, even under the Sakura imprint, will be very spicy and full of smut. I mean, we just recently announced a couple of authors we work with that I’m pretty sure would fall under the “my fave is problematic” category on your website. This is probably why authors who draw smutty BL/Yuri doujinshi feel more comfortable working with us precisely because we openly handle sexual content.

Cover of This is Love Part 1 by Ziki Masaya. Two men in business suits stand next to each other. One has a soft smile, the other looks gruff, but clean shaven.

Works such as “Mine-kun is Asexual” and “This is Love” (Ziki Masaya – Releasing in September), on the other hand, just so happened to be stories with asexual/demisexual representation. Truth be told, however, we did not actively go looking for such works, but this isn’t to say we haven’t tried.

I’ve read enormous amounts of doujinshi in the last half year filtering out content that would be interesting (“This is Love” was a somewhat accidental find that I’m still screaming about). However, Japanese authors do not have a habit of tagging their works to the extent that western authors do, so finding works with specific content can be challenging. And when we do find it, securing a license depends a lot on whether or not authors have a desire to expand their readership outside of Japan. We are working with people after all. If we were to work with Japanese publishers, we would only need to partner up with one of them to get access to all works from various authors signed with that publisher. However, since we work with each individual artist directly, this automatically prolongs the time we need to negotiate and clear up any uncertainties  or doubts authors might have. So it may take awhile before we’re able to build a fully diverse and balanced lineup. And although we have no plans of shying away from spicy content in the future, as a small team, we still have the freedom and flexibility to experiment with different titles as well.

What is the biggest challenge in attracting English readers to buying doujinshi?

“Education” is probably the steepest hill to overcome. For one, a lot of people don’t know what doujinshi is, so they can be confused as to why a 50-page doujinshi is priced the same as a 200-page manga. As another example, a one-month subscription to futekiya (an online BL manga publisher) is roughly the same price as buying just one or two of our doujinshi.

Furthermore, most people don’t know how royalties work. Commercial publishers usually pay single digit royalties to authors and the author gets 9% or less of the sales price for domestic sales in Japan. When it comes to foreign publishing, there are many authors who get around 4% or less of the sales price, and there are even authors who don’t get any royalties for foreign sales at all (the fineprint in contracts often only give author royalties for domestic sales). The author’s cut is so small because there are many distribution platforms that charge an arm and a leg. While there are reasonable distributors that charge around 30%, the majority of the popular platforms that a lot of the Western fanbase use to buy manga charge around 50% ~ 83% as a “ distribution fee.” Therefore many Japanese publishers lower or remove the author’s cut in order to turn a profit.

With Irodori Comics, we really want to make this viable for the authors too, so more than half of the sales price goes directly back to the author. This is something authors really appreciate when they work with us.

Cover of "I Want You to Only Love My Body by Namaniku. A blonde woman manhandles another woman in office worker attire who looks nervous.

And why should fans of manga, or anime, take an interest in doujinshi?

Purchasing doujinshi is one of the best ways to directly support authors.

Doujinshi are also very creative. With commercial works, authors are pressured by the magazine editor to make works in a way that would maintain the manga’s weekly ratings, or adhere to the magazine’s “style.” Since there are no publishing editors for Doujinshi, the author has total creative freedom when making their stories. This allows them to take a lot of risks, and in the theme of LGBTQ+ works, write stories about topics that might not necessarily “sell” as a commercial manga.

What do you hope is in store for the English language doujinshi market in the future?

In terms of Irodori Sakura, I hope that there will be increased interest in the doujinshi we publish so that we could justify printing some books. We really want to print them, but we are a very small company with only a few members. So unlike other publishers, we can’t do physical releases and digital releases at the same time (printing doujinshi costs thousands of dollars). But if the digital sales are good and there’s a lot of demand for the works, we can have some limited-run prints for fans to collect.

I also hope that the English language doujinshi market will expand in general. In the long term, market expansion should enable various authors to have their work exposed overseas and also give them more control over their financial independence. It could also offer more of a direct contact between overseas fans and Japanese authors, which I think should be fairly fun for both sides.

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