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Add a Double Threat to your Lineup

By Oliver Chin     -

Reprinted with permission by the author



Increasing fan participation requires calculated investment. For example, this year Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners garnered global acclaim by adding the multi-talented Ichiro Suzuki to their roster. The first Japanese utility player in U.S. baseball history, Suzuki had a .353 career batting average for Japan's Orix Blue Wave, where he won seven consecutive Pacific League batting titles. However before they landed Suzuki, the Mariners first had to purchase from Orix the right to negotiate with him for a fee of $13.125 million. Then the Mariners signed him to a $21 million, three-year contract.



Though the Mariners needed a left-handed hitting outfielder, they spent big overseas because the team is owned by Nintendo. The Mariners' majority owner is Nintendo's leader Hiroshi Yamauchi. Its CEO is Howard Lincoln, the former head of Nintendo's US division. Amidst an influx of worldwide baseball talent into America's pastime, Nintendo cannily confirmed that sports are like video games. Both are billion $ entertainment markets which know no national boundaries. Just as his predecessors Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Pikachu, Suzuki is the latest hot Japanese talent that Nintendo has brought westward. Their secret for future growth is seeding new audiences to be more receptive to their products, and Nintendo has cross-pollinated their "gaming" markets on both sides of the Pacific. In a revealing comment, Suzuki said, "I'm very familiar with Nintendo. I've been using Nintendo games since I was a kid (Seattle Union Record, 12/01/00)."



Baseball mirrors how the US comics market also has expanded its mindset, stock, and customer base to accept anime and manga. In this case, many dynamic stories are available in multiple formats, from comics to videos, and evolve into other guises, from graphic novels and DVDs. They can be introduced in one version but prove enduringly popular (and profitable) in another. Examples abound, so today I focus on two titles that can help retailers foster loyal customers for both print and video products.



Gunsmith Cats by Kenichi Sonoda



GSC is a breezy panoply of beautiful heroines and ham-fisted hit-men, and lethal weapons and loaded hot rods. Chicago hosts another vibrant crime series. Brunette bounty hunter Rally Vincent and Minnie-May Hopkins own a store in the Windy City called "Gunsmith Cats" which is a gun shop with a shooting range. Sharp shooting Rally and explosives-happy sidekick defend their establishment and honor to the chagrin of criminals and cops alike.



The author does his homework on the hardware and it shows. In Japan, citizens cannot own guns or drive cars fast down its small, crowded streets. Therefore, Sonada indulges in these forbidden vices, and lovingly renders classic automobiles and modern automatics with photo-realistic flair. Rally handles her favorites, the Shelby Cobra GT 500 roadster and Czech CZ75 handgun, with equal aplomb. With mature themes and violence, GSC is aimed squarely at adults.



A character designer of anime as Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force, Sonada previously had created his own limited series titled Riding Bean, about the getaway driver Bean Bandit and his Chicago partner Rally. In his new series GSC, Rally became the protagonist who subsequently reforms the infamous Bean. Dark Horse started publishing the English comics in May 1995, and the current comic plotline has Rally dueling her menacing nemesis Goldie. Since GSC just "ended last year in Japan, our final series issue will be this August, and we're hoping to wrap the series with special in October," hinted Dark Horse's Shawna Erwin-Gore. Dark Horse has licensed new action figures and statues, and the eighth graphic novel, Mr. V, is scheduled for release in October 2001.



On the animation front, ADV Films has transformed their three part OVA series from VHS (originally released in 1995-1996) into a slick DVD volume. Entitled "Bulletproof", the disc contains a special "Making Of" segment that reveals how the creators actually toured Chicago's streets to ensure cinematic authenticity. This inside peek adds extra 35 minutes to the episodes' 90 minutes, where Rally and Minnie May tangle with the ATF, a crazy Russian assassin who abducts Minnie, and hostile gun-runners.



Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka



"No one knows his name or true identity, except that he is a Japanese. However, his surgical skills are known to be the work of God." The conclusion of 'Where Is The Doctor!', the first episode published in 1973.



Like a modern pirate who wields a scalpel instead of a sword, Black Jack is a renegade surgeon with superhuman skill. Lacking an official license, he operates outside the law, but finds himself drawn back into society to confront the darkness in human nature. The last hope for wealthy patients desperately seeking a cure, he names his own price. Too embarrassed to be professionally associated with him, his clients don't realize that they expose both their body and soul for diagnosis. A champion for the weak, Black Jack is accompanied by his mischievous assistant Pinoko, whom he rescued as malformed growth from her adult twin and amazingly reconstructed into the synthetic body of a 5 year old girl.



Created by Japan's 'God of Comics" Osamu Tezuka, "Black Jack triggered the comic paperback boom, which currently rules Japan's publishing world," summarized Manga Entertainment's Danielle Garnier. "Ten million copies are now in print and the aggregate number of copies published to date is over 35 million." Tezuka, the mastermind of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Adolf, drew upon his own medical training. In the two graphic novels available from Viz (vol. 1 is 15.95, " Two-Fisted Surgeon" Vol. 2 is 16.95), the comics combine tragedy and comedy. It alternates between the horror of the grotesque and slapstick humor, while examining the thin line between selfishness and selflessness. A true survivor, BJ even operated on himself in the Australian outback while fending off wild dingoes!



In April 2001, Manga Entertainment published the first movie-length feature on DVD (90 minutes, $29.95). Here, during a future Olympics, a new strain of "superhumans" shatter world records. But as quickly as they dominate other fields, they contract a mysteriously fatal disease. Summoned to uncover its cause, Black Jack immediately is embroiled in a scientific conspiracy, infected by the plague, and is forced to find a cure. Compared to the manga, this feature has more detailed medical references and graphic scenes but less introspective levity. In 1997, Central Park Media released the six VHS series " Clinical Charts" (50 minutes, $19.95 per volume) which episodically tracks our hero as he counteracts a deadly island virus, operates on four girls, saves the life of a rebel politician, prevents the suicide of a movie star, cures a man with hallucinating visions, and exposes the demon within a dying princess. And you thought George Clooney in ER was thrilling!



Though representing different genres, Gunsmith Cats and Black Jack both reliably entertain fans and foster a deserved loyalty. With some wise draft picking, retailers affordably can add these and other switch-hitting titles to draw repeat customers.

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