It’s finally here! Our Q&A with UDON Entertainment!
UDON Entertainment, the company known for producing comics and graphic novels based on Capcom properties such as Street Fighter and DarkStalkers, have imported and localized several art books over the years (including some from SEGA franchises) for fans to enjoy. Segalization recently had the opportunity to ask Managing Editor Matt Moylan a few questions to learn more about what goes on in bringing these products over to the West, even regarding art books from games that have not been localized…yet (We’re looking at you Valkyria Chronicles 3).
Segalization: For those unfamiliar with UDON Entertainment, could you tell us about yourselves?
Matt Moylan: UDON is both a publishing company and a creative services house. On the publishing side, we produce original comics, localized manga, and art books (both original and localized). We are probably best known for our Street Fighter comics and our video game art books. On the creative services side, we produce artwork for video games, card games, toys, other people’s comics, films, etc.
SL: Initially, UDON primarily focused on Capcom properties (Street Fighter, Dalkstalkers). In recent years that expanded to include SEGA and Valkyria Chronicles. How did UDON come to choose the Valkyria Chronicles series of artbooks to work on? Are any of your staff members fans of the series?
MM: There were for sure a few Valkyria fans on staff. Personally, I didn’t get into it until after we published the first VC art book, but the original Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 is now one of my favorite games.
There are several factors that go into which books we pursue to localize, and you might be surprised that a game’s Western popularity is not usually the leading criteria. UDON goes after books that we feel have great art first and foremost, and which have a devoted audience even if that audience is small. Even though we’ve published books for huge games like Resident Evil, Street Fighter and Sonic The Hedgehog, UDON’s best-ever selling book is actually Okami: Official Complete Works. Okami is a franchise that has had a tough road in the west, but anyone that did play it pretty much loves it to death, and the art book features tons of gorgeous material.
Valkyria Chronicles is pretty much the same deal. Even though it’s not a AAA selling series, the people that do play it are very devoted fans, and we figured a good amount of those fans would be excited to get the art books.
Another criterion we sometimes consider is how much work is involved in translating the book. Tony’s Artworks from Shining World for example is a book where we knew this spin-off of Shining Force isn’t hugely popular here, and only one of the two games in the book was ever localized. However, the art is wonderful, and the book doesn’t have a ton of text or rough notes, so we decided to give it a shot. That gamble paid off thanks to fan support, and the Shining World collections have become a decently successful series of artbooks for us.
SL: You mentioned that the Valkyria Chronicles books were fun but more demanding than the average UDON book, due to the sheer amount of content. What part of working on the books, Valkyria Chronicles or in general, do you consider being the most time-consuming or work-intensive?
MM: It is tough to say since most aspects of the books took longer than typical UDON books. The translation, the localization/review process, and the graphic design & layout all took longer than normal. Overall, the translation itself probably had the most man hours put in.
SL: How big was the translation team for the Valkyria books? Would you be able to offer up any estimates on how long translations took on the Valkyria books – say, the third one?
MM: The actual translation was done by a single person on all three books, our lead translator Kirie Hayashi. Being of Japanese heritage but raised in North America, Kirie has a solid perspective on both languages and cultures, so she is pretty much the ideal person for this sort of translation. She spent roughly a month on the translation of each book, so we’re talking easily 150+ hours per book.
SL: When translating these books is there any back-and-forth with the licensing team, do companies provide translated game material, or does UDON work alongside with game translators and possibly the original book publishers?
MM: SEGA of America has actually been great in helping us with the books, even though because of the way our licensing deal is set up, their division of SEGA doesn’t receive any financial benefit from UDON’s licensing deal. So it’s fantastic that they are willing to put in so much effort to help us make the best book possible.
For the VC1 art book, after the translation was finished, one of UDON’s editors (who had previously played Valkyria Chronicles) played through the full game again to make sure localized terms were correct in our translation. Specifically one thing we have to watch out for is “Engrishy” translations. As an example, the character “Catherine O’Hara” is listed in the original Japanese book in English as “Kathleen O’Hara”. Understandable since the two names are essentially phonetically the same in Japanese, but it’s important to set a standard and stick with it. Following our editor, SEGA of America did a review of our text using some of the people who worked on the game’s localization, and gave us some more corrections.
For the VC2 artbook, we had a much easier time since we were more familiar with the property. Rather than do a play-through, SOA was able to provide us with localization data (basically spreadsheets filled with Japanese VS English names of characters, weapons, etc). And SOA again did a final review of the book for us.
On the VC3 art book, we were pretty much on our own, since SEGA had no localization files to give us. So VC3 was pretty much our translator Kirie, our associate editor Ash Paulsen, and myself working to make sure the translation was correct and that terminology lined up with the previous games where possible. We can’t guarantee that if we ever do see a localized VC3 game that all things will be the same as our book, but we did the best we could.
We do also get approvals from the Japanese publisher (Enterbrain) on all books. However in a situation like this where SEGA was already directly involved, Enterbrain generally sticks to reviewing the copyright page, the cover, and things like that.
SL: What was the process of securing the publishing rights for the first Valkyria Chronicles artbook like? Was working with SEGA significantly different than working with Capcom? Did the experience of securing the first art book make the process of securing the art books for the Valkyria Chronicles sequels (whether it be relationship with SEGA, knowledge of who to speak to, knowing how long things will take or anything else) any easier?
MM: It’s different for every book, but most often these days we don’t work with the game company to get the initial localization rights. We talk to the Japanese book publisher, who deals with the Japanese game company for us to secure English rights. After a deal is made, we try to connect with the Western localizers of the game to secure localization data if possible.
Capcom is a little different because they publish most of their art books themselves in Japan, so there is usually no separate book publisher to deal with.
SL: After the release of the first Valkyria Chronicles artbook in English, UDON later published the English books for Valkyria Chronicles 2, History of Sonic, and recently Bayonetta. However, there are artbooks for other SEGA properties such as the End of Eternity/Resonance of Fate Design Works and the 25th Anniversary Phantasy Star Visual Chronicle that were published by the same company in Japan as the Valkyria Chronicles books (Enterbrain.) What guides your decision-making process on selecting books to lobby for publishing?
MM: Well I cover some of our decision making process in a question above. We are aware of both books you mentioned, and both seem like they could have potential. We are limited in how many books in total we can afford to take a shot on in a given year. That said, just because we haven’t licensed something yet doesn’t mean we have passed on it for good.
SL: Aside from the previous games mentioned, UDON has also translated other books for games that have not seen a localized released in the West. Alongside Shining Force Feather, Valkyria Chronicles 3 stands out as a notable case. Was obtaining the rights difficult in comparison to the first two games? Was SEGA hesitant to allow it?
MM: It was actually not difficult at all given our track record with the previous VC books, and SEGA gave us no objections.
There have been a few other cases though where a game company has stopped us from licensing a book because the game has not been localized. There’s one book in particular that we have been pursuing for a while, but we haven’t been able to secure the rights as the game developer feels there is still a slim chance it could be localized one day, and doesn’t want inconsistent/spoiled information out there. So really, every game is different in that regard.
SL: Since Valkyria Chronicles 3 was not localized at the time, how different was the translating process? Did the lack of established reference points in the form of an already localized game affect your translating work compared to the previous two Valkyria Chronicles titles?
MM: Like I said above, we were pretty much on our own for the VC3 book, and based our terminology on the previous games. Mostly it just meant looking over things more closely since we didn’t have anything official to compare to.
SL: Releasing the VC3 artbook when the actual game wasn’t localized seemed somewhat of a risk. Looking back, was the book profitable?
MM: We’re definitely happy with the results. The VC3 artbook has so far sold about 85% of what the VC2 artbook sold, which I think is a pretty minor drop considering that the VC2 art book has been on shelves for a year longer.
Actually, the fact that the game was not released probably helped the VC3 book sell a little better than it would have, since it is really the only way to learn about the story in English besides reading fan wikis.
SL: Do you have any plans to pick up the Valkyria Chronicles manga or related SEGA manga?
MM: No plans right now, but we are always looking for new book ideas, so we’d love to hear from fans if there is interest in the VC mangas.
SL: UDON Entertainment has also worked on artbooks and manga for the Vocaloid franchise. Is the experience working on all of the Vocaloid media you’ve done different compared to the media you’ve worked on that are based on video game franchises? Also, is there any Project Diva material in the works for fans to look forward to?
MM: The Vocaloid fans are certainly a different crowd from our usual customers. The fanbase is huge, though it seems they are not yet used to picking up Western Vocaloid merchandise since there is so little of it on the market yet. Our Vocaloid art books have still done well for us, and we think it’ll continue to grow as the franchise grows in the West.
Two of our books do feature some Project DIVA contents, namely Hatsune Miku Graphics: Vocaloid Art and comic Vol.1 (in stores now) and Vol.2 (coming fall 2014). These books are sort of Vocaloid variety books with stories and art background info. Vol.1 has a section on the original Project DIVA that showcases costumes and game info. Vol.2 has a similar section for Project DIVA 2nd.
We’ve also included a few questions from SEGABits readers:
SB: Are you planning on translating the latest Valkyria Chronicles artbook (Valkyria Chronicles: Duel – Visual Book)?
MM: I do have a copy of the VS:Duel book and think it’s got some great art. So it’s always a possibility.
SB: Regarding translating manga’s, a manga called ‘SEGA Hard Girls’ has been released in Japan though I’m not sure if there are any plans for it to be brought to the rest of the world. The series is based around magical girls who represent different SEGA consoles. Is there any chance of seeing UDON translating this and bringing it out over here?
MM: I actually hadn’t heard of this property but it sounds neat! We are releasing an art book for the Hyperdimension Neptunia game series soon, which shares a similar concept. It will be interesting to see if fans support this title, and if they are interested in more books with similar themes.
SB: Now that UDON has worked with SEGA on a number of projects, what are the chances that UDON’s own in house team can create original comics based on SEGA licenses? Capcom’s Street Fighter series was handled really well by UDON, there are plenty of SEGA properties that would make great UDON comics. Panzer Dragoon, Skies of Arcadia, even Virtua Fighter has a storyline which is never fully explained in the games but could make a great comic series. Would it be possible for UDON to ever acquire some SEGA licenses for their own use?
MM: Creating comics is about the most expensive thing that UDON does, and they take the longest to turn a profit or even break even. So we tend to do them only when we are super passionate about the IP (like with Street Fighter). We would have to both be very interested in an IP, and confident there was a fanbase there to support it, before approaching SEGA about creating comics based on their licenses.
We’d like to thank Matt for his time in answering our questions, along with Stacy King for additional support. Fans interested in commenting or asking any additional questions to UDON, please visit their website at www.udonentertainment.com. We’ve also included links to where fans may purchase the aforementioned UDON books: