All Naruto, All The Time
If you've ever seen a BookScan sales chart for graphic novels and trade paperbacks in bookstore chains, you might have noticed a certain little book called Naruto. Specifically, the fact that every time a new volume shows up it dominates the sales charts. Or, for that matter, months when there isn't a new volume and it's still sticking around and outselling everything else publishers try to combat it with.
Well, starting this fall, Viz Media is going to see if they can give the sales charts whiplash, releasing twelve volumes of Naruto between September and December 2007. Now that's a lot of Naruto. For all the talk about DC Comics successfully releasing all 52 issues of their weekly 52 series, in some ways I find this more impressive with 12 200-page books hitting the stands over the course of 17 weeks. The idea is that starting with volume 28, the series jumps ahead several years and the characters are older and more mature, so Viz wants to hurry along the publication schedule to pick up at that point in the saga as of January 2008. So it makes sense in terms of a way to accelerate the publication schedule.
The question is, though, what will this do to sales?
Right now a volume is released approximately once every three months, versus the planned thrice every month schedule for the end of the year. Will this much Naruto cause fans to step away deciding that even at a $7.95 price-tag that it's just too much? While I've seen fans step away from a series because the frequency was so erratically slow that they decided they no longer cared, can a deluge do the exact same thing?
Don't get me wrong. Naruto's a fun series, about a trio of young ninjas who are in training. There's the young heroic man with a secret past, who is admirable and virtuous. There's the pretty young woman who is better than she gives herself credit for, and secretly in love with the young heroic man. Then there's the screwball comic relief who seems to somehow always get through by the skin of his teeth. Well, that screwball is in fact our hero Naruto. Instead of cheering along the super-slick and talented guy, you're getting the silly, trying hard person that everyone else in the series looks down their nose upon, and I think that's just great.
But that's a lot of Naruto. A whole lot of Naruto. I'll be impressed if sales stay up. I have a nasty feeling they're going to end up sliding down more than a bit. I can't help but wonder if it may even be looked back on as a nail in the coffin of the series as a sales juggernaut that can't be stopped, because there's a good chance enough people will walk away that it won't recover.
WIth a hit cartoon, I suspect there will always be good Naruto sales so long as the show is airing, and this is probably pessimism on my part. After all, Viz Media is referring to this event in the press release as "Naruto Nation" and yeah, I can see it. We're all slaves to Naruto, after all. Some of us just don't realize it yet. And if you've got a free moment or two, check out a volume of the manga or an episode of the animated series. It's time to cheer on the slacker ninja.