MiKandi Japan Talk About Feeding The West’s Hunger For More Visual Novels

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MiKandi Japan is one of the latest in a line of publishers working with Japanese studios to bring their games over to the west. In fact, MiKandi recently announced that its first localization project is to be XERO’s vampire visual novel Libra of the Vampire Princess.

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Siliconera was able to speak to MiKandi Japan’s project manager and promotion guy, James and Jonathan respectively, about why they’ve decided that now is a good time to get into this type of business.


James and Jonathan speak about the origins of MiKandi, what XERO is all about and its previous visual novels, as well as the risks inherent in bringing a new and relatively unknown visual novel over from Japan to the west.


First off, could you explain what MiKandi (US) and MiKandi Japan are all about? What’s the difference between the two?


MiKandi (US) is the “ultimate Android marketplace for NSFW apps” and MiKandi Japan is their brand in Japan! MiKandi Japan is located in one of Japan’s popular otaku hangouts: Akihabara! We are a gateway for both foreign and Japanese game, manga, and anime studios to bring their projects to and from Japan.


James (MKJ Project Manager): Thanks for having us here at Siliconera. Just for the record, MiKandi Japan is not MiKandi’s (US) attempt at a brute force invasion into Japan! In fact, MKJ grew from Japan first, before forming like Voltron with MiKandi.


I’m the project manager for “Libra” and also one of MiKandi Japan’s owners. Originally from the US, I used to work as a script supervisor in the film industry. Reading stories is in my blood, vampire blood ;), so I’m naturally attracted to visual novels. In 2011 I was living in a Tokyo share house and ended up starting a gravure video and moe media company with one of my Japanese housemates.


Since then, we’ve been forging friendships and collaborating with many Japanese video, comic, and game makers. In 2014 we were talking to the owner of MiKandi (US) about bringing our Japanese partner’s content to the west. He loved the idea because apparently some of the most searched terms in their app store were coming from western fans of Japanese otaku culture. Then, as that relationship started to bloom, he offered to let us adopt the MiKandi brand. Hopefully I didn’t ramble on too long, but that’s the real story of how MiKandi Japan came into existence.


Jonathan (MKJ Promotion): I’m just here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and… well, you know the rest.


Why are you reaching out to a western audience with Libra of the Vampire Princess and why now?


Jonathan: Because it’s a brand new game (released October 30, 2015), so in the case of timing, we wanted to bring something fresh and current to the visual novel community. That’s one of the exciting points about this game, and by the way it`s already getting good reviews in Japan and selling out in shops. It’s also ranking in the top 10 for the 2015 Moe Awards.


James: Eight years ago XERO had a vampire title called Draculius. That was popular in Japan, and they even found the game being discussed on some websites overseas. Around that time, the attraction to moe characters started to grow, so their games went in the same direction. Recently though, the trend has returned where Japanese players are looking for games with heavier stories.


With Libra, XERO has revisited the strong elements that made Draculius so likeable. This is not a sequel to Draculius, but more like a cuter sister adventure game. There’s plenty of moe, but also deeper story development and chuunibyou battle scenes. Plus, vampires which is a concept that was imported into Japan, right? Producer MOKA thinks the essence of their world has a more western base, so maybe seeing how Japanese people tell a vampire story is quite interesting for westerners. He hopes English speaking players can really enjoy this game!


Jonathan: Actually, the Japanese edition of Libra has already received an honest review at Fuwanovel from an English speaking member. Pretty cool, right? We were really happy to see a positive review from someone who is known in the community to often be critical and really rip a game apart if he doesn’t like it.


I think Producer MOKA’s instincts are spot on about vampires being popular overseas. We could go on and on listing novels, videogames, and films that we know and love (I’m a big fan of The Lost Boys by the way), so I think it’s safe to agree vampires have withstood the test of time. The appeal never seems to really fade away… just like that one franchise which I shall not speak of.


James: Also, thinking about the past, Producer MOKA has wanted to bring a game to the west for years. He actually tried before but the company he was working with went under during development. Still, the idea stuck in his head and when we met, we started talking about it again. I think seeing some of his colleagues succeed through Kickstarter and Steam definitely helped him have the confidence that now could be the right timing. Westerners are hungry for more visual novels.  


Of course, a giant project like this is not without risk. Other games have had advantages that we don’t. Muv-Luv for example is a huge franchise with a ton of followers, Front Wing’s The Fruit of Grisaia became an anime which helped it gain attention in the west, and doujin games that aren’t as large have much smaller budgets. These are all valid points that we need to consider, but at the end of the day, hopefully fans will support our Kickstarter.  


Jonathan: Ultimately we’ve got a very cool, rich story with over 50 hours of gameplay, super cute characters that are supported by awesome artwork and well-known voice artists. The replay value is there also, with multiple paths to choose from (i.e., capture the heroine you long to be with at the end). And if we can hit some stretch goals, we’ve got two additional mini-episodes planned to give readers even more story. For ports, we have Android planned while PS Vita is being discussed.


Is that a formula for success? It’s a killer game, and I guess we’re about to find out if the VN community outside of Japan is large enough to support it!

MOKA-san posing like a vampire

Not many will know much about XERO and Producer MOKA. Could you give us a brief history of the two?


James: Some of your readers might recognize Producer MOKA since he used to work as a producer at Front Wing. He founded XERO in 2003, is the president and CEO, and is leading this campaign like a vampire warlord marching into battle.


Producer MOKA has a very interesting background which you’ll learn more about when we launch our Kickstarter introduction video. Shooting that video was great by the way. Sometimes we would be too quick while shooting, worried we might get in the way of XERO’s team as they worked with laser focus to finish Libra, but Producer MOKA would always ask, “Did we get it? We are here, we have the time, let’s make sure we really have what we need!” That level of leadership and care has been amazing.


XERO has many sub-brands that they’ve used to publish their catalog of over 40 games. Libra of the Vampire Princess, for example, is from Onomatope*, and Draculius, which was mentioned earlier, is from Meromero Cute.


XERO has a strong following here in Japan, but they want to reach out to welcome fans from abroad. Producer MOKA is especially interested to learn more about western visual novel fans, and he is believing that one day in the not too distant future, English translations can become part of the workflow at XERO and for the other big Japanese makers too.

XERO’s Sugawara-san (Chief of Ads and Sales) overlooking the streets of Akihabara as he dons a special staff jacket featuring Lycoris.

What types of games is XERO known for producing? And what distinguishes the studio from others?


Jonathan: XERO and their sub-brands are known for professional bishoujo visual novels. Their games often focus around school stories, moe characters, happy marriages, and sometimes chuunibyou. But we can’t forget their core element: the comedy of everyday life.


One thing that sets XERO apart from other makers, which fans and industry guys like to joke about, is they’re “two years too early” with their ideas. ​Instead of trend setting, they end up creating OOPArts (out-of-place artifacts)​. Producer MOKA is always full of ideas and ahead of everyone else, a real fun and friendly guy willing to try anything new and exciting.


Presuming the Kickstarter for Libra of the Vampire Princess is successful, how long do you anticipate the localization will take?


James: We are projecting the game will release on Steam (where it was initially Greenlit in just six days) and PC in Fall of 2016. Our team is excited to bite into such a juicy, massive story. If the game is successfully funded on Kickstarter, then we’ll jump right in with the multi-pass translation and programming. Just so your readers know, we will be making cards for Steam, and there will be a FREE patch, distributed by MiKandi (US), for the uncensored h-scenes that will not exist in the Steam version of the game. Our core team is in place, but we’re always open to talk with anyone who might somehow help this project or others that are in the works.


Jonathan: Yup, this is a mighty big project; about a million characters. Actually, we’ve all signed our contracts in blood and vowed to shutter ourselves from the outside world until the mission is complete. Can’t wait!

What does MiKandi Japan have planned for the future? Will there be more localization projects?


Jonathan: We have several very cool projects in development, but they’re hush-hush for now. This is Libra’s time to take center stage. What we can say is that working with Producer MOKA has been awesome, so fans can expect future projects with XERO.


If the Libra Kickstarter proves to be successful, we might consider translating Draculius. Would everyone like that? Let us know! There’s many possibilities on the table. Actually, MOKA-san recently mentioned that he would like to make a new game hearing from western fans. So after Libra succeeds, there will be many new chances for fans to get their favorite type of Japanese game.


James: Thanks for helping us get the word out. We really appreciate you taking the time to interview us about Libra of the Vampire Princess. It’s been a pleasure being here.


Jonathan: Having the backing of Siliconera readers can make a huge difference. You can get a preview of Libra over on our Prefundia page, and if they want to become a backer, they can sign up at the top of the page to know when our Kickstarter goes live. Also, for the hardcore crowd, they can collect free prizes by signing up to the Vampire Princess Army and referring friends.Thanks so much! Take care everyone!

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Chris Priestman
Former Siliconera staff writer and fan of both games made in Japan and indie games.