Hot new anime vies to ride Pokémon wave

While Japanese anime dominates the market in Asia, until recently, it was relegated to niche filler on Western networks. The roaring success of Pokémon on Kids' WB! changed all that, and as a slew of recent pocket monster spin-offs proves, children's...
December 1, 1999

While Japanese anime dominates the market in Asia, until recently, it was relegated to niche filler on Western networks. The roaring success of Pokémon on Kids’ WB! changed all that, and as a slew of recent pocket monster spin-offs proves, children’s anime is suddenly white hot worldwide.

Japanese anime will be in the limelight at MIP Asia, as programmers from around the globe vie to acquire the next smash hit from Japan.

All eyes will be on Toei Animation, the dominant production house in Japan, and the source of some of the most successful anime in the North American market. In addition to Sailor Moon, the studio produces Dragonball Z, which is scoring respectable ratings in U.S. syndication and on Cartoon Network, and more recently, the popular Digimon: Digital Monsters, which was picked up by Fox Kids Network.

The company has also enjoyed enormous success in Asia with four new projects. Crayon Kingdom, which targets kids ages two to six, has caught on in a big way in Japan, scoring a top rating of 12%, as measured by Video Research Co. (Japan’s Nielsen) via the Peoplemeter TV rating system. The series chronicles Princess Silver’s quest to correct her 12 bad habits so she can save her parents after they are turned to stone. She is aided by a shy chicken, a greedy pig and 12 magic vegetable fairies who live in bottles. Merch revenues have been very strong and the show has already sparked interest in Italy and France. Toei wants to sell it into the U.S., although a serious overseas marketing campaign won’t ramp up until completion of an entire series of 70 episodes. The company plans to exhibit the show at NATPE next month.

Another new Toei title, Magical Do Re Mi, about a nine-year-old girl named Doremi who flies around on her broom with friends and solves problems using magical powers, started airing on Australia’s ABC TV in March of this year, just after Crayon Kingdom debuted. So far there are 30 episodes in the can.

One Piece, based on a hit manga (Japanese comic book) series, debuted on Japan’s Fuji TV at the end of October this year. It tells the story of Monkey D. Ruffy’s pirate quest for the fabled ‘One Piece’ treasure. Along the way, he battles other pirates and the navy using magical powers acquired from eating the ‘devil fruit.’ Only one episode had aired at press time, so it’s too early to post a meaningful rating, but the company thinks it will do well, given the enormous popularity of the manga series. Toei, as per policy, will not promote the show overseas until it completes a full production run.

The enormously popular File of Young Kindaichi, which features a high school student detective with an IQ of 180 who solves mysteries, is now in its third year and is also based on a manga best-seller. Targeted at the six to 11 cohort, it also has a following among teens and even young adult men, and airs prime time in Japan at 7 p.m. on Wednesday nights.

Nippon Animation, the number-two production house in Japan, also has high hopes for overseas sales. The production company is planning to internationally promote its top-rated and long-running Chibi Maruko-chan, which in Japan enjoys a huge audience within a target viewership of kids ages six to 14, and has a devoted following among young adult women as well. It tells the story of a ‘sweetly obnoxious’ nine-year-old girl who plays tricks on her grandfather, hangs out with friends and experiences all the normal pains and pleasures of growing up along the way. Currently, the show consistently scores a 15.6% rating in its 6 p.m. half-hour Sunday prime-time slot on Fuji TV. At its peak in October 1990, the show scored a record 39.9% rating. The show was reportedly worth US$1 billion in merchandising revenue during its first three years alone, and is still going strong, now in its ninth year. Even the show’s theme song was a hit, selling over 2 million copies.

Nippon is actively promoting two new shows overseas at the moment. Hunter X Hunter, a monster and treasure hunter adventure series aimed at kids and tweens ages eight to 15, has just begun airing on Fuji TV. Like most successful Japanese anime, Hunter is based on a hit manga series, which supplies a ready-made target-age following to pump up the ratings. Although the show had aired only twice at press time in early November, it had already scored a remarkable 8.1% rating.

Nippon’s other upcoming show, Marcelino Pan y Vino, targeted at the four to 12 age group, is slated for broadcast in 2000. It is entirely digitally rendered, and builds on Nippon’s growing strength in computer animation. Co-produced with France’s PMMP and Spain’s VIP, Marcelino represents an important new direction in subject matter for Nippon, which is focusing more on export mar- kets lately. As Natsuko Matsuzaki, head of Nippon’s intern-tional Sales and Produc-tion department puts it: ‘We often hear that Japanese animation is sometimes considered too violent, too sexy and not appropriate for kids (in foreign markets). For future anime productions, therefore, we prefer to create shows that are appropriate for all families, like our classic animation series. Marcelino is a good example of this.’

Studio Pierrot, which scored its first major hit in 1992 with Yu-Yu Hakusho, its most popular show to date in Asia, has followed that success with 15 more anime TV series, a host of feature films and some direct-to-video productions. Bandai Visual is currently promoting several of Pierrot’s shows overseas. All are half-hour 2-D cel animation series, although Pierrot has been stepping up its computer animation projects over the last four years, according to studio director Yuji Nunokawa. Tenshi ni Narumon, a romantic comedy featuring angels and lots of pink hearts, has seen respectable ratings in Japan from its target audience of girls ages seven and up, and Bandai Visual is negotiating with several companies for international sales.

Other offerings include: Clamp School Detectives (26 x 30 minutes, targets ages five and up), a Studio Pierrot mystery show based on a best-selling manga by the Clamp artist team (creators of the smash hit Cardcaptor Sakura); and Magical Stage Fancy Lala, about a nine-year-old girl who can magically turn into a teen-idol singer (26 x 30 minutes, targets ages five and up).

Bandai Visual is also actively promoting Triangle Staff production Maho Tsukaitai!, about sorcerer’s apprentice Saé and her stumbling attempts to rid the world of law-abiding aliens (13 x 30 minutes, targets ages 10 and up), and Madhouse production Juu Bee Chan, about a young girl who is heir to a hundred-year-old secret of swordsmanship (13 x 30 minutes, targets ages 10 and up).

NHK, Japan’s state-owned broadcaster, has sold a number of programs to the North American market, most notably Cardcaptor Sakura, which was recently acquired by Toronto-based Nelvana. The broadcaster is hoping to sell the show to a distributor in Europe as well. Cardcaptor Sakura, another Madhouse production, was a smash hit in Asia, especially in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia and the Philippines. NHK is now airing the second series of Cardcaptor episodes, and has commitments for the show from broadcasters all over Asia. The show has also spawned a feature film, which Bandai Visual plans to release internationally.

TMS-Kyokuichi Corp. has been enjoying growing success with children’s anime in Asia, Europe and North America. Its most recent coup was selling Monster Rancher to New York-based network BKN.

Along with Monster Rancher, TMS is planning to showcase several new kids anime series at MIP Asia. Little Moonlight Rider (25 x 30 minutes, targets ages six to 10) is about an ordinary little boy enlisted to succeed an old-time super hero to battle mischievous high-school girls and a race of gentle aliens. Sakon the Ventriloquist (26 x 30 minutes) tells the story of an irreverent puppet detective called Ukon who takes credit for mysteries solved by his friend, ventriloquist and puppet master Sakon. Direct-to-video series Mask of Glass (3 x 45 minutes, targets ages eight to 18) presents the tale of Maya, a teenage girl taken under the wing of former star Chigusa on a quest to become a famous actor. Finally, Knight Hunters (26 x 30 minutes, targets ages 14 to 16) presents the story of four handsome youths with shadowy pasts who battle a secret society.

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