Aiming to keep pumping out anime series while State-side demand for the genre remains hot, Bandai Entertainment is fast-tracking three barely-tested shows for a likely launch on Cartoon Network in the U.S. While the California-based company has traditionally reworked and distributed anime properties with long-standing popularity in the Japanese market-such as 20-year-old cult property Gundam, which didn’t begin airing in North America until last March-Bandai’s new trio has had limited exposure in Japan.
Outlaw Star, which only has two Japanese seasons under its belt, will likely debut this month in Cartoon’s Toonami block, while fall 2001 should see the addition of year-old shows Big O and Pilot Candidate. While the deal hadn’t officially closed at press time, Bandai and Cartoon were in the final throes of partnering up for all three shows.
Produced by Bandai’s Japan-based Sunrise Animation arm (of Cowboy Bebop fame), Outlaw Star is a 26 x half-hour series starring a mercenary hired by a pirate to protect her and the various items she needs to activate a mysterious ship (eventually named the Outlaw Star). One of those items is a female android named Melfina, who is the only one who can interface with the ship. In Japan, the action-packed-yet-ironic show has already spun off a related series called Angel Links, as well as generating licensed comics, soundtracks and books.
Sunrise also produced the 13 x half-hour Big O, a grittier anime offering centering around a city whose denizens have collectively lost their memories. Under police rule, the city is protected by a Batman-cum-James Bond character who brings in the Big O, a massive robot from the past, to help keep the peace. Bandai executive VP Ken Iyadomi says Big O has a very American feel, similar to that of Batman: The Animated
Series-not surprising since Sunrise also did some production work on the comic-based toon.
A co-pro between Bandai Visual and Xebec, the TV production unit of Japan’s Production IG (best known for Ghost in the Shell), 12 x half-hour Pilot Candidate is set in a school for spaceship pilots. Headed by a hotshot flyer named Zero, the pilots-in-training race to complete their driver’s ed in time to save planet Zion from enemy attack. Unlike most other sci-fi anime series, Pilot’s ships are rendered in CGI.
Like most imported anime properties, the new Bandai three-pack is undergoing a localization process to ensure the content is appropriate not only for Western sensibilities, but more specifically for the seven to 13 demo Toonami targets. In their original Japanese formats, these anime properties are geared towards a 13-plus age range. Iyadomi says the plus plays host to a huge group, with anime popularity generally peaking at age 15 and tapering down by age 17 and 18. Each show’s North American incarnation runs between US$15,000 and US$20,000 per episode.