An imminent block launch and a unique new co-pro should soon make the isolationist Japanese market feel just like home to Jetix Europe. The global kidnet and its partners have just completed Oban Star-Racers, a 28 x half-hour neo-anime concept that originated at Paris hotshop Sav! The World Productions and took Cartoon Forum by storm in 2001.
Eight years in the making, this 2-D/CGI sci-fi adventure is about a young girl who’s thrust into the driver’s seat of a legendary intergalactic race when Earth’s star pilot is sabotaged. But despite the heat it generated at market after debuting, the series didn’t get off the ground until 2002, when Sav! locked in Tokyo-based studios Bandai Visual and Hal Film Maker – along with France 3 and Super RTL – as co-pro partners. And to make sure his labor of love stayed on track and true to its original anime-inspired design, creator Savin Yeatman-Eiffel actually relocated his four-person team to Japan for the duration of the production cycle.
Cultural differences aside, Yeatman-Eiffel explains that it can be very difficult for a foreign company to navigate Japan’s competitive TV production environment, with its short windows and the tendency of local animators to jump ship when there are delays. Plus it can cost as much as 40% to 50% more to do animation in Japan, compared to shopping the work out to China or Eastern Europe. But in spite of these significant hurdles, Yeatman-Eiffel was determined to have Japanese input on the series. ‘We wanted partners who weren’t just sub-contractors, but who would have a global vision and feel it was their project too,’ he says. ‘There’s no comparison.’
And being at the Japanese studio every day let Yeatman-Eiffel collaborate closely with the artists – which is next to impossible in a normal service scenario. All of the 2-D animation was completed before CGI effects were added in France, as opposed to working from storyboards and piecing the finished product together. Even the score is being recorded by a 30-piece symphony orchestra in Tokyo. ‘All of these things are usually unheard-of,’ says Jetix senior VP of programming Michael Lekes. And although he wouldn’t reveal the budget, Lekes adds, ‘it’s how you would like to make shows, but you never have the time and money to do it.’
Just as involved now that production is wrapped, Bandai Visual is currently locking down a Japanese broadcaster for Oban, as well as handling merch rights in its territory. The series will debut across Jetix’s 57 Euro channels in 2006, and it may also get some play on Toon Disney Japan, which is launching next month and will feature a daily four-hour Jetix-branded action block. ‘For now, the block is focusing on the most recent titles in our catalogue,’ says Lekes. ‘But over time, the hope is that it will be instrumental in the creation of content, and not just a second-run window.’ To build a foundation for that strategy, Lekes is already in discussions with Japanese producers to get involved in projects as early as the first doodle on the back of a napkin.