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Japanese fans see toons that int’l auds miss

'Brave Story,' 'Earthsea' are anticipated releases expected to do boffo biz

The Japanese animation industry is Asia’s oldest, biggest and, internationally, most successful, with millions of fans worldwide. But inside Japan, auds get a much different picture of the national product.

At home, the most successful animated pics usually target kids and their parents — what Japanese publicists refer to as “the family market” — rather than the young adults who make up the core aud for anime abroad.

Also, nearly all are part of multimedia franchises that start with a successful comic, continue with a hit TV toon and end with a long-running feature series.

The longest-running series, at 26 installments and counting, is “Doraemon,” which relates the adventures of a blue robot cat, its bumbling boy companion and his neighborhood friends. Revived this March after a year’s hiatus, the series recorded $28.8 million at the box office for its latest entry.

Another perennial for distrib Toho is “Crayon Shinchan,” a series starring a potty-mouthed kindergartner that is now in its 14th year. Released on April 15, the latest film has grossed $29 million — 10% more than last year’s entry.

Still another consistent earner is “Detective Conan,” a series about a genius teenage P.I. trapped in a boy’s body. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the series has cleared $24.6 million with its newest entry, which opened on April 15.

Better known abroad is “Pocket Monsters” (aka “Pokemon”), a series that is still a bonanza for distrib Toho, long after its appeal had faded in the West. The last installment grossed $38.7 million in 2005 — the second-highest total for a domestic film. Another is due in theaters on July 15.

The two most highly anticipated Japanese animation releases this summer, however, are “Brave Story” and “Tales from Earthsea” — films that target all age groups and are expected to do blockbuster business. The latter hails from Studio Ghibli, whose resident genius, Hayao Miyazaki, is responsible for the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (2001).

Based on the eponymous novel cycle by Ursula K LeGuin, “Tales from Earthsea” is being helmed by Miyazaki’s son Goro — a first-time director with little animation experience whose choice has been controversial with Ghibli’s massive fan base. Toho will release in late July on 400 screens.

“Brave Story,” meanwhile, is a frontal challenge to Ghibli’s box office supremacy mounted by production house Gonzo and backer Fuji TV. Based on a best-selling fantasy novel by Miyuki Miyabe about a boy’s quest for a “vision world,” “Brave Story” will be released on July 8 by Warner Bros. Pictures Japan — the first time the distrib has handled a Japanese animation.

“We see the rivalry between the two films as a positive,” says a Warner spokesperson. “It will get the audience interested — and that can only benefit both of us.”

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