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.”