France’s Ankama Sells ‘Mutafukaz,’ Sets Digital Series ‘Eros,’ ‘Doggybags’ (EXCLUSIVE)

French gaming, comic book giant diversifies in target audiences, as on ‘Princess Dragon,’ its next animated theatrical movie from Roux and Denis

ANNECY, France —  France’s Ankama, whose “Mutafukaz,” world premieres at Annecy on June 13, has licensed Japanese rights to the sci-fi action movie to Parco, an upmarket Japanese department store which operates a genre movie distribution operation.

Closed via Ankama’s Asia distribution subsidiary PlanetNemo, the deal is crucial for “Mutafukaz” which, produced in association with Japan’s 4ºC Studios, twins a California West Coast sensibility and upscale anime manga style. It is one of the first big deals to go down on “Mutafukaz” which – with its hip-hop vibes, fantasy version of L.A., downbeat humor, deadbeat heroes, street gangs and messianic Mexican wrestlers – is shaping up as one of the highest-profile new movies at France’s Annecy Animation Festival this year.

Acquired by Celluloid Dreams for worldwide sales outside Asia, “Mutafukaz” also serves as a flagship for the ambitions of Ankama. Originally carving out a market for its MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games,) and comic-books, the Roubaix-based Ankama is continuing to raise its ambition in animation, diversifying from its original teen demography while aggressively courting digital platform distribution for new series.

Driving into digital series, Ankama is developing “Eros,” with Anthony Roux, Ankama creative director-CEO, and Jean-Jacques Denis, directors of “Dofus-Book 1: Julith,” set to co-direct. A relatively short, 10-part, 40-minute series geared for YA digital audiences, it centers on a sci-fi futuristic reworking of Greek mythology, said Frederic Puech, Ankama animation producer who also heads up PlanetNemo.

Ankama is also developing a second digital series “DoggyBags,” adapting one if its best performing comicbook IPs, created by “Mutafukaz” co-director Guillaume “Run” Renard, and conceived as a homage to pulp novels, horror comic books and B Movies. Developed as a horror series, the series once more targets a young adult audience, Puech said

While French TV networks may require Ankama series to skew younger for their core audiences, as was the case with “Dofus” and France 3, “Ankama is definitely going more digital and more YA,” Puech said.

He added: “What’s happening with VOD is a natural progression for the company which has had YA audiences as part of its DNA. The appearance of new platforms – whether U.S. players, or Studio Plus or Black Pills – makes it easier for such projects to exist and be distributed.

Another sign of diversification: Reteaming Roux and Jean-Jacques Denis, “Princess Dragon,” Ankama’s next theatrical feature also marks Ankama Animations’ first younger-skewing 2D film project. Targeting 6-10s, written by Roux and daintily animated, with a near water-color style, the comedy adventure turns on a girl raised among dragons who befriends the country’s princess but is forced to discover the world of men, their friendship, solidarity and also greed.

“‘Dofus ’was a teen film speaking to a gamer audience. ‘Mutafukaz’ was obviously more young-adult. The idea is to explore different age targets, like we’ve done on TV with ‘Dofus’ and ‘Abraca,’ maintaining the 2D aesthetics the company is strong at,” Puech said.

Ankama will also tackle “more YA or slightly older projects,” said Puech.

Rolling off its first two hit seasons, which have punched high ratings on France Televisions, “Wakfu” Season 3’s main characters are older. Airing from this September on France Televisions,  as a teaser announced last  Wednesday, “Wakfu” has been bought for global distribution by Netflix. It will begin to air “Wakfu,” about an orphan searching for his father, from early 2018.

Roux aims is to produce an animated feature every 18-24 months. The next toon movie announcement will be made in Spring 2018.

Animated feature film production is “one direction Ankama would like to go in. It has always been known to produce with very high production values like on TV series ‘Wakfu,’ for example, that is closer to feature film than TV quality,” Puech said.

Whether French gaming or comic book fans will catch movie adaptations in cinema theaters remains a large question. Building buzz before its Annecy bow, “Mutafukaz” – which is co-directed by Run and Japanese cult director Shoujirou Nishimi – may provide some answers.

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