ANNECY, France — On Tuesday night at the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival, Netflix held one of its most highly-anticipated panels for one of its most dedicated fan-bases: Netflix Original Anime: A Celebration of Anime and a Look Ahead.
Appropriately enough, this year’s festival is honoring Japan and its animation tradition, past and present, as the official Guest Country. Netflix, eager to capitalize on that tradition, and embed itself in the Japanese market as a producer, has commissioned a strong slate of originals and reboots meant to honor the country’s animation history while pushing the envelope of narrative and technology.
Announced last December, Netflix has commissioned a new “Ghost in the Shell” reboot titled: “Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045” from “Ultraman” directors Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama. The two confirmed on Tuesday night that relative animation newcomer Ilya Kuvshinow will head character design on the show. Accompanying the announcement, the Netflix team shared the first character artwork with Variety.
The series will be the first time the IP will be fully-animated in 3DCG. Kamiyama and Production I.G will team up with Aramaki and Sola Digital Arts, who have brought Japanese 3DCG animation to the world on work such as 2004’s “Appleseed.” The Netflix reboot also marks the first time that the franchise will have two directors shaping its execution.
Kamiyama and Aramaki also confirmed that “Ultraman” has been picked up for a second season at Netflix as a result of the overwhelmingly positive response to Season 1.
They explained the way they approached re-envisioning one of Japan’s most beloved IP’s from the 1950’s. They pointed out key ways in which the new material differs from the “Ultraman” of 50 years ago, first and most noticeable among them, the new series is animated using motion capture technology.
“From the start we were thinking of using this new technology of mocap,” said Kamiyama. “With manual drawing it’s difficult to represent realistic movement and gestures, so we used 3D computer animation, which can look more realistic.”
A goal of Netflix’s anime team is to diversify the medium and make it as global as so much of their live action content. To that end, the studio has recruited American LeSean Thomas (“The Boondocks”) to spearhead the previously-announced “Canon Busters” and the real-life inspired “Yasuke,” the latter with Japanese studio Mappa Co.
Thomas alongside Mappa CEO Manabu Otsuka shared details and character art for the upcoming “Yasuke,” based on the real life story of an African samurai in the 15th century. Grammy nominee Flying Lotus will compose the music and executive produce the show, with Lakeith Stanfield (“Atlanta,” “Sorry to Bother You”) will voice the titular protagonist Yasuke.
“I think it’s really cool to be in a position to tell a story like this,” summed up Thomas. “I currently live in Tokyo, working on this project. It’s kind of this serendipitous narrative a descendent of an African moving to Japan to produce an anime about an African going to Japan to become a samurai.”
On Thursday, Netflix will be hosting a works in progress session for its upcoming series “Eden,” where artwork, clips and series details will be shared. Variety will be attending and sharing some of the details and artwork, so stay tuned.