ANNECY — Set in a typical cosy Japanese suburb – – a two-storey detached tile-roofed house, leafy tree-lined streets, a garden – Netflix series “Dino Girl Gauko” delivers a sometimes riotous left-of-field portrait of the coming of age of an almost totally normal tween girl. Naoko Watanabi’s worries are typical: In “Dad’s Little Secret,·the episode competing this week at the Annecy Festival, for instance, she thinks Dad might be having an affair. Will he chuck her mom and her out of the house, and move his mistress in?
But the way of addressing issues of identity, security and emotion is not typical at all. When Naoko gets into a tizzy, she turns into green-skinned dragon girl Gauko, literally breathing fire, reducing a local tea place to smoldering rubble, while still wearing her cardigan and pink skirt.
Dad is a diminutive frog man. Season 1, Ep. 8, “Dad’s Little Secret” begins with a little boy on top of a neighbor’s house howling wolf-like at the moon. There’s also a flying saucer in the sky. One of the characters in the series is an alien.
Presented by creator and producer Hitoshi Mogi at June 12’s Netflix lineup presentation, clips from “Dino Girl Gauko,” a seven-minute episode series, were often thought hilarious by the industry and animation student audience in attendance. Moji commented at the presentation that Netflix told the creators not to worry about making an international series. But, if the Annecy reaction is anything to go by, the series has international resonance anyway. Mogi fielded questions from Variety just before the presentation:
From viewing just one episode, “Dino Girl Gauko” would appear to focus on the doubts and anxieties of a typical tween girl, including about her own identity – a girl at most times, occasionally a fire-belching dinosaur. Would you agree?
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“Yes” for most part. But Gauko does not really show anxieties and fears of becoming a dinosaur. We are hoping that people enjoy this show as a comedy centering on an adolescent girl and her life filled with small daily struggles.
Her turning into a dino makes her commit rather embarrassing faux pas, such as burning down a local tea place. The fear of embarrassment seems big in the series…..
She feels regret and guilt regarding her destroying cities, but we are not portraying her as someone who is afraid of turning into a dinosaur. Rather, she cannot help feeling frustration regarding the social stereotypes, irrationality, contradictions and discrimination directed at her as a dinosaur, despite the fact that she doesn’t want to become a dinosaur. We prefer to depict her as a girl with the freedom and power to feel anger in regard to social injustice.
The setting is original. It seems a typical suburb, but there’s a flying saucer, a little boy who believes he’s a wolf, and the father’s a frog-man, which causes him to be trod on, fall into a tea cup. There are moments of near surrealism. Could you comment?
“Dino Girl Gauko” is a comedy, so we just thought that it would be funnier if it included non-human characters. We do not question the setting much, which often is a product of the director’s inspiration.
How long will the episodes be? Could their length vary?
All episodes are fixed at 7mins.
Where would you situate “Dino Girl Gauko” in the context of contemporary Japanese TV animation production?
It is a character show targeted at kids. It is extremely hard to get this kind of show off the ground as a TV series in Japan, not to mention that the original “Dino Girl Gauko” work which was a web comic has not received much recognition. Sponsors tend to have little business interest in this sort of content. There are many young-adult shows with complicated storylines and elaborate sketches. I think that “Dino Girl Gauko” is one of the few works right now that has a simple storyline. The show is traditionally hand drawn and not digital, which makes it even more unique.
You, the creator Akira Shigino and writer Kimiko Ueno have all worked on “Crayon Shin-chan.” Was the series a big influence on “Dino Girl Gauko” or, if not, what animation has been an influence?
I don’t think there is any influence from “Crayon Shin-chan”. We, the creative team, have never talked about other works as a reference to “Dino Girl Gauko.”
The series is produced by Ascension Co., August Media Holdings, Synergy88 Entertainment. Could you talk very briefly about the companies?
Ascension Co. is in charge of planning content, maintaining the original work, and making the anime content. Financial arrangements are handled by August Media Holdings and Synergy88 Entertainment.
What is your target audience?
I think pre-teen girls will especially enjoy the show. While we have been creating the series for a kids audience, I believe it could be widely enjoyable for adults too.
How does “Dino Gauko Girl’s” being a Netflix Original influence the series?
There might be very small influences here and there, but I can say there is no big influence or any sort of creative pressure from Netflix. Netflix gave us the freedom to create what we love, stressing that we did not have to focus on a global audience. Our intention is to lean into the stories we love, creating what we love to create.