Asian partners help anime cast broader spell outside Japan
MANABU ITO, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Japanese anime companies are stepping up collaborative efforts with partners in greater Asia to tailor content to audiences there and ease the process of obtaining approval from local authorities.
TV Asahi, the company behind the famous "Doraemon" cartoons about a schoolboy and a robotic cat from the future, is working on its first televised anime series specifically targeting the Philippines. It is cooperating with a local animation and game developer, the Synergy88 group.
"Barangay 143" will tell the story of high school basketball players in Manila when it begins airing in 2017.
TV Asahi handles such areas as character design by working with Japanese anime directors. Synergy88 writes the scripts and undertakes production. The show's prime-time scheduling reflects its importance for the duo.
At the Synergy88 studio in Quezon City, more than 100 people can be seen working on graphics tablets to bring the young athletes to life.
All grown up
Japanese companies had enjoyed great success exporting anime for the home market. But now, the environment is changing. "People in fast-growing emerging economies have begun to look for familiar stories they can relate to," said Takahiro Kishimoto of the international business department at TV Asahi, a unit of TV Asahi Holdings.
The Japanese anime market has matured and is seeing more content aimed at adults. So anime created for this market is losing appeal abroad, where children constitute the main audience.
Overseas sales of Japanese anime amounted to 19.5 billion yen ($192 million) in 2014 -- only 60% or so of the peak marked in 2005. A shadow has fallen over the government's "Cool Japan" campaign to promote Japanese goods and services abroad.
Working with partners to reflect local cultures and customs is one way to fight the headwinds.
The Philippines, for example, boasts Asia's oldest professional basketball league and is home to many fans of the sport. "Barangay 143" may later be taken to other Southeast Asian markets as well.
Leaping bureaucratic hurdles
Faster approval by the authorities is another major benefit of collaborating with local partners. Creek & River of Japan is working with Chinese company Parallax Media to put online from October a localized 60- to 80-minute drama based on content by popular Japanese horror manga artist Junji Ito. A 24-episode series will be offered from spring, and movie content is also planned.
Parallax handled scriptwriting and coordinated with the authorities. The script was repeatedly revised because approval requires that the bad guys die and the good guys live, the head of the company explained.
Compared with simply exporting content from Japan, a significant amount of time is saved in obtaining approval from the government.
South Korean rivals are already savoring the fruits of such an approach. KBS launched the "Descendants of the Sun" drama earlier this year on television in the home market and via the iQiyi video-streaming website in China. The series has racked up more than 2.6 billion views.
Involving the Chinese from the planning stage helped to win approvals from authorities. And the title could be released simultaneously in both markets, preventing piracy. The 13 billion won ($11.7 million) production cost has nearly been recovered.
But not too foreign
As the Japanese companies try to catch up, they must juggle local considerations and retaining Japanese uniqueness. The notion that "authentically Japanese is cool" is fading. But content that is too narrowly tailored to local audiences might not gain broad acceptance in other markets. The key to sustaining the image of a cool Japan lies in balancing brand value and earning potential.
Get with the program
The Asian content industry excluding Japan is seen expanding 70% from 2013 to $165 billion in 2020, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. As Japanese companies set out to capture the ample demand, one hurdle is their slowness to get with the times on computerization.
Overseas animation houses use standardized software to develop content and have digitized all processes. This is convenient for outsourcing production to Indian and Philippine studios, too. But many Japanese animators still use pen and paper.
Another challenge is nurturing talent with knowledge of both Japanese anime production and local audiences. Japanese publisher Kadokawa opened this March a Thai school to train animators, after having done so in Taiwan. The Kadokawa Dwango unit is also planning locations in Malaysia and Indonesia.