Jueves 11 de Abril de 2002, Ip nş 12

More Anime on the Way
Por Brad King

When Captain Avatar and his untested cadets boarded the space-faring battleship Argo to battle the Gamilion, an alien race bent on destroying Earth, a nation of youngsters gathered to watch.

The love affair lasted over a decade until Star Blazers faded away. The popular television series is gone, but America's fascination with Japanese animation was just beginning.

Anime, the Japanese translation of the word animation, has been lurking around public airwaves and late-night television since the 1960s. The style has produced a few breakout hits, but most have short shelf lives. Speed Racer was the first big hit in the late '60s. RoboTech came and went in the '80s. Pokémon fever swept the country in the '90s. Today, young girls watch Sailor Moon.

Nobody is sure what will finally bring anime commercial success in the United States, but several companies are hell-bent on finding out. A live-action anime movie is under development, several new shows are coming to cable television, video game sound tracks are in production and graphic novels are coming to book stores.

"Anime is the next big thing," said Larry Kasanoff, CEO of Threshold Entertainment. "About a year ago, we started thinking that Japan was a place that we look to for creators. Not only will anime become popular here, but the lifestyle will also become more pervasive."

Lifestyle is the key. The shows and graphic novels have an incredibly loyal following. When his animators began wearing T-shirts emblazoned with anime characters he'd never seen before, Kasanoff got interested.

He dispatched several employees to Japan. The reports he got back captured his imagination. Japanese businessmen are just as likely to read a graphic novel called Manga on their morning commutes as they are a newspaper. Sensing an untapped potential, Kasanoff wanted to bring anime to America. Threshold Entertainment is working on deals to produce a live-action anime movie.

"When you read an anime book, it's like a story board," said Kasanoff. "There is a style that is dramatically lit, odd angles, intense close-ups, very sensual and exciting versus sexual and violent, like many American films. Anime is a feel, so it's very much like describing hip-hop in words. You just can't do it."

Kasanoff's company has also started experimenting with Galaxy Racer, an anime video game he hopes to develop into a live-action movie. Players race ships from planet to planet in a virtual cartoon Daytona 500.

Anime has a serious demographics problem in the United States. Other than The Simpsons and King of the Hill, two popular prime-time cartoons, American grown-ups have been wary of animation.

That is changing, though, since people under 30 were exposed to a sporadic diet of anime, said Stu Levy, CEO of TokyoPop, one of the largest domestic anime distributors.

The company's main business is Manga, graphic novels that are much more complex than the superhero-centric American comic book, but Levy said the entertainment industry is searching for the breakout hit. TokyoPop is betting that Initial D, a story that has produced 22 graphic novels in Japan, will do that. The company is looking for a broadcast network partner.

The sounds are just as important as the shows themselves, Levy said, which prompted the company to develop soundtracks. The Onimusha video-game soundtrack features a 210-piece orchestra with traditional Japanese instruments. He expects the CD to become one of TokyoPop's best sellers, outpacing the popular Final Fantasy series, which sold 100,000 copies.

Adults might be slow to embrace the anime, but kids continue to lap up the Japanese shows. The Cartoon Network's after-school block of shows is built around Dragon Ball Z, said Jason DeMarco, a senior producer with the channel.

The daily action series switched to anime after its Hanna-Barbera shows failed to capture big ratings. That prompted producers to look for innovative programs with good story lines that would get kids rushing home to turn on the tube. Japanese animation has done just that.

"It's still a very passionate fan base, and it hasn't exploded as much as everyone thought it was with adults," said DeMarco. "There has been more of a penetration than ever before. We don't concentrate on anime, but that's where most of the really good animation is."


  03/02/2002. Wired Magazine.