Being close to the industry, have you ever pitched your own ideas for an anime TV show?
Yes and no. I had a fantastic idea for a TV show, but the venture was so complex, so unbelievable, so bonkers, that I didn’t think walking in and pitching it would do it justice. So instead I wrote it as a book, called Coxinga and the Fall of the Ming Dynasty. Although any anime version would probably end up being called Imperial Dragon Pirate King Wizard War, or Black Devil Sea Raider Task Force, or something like that.
So if you want to find out about the great unmade anime, in which a half-Japanese resistance fighter leads an army of freed African slaves and exiled samurai against Manchu invaders, it’s all there! And it’s a true story.
How is ‘Westernised’ animation received in Japan? Does it have a similar cult appeal that Japanese animation receives in America and Europe?
In the sense that a “cult” is something that the press missed first time around and don’t want to admit to, no. This is a fact that is often suppressed by the usual suspects, but the best-selling cartoons in Japan are the same as the best-selling cartoons here: Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks. Disney bought into Studio Ghibli, in part, because Hayao Miyazaki’s movies were the only ones that were giving Disney a run for their money in the Japanese sales charts.
So “Western” animation, in the sense of Wall-E or Kung Fu Panda, is very much part of the Japanese mainstream. A lot of anime, particularly on video and on TV, is actually just as much of a cult in Japan as it is here. A lot of the “TV shows” sold in Britain on DVD were actually broadcast at two in the morning in Japan when nobody was watching!
(Message from the Big Giant Heads: we think we’ve covered it, but is there anything we’ve missed out? Any burning questions you have for Jonathan Clements about Schoolgirl Milky Crisis or the anime and manga world? Send your questions to email@example.com, and we’ll pretend we’ve thought of them ourselves and ask him in a couple of weeks).
I’ll never forget the surprise I felt when I first checked out animecalendar.net and saw that most shows were on at a time of day when only university students, insomniacs and die-hard geeks would be awake to watch them (three groups that I’ve been in at some point or other…go figure)! I’m not sure whether it’s a testament to the loyal minority who are the anime fans, or the revolution of the VCR. Maybe both…
The relationship between Ghibli and Disney is interesting. Both are a powerful force in their home countries as far as I can tell, but I’ve always wondered whether Disney’s desire to market Ghibli in the West was a cynical ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ decision, or whether it was simple good business sense (i.e. if it’s popular in its home country, it should be popular to distribute internationally). But then, the distribution is done by Buena Vista so I’m not sure how much direct influence the Disney production studio itself has.
I know BV did try quite hard on the marketing side (although Optimum seem to hold the UK licence rights now, so I’m not sure how successful that attempt was) but I’m actually surprised (and, to be honest, a bit relieved) that there hasn’t been an artistic collaboration between Disney and a Japanese company like Ghibli or Madhouse already. Unless there has been and I’ve missed it…?
Martin, “definitely both”. When the first late-night anime appeared in 1997, the Japanese magazines all ran How-to-Timeshift features. The implication was that the budgets for so-called OAVs had shrunk to such a point that fandom was now being asked to supply its own tapes. We call them “television” series, because that’s what they are, but the term is deceptive, because they are much more closely related to the video anime of the 1980s and 1990s.
In the case of some shows, like Gantz, the narrative structure seems deliberately intended for viewers who are timeshifting — either TiVo’ing and watching four or five episodes in a row, or just waiting for the DVD.
“Definitely both” with Disney, too. Also, the rights prices for Ghibli films were way, way above those for other anime in the 1990s. Ghibli seem to have deliberately priced themselves out of the early market because they wanted their films seen in cinemas and distributed in a quality fashion, and not hacked and ruined like Warriors of the Wind. Frankly, Ghibli set a price that only a big film company was ever going to pay, and they set it so high that most of their films would have to be taken seriously and treated as *films*, and not as the video of the week.
I don’t think that sublicensing the UK territory to Optimum did the Ghibli material any harm. The package was pretty idiot-proof once the dubs were done, the subs were in place, and the extras were locked in. Ghibli are very particular about what goes on one of their DVDs, even in terms of the extras, so the package was very unlikely to change significantly in any subsidiary English-speaking markets. Buena Vista took what seems to be a very lean, smart decision and let someone else handle what was basically distribution and marketing.
Ooh… I wasn’t planning on going on about that quite so much. Sorry.
Martin, Disney and Madhouse have teamed up just recently to do an TV anime version of Lilo and Stitch. It’s just called “Stitch!” and Lilo is replaced with a Japanese girl called Hanako. I’ve not seen any of it, but I understand it’s not bad for what it is.