Suraj is a poor boy growing up in Mumbai, under the watchful eye of his sister Shanti and widowed father Shyam. Dad was once a promising cricketer, and is obsessed with turning his son into a world-class player with a harsh training regime. Inexplicably fair-haired rich kid Vikram is an ace batsman from a family of wealth and privilege, who fears the potential of his slumdog rival, and determines to thwart him at every turn as they fight their way through the ranks of Indian cricket, hoping to qualify for the national team.
Suraj the Rising Star is not Japanese, but although it’s made in India for the Colors network, it is based firmly on the classic anime series Star of the Giants. Repurposing the original’s baseball story with wickets and stumps, Suraj allows Japanese investors to capitalise on a tried and tested formula in a new territory, without having to meet any of the standards required of “real” anime.
Story-wise at least, the tropes and scenes in Suraj have been hammered out and refined over several TV serials and many imitators. But Suraj has very little of the dizzying animation techniques of the 1968 original, and often features sequences in which the characters barely move. Backgrounds smudge all too often into impressionistic blurs when Suraj runs jerkily to bowl or catch, and the imagery often drifts perilously close to something someone might have knocked up on Microsoft Paint. But this is precisely the sort of criticism levelled against early anime in Japan, while young fans lapped up the new storytelling medium.
One is swiftly drawn away from the clunky animation to peripheral areas of studied difference – the subcontinental twang of the music, and the casual contrast of glittering modernity with ramshackle slums. Suraj is openly aspirational towards middle-class affluence, signified in repeated product-placement shots of All Nippon Airlines planes soaring above the slums, new-fangled Nissin cup noodles, Daikin aircon units and Maruti Suzuki cars that motor past swish Maruti Suzuki showrooms. Yes, it’s pretty easy to tell who the sponsors are. Suraj is still Japanese where it counts.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #111, 2013.
UPDATE (12th June 2013): Now they’re trying to sell an Astro Boy remake to Nigeria.