Skip to comments.Japanese Animation Catching on in U.S.
Posted on 12/09/2004 10:24:12 PM PST by Simmy2.5
By YURI KAGEYAMA, AP Business Writer
TOKYO - Animation in America once meant Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Winnie the Pooh. These days, it's just as likely to mean Japanese fighting cyborgs, doe-eyed schoolgirls and sinister monsters thanks in large part to people like John Ledford.
The 36-year-old American is one of the top foreign distributors of Japanese "manga" comics and animation, known as "anime," building his fortune on a genre that is rapidly changing from a niche market to a mass phenomenon.
Ledford, who's so busy his dubbing studio in Houston runs 24 hours a day, says the key to the success of Japanese manga and anime in the United States is their widely varied, cutting-edge subject matter.
"We're kind of like the anti-Disney," Ledford, a bespectacled, fast-talking man with a friendly smile, said during a recent visit to Tokyo. "Disney is very family type. We are appealing to the video-game, PlayStation, Generation X, Generation Y kind of crowd in America."
Although American animation releases, such as "Toy Story," "Shrek" and "The Incredibles," continue to wow audiences, they are largely aimed at children. Japanese anime and manga spans a wide range of topics, including science fiction, horror-thrillers and soap-operatic melodrama. At American video-rental shops, whole shelves are taken up by titles like "Ninja Resurrection," "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040."
One animation, "Ghost in the Shell" takes place in a futuristic world, where memories become individual identities that jump like spirits from one mechanical body to another, a dark science fiction that raises questions about death and the metaphysical threat from technology.
Another, "Apocalpyse Meow," chronicles the adventures of three brave rabbits fighting as American soldiers in the Vietnam War. The rabbits tromp through jungles dressed in camouflage and wielding machine guns, taking part in nightmarish battles amid smoking explosions and hovering helicopters.
Kathie Borders, who runs Wizzywig Collectibles, a store devoted to manga and anime in Ann Arbor, Mich., which carries Ledford's videos and books, says the popularity of Pokemon and YuGiOh! perhaps the best-known characters has propelled a boom in anime that's not only for the usually male, 20-something video-game-loving crowd. It's now drawing fans of all ages, and increasingly, women.
"They're fascinated by the difference in the culture," Borders said in a telephone interview, giving as an example stories starring Japanese schoolgirls. "They like reading something that's not the normal, run-of-the-mill story that they might have been used to."
The heroines may wear uniforms and go to schools that have strict rules compared to American schools, but universal themes, such as falling in love and growing up, transcend cultural boundaries, she said.
Ledford, who speaks a little Japanese, started out by bringing video games from Japan to the United States after dropping out of college. He later expanded into manga and anime.
His first anime deal was in 1992 for the cartoon version of his best-selling video-game "Devil Hunter Yoko," about a teenager who defeats goblins an investment returned in full in just three months. More recently, Ledford's A.D. Vision Inc. has been taking part in funding for Japanese animation. His film unit now records $150 million in annual sales.
Ledford also has 1,000 manga books under license and publishes Newtype USA, the English-language version of a top manga and animation monthly magazine. His Anime Network moved from video-on-demand to a national cable network in July.
Manga and anime may not be for everyone with their heavy dosage of corny romanticism, blood-splattering violence and pubescent sense of erotica. But both are clearly no longer just for Japanese geeks as their counterparts in the United States, Europe and other parts of Asia simply can't get enough.
Shoji Udagawa, vice president at Kadokawa Pictures Inc., a major Japanese film studio, said Ledford understands anime and can help create works that will appeal to Americans as well as to Japanese. Americans tend to like anime with a darker ambiance such as those with robots, he said.
"He fits in well with Japanese but he has something that Japanese don't have," Udagawa said.
Bandai Co. Ltd., a major Japanese toymaker, and electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news) (news - web sites). also distribute anime in the United States, such as "Gundam," "Astro Boy" and "Cowboy Bebop." But the established companies tend to look for sure winners, Ledford says, while he offers a broader lineup.
Pokemon alone earned about $29 billion around the world since 1997, and the U.S. anime business, including licensed character goods and box-office revenue, is estimated at $4 billion a year, according to the Japanese government.
Works like "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki, which won an Oscar and the Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival, are helping raise anime's reputation.
Kelly Lamb, a 14-year-old Ann Arbor high school student, has never been to Japan but is an avid anime fan and sometimes makes her own anime-inspired costumes.
"It's so funny and so hysterical," she said of "Excel Saga," one of her favorites. "If you're really feeling down, it's so funny it cheers you up."
I am still a fan of American animation, especially with great movies like The Incredibles. But, as of right now, it is clear that anime is pretty much taking over.
yeah but what about tentacle pr0n
Took way to long for Lupin III to be released over if you ask me. Too much mecha and not enough variety in what gets imported (Japan DOES have diverse productions).
I had to double-check the dateline.
This would have been news in 12/1999.
Done deal now.
Obviously some people are a little slow on this trend...like the AP.
Yeah, those tentacle monsters sure seem to have sex on the brain.
What I've seen of it looks dark, perverse, violent, sexual repressed and sexually explicit (at the same time!), immature, and misogynistic.
Other than that it's pretty good....
Like I said, it does have its extremes. And I do mean extremes! :-P
And I truely never understand the appeal of this. And I hope I never! All well, I'm going to stick to more saner anime thank you.
AP picked it up from a local story in the Houston Chronicle (local business recently inked a cable deal).
The Comical also ran a hackwork piece on "midnight movies" yesterday that hyped one theater and few "cult" movies. If you can rent it at Kroger's video department, there is little need to screen a second run movie for $8. Can't even bring alcohol into the theater now (they applied for a beer and wine permit).
This sounds like the tv commercial I saw for ABCDisney's new tv show Desperate Housewives.
These are the assertional anime and the ones that happen to be in my collection. Of course the only other animation I have are the two heavy Metals, American POP and Batman Beyond.
I have come to dislike any of the so called main stream animation.
I used to watch 'Robotech' and both versions of 'Voltron' when I was a kid. Good stuff.
I was geek before geek was cool.
"This sounds like the tv commercial I saw for ABCDisney's new tv show Desperate Housewives."
Either that or an NBA game....
I've got 20 year old imported laserdiscs of Osamu Tezuka films: Cleopatra Queen Of Sex (1969) and a double disc collection of short films (3minutes to 40+ minutes) with work from the mid 1960s up into the 1980s. Both have interviews with Tezuka (in Japan) and Cleopatra even has a commentary track.
Too bad my Japanese isn't that good (I was only able to fit one semester into my schooling, got an A).
Again, what I want isn't what gets celebrated by the mainstream anime fans.
oh I think US animation at the top of its game
Just a small sample of my faves!
BTW, someone said it earlier, but this is NOT news. Anime has been big for a while now.
some people don't know but Speed Racer was/is one of the Godfathers of Japanese animation that made it's way to US television in 1967 and still lives today in one form or another. Go Speed Racer Go!
Watch Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies, and Millennium Actress, then report back to me on the intelligence of anime.
Both my kids (14 and 17) are now in taking third-year college Japanese, thanks to an interest in anime.
Personally, I think it's wrong to pidegon-hole animation to comedy. The films of Hayao Miyazaki can be mind-blowing in their imagination, and can really make one re-think what animation is capable of.
But hey, to each their own. :-)
Oh man, you haven't seen Akira yet? What are you waiting for? Just be sure to get the DVD version. They did an excellent job re-dubbing it and getting the original print cleaned up digitally. Then, if it interests/confuses you, check out the full 6-part manga series just released a couple of years ago. The movie barely scratches the surface of the original story. They are both excellent.
I never really watched Robotech. I have seen one of the newer Macross Plus movies, and it was pretty wild. I enjoyed "Ghost in the Shell," though it was a lot more metaphysical than I had anticipated. "Dragonball Z" has been one of my guilty pleasures since college, but I haven't seen it in a long time, although it really started to go downhill towards the end.
If you haven't seen "Cowboy Bebop" yet, then also do yourself that favor. It's a 24-episode series (with one recently-released movie, too) that is just superb. "Akira," while very good, has somewhat dated animation, but "Cowboy Bebop" is top-notch, and the English dub is actually, in my opinion, far superior to the original Japanese.
That is just wrong.
Christ, it has been catching on for 20 years. Akira is the sh!+ but my favorite is "Grave Yard of The Fireflies" ...
An adult friend and I saw "The Incredibles" yesterday. No children were in our entourage. Loved it and will see it again.
For me, a large part of the enjoyment was observing the intricacies of the artistry.
I haven't seen Star Blazers or even a refrence to Star Blazers since I was knee high to a b!_ch liberal... man thank you for helping me find it. I use to watch it everyday religously befor GI JOE.
I saw "Graveyard of the Fireflies", simply an amazing movie. Certainly A heck of a lot better then the stuff Hollywood pushes on us recently. Gripping and powerful.
These pictures make it look like an action film though, which it isn't.
Seriously? I thought it was too cartoonish... I must be missing something. I enjoyed the vampire movies, but most of all I enjoyed "Grave Yard."
What I find really interesting is how cartoons like batman and the superfriends has taken on many of the aspect of Japanese cartoos.
American animation still has its place. IMO, the only reason why they are slowly being pushed aside by Japanese anime is because American animated movies and cartoons no longer have the great stories they used to tell. This IMO, is due to Disneys (which dominated the format before anime and is when the idea that cartoons are a 'kids' thing) basically abandoning the format, and what they are pushing on us is crap (you can even argue it's due to liberalism [especially if you look at the themes of the cartoons they now produce [Pocohantas for example]). Pixar might be the exception, but as you know, Pixar is not a part of Disney. And despite what some people say, it isn't because of the animation style. "The Incredibles", with its great story, would've worked whether it was hand drawn or CGI. As for Pixar, once Cars is out, they will leave Disney. Many animators left Disney because of the change of direction there.
Another interesting thing to note, some of the few animated American series I love, are anime influenced. "Teen Titans" (yets, kids show. But an intelligent kids show) has many obvious anime influenced design. Also true for "Totally Spies" (umm...hehe. Yeah, I like this series too. Don't ask why).
You may like some of the Tezuka shorts. He created Astro Boy (first as a comic book) but in his later years he was experimenting with different styles.
His shorts toured the animation short festivals (back when Spike & Mike were funny rather than pushing bad taste).
I like all sorts of animation. Right now I'm more geared for the Rocky & Bullwinkle boxed sets, Private Snafu's collected shorts, and Disney's Victory Through Air Power.
Yep. I love it.
Cartoonish? I wouldn't say so. Its style of animation is different from most anime I suppose. A bit... brighter, more fluid, I guess.
No big deal though. It's a movie that I don't expect people to like quite as much as I do. It just gets to me on some deep down, personal level. I love the story, the moral ambiguity of the whole situation, the characters, etc. I just love the movie.
And you're right about "Fireflies". Pretty gutsy film when you think about it. I bet even most Japanese filmmakers wouldn't want to tackle that story as an animation. It would NEVER get made in Hollywood. Even if Hollywood started making anime style films, they wouldn't make a "Grave of the Fireflies".
And it's true, American cartoons are taking on anime aspects. The eyes are most notable.
The DC-Warner Bros. superhero cartoons also modeled themselves off the 1940s Fleischer Superman cartoons.
"Taking on Japanese stylings"?
Little animation has been done in America for decades. Even Japan farms it out now.
Easier on the art team. Lousy for a viewer seeking some variety.
Or maybe the 60s:
Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer
he's a demon on wheels
And Kimba the White Lion!
No studio wants to tell an animated story these days if it is not a "musical". Feh. MOR adult pap songs or retro videos for 70s hits.
And what exactly is wrong with tentacle monsters having sex on the mind? Maybe if those schoolgirls didn't wear such cute outfits, there wouldn't be such a problem.
Well, I don't think there has been an animated musical since Disney abandoned that style a few years ago. It's all about 3-D now. Disney even closed down their 2-D film studios.
FWIW, the Australian DVD of Akira contains BOTH studios' English dub soundtracks.
Australia tries to throw a little something extra to the market since they are generally last to release a title.
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