Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sailor Moon Animator Muses on Japan Expo in France

In a piece simply titled The French Like the Pop Culture of Japan, animator Kimiharu Obata muses on how Anime has grown in Japan, along with his own observations at the Japan Expo held in early July, in Paris. The expo is dedicated to all aspects of Japanese pop culture, including anime, manga, videogames, cosplay, fashion, and martial arts. It took us a little while to find out exactly who Obata was, but we later learned that he was once a top animator for a few years at Toei, and worked on the Sailor Moon R series. Currently, he is retired from animation, but he teaches at Vantan Design Institute's College of Film, Anime, and Manga. He seems like a very interesting person, and we recommend you visit Obata-Sensei's webpage! He even drew Sailor Moon recently for a Vantan flier!

Over the 4 days of the expo, 140,000 people attended, and their interest in Japanese culture was pretty strong. The majority of people knew Japanese culture as more than just anime and manga, but there were also quite a few cosplayers. Through his work with the Vantan Design Institute, he presented some of their animation in the hopes they could sell some of it to some French companies to release on DVD, and he also wanted to interview some of the Expo goers to learn of different perspectives on anime. It was a bit of a challenge too, given the current economic situation, to pitch anime in France to people who have a different understanding of anime than a person would in Japan. They were under a lot of pressure!

Then he began to write about the history of anime in France. We’ll summarize this part for you briefly. In 1978, Go Nagai’s UFO Robot Grendizer made its debut in France, to the delight of many children! Many children played outside pretending to be characters in the show. However, the show’s success was met with some controversy over ethics and violence. During the 90s, Kinnikuman was forbidden to air in France since one of the heroes (Brocken Jr.) derives from a Nazi upbringing. Anime was banned soon after in France, however many fans resorted to fansubs and bootlegs of anime. In 1991, the Dragon Ball manga was published in France, and became hugely popular. In 1999, the ban on anime was lifted, and Pokemon was one of the first anime to air in France in a long time. France later became one of Europe’s most popular countries for anime. Companies later saved money by subcontracting dub contracts to local companies, while still maintaining a high quality. Moreover, France is now a talent hub for other cartoons which air all over the world. You’d be surprised to find out how many North American cartoons in the last 10-15 years have come from France!

Kimiharu also remarks that Japanese dramas are being enjoyed in France through underground sites, simply because they are as original as anime that air. In fact, those dramas which are based on anime are very popular there. He also found it a little strange that a couture powerhouse like France was interested in Japanese fashion, and even drew inspiration from fashion in anime and manga. He was astonished! But, to really make an impact these days, a cartoon must also have a manga, video games, and movies. He also noticed that girls are becoming a lot more interested in anime and manga than they were before, thanks to the shojo genre and titles like NANA.

It is still very hard for Japanese movies that do well in Japan to do just as well in France. He cites a few Studio Ghibli titles as examples such as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. Though the concept of a girl superhero was still a little foreign to some people in France, Sailor Moon was a huge hit!

He also spoke with a representative from Glenat Manga, who he names as a premier company for manga sales in France. The representative said he has been visiting Japan several times over the last 20 years to search for good work. He not only licenses manga which he knows that French people will like, but also other manga which may not be big sellers, but just to bring good work to France. He gives an example of how he bought Jiro Tamaguchi’s work to France. He is a veteran cartoonist in Japan, but many young people do not know who he is. However, his work is an “impressive masterpiece of individual conscience”, and slowly he is becoming recognized in France, even winning the Alph'Art of the Best Scenario Award in France in 2003. The rep also said that he was also impressed that during the anime ban, that anime and manga did not lose credibility among the people in France. He feels that the element of surprise is what appeals to people the most of Japanese manga, and that it is also educational entertainment. The French are a very inquisitive people and they are not afraid to be shaken by anime!

Kimiharu ended the article saying that he was fascinated by this fusion of two cultures. The link for the article is here for those of you who want to read it in Japanese, and it’s a very interesting perspective that we don’t hear from often! There are also some great pictures at the Japan Expo's official site!

EDIT: The article has since been removed, but Obata-sensei has posted this on his website. Read his journal entry here, and a copy of the article here.

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