The Push To Digital Opens New Doors For Anime

The COVID-19 pandemic, now entering its third year, has done to the Japanese animation industry the same thing it has done to many others – pushed trends that were already unfolding at a blazing speed.

Example: digitization. For years, animators in Japan have stubbornly stuck to paper and pencil to draw keyframes. While tasks such as coloring and special effects have long since moved into the digital realm, this decidedly analog first step means a lot of paper is stuffed into envelopes, collated and digitized by busy production assistants.

However, the era of remote working has pushed more and more animators to go digital, either scanning into their pencil-and-paper settings at home or starting from digital scratch, with advancements like the Apple Pencil facilitating the farewell to the physical.

This march of ones and zeros is a mixed blessing for studios and animators. On the one hand, it allows the industry to expand to places other than Tokyo. Japanese animators are notoriously underpaid, and the ability to work from anywhere means they can escape to areas with cheaper rents and better living conditions. Studios are also taking advantage of this situation: Late last year, production house Production IG announced plans to open a branch in Niigata, where it expects to receive government grants to help revitalize the region. Digital submission has also allowed people from all over the world to participate in the industry. Young animators outside of Japan, raised on an anime diet, are now helping to produce it from the oceans.

But as anyone who’s worked remotely in the past two years knows, it’s not all good. On the one hand, the lack of in-person communication has put a damper on networking and creativity. Since most animators are self-employed, conversations at the water cooler or local pub are often key to finding the next job or brainstorming. It also forced animators, often with tight deadlines and budgets, to become their own production assistants, investing time and money in expensive scanners or computer devices. But even if and when animators start meeting in person again, the digital revolution is here to stay.

Meanwhile, the international market will continue to grow in importance. 2020 was the first year in which anime made more money overseas than in Japan. Giant media companies have realized that their audience lives all over the world – even Disney+ got into the game last year. And in early 2022, one of the few remaining independent anime distributors in the United States, Houston-based Sentai Holdings, was purchased by AMC Networks, the company responsible for high-profile dramas such as “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead”. .”

The old business model, pioneered in the 1980s and 1990s by the likes of Sentai, was to simply license and localize everything Japan had to offer. But the big boys like Disney and Netflix are taking a more active role in content creation, commissioning projects like “Star Wars: Visions,” an omnibus of shorts set in the “Star Wars” universe, or “Yasuke », a series directed by an American director about a real black samurai. Projects like these have caused heated debates online about what should or shouldn’t be considered “anime,” but with increasing overseas sales, international productions should keep coming.

At the same time, while the domestic market may shrink, it turns out to be less unstable than those overseas. China is an example of this: starting last year, it began to take an even tougher line on what kind of content it allows in the country. Chinese censors now require an entire anime series to be submitted for approval, not just one episode at a time, making simulcasting virtually impossible. His censors are now rejecting more titles. Production committees dependent on the Chinese market could be forced to reconsider their content – ​​and adjust their production schedules – to align.

In terms of titles aimed primarily at Japanese audiences, isekai – stories of men and women transported from their boring lives to fantasy worlds – will continue to dominate in 2022. (Who wouldn’t want to be transported to another world right now?) Plus, look for producers for trying to replicate the success of “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba” by funding high-quality adaptations of popular shōnen (boys) manga, like the next “Chainsaw Man”. In the theatrical realm, staples like “Detective Conan” and “One Piece” will be joined by original properties like “Bubble,” which owes a clear visual debt to Makoto Shinkai’s hits “Weathering With You” and “Your Name.” Speaking of Shinkai, her own new movie, “Suzume no Tojimari,” will hit theaters this fall.

Anime Titles to Look Forward to in 2022

“The Chainsaw Man”: “Chainsaw Man” follows the hit formula established by “Demon Slayer” and “Jujutsu Kaisen,” a popular title from the pages of Shonen Jump hosted by MAPPA, one of Japan’s top studios that also helmed the final season of “ Attack on Titan”. .” An exact release date has yet to be announced.

“Uzumaki”: Adapted from a manga by horror master Junji Ito, “Uzumaki” is about a small town terrorized by creepy spirals. It’s scheduled for this fall.

“Suzume no Tojimari”: Makoto Shinkai’s (“Your Name”) latest film, “Suzume no Tojimari”, is about a teenage girl who travels across Japan closing the “gates of calamity” before they can cause, well, the calamity. It is also set to hit theaters in Japan this fall.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is urging residents and visitors to exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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