Netfilx extends its anime reach by partnering with leading Japanese studios but will it be enough to beat off the competition?
Enterainmen reporters from all over the world packed like sardines into the seventh floor auditorium of the Tokyo International Forum last week eager to learn all about leading streaming subscription entertainment provider Netflix’s expansion of anime viewing options.
The Netflix Anime Tokyo Slate Event, as the showcase was dubbed, explained how the streaming service is partnering with more animation studios in Japan to make original content and is also set to launch a wide range of new series and films over the next year.
The much-loved Japanese animation style, which turns 100 this year, will appear on Netflix globally in a variety of forms. These include the film “Godzilla”, which is scheduled for release in November, the thrilling “Devilman Crybaby” by Masaaki Yuasa, a re-imagining of “Saint Seiya” as “Knights of The Zodiac: Saint Seiya” and “Baki” from the popular 1980s comic.
The streaming service is using Japanese anime to reach out to a wide diversity of viewers, who now number more than 100 million subscribers around the world.
Greg Peters, Netflix's chief product officer, says that more than 50 per cent of Japanese Netflix members stream anime and that the genre is popular everywhere from South America to the United States, Europe and, of course, in Asia.
“Anime is viewed to some extent in every one of our markets around the world today. It represents a significant opportunity for the category. Japan is our biggest market for anime but adding up all the other territories, we’ve found that 90 per cent of anime viewing actually happens outside Japan. We expect to continue to grow anime viewing both here in Japan and in the rest of the world as we continue to invest and identify quality content,” says Peters.
“New global audiences are critical as they allow us to create a positive feedback loop, which is turn enables us to put a lot of time and investment into the product. We can also really help creators achieve their visions at the highest quality levels and exercise their craft without squeezing them on time or cost.”
The new series and films, which will roll out over the next year, are not only remakes or licensed Japanese animations but also include stories from the USA that are being turned into anime versions.
“We currently partner with more 50 anime content producers here in Japan to bring both licensed titles and new productions to our members around the world. These new titles are an increasingly important part of our library. We currently have some 20 original anime titles available today,” says Peters, adding that entertainment is undergoing a major transition that’s being led by consumers. Consumers, he adds, are today more likely to pay for entertainment-based Internet services than any other service category and far more apt to enjoy “binge-watching” than at any time in the past.
“More than three-quarters of our customers say they like that ‘all at once’ seasonal release pattern,” he explains.
Indeed, improving quality of experience and making it specific to each user has paid off big time and viewers are unanimous in saying they would find it very hard to return to old models
Netflix already makes its own anime originals such as “Castlevania”, which was released last month and has since been renewed for a second season.
The show’s producer Adi Shankar says that he was approached to do a live-action film in 2012 but turned it down. “I felt that the company involved did not respect the fans, characters or the games. Making this show with Netflix was the best experience I had in Hollywood," says Shankar who spent his childhood in Singapore and Hong Kong and was weaned on Japanese anime.
“They let us make this show for the fans of the game,” he adds.
Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa, just back from a Canadian film festival, was also at the event and considers making Go Nagai’s “Devilman” for Netflix a great opportunity. Right now, he says, the studio is busy working on storyboarding, scripting and even the climax scenes,
“Netflix has no borderline, so you can show the violent and sexual scenes that you can't on TV,” says the director whose previous works include “Ping Pong” animation. He has another two projects slated for release this year “The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl” and “Lu Over the Wall”.
“Devilman Crybaby” is based on the classic manga by Go Nagai, which was published in 1972-1973. It’s about a race of demons trampling the earth, and the one man, Akira Fudo, who has to harness the powers of the dark side in order to defeat them. The 10 episodes are set to be released in next spring.
“Knights of the Zodiac” is the new title Netflix has given to the remake of the popular “Saint Seiya” manga and the 12 episodes follows the modern day adventures of young warriors called Knights who are sworn protectors of the reincarnated Greek goddess Athena. Each knight wears a powerful armour based on his zodiac constellation and together they aid Athena in her battle against powerful Olympian gods who are bent on destroying humankind. Each episode runs for 30 minutes and the series is directed by Yoshiaru Ashino.
The “Godzilla” movie is a collaboration between Netflix, Toho Studios, creator of the original Godzilla film and leading Japanese animation studio Polygon Pictures Inc. According to Polygon’s website, the film “Godzilla: Monster Planet” takes place in 2048, years after Earth has been taken over by kaiju. After discovering that a planet they planned to colonise is uninhabitable, a group of humans decide to take back their homeworld from the monsters’ clutches. “Godzilla: Monster Planet” will come to Netflix in November.
Also coming to the streaming provider is the American animation “Cannon Busters”, which is being co-produced with a Japanese animation company. The story centres on an android who’s programmed to make friends and is thrust into a violent world supported by two other individuals who are helping her locate her best friend. Its creator LeSean Thomas is enthusiastic about the collaboration with Japanese studios. “They are open-minded. We have a creative affinity for animation,” he says.
Other highlight animations include “Baki”. A favourite with Thai comic fans in the 1980s, it chronicles a fighter in training to be the best in the world. It will have 26 episodes.
The super-relaxed bear Rilakkuma will also be on screen soon in a stop-motion animated series that marks its 15th anniversary. The story will see Rilakkuma showing up one day to live with an office worker named Kaoru.
Another interesting project is “Children of the Whales”, the story of 513 people who live in complete isolation on the Mud Whale – an island-like ship sailing through a planet covered in sand. Chakuro, the island’s archivist who is endowed with special powers, meets the mysterious girl Rikosu, the first time anyone on the island has made contact with someone from the outside world. The anime, which is based on Abi Umeda’s hit manga of the same name, is being directed by Kyohei Ishguro and adapted by anime studio JC Staff
Netflix will present the Hollywood film based on the popular manga “Death Note” and is also producing original content in Italy, Germany, Spain Brazil, Korea, India, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand though no details have yet been revealed.
With technologies constantly being developed to add speed to the Internet and increase picture quality, Netflix is confronting more and more competitors both in the United States and further afield. And it is about to face more competition following last week’s announcement by Walt Disney Studios that it is to end its distribution deal with Netflix and launch its own streaming service in 2019. Meanwhile another rival Amazon is working on expanding its anime market.
Netflix is currently available in more than 190 countries except China, Crimea, North Korea and Syria. Netflix started in Thailand earlier last year and has gradually increased content and added Thai subtitling.
Subscriptions range from Bt280 to Bt420 depending on picture quality from standard definition (SD) to ultra high definition 4K (Ultra HD 4K) and also the numbers of screens.
For more information, visit www.Netflix.com/th.