The 90s kids do not overcome the love for Japanese anime. Now China wants to play its part with Flavors of Youth and Last Hope: the latest Sino-Nippon productions that recently rocked on Netflix
In 2017, the anime industry alone raised almost $ 24 billion and now Chinese hi-tech giants smell the business opportunity. In fact, young Chinese born in the 90s grew with Japanese anime such as Sailor Moon and Naruto as well as Western young people.
The first to understand the opportunity in the Nippon-style anime has been Tencent, which has gathered an audience of almost 200 million viewers by broadcasting Zhang Hongzhang latest masterpiece on Tencent Video. The director is one of the most appreciated mangaka in the Middle Kingdom where he is trying to find a “Chinese way” in the field.
© Sohu.cn. Big hi-tech companies of the online gaming industry like Tencent are supporting the growing Chinese animation industry.
Since the animation industry is still on the rise in the Country, in 2015 Beijing started new partnerships with the Asian neighbor. Last Hope and Flavors of Youth are the latest successful examples of these partnerships.
Last Hope 重神机潘多拉 – also known as Jushinki Pandora – is a sci-fi TV series that mixes mecha and resistance of the humankind. Produced and animated by the Japanese Satelight and the Chinese Xiamen Skyloong Media, the worldwide release through Netflix went online last September.
Flavors of Youth 肆式青春 is a three-episode drama animation movie instead. Directed by both Japanese and Chinese famous directors, it is a co-production between Haoliners Animation League from China and CoMix Wave Films (CWF) from Japan, the studio behind Makoto Shinkai’s big hit movies including Your Name. The international release date through Netflix was just one month before Last Hope and, as well as the TV series, the success came right away.
© Haoliners Animation. Image from “Flavors of Youth”. In the episode “Shanghai Love”, the city representation is realistic showing how the animated technique is improving.
Although the two movies come from similar productions, the plots could not be different. While the first is an anime classics set in the post-apocalyptic Middle Kingdom were humans have to save humankind by fighting with giant robots, the second movie explores themes about love and the simple joys of life.
However, the two blockbusters share the location, they are both set in China. The last human outpost of Last Hope takes place in the fictional post-apocalyptic city called Neo Xianglong, which is supposed to represent the metropolis of Chongqing. On the other hand, Flavors of Youth is split into three segments, which take place in three different existing cities: Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai.
The common sentiment is that of nostalgia. While Flavors of Youth remember times that changed, Last Hope uses typical Sichuan food to bring back memories of the world as it was before the apocalypse.
One of the receipts of the success of these two productions is the integration of Chinese distinctive features within the Japanese most successful cliche. Moreover, through these expedients, the audience feels empathy for the protagonists: people feel at home through hotpot and mapo doufu while watching Last Hope and they create a bond with Flavors of Youth’s lives.
For what concerns the TV series, we are in fact in front of an anime belonging to the genre mecha sci-fi, where the robots commanded internally by pilots dominate the action scenes together with their enemies. On the one hand, there is a futuristic city constantly lit by neon lights, in which, however, traditional Chinese elements still persist, such as lanterns, signs, buildings, clothes, and food.
On the other hand, there is the world outside Neo Xianglong, in which the biological-mechanical “monsters” are hidden among the ruins of humanity. Throughout the episodes, Sichuan food, especially Sichuan pepper, appears to be a common thread of the plot in an attempt of reminding the audience that, despite a typical Japanese look, it is still set in the Dragon.
© Xiamen Skylong. Last Hope has impressed the public for its compelling story as well as the realistic designs of a futuristic Chongqing called Neo Xianglong.
For what concerns Flavors of Youth, instead, it manages to combine the meaning of “flavor” through a multi-level approach, through memories of both the protagonists and the audience. It talks about situations that everyone in China, in one way or another, have experienced. The movie is thus a story about what it was, what it is, and what could have been. It is inspired by the Chinese idiom 衣食住行 that describes the basic necessities of living such as food, clothing, accommodation, and travel.
In particular, the first episode – The Rice Noodles – tells the story of a young boy who leaves his hometown to live in Beijing. Feeling homesick, the protagonist finds relief in the rice noodles cooked by an anonymous restaurant of the city. In addition, in the third episode – Shanghai Love – two young people communicate their love through music cassettes in the big chaotic metropolis of Shanghai.
The never-ending feeling of nostalgia of young people who leave their hometown to chase the big city dream and the slight complaint against a society that grew too fast too much and which is never going back to the roots is the sentiment that the audience share with the anime.
The director of the second episode – A Small Fashion Show – Yoshitaka Takeuchi told that the three short films depict interactions of human emotions in modern China. Although the stories are set in the PRC, CWF believes the audience must feel something uniquely Japanese at its core.
The continuous references to Chinese culture combined with Japanese most successful productions are what probably made people love these two partnerships. However, despite the two are box office platinum, “the Chinese animation industry continues to show that it is still too green”, as commented by Li Leilei, a professor at the Shenzhen University. “Animation makers must produce high-quality works instead of imitating or copying other works with high similarities,” said Hu Jianping, CEO of Electronic Soul.
The improvement of quality in terms of art and storytelling has contributed to the Chinese animation market that reached almost $ 24 billion in turnover last year.
Indeed, the national animation industry is still strongly influenced by Japan. Although some indisputable successes, the lack of originality is one of the reasons why China did not find a stable success in the industry yet. According to a report by EntGroup, revenue for China’s animation industry hit over 23.6 billion US dollars last year, making up 24 percent of the entertainment industry.
© 视觉 中国. Among the manga who have opened a new route for Chinese animation, there is “Blade of the Guardians” by the teacher Xi Xian Zhe. A product where Chinese fantasy and culture mix perfectly.
While the Dragon tries to understand how to reach its own audience, hi-tech giants such as Tencent, Baidu, and NetEase invest in the field. Following the number one in terms of anime production Japan and the best-selling US, China found in the development of this field a new fruitful market. Always standing on the front lines, Pony Ma’s company is investing in animation, by buying the rights of most famous Chinese comics in order to turn them into successful TV shows.
Anime production also wins in the sales. New Chinese love to buy so that major e-commerce platforms are now crowded with Last Hope and Flavors of Youth merchandise.
Manga, DVD boxes, action figures, and cosplay costumes are the products Millenials spend their money on. Moreover, shopping holidays in Akihabara quartier and a return to a 90s “otaku” atmosphere represent a trend among the young and new Chinese middle-class. Surugaya – Chinese’s favorite manga store in Tokyo – also started to sell many Sino-Japanese publications.
© 视觉 中国, Cosplayer at this year’s IDO ACG Carnival in Beijing. Many young people spend money on items such as gadgets and merchandising.
On the other side of the sea, people from the Land of the Rising Sun happily welcomed the PRC as a refreshing setting. It also allowed the gorgeous visuals CMF is known for to tell amazing stories in urban settings different from Shinkai’s Tokyo. In Japanese opinion, Flavors of Youth also managed to beat Miyazaki at his own animated food game. China is thus gaining consent in the anime’s motherland.
The country appreciated by the Asian neighbors is the same country depicted in Last Hope and in Flavors of Youth. It is a China increasingly projected towards the future, which is also the engine of the world economy. The same country where pure and simple feelings together with a millenary culture characterize people.
Last Hope also emphasizes Chinese hi-tech development drawing a world where the flora and fauna merged with AI thus removing the border between machine and nature. It looks like a reminder for the technology the Middle Kingdom is actually improving. Robot hotel receptionists and android anchormen are just the latest AI innovations the country introduced lately.
The PRC is finally becoming an increasingly important market for anime. Even if there are more steps to reach Nippon levels, Chinese manga already reached overseas appreciation. Nevertheless, while studios like Haoliners are working their way into the Japanese market, will the broadcast on Netflix consecrate Dragon’s anime in the Western world?
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