The An­ime In­come Gap

While Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion he­roes ap­pear above money prob­lems, Ja­pan’s strug­gle to scrape by in the mod­ern econ­omy. By Charles Solomon.

Animation Magazine - - Anime -

In Frozen, Anna and Elsa lived in palaces; Gru in De­spi­ca­ble Me com­manded an army of Min­ions; Monsters Univer­sity didn’t have a fi­nan­cial-aid of­fice; and there was no short­age of kids spend­ing quarters in the ar­cade where Wreck-It Ralph worked. Since 2006, the United States has been re­cov­er­ing from the worst fi­nan­cial cri­sis since the Great De­pres­sion, but any­one watch­ing Amer­i­can an­i­ma­tion would never know it.

That wasn’t the case in the 1930s. In Max and Dave Fleis­cher’s A Dream Walk­ing (1934), Popeye and Bluto live in a run-down apart­ment build­ing with cracked plas­ter walls. Mickey and Don­ald were six months be­hind on the rent in Mov­ing Day (1936), and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Three Lit­tle Pigs (1933) was the un­of­fi­cial an­them of the De­pres­sion. Dur­ing the 1940s, car­toon char­ac­ters coped with wartime short­ages and ra­tioning, like the au­di­ences who watched their an­tics.

And it’s not the case in Ja­pan, where to­day’s an­i­mated char­ac­ters are strug­gling to find a place in the post-bub­ble econ­omy. “I think it’s nat­u­ral to in­clude cur­rent events in an­ime; an­i­ma­tion in Ja­pan has in­cluded sto­ries of every­day life and re­flec­tions on every­day life through fan­tasy through­out its his­tory,” said a Ja­panese pro­ducer who asked not to be iden­ti­fied. “Cre­ators are not shy about tak­ing cur­rent in­se­cu­ri­ties into the worlds they de­pict: It’s a common ground they share with the au­di­ence. So the main char­ac­ters es­cape or fight an un­easi­ness the au­di­ence may have or can re­late to.”

Out of Fi­nan­cial

Magic solves Kim­i­maro Yoga’s money prob­lems in [ C] – The Money of Soul and Pos­si­bil­ity Con­trol.

In [C] – The Money of Soul and Pos­si­bil­ity Con­trol (2011), univer­sity stu­dent Kim­i­maro Yoga works two con­ve­nience-store jobs. He doesn’t as­pire to fab­u­lous wealth or suc­cess, he just wants a se­cure job that will en­able him to support a wife and one child, an in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult goal for many young Ja­panese — and Americans.

A mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure trans­ports Kim­i­maro to the al­ter­nate re­al­ity of the Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict, where peo­ple fight bizarre bat­tles, wa­ger­ing their fu­tures against a cash stake they can in­crease end­lessly. But if they lose and go bank­rupt, their ex­is­tence in the real world changes: ca­reers, pos­ses­sions, even fam­ily mem­bers may van­ish. The stakes are higher than Kim­i­maro re­al­izes: The col­lapse of Lehman Brothers caused an en­tire Caribbean na­tion to dis­ap­pear — and no one re­mem­bers it.

In the sci-fi ad­ven­ture se­ries Frac­tale (2011), nanoma­chines in­jected into their blood­stream link hu­mans to a global tech­no­log­i­cal net­work that sup­plies ev­ery­thing they need. But the ag­ing Frac­tale sys­tem is crum­bling; as its satel­lites crash, peo­ple lose ac­cess to it. Ini­tially, teen-age hero Clain is only vaguely aware of the prob­lem. But as his ad­ven- ard Natsu, ice wizard Gray, ce­les­tial wizard Lucy and tough-as-press-on nails trans­for­ma­tive wizard Erza — have to take risky jobs bat­tling demons and evil sor­cer­ers be­cause they’re peren­ni­ally broke. Although they in­vari­ably come out on top, they run up out­ra­geous food and bar tabs. And, like Wild Tiger, they of­ten wreak havoc on their sur­round­ings — which lands them in trou­ble with the Coun­cil of El­ders.

Far from

No an­i­mated se­ries has con­fronted the alien­ation of dis­en­fran­chised Ja­panese youth more di­rectly than Eden of the East (2009), which scored a big hit on both sides of the Pa­cific. Twenty-some­thing Akira Tak­izawa wakes up in Wash­ing­ton D.C., stripped of his mem­o­ries — and his clothes: All he has is a gun and a mo­bile phone that de­liv­ers any­thing he re­quests. With the help of va­ca­tion­ing col­lege se­nior Saki Morimi, Tak­izawa re­turns to Ja­pan and tries to re­cover his mem­o­ries, which may be linked to the dis­ap­pear­ance of 20,000 NEETS (young men with No Em­ploy­ment, Ed­u­ca­tion or Train­ing). He dis­cov­ers that he is a se­leçao, one of 12 agents charged by the mys­te­ri­ous Mr. Out­side with sav­ing a fal­ter­ing, ap­a­thetic Ja­pan.

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine a main­stream Amer­i­can se­ries or fea­ture that fo­cuses on this kind of so­cial is­sue or fea­tured char­ac­ters who are broke. Hiro in Big Hero 6 has cut­ting-edge equip­ment at his fin­ger­tips, Hic­cup in How to Train Your Dragon can make what­ever he wants in Gob­ber’s forge, and no one com­plained about the rates at the Ho­tel Tran­syl­va­nia.

“An­i­ma­tion in Ja­pan is very of­ten a record of daily life. There are shows about taxes, house­work, child-rear­ing and cook­ing,” says Roland Kelts, au­thor of Ja­panamer­ica: How Ja­panese Pop Cul­ture Has In­vaded Amer­ica. “So it’s no ac­ci­dent that an­i­ma­tors in Ja­pan draw and write about eco­nomic trou­bles like run­ning short of cash. Sadly, most an­i­ma­tors in Ja­pan are paid very lit­tle, so they know that con­di­tion in­ti­mately.”

Over a year after it be­gan stir­ring in­ter­est at fes­ti­vals around the world, Ari Fol­man’s live-ac­tion/an­i­ma­tion adap­ta­tion of Stanis­law Lem’s sci-fi tale The Fu­tur­o­log­i­cal Congress ar­rives on disc. The am­bi­tious story and tech­nique were enough to earn the best an­i­mated film prize at the 2013 Euro­pean Film Awards. Avail­able on DVD or Blu-ray ($19.97), it makes a wor­thy ad­di­tion to your in­die film li­brary.

Robin Wright stars as a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of her­self, who 20 years after rock­et­ing to star­dom takes her fi­nal job: pre­serv­ing her dig­i­tal like­ness for a fu­ture Hol­ly­wood. Bro­kered by her agent (Har­vey Kei­tel) and the Mi­ramount Stu­dios head (Danny Hus­ton), the deal grants her enough funds to care for her ail­ing son. Things take a strange turn another 20 years later when the cre­ative vi­sion of the stu­dio’s head an­i­ma­tor (Jon Hamm) makes the dou­ble a star — and leads to Wright’s invitation to The Congress for her big come­back. [Re­lease date: Dec. 2]

Writer John Derevlany wanted so much to work on a project with LEGO that he cre­ated a short an­i­mated film of him­self as a minifig­ure ask­ing the company for a job and posted it on YouTube.

While it’s not the strangest way to get a job in the his­tory of an­i­ma­tion, it cer­tainly was unique — and suc­cess­ful. The Dan­ish toy gi­ant tapped Derevlany to de­velop and write the se­ries LEGO: Leg­ends of Chima, a CG ac­tion-ad­ven­ture se­ries now in its third sea­son.

The se­ries’ story of an­i­mal tribes bat­tling each other for a power called the Chi is in­cred­i­bly com­plex — and Derevlany, whose an­i­ma­tion cred­its in­clude episodes of Wild Grinders, Johnny Test and Kick But­towski: Sur­bur­ban Dare­devil, has to date writ­ten ev­ery episode him­self.

We caught up with Derevlany to talk about the an­i­mated ex­pe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing the show. An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine: You landed your job with Leg­ends of Chima by ask­ing for it via an an­i­mated clip of your­self as a LEGO minifig­ure posted on YouTube. How did that come about? John Derevlany: My son was four and all he was do­ing was play­ing with LEGO, and I was play­ing with LEGO with him, and I had seen some of their con­tent, and I re­ally liked it. I heard they were do­ing — through my agent — that they were do­ing some other show and I’m like, I re­ally want this, so I’m go­ing to im­press them with my en­thu­si­asm ... That got me in the door, and then I had to jump through the usual hoops you have to jump through. An­imag: What was in­volved in de­vel­op­ing this show? Derevlany: (At LEGO), they take a bunch of ideas, ei­ther in model form or in visual form, and they test them, and the kids will choose what­ever their fa­vorite theme is. At the point I en­tered the process, the kids had de­cided they al­ready wanted this theme of an­i­mals fight­ing ... and they had this con­cept of this en­ergy source called Chi that ev­ery­one is fight­ing over. I ba­si­cally came up with the mythol­ogy of why they’re fight­ing about it, why th­ese tribes are al­lied and, at this point, I think there are about 400 pages of bi­ble and about a hun- dred pages for each sea­son de­tail­ing each tribe, their belief sys­tem, their po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, their mon­e­tary sys­tem. It goes into re­ally a lot of de­tail, and that was mostly me. An­imag: How did you end up writ­ing ev­ery episode your­self? Derevlany: I was think­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to bring in a writer for one episode and they’re go­ing to have to read 400 page of bi­ble to write a 30-page script?’ So I had some prac­ti­cal con­cerns about con­vinc­ing peo­ple to do that. And the sched­ule worked out in a way that I ac­tu­ally was able to do most of the episodes.

The other thing is I go to Den­mark ev­ery cou­ple months and I work out the sto­ries with two of their main con­tent guys and so the sto­ries were fig­ured out ... I’d come home from Den­mark with a sin­gle-page out­line or sum­mary of each story and go­ing from a one-page out­line to a six-page out­line and then to a 25page or 30-page script is not that hard. An­imag: What does the fu­ture hold for the show? Derevlany: There are a cou­ple episodes air­ing I guess in early 2015 that will con­clude this par­tic­u­lar sto­ry­line ... Beyond that, they told me not to say any­thing.

An­imag: Derevlany: I have a show called En­dan­gered Species with NerdCorps ... This show is about three char­ac­ters who live in a stump in a park: a squir­rel, a seag­ull and a rab­bit ... It’s cool be­cause it’s sim­ple. I’m pitch­ing a thing with David Michel at Cot­ton­wood TV called Squish. It’s kind of like, what if Charlie Brown and Peanuts were sin­gle-celled micro­organ­isms? It’s this cool, straight-ahead show that gets weird very quickly. It’s based on se­ries of books that have sold pretty well. And I have this thing called The Fear­less Five, about five of the shyest kids you’ll ever meet ex­cept they get a su­per­power, which is they get in­cred­i­bly bold for five min­utes a day. Ev­ery car­toon character out there is this as­sertive sort of loud character — and it works, kids watch it — but I think you can show the other 80 per­cent of the world that’s not that as­sertive.

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