From TV to theatres, Japanese anime takes root in India



Japanese anime fills a unique void in the country, appealing to not only children and teenagers but also adults

NEW DELHI : Japanese animation film Suzume, which surpassed 10 crore in Indian box office sales since its release in Indian theatres a few weeks ago, is building on the popularity of anime on television screens. While TV shows such as Doraemon, Shin-Chan and Naruto remain favourites, industry experts recognize that Japanese anime fills a unique void in the country, appealing to not only young children and teenagers but also adults.

Companies attempting to localize these shows in local languages have discovered that the films and series tackle complex themes such as friendship, loss and racism. This strategy has resonated with audiences and is now proving successful in theatres, as evident in box office hits like Weathering With You and One Piece Film Red. Interestingly, this trend arrives at a time most Indian films have struggled to draw audiences to theatres. In fact, popular Japanese titles like Death Note deal with primarily adult themes and the category is even known for gore and violence in several instances.

“There is a growing interest in Japanese culture, food, lifestyle and language. Indian and Japanese traditions, culture, beliefs and value systems are quite similar, and audiences relate to these, which find expression through anime movies," Sanjeev Kumar Bijli, executive director of cinema chain PVR Inox Ltd said. While the target group happens to be the 9-25-year-old, the category finds appeal among both Gen Y and Gen Z thanks to the visually stunning effects the genre is known for, Bijli said. The company released Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume No Tojimari with English subtitles and a dubbed Hindi version this April to appeal to a larger demography.

The three top performing Japanese anime titles of PVR Inox Pictures—Jujutsu Kaisen: Zero, One Piece Film Red and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba -To the Swordsmith Village have cumulatively clocked gross box office sales of about Rs. 18 crore, Bijli said.

Rahul Puri, managing director of Mukta Arts and Mukta A2 Cinemas, said there has always been a strong fan base for Japanese anime in India, but now, cinema chains are making a conscious effort to exhibit content for all target audiences as per their tastes and preferences. “The growth of OTT has brought the world closer by displaying a wide array of content in different languages under one roof, be it Korean, Japanese or Chinese," Puri said.

To be sure, Indian audiences have been exposed to Japanese anime since the early 2000s thanks to television, and the category has benefited from a loyal fan base. “The content comes with distinct and complex storylines, tackling themes such as friendship, loss, war, crime, bullying and racism, and the stories appeal to a cross section of viewers. Unlike regular animation that targets the 2-14-year-old, Japanese anime may find a draw among the 13-30 age group too," said Ronojoy Chakraborty, head-programming, Sony YAY!, the kids’ channel owned by Sony Pictures Networks India. Rajiv Chilaka, the founder of Green Gold Animation, agreed that Japanese anime fills a unique void by targeting slightly older kids, unlike television channels in India that mostly cater to those below the age of 10. “Mature audiences can relate to it too. That said, Japan isn’t producing much animation content increasingly as its own kids’ population is very slim," Chilaka pointed out.

Senior animator Chatrasal Singh said anime focuses lesser on quality of animation in general in comparison to their storytelling. "This mirrors the audiences’ perception of animation in India too - story above technicalities of animation. Japanese animation is also known to create content for all age groups. There are plenty of long-form animation series like Naruto and One Punch Man, that serve both kids as well as adults," Singh said.

Over the years, anime’s popularity has grown significantly through social media, driven by passionate interest groups and local online communities who share their love for the genre, said George Chien, co-founder, president and CEO of KC Global Media.

The company recently partnered with Amazon Prime Video to launch Japanese anime and drama from its linear channels Animax and GEM, available with an add-on subscription to the service. “Localization efforts include dubbings in Hindi and other local languages, allowing content to be understood by non-English viewers. Animax, though, approaches this differently and caters to fans who appreciate their favourite anime titles in their original Japanese language," Chien said.

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