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Thursday, March 19, 2009
China, tourism feature in huge 'anime' convention
By ALEX MARTIN
The Tokyo International Anime Fair 2009 kicked off Wednesday to a cheerful start, featuring a mix of both domestic and overseas companies presenting their newest products and exploring new marketing methods ranging from "anime" tourism to online broadcasting.
The four-day event, open to the public Friday and Saturday, has brought together 255 animation-related companies and organizations — 56 from overseas — spread across 759 booths at Tokyo Big Sight.
The festival's organizers expect total turnout for the four days to reach more than 130,000 this year, surpassing last year's record 126,622.
In a further sign of the industry's increasing global presence, 14 anime-related companies from China are participating for the first time in the fair's eight-year history.
"We hope to promote and further develop Chinese animation through exchanges with our Japanese counterparts," Hao Ya Ning, president of Beijing United Film Investment Co. Ltd, said in a speech prior to the tape-cutting ceremony celebrating China's entry to TAF2009.
Mao Xue Bing, general manager of Tian Le Animation, one of the animation studios participating in the event, said the Chinese government, as a matter of national policy, funds 30 percent to 40 percent of their production fees.
"Chinese animation is entering a phase of rapid growth. It's like the 'Era of the Warring States,' " Mao said, referring to the chaotic and violent period in Chinese history that saw various warlords battling for territory.
Reflecting the difficult economic times, however, many of the symposiums held in the first two business days had to do with future funding and marketing strategies for the industry.
Hideaki Tokutake of Japan Location Market — an organization promoting regional development through tourism, and a host of one of the symposiums — emphasized the growing potential of animation tourism.
"A majority of people think story settings for anime are imaginary, but in many cases, they're not," Tokutake said, citing the case of Washimiya-machi, Saitama Prefecture — one of the cities where the anime series "Lucky Star" takes place.
"The number of visitors to the local Washimiya Shrine during New Year's rocketed from 90,000 to 420,000 between 2007 and 2009, and had a huge impact on the city's tourist income, as well as sales of related merchandise," he said, adding that such revenue from "pilgrimages" by anime fans poses a great business opportunity.
Gunji Mikio of Production I.G agreed, saying his company is planning on coordinating a tour in the Tohoku region following the footsteps of Date Masamune, a powerful daimyo of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period and the samurai featured in Production I.G's popular "Sengoku Basara" anime.
"We need to think of new ways to make profits in these tough times, and anime tourism is one thing we're looking into," he said.
San-Francisco based anime-sharing site Crunchyroll is another newcomer to the fair. It hosted a symposium Wednesday on the future of Internet broadcasting.
Vincent Shortino, general manager of Crunchyroll's Japan branch, said the number of Japanese companies that have signed up to broadcast programs on the site has been increasing steadily since the Tokyo office was opened last September.
"The numbers of paid subscribers to our simulcast services are also rising," Shortino said, emphasizing the possibilities that online broadcasting offers the industry.
The world's largest animation festival will continue through Saturday, featuring various events, competitions, and plenty of "cosplay" by enthusiastic fans.
The first Japanese-Chinese joint TV cartoon, based on the Chinese historical novel "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," will be broadcast across China.
It was produced by toy maker Tomy Co. and Future Planet Co., a Tokyo-based video content maker, along with a Chinese animation company under public broadcaster China Central Television.
CCTV has decided to broadcast the animation across China, but the partners are also thinking of airing it in Japan and other countries in the future.
"The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is a 14th-century novel depicting battles among the ancient Chinese kingdoms of Wei, Shu and Wu.
The companies are also planning to sell toys and games related to the film.