March 6, 2008
Information revealed by a spokeswoman for Disney Japan on Thursday indicates a sea change is underway to Disney's approach to developing content for the Japanese market. Previously satisfied to rely on strong recognition of its classic animated characters, recent global hits and largely passive partnerships with local studios, Disney has reached out to several Japanese studios to both adapt current characters and jointly develop new content.
The anime aesthetic has been an elusive target for animation studios outside of Asia who seek to capture the older audiences and massively successful all-ages merchandizing abilities of Japanese content producers. The appearance of an enormous Western partner comes at an opportune time for the local anime industry, which has struggled to continue its breakneck pace of growth amid talent shortages, competition from other Asian countries and fears that the market for anime in Japan and abroad has topped out.
Disney has wasted no time lining up quality Japanese partners. Disney will work with Madhouse Studios to crate a new Lilo & Stitch series to air in Japan, which will be set on an island off Okinawa and will star a Japanese girl named Hanako as Stitch's sidekick. Fireball, a short feature produced with Jinni Animation is scheduled to air on Tokyo Metropolitan TV in April. A second short feature for television, Robodz, is in production with Toei Animation and will air in June. Although a partnership between Toei and Disney had been previously announced, Toei shares surged more than 3 percent in reaction to today's news.