New anime titles from Netflix include one with popular character Rilakkuma

Netflix's original anime offerings thus far include slice-of-life stop-motion series Rilakkuma And Kaoru (2019).
Netflix's original anime offerings thus far include slice-of-life stop-motion series Rilakkuma And Kaoru (2019).PHOTO: NETFLIX

SINGAPORE - With five new anime titles announced and a strong slate of anime films and series coming out next year, streaming giant Netflix is positioning itself as the new, global home for Japanese anime.

At the Netflix Anime Festival 2020 held last month (October) in Tokyo, it announced the following premieres for 2021: stop-motion series about the popular bear character Rilakkuma - Rilakkuma's Theme Park Adventure; time-travel comedy Thermae Romae Novae; action-packed survival story High-Rise Invasion; a spin-off of the popular manga JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, titled Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan; and the slice-of-life comedy The Way Of The Househusband.

Netflix's original anime offerings thus far include science-fiction work 7 Seeds (2019 to 2020) and slice-of-life stop-motion series Rilakkuma And Kaoru (2019).

The push comes amid a more voracious appetite for anime among audiences across the world. Netflix says that more than 100 million households around the world watched at least one anime title on it in the last year and anime titles appeared in the Top 10 list in almost 100 countries this year.

In Japan, home of anime, the numbers are even stronger, with half of its subscribers watching five hours of anime in a month. 

At a roundtable with international media, Japanese manga author Mari Yamazaki says she hopes her collaboration with Netflix will bring the world closer to her art. Her best-known work - the comedy manga Thermae Romae, about an ancient Roman architect who time-travels to modern Japan to learn about its bath culture - had already been adapted into two successful Japanese live-action films, in 2012 and 2014.

"When I travel, people always get confused when I try to explain what I do. If my work is on Netflix, more people will get the chance to see and understand it and that'll be nice.

"It's also a very liberating place where you don't have to think too much about sponsors and brands so there's more creative freedom relative to the Japanese studio system," she says.

Anime chief producer at Netflix Taiki Sakurai adds that anime is not just growing audiences globally, but its creators and producers are also becoming more international and diverse.

The five new titles are in addition to the 11 previously announced for the platform in 2021, which include Trese - a horror-crime series set in Manila, based on the eponymous comic book series by Filipino creators Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo.

Japanese animation producer Shuichiro Tanaka believes the appeal of anime over live-action lies in its vivid visual art.

He says: "Perhaps because of the artistic traditions of Japanese ukiyo-e (a form of Japanese woodblock print and painting), anime doesn't strive to create something realistic but rather something impressionistic." He is with Japanese animation studio David Production, which is behind Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan.

Mr Sakurai adds: "In animation, with drawn characters, they are often not definitively from a certain racial or cultural background, so perhaps that makes it easier for audiences to relate to the story from a more universal perspective."

Race will be central to the previously announced project Yasuke - about the titular, real-life African samurai who served the legendary ancient Japanese feudal lord Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582).

The series counts African-American film star Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, 2017) among its voice cast.

This is all part and parcel of the platform's strategy to ramp up anime content to appeal to a large, and growing, pool of audience.

Netflix is looking to develop stories from various genres such as shojo manga (comics aimed at teenage girls and young women), slice-of-life stories, battle, science-fiction and fantasy.