Time-travel, cute bear in new anime offerings

They are among the five titles premiering on Netflix next year in addition to the 11 announced earlier

COMING TO NETFLIX: Thermae Romae Novae, an anime series based on the comedy manga by artist Mari Yamazaki (above); and Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure, about popular bear character Rilakkuma.
COMING TO NETFLIX: Thermae Romae Novae, an anime series based on the comedy manga by artist Mari Yamazaki (above); and Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure, about popular bear character Rilakkuma.PHOTOS: NETFLIX
COMING TO NETFLIX: Thermae Romae Novae, an anime series based on the comedy manga by artist Mari Yamazaki; and Rilakkuma's Theme Park Adventure (above), about popular bear character Rilakkuma.
COMING TO NETFLIX: Thermae Romae Novae, an anime series based on the comedy manga by artist Mari Yamazaki; and Rilakkuma's Theme Park Adventure (above), about popular bear character Rilakkuma.PHOTOS: NETFLIX

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 in Tokyo last month, it announced these premieres for next year: 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 - comedy manga Thermae Romae, about an ancient Roman architect who time-travels to modern Japan to learn about its bath culture - had been adapted into two successful Japanese live-action films in 2012 and 2014.

"During my travels, people 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," she says. "It's a very liberating place where you don't have to think too much about sponsors and brands so there's more creative freedom.'

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 release in 2021. The latter includes Trese, a horror-crime series set in Manila which is based on the eponymous comic book series by Filipino creators Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo; as well as Godzilla Singular Point, a new original story about the classic Japanese movie monster Godzilla.

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


COMING TO NETFLIX: Thermae Romae Novae (above), an anime series based on the comedy manga by artist Mari Yamazaki; and Rilakkuma’s Theme Park Adventure, about popular bear character Rilakkuma. PHOTOS: NETFLIX

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 of Netflix's strategy to ramp up anime content to appeal to a growing pool of audience.

It is also 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2020, with the headline 'Time-travel, cute bear in new anime offerings'. Print Edition | Subscribe