Why Are There So Many Chinese Anime Co-Productions These Days?

by Justin Sevakis,

Wayland asks:

Recently, which is roughly a year ago, I've noticed that some Chinese web novels and manhuas have been adapted into animations that are co-produced with Japanese Companies. Examples include: Spirit Blade Mountain (Reikenzan: Goshikuzu-tachi no Utage), Hotori no Shita: the outcast, Gin no Guardian, and The King's Avatar (Quan Zhi Gao Shou). What do you think has spurred this cooperation between these companies, despite their countries of original being historically hostile to each other? And can these still be considered "anime" as this term is usually what we use to define Japanese Animations?

There are a lot of anime these days that adapt Chinese stories, and are partially funded or produced by Chinese companies. Bloodivores, Soul Buster, Hitori no Shita the outcast, the forthcoming RoboMasters: The Animated Series, and quite a few others -- usually a handful of shows every season -- are coming at least partially from China.

It's no secret that China is an economy flush with money these days. Many different industries, including Hollywood and other entertainment businesses, have spent the last five or so years actively trying to court Chinese investment. And as for the anime business, it's enjoying a windfall of revenues for licensing new shows to Chinese mobile and internet content companies like Tencent. The huge boost in anime revenues coming from overseas in the last few years hasn't just been coming from Crunchyroll, Amazon and Netflix. In fact, over half of those gains have been coming from China.

This might come as a surprise to Western anime fans, but in China there are several major legal streaming services -- Youku, bilibili are the best known -- that pay top dollar for streaming rights. It wasn't just Funimation and Crunchyroll pushing licensing fees up, but these companies as well.

But, like everyone else in the high stakes world of content licensing, they got stuck paying top dollar for shows that under performed. So in the last few years those companies have been less interested in simulcasting everything Japan normally would've produced for themselves, and more interested in developing their own anime properties. After all, China has different tastes from Japan, and many of those shows aren't exactly to Chinese tastes. And the giant corporations behind these sites have the money to try to address that.

So Chinese media and publishing giant Tencent has been trying to drive more of the sort of content that Chinese fans want by developing local media into anime, and sponsoring those anime's production. Of course, just because they're made with Chinese audiences in mind doesn't mean that other audiences won't want them. Japan is still doing the design and planning, and they're still producing the shows in Japanese. Crunchyroll ends up streaming them outside of Asia most of the time.

While there hasn't been a ton of Sino-Japanese co-production anime in the past, they're not unprecedented. The animated version of Tsui Hark's Chinese Ghost Story was animated by Triangle Staff back in the 90s, and was released Stateside by Viz. There may have been others that I'm unaware of.

I can't tell you where to draw the arbitrary line in the sand as to whether co-productions should be considered anime or not. But I expect that there will be many more co-productions, with more countries than just China, in the very near future.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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