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2001 - A Year in Review: Theatrical Anime

2001 - A Year in Review: Theatrical Anime

By Christopher Macdonald

As with Anime on TV, theatrically released Anime is nothing new in North America. From Akira which was originally released in Japan in 1987, then dubbed and theatrically released in North America by Streamline in 1989, to Pokémon: The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, which was theatrically released to hordes of screaming North American children and their unfortunate parents in 1999.

But again, the sheer volume of Anime that was theatrically released in North America in 2001 was more than ever before.

The year started with the theatrical re-release of Akira in New York City on March 30th. Although Streamline previously released Akira theatrically twelve years earlier, there was no lack of fan fare given to this release. After acquiring rights to the film, Pioneer Animation spent $1 million "upgrading" Akira, producing a new English dub and restoring the film's video.

Pioneer's new English script is much more faithful to the original Japanese script, and the subsequent DVD release marked the first time that Akira is made available in North America with Japanese dialog and English subtitles.

Despite the apparent "higher quality" of Pioneer's dub, many Akira fans lament not being able to hear Kaneda scream "Tetsuo!!!!!"

While not particularly exciting to most Anime fans, the theatrical release of Pokémon the Movie 3 on April 6th can not be overlooked. Pokémon is one of the largest Anime licenses in the world, if not the largest; to date, sales of Pokémon goods have exceeded $16 billion dollars. While many older Anime fans may hate Pokémon, its contributions, both now and in the future, to the Anime industry cannot be ignored. Millions (literally) of young Pokémon fans will one day grow out of the fad, and many of them will turn to similar looking cartoons. At one point they will learn that these cartoons that they have been watching are not just any old cartoons, but Anime. At this point many of them will develop a deep interest in Anime and their interest will help the industry grow.

While Pokémon 3 may not have enjoyed the success of the previous two movies in the franchise, it remains the biggest grossing Anime film of the year at the North American box office and the only Anime film to receive a truly wide theatrical release in North America this year. Pokémon: The First Movie grossed $85 million at US box offices, Pokémon The Movie 2000 earned $43 million and Pokémon 3 only earned $17 million.

The next Anime to be theatrically released in 2001 was Jin-Roh, which was theatrically released in North America by Viz Communications. Interesting enough, the upcoming Jin-Roh DVD will be released by Bandai Entertainment. Mamoru Oshii, the creator of Jin-Roh and Hiroyuki Okiura the director, were on hand at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach on May 25th for the US theatrical premiere of Jin-Roh. They were joined by Mitsushisa Ishikawa, the president of Production I.G, the studio that produced Jin-Roh as well as another Mamoru Oshii film that was released theatrically in the United States in 1996, Ghost in the Shell.

Hiroyuki Okiura completely eschewed the growing trend in Anime to use computers for animation; Jin-Roh was probably the last Anime to be made 100% by hand in Japan, in excess of 80 000 cels were made for this film and the process took over three years.

While Akira was the movie that had fans the most excited, Jin-Roh was the one that critics were the most impressed with. Jin-Roh had been submitted to the Academy of Motion Pictures as an Oscar candidate, unfortunately on December 12th we learned that it was not eligible because it had been released one week too early in France.

Production I.G and Oshii were also behind the next Anime to be theatrically released in North America. Manga Entertainment released Blood: The Last Vampire to North American theatres during the summer, and while critics were not quite as united in opinion as with Jin-Roh, for the most part they agreed that Blood was a great film despite a few shortcomings.

Created by Mamoru Oshii and directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Blood was the first "full digital" animated film ever created in Japan, a complete about face from Jin-Roh. What Production I.G means by "full digital" is that it was 100% colored on computer and no cels were used, however the original outlines were still drawn by hand. Another particularly interesting detail about Blood is that more that 50% of the film's original dialogue takes place in English, and when shown in theatres in Japan the film had Japanese sub-titles.

Manga Entertainment's DVD release of Blood: The Last Vampire has become their most successful Anime release ever. If Blood weren't a scant 45 minutes long, it might have been eligible for an Oscar in the newly created category for animated movies.

Urban Vision released Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust to theatres on September 19th. What makes Bloodlust special when compared to the other Anime discussed in this article is that Urban Vision co-financed production of the film and the film was produced with the American market in mind. In fact, the original voice recording for Bloodlust was recorded in English. This isn't the first time an American company has financed a project specifically for US theatrical release. Manga Entertainment financed the production of Ghost in the Shell, which also created with the US market in mind.

Bloodlust is the second Anime created based on the novels of Hideyuki Kikuchi. The original Vampire Hunter D OAV was created back in 1985 and first released in North America by Streamline Pictures in 1992.

Like Jin-Roh, Bloodlust was submitted to the Academy of Motion Pictures as an Oscar candidate, and as with Jin-Roh we learned on December 12th that Bloodlust had been disqualified on a technicality. While it is officially out of the scope of this article, we learned in early 2002 that the Academy had reversed its decision and announced that Bloodlust was eligible to be nominated for an Oscar.

The last theatrically released Anime of 2001 was Spriggan, released on October 12th by ADV Films. Spriggan, produced by Katsuhiro Otomo and directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki, is based on the "Stryker" Manga series by Hiroshi Takashige. Spriggan is the second Otomo film to be theatrically released in America this year, as he was the original director of Akira.

Originally released to theatres in Japan in 1998, this action packed and visually astounding film, has enjoyed a successful theatrical run and is currently scheduled to continue in theatres until late February, 2002.

These six films weren't the only Anime originally meant to be theatrically released in North America in 2001, Manga Entertainment completely scrapped its plans to release the Evangelion movies theatrically, and is focusing instead on a home video-only release that has been pushed back to spring 2002. TriStar Pictures had also planned for a 2001 theatrical release of Metropolis, but the film, originally scheduled to be released in September, has had its release date pushed back to January 25th, 2002.

Not a bad year at all for theatrically released Anime in North America, the total number of films theatrically released this year almost equals the total number released in all prior years.

On an interesting note, Metropolis, Spriggan, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Jin-Roh all had their North American (and even world) premieres at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival. Akira was also shown at Fantasia after its New York premiere. Fantasia also hosted the world premiere of Millennium Actress this year.

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