Report: Annecy's Pitch Relay "Japanese Animation Makes Your World Brighter"

by Reuben Baron,

Japan's Visual Industry Promotion Organization hosted a “Pitch Relay” at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival's MIFA program on June 16, for the purpose of “introducing Japanese animation projects that are fun or heart-warming, to show some light and make people, who are tired of this COVID-19 affected world, happy.”

Child of Kamiari Month

Ailian Cai, a producer from ABC Animation, presented the movie Child of Kamiari Month. Kamiari month, she explained, is in October when the gods are believed to leave their dwelling places for a conference in the Izumo region. The film's heroine, Kanna, is a 12-year-old girl who learns from a rabbit named Shiro that she and her late mother Yayoi are descendants of gods. Yayoi had the responsibility of delivering food to the Izumo conference. Now Izumo must fill her mother's responsibilities, and possibly convince the gods to revive her mother.

The voice cast for the film includes Aju Makita as Kanna, Maaya Sakamoto as Shiro, and Miyu Irino as the oni boy Yato. LIDEN FILMS is animating the film, and Takana Shirai is directing. The film will be released in 2021 with a runtime of 99 minutes. A trailer will be released in July; in lieu of a trailer, the MIFA presentation included animation drawings from the film, most of them featuring a dragon.

Chiruta/Captain Bal

Emmy Ozawa, a producer from Flying Ship Studio, presented two series in development aimed at young kids and seeking international investors. Chiruta, a CG series for kids ages 3-6, is about “giving new things a go.” The seven-minute episodes follow a woodland gnome named Chiruta. An English-dubbed trailer showed Chiruta introducing her forest house and her family (hat designer mom Mimi, police officer dad Muta, magic-user grandma Chanlulua and pet fox Lulu).

Captain Bal, a 2D-CG hybrid series for kids ages 5-10, is about a wannabe pirate and his misfit crew hijacking other ships. Instead of gold they find unexpected “treasures” and “comical situations.” An English-dubbed trailer showcased many clips, highlighting Bal and his shipmates: the dog Puu, the super-strong girl Muge and the lizard Cuuna.

Midnight Crazy Trail

Sahoko Nagure, a legal and finance officer from the 2D/3D animation studio PICONA, presented Midnight Crazy Trail, a 12-episode anime based on the Anime Tamago 2018 short film. It tells the story of a witch, but “it's different from a story of a witch everyone has seen.”

Whereas other witches typically enjoy their magical powers, Midnight Crazy Trail stars Making Maluth, who hates her power and wants to give it up. In London, she meets Shout and Crunch, “Dumpsters” whose job is to dispose of “difficult items.” Her journey to give up her power spans the whole world, but she does not yet realize that “losing her power means throwing away her unique identity.”

The budget for the series is US$4 million, US$1 million of which has has already been raised. The series is expected to be ready 18 months after securing the full budget.

Riddlebuddies: Cherrybell & Friends

Cody Branscum, a translator at Inbloomy, presented the Sapporo-based animation studio's first project. Riddlebuddies: Cherrybell & Friends is an educational puzzle-based anime aimed at 8-12 year olds, planned for 10 episodes as the potential start of a multi-chapter series.

Cherrybell is a young riddle-solving vampire, whose friends include the werewolf butler-in-training Leonard, the cowardly Frankenstein monster Victor, the mischievous elf girl Lala and the young fairy girl Nonno. These characters learn a mysterious “Observer” is watching over them; “using compassion and kindness, they ultimately end up rescuing this ‘Observer’ character from its lonely existence, using the power of love.” The series mixes Western and Japanese Ainu mythology, presenting it all with a cute kid-friendly art style. Young viewers are encouraged to solve the riddles alongside Cherrybell and friends. The trailer introduces the characters in extremely limited cut out-style animation.

Hydrosphere

Tommy Takashima, CEO of Tomovies, presented Hydrosphere, a 30-minute CGI anime short film created in Unreal Engine with hopes of expansion into either a feature or TV series. The story's set in a future where the world is completely submerged underwater except for a single mountaintop. Most people live in submarines recovering resources from the sea, but the main characters Riku and Sora are seeking out a shelter deep in the ocean.

Takashima said, “I created this film because I want to reassure people who are worried about the future,” paralleling the characters' confinement in submarines to the current period of social distancing.

The production is working with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology for factual accuracy in its portrayal of the ocean and environmental issues. A brief trailer was presented, highlighting a chase scene through the underwater world.

Nekonin

The final presentation of the event came from Mie Onishi, a producer from the Sega-owned CG animation studio Marza Animation Planet. Nekonin was described as “the first CG ninja entertainment feature from Japan,” and is produced by Jungo Maruta (Paprika, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and directed by Kiminori Kusano (Chi's Sweet Adventure). The story centers around a cat ninja named Goromaru caught up in a war between three ninja clans. The presentation featured extensive concept art and work-in-progress animation, including a particularly striking sequence in which Goromaru dodges blows from a sword-wielding dog.

Director Kusano appeared for part of the presentation. The director stated, “I wanted to tell you the importance of believing in what you love. If you keep at it, you will make it.”


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