Tuesday, September 23, 2008

OCTOBER 23, 2009

Mark it down in your calenders, kids. We have got a date!

The CG animated Astro Boy movie from Imagi is currently set for release on October 23, 2009.

I'll be there. Will you?

(Yes. You will.)

Check out the Press Release thanks to Anime News Network.

Continue reading "OCTOBER 23, 2009"...

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Long, Toonami.

When the English version of the 2003 Astro Boy anime aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami block in the US, this was the special intro sequence.

This past weekend was the very final broadcast of Toonami. Although I live in Canada, where Cartoon Network has never been made available, I think it's a very unfortunate thing for Toonami to end, just as I think it was a mistake to scale the Toonami sub-brand down from every weekday afternoon to Saturday nights only. Toonami introduced a new generation of fans to classic animation and anime, and aired great shows like Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Voltron, Ronin Warriors, Thundercats, Robotech, and more. Visiting the US and being able to watch Toonami, even if only for a brief moment, was a very special thing. It created it's own culture based around awesome animation wrapped with a slick presentation.

But now it seems like networks would rather focus on trying to sell their own sanitized cartoons as the hippest and greatest thing instead of taking chances with edgy, action-based shows. That's a rant for another day.

For more looking back at some of the cool video content that was produced for Toonami, check out Toonami Digital Arsenal.

Continue reading "So Long, Toonami."...

Panel Borders with Helen McCarthy

Manga expert Helen McCarthy, the prolific writer responsible for the Osamu Tezuka film fest going on right now in London, England, recently spoke with the SW2 Graphic Novels Reading Group and delivered a public talk about Tezuka's anime and manga works at the Streatham Public Library.

The talk was hosted by Alex Fitch, and thanks to him, recordings are now available to listen to online. I haven't been able to listen to them as the recording quality isn't very good, but you can take a listen for yourself right here:

Part 1
Part 2

Sources: Electric Sheep - Panel Boarders - Kruku

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When Animators get....

Here's another one of the many UK based articles about Osamu Tezuka released to coincide with the film festival at the Barbican. This one focuses on the, shall we say, more risque animated works of Tezuka. I shall say no more on the matter, but (if you are old enough) you can read "Andrew Osmond on X-rated manga" thanks to The Guardian, or read an archived version right here by clicking the link below.

When animators get horny
Andrew Osmond on X-rated manga

* Andrew Osmond
* The Guardian,
* Friday September 19 2008

The American science-fiction author Harlan Ellison tells a cautionary tale about how not to sex up a Hollywood movie. Hired as a writer by the Disney studio, Ellison was in the studio cafeteria on his first day, regaling amused co-workers with ideas for an X-rated Disney cartoon. He was even acting out the parts of Disney characters in pornographic situations. Unluckily for Ellison, several studio executives were sitting nearby, watching his routine. Returning to work, Ellison found a pink slip on his desk: he was fired.

Moral: don't mess with the Mouse. And yet in Japan, an artist and animator as nationally beloved as Uncle Walt took time out from creating adorable family characters to make X-rated cartoons. His name was Osamu Tezuka, and his work is now having a rare English-language screening at the Barbican. And it's not just kids' stuff.

In Japan, Tezuka is a household name. Historians of the country's often garish and cartoony pop culture see him as the prime mover behind Japan's vast comic and animation industries after 1945. Tezuka reportedly churned out 150,000 comic pages in his lifetime (10 a day, without fail). He also created dozens of TV cartoons and cinema films. His iconic characters include Astro Boy (a little-boy robot superhero), Princess Knight (a swashbuckling girl disguised as a boy) and Jungle Emperor Leo (the first cartoon lion king).

But even Tezuka's "adult" cartoons can look disconcertingly Disneyesque. In 1,001 Nights, a fairy turns herself into a seductive lioness, displaying her disturbingly human breasts to lusty lions threatening the hero. In Cleopatra, the title heroine consummates her relationship with Mark Anthony, and the filmstrip breaks down during the act. (A quarter century later, the live-action grindhouse tribute Planet Terror would have a similar meta-film gag, in which celluloid catches fire during a sex scene.)

Frederik L Schodt, author of the book The Astro Boy Essays, knew Tezuka before the director's death in 1989. "Tezuka was very much an experimenter," Schodt says. "Even though he may be best known for his children's work, he didn't think of the audience for manga and animation as being necessarily limited to children. His goal was to expand the audience, and to be able to depict anything he wanted."

Cleopatra, in particular, seems to share the tripped-out counterculture vibe of Yellow Submarine (released a few years earlier) and Fritz the Cat (just after). Tezuka's cartoon animals engage in acts of bestiality that Tex Avery's throbbing wolf in Red Hot Riding Hood could only dream of. Cleopatra also throws in cheesy sci-fi elements, as if Tezuka was commenting on the fact that Stanley Kubrick personally offered him the post of art director on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the murder of Julius Caesar is improvised in the manner of a kabuki play. For Tezuka, cartoon sex was just part of the fun.

Such invention feels positively childlike compared to the nastier sex cartoons that later rolled out of Japan, most notoriously in the late 1980s with Legend of the Overfiend. But perhaps Tezuka was letting off steam between his family-oriented bread and butter. Ralph Bakshi, who directed Fritz the Cat, once said, "What bothers me about animation and the heat I took for my X-rated films is why anybody would spend their whole lives doing the same thing over and again ... If you're a cartoonist, you have to continue to grow, to evolve."

Osamu Tezuka: Movies into Manga runs at the Barbican, London, until September 24

Continue reading "When Animators get...."...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Master of Mighty Manga

There has been a torrent of Tezuka related news and articles coming out of the UK to coincide with the film festival taking place in London at The Barbican, which started yesterday and will conclude September 24th.

In a recent article found in newspaper The Times, writer Dominic Wells talks about Tezuka and makes a case that he ought to be much better known considering the depth and importance of his work. It's a great article that also briefly details the controversial comparisons between Tezuka's Jungle Emperor Leo/Kimba the White Lion and Walk Disney Pictures' The Lion King.

You can read the entire article for yourself on the Times Online website or read the archived copy right here by clicking the link below.

Osamu Tezuka, the master of mighty manga
The ‘Japanese Walt Disney’ deserves wider acclaim

Dominic Wells

“One explanation for the popularity of comics in Japan,” ran the Japanese newspaper Asahi’s obituary for the man known as “the god of manga”, “is that Japan had Osamu Tezuka, whereas other nations did not.”

Walt Disney was an admirer of Tezuka. Stanley Kubrick tried to recruit him as an art director on 2001: A Space Odyssey.Devoted as a child to American movies and cartoons, Tezuka introduced a remarkably cinematic style to his comics, and every Japanese animator since lies in his debt, or shadow. And yet, even as racks of Japanese animation proliferate in our DVD stores, even as Western parents gratefully add another enchanting Miyazaki anime such as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away to their collection of family classics, the name of Tezuka, who died aged 60 in 1989, has been all but forgotten over here.

This week, a festival of Tezuka’s films, coupled with an exhibition of his artwork, will set the record straight. The week-long season at the Barbican in London cannot hope to be comprehensive – throughout his all-too-short life, Tezuka slept only four hours a night, the better to create more than 700 stories, 170,000 pages of manga, dozens of TV series and 17 feature films. But it includes his best-known works, as well as many never before seen in this country.

Here, for instance, are the three cartoon series that in the Sixties introduced a generation of Americans to Japanese animation. Astro Boy, inspired by Pinocchio, stars a super-strong robot child, built by a scientist to replace his own dead son. Princess Knight features a warrior princess who disguises herself as a boy, thus inventing the now massive shojo genre of adventure comics for girls. By contrast, in America, when the Fantastic Four was dreamt up, what superpower did the one woman get? Invisibility.

And of course there is Kimba the White Lion, which acquired notoriety in 1994 when Disney did not, repeat not, rip it off for The Lion King. How could Disney have, when their lawyers swore that not one of the animators on The Lion King had even heard of Kimba? Though as the Tezuka festival’s curator Helen McCarthy wryly remarks: “If you were a car manufacturer and not one your designers had heard of Honda, wouldn’t you be worried?”

Seeing Kimba again, the parallels are head-smackingly blatant; the bird that announces the birth of an heir to the lion king; the animals paying their respects at the foot of Pride Rock; the wise old monkey with a dodgy Jamaican accent; even the deceased paterfamilias appearing in a cloud. Tezuka’s estate, recalls McCarthy, reacted with commendable dignity. There was no court case, merely a statement to the effect that as Tezuka had himself been influenced by Disney – he watched Bambi 80 times, and it helped him to pioneer the bigeyed style with which Japanese animation has now become synonymous – he would have been delighted to repay the favour.

And yet his output is not just kids’ stuff. Tezuka, who studied medicine and became a licensed physician before turning all his energy to art, had an extraordinary breadth of interest. His comics include an adaptation of Crime and Punishment and a Life of Buddha in eight large volumes. McCarthy’s own favourite is Mw, “about a homosexual raving psychotic shagging a priest and trying to end the world” (a live-action adaptation is in the works). And at the Barbican season, must-sees include Lion Books, a series of experimental shorts, and 1,001 Nights (1969), the world’s first feature-length erotic animation.

McCarthy describes Tezuka as a “story machine” – his output was obsessive, relentless, even while dying from stomach cancer. A victim of bullies at school, who discovered that his drawings had the power to melt even their hard hearts, he wanted to do more than entertain. He hoped to spread a message of tolerance between peoples, and respect for the planet born of his studies of insect life.

“Comics,” Tezuka once said, “are an international language that can cross boundaries and generations.” As Japanese graphic art continues to convert the rest of the world, this season is a welcome chance to rediscover the man who made it possible.

Osamu Tezuka: Movies into Manga, Barbican, London EC2 (www.barbican.org.uk 020-7638 8891), Sept 18-24 2008

Continue reading "Master of Mighty Manga"...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Takadanobaba Train Station

Vong Yonghow of the blog Halcyon Realms brings us these incredible photographs of the train station in the Japanese town of Takadanobaba, the place of Osamu Tezuka's birth. The station features an absolutely amazing mural covered with tons of Tezuka characters.

Take a look at the rest of the images right here. Big time thanks to Vong for these shots!

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Watch This!

Check out this limited edition Astro Boy G-Shock watch, set for release this November.

Fully adorned with some totally cool Astro artwork and the Japanese Mighty Atom logo, it looks like a great collectible item. Only 1000 will be produced, and they'll sell for the equivalent of $150 US. Not sure how just anybody living outside Japan can go about in obtaining one, though, but it could be worth the effort for a fantastic looking piece of merchandise like this!

See all the details on MyGShock.com!

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New online Astro Boy Game

A new, fan-made Astro Boy game has recently been released on the Internet. The only catch, it's in Polish! You can play it here.

Luckily, creator Ɓukasz Raszyk shares the controls in English on his devblog.

Left Mouse Button + mouse move = character rotation
[CTRL] + mouse move = camera rotation
[W] = move forward
[SPACE] = destroy a crystal cover
Even with these controls laid out, I'm still not sure how it works. I know it's supposed to be a game for kids, but any kid who can master this must be some kind of super genius or something, because I can't figure it out. Still cool to see Astro in a new game though.

Continue reading "New online Astro Boy Game"...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Astro Boy Manga Vol. 1 & 2 Reprint Preview

Dark Horse Comics did an excellent job of releasing the original Astro Boy Manga to English Speaking audiences. Most of the volumes should still be easy to find and purchase today, but for those of you who are having a hard time tracking down the first 2 volumes (like me), have no fear. Volumes 1 and 2 are being reprinted into one collection, to be released very soon.

And that's not all. To mark the upcoming release of this large collected volume, a 12 page preview is now online. Not only can you catch a glimpse at Astro's origin, but Osamu Tezuka himself makes an appearance in manga form. Read it for yourselves at Publishers Weekly.

If you would like to buy this collected volume for yourself, consider making the purchase through the link to the right and you'll be helping to support Astro Boy World.

Continue reading "Astro Boy Manga Vol. 1 & 2 Reprint Preview"...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nicolas Un-Caged

The media giants over at IGN have a new report on a conference call with Nicolas Cage, the world famous actor who is cast as the voice of Dr. Tenma in the upcoming Astro Boy animated movie from Imagi. Currently, Mr. Cage is promoting the film "Bangkok Dangerous". Among the multitude of subjects covered during the call (a conversation with Nic Cage is going to go in all sorts of different directions anyway), he does discuss his Astro Boy role and has this to say about the project:

"I play the mad scientist father who creates Astro Boy and it is an animated movie. Astro Boy was just one of those marvelous, iconic cartoon characters that I grew up with and fell in love with because the character is so endearing and yet so powerful. And it was kind of a science fiction version of Pinocchio, which was always a story that my father liked and told me when I was a boy. So it seemed to be a good match."
So there it is then. As expected and from his own words, Nicolas Cage is an Astro Boy fan.

He is also Ghost Rider, and Ghost Rider is awesome. But you all knew that already.

You can find the entire article on IGN to see what other zany topics Nicolas Cage talks about.

Continue reading "Nicolas Un-Caged"...

Tank Boy

With thanks once again to Fauna for tracking this item down on eBay, get a load of this bizarre piece of Astro Boy merchandise from the days of yore.

Pretty weird, huh? Clearly it's just a generic tank toy with an Astro head and unique paint deco applied. This sort of stuff happens in the toy business all the time, though in this case it's particularly strange. Let's face it, Astro is stronger than any tank, so why would he need to drive one? Kind of redundant, really. Makes about as much sense as the toy I once saw of Silver Surfer riding a motorcycle.

Continue reading "Tank Boy"...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Pixar of China?

The Telegraph in the UK has just posted a very interesting article about Imagi, the studio responsible for the upcoming Astro Boy CG animated film as well as last year's TMNT. It's an insightful look at what the company is like, and gives a brief history of how it all started.

(SPOILER: It was Christmas Trees.)

It's a pretty cool story about how a company can change so drastically, do some really cool stuff, and serve as an example for other companies in the country. You can read "Astroboy helps Imagi branch out to become China's Pixar" or click the link below to read an archived copy right here on this website.

Astroboy helps Imagi branch out to become China's Pixar

Last Updated: 2:13am BST 02/09/2008

Animation giant once made plastic Christmas trees, writes Malcolm Moore in Hong Kong

Eight Commercial Tower, a dusty, grey building in an old Hong Kong warehouse district, is the headquarters of one of China's most bizarre companies.

In the past decade, Imagi has switched from being the world's largest plastic Christmas tree manufacturer into China's answer to Pixar, the computer-generated animation studio.

In its previous incarnation, named Boto, it shipped more than six million trees a year and was a prime example of the Chinese manufacturing miracle.

Some 10,000 workers laboured at its plant in Shenzhen, turning out 400 different types of trees, including green, gold, frosted with snow, and sparkling with fibre-optic lights. Some had real pine cones while others rotated and counted down to New Year's Eve before launching into Auld Lang Syne.

Now Imagi is a symbol of China's transformation from a low-cost, low-skilled sweatshop into a powerful competitor in high-technology industries. The cost advantages of making toys, cigarette lighters and other knick-knacks can easily be replicated with 3-D movies, it appears.
# China's property white elephant
# Why Shanghai's food rules supreme

Fingerprint readers and facial-recognition scanners guard the doors of the Imagi office. Inside, 450 animators are turning out computer-generated movies in half the time, and for half the cost, of those made by Pixar or Dreamworks.

"We hired lots of our staff from the street. They were taxi drivers and convenience store clerks," said Yan Chen, the lead CG supervisor, who defected back to China after studying in the United States and working for Dreamworks. "We trained them up here. The ones who were talented took 10 days, but others took up to six months," he boasted.

The fledgling company has already scored a hit. Last year's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, made under the aegis of Harvey Weinstein and distributed by Warner Brothers, took $100m (£55.5m) at the box office and cost $35m to make. The average cost of a Pixar movie is $94m and it is $130m for Dreamworks.

Imagi's success has lured talent including Tim Cheung, who made his name on the three Shrek films, as well as Nicholas Cage and Bill Nighy, both of whom are starring in its latest offering, Astroboy.

"We have Asian work values. People actually care about their work and it becomes a part of their life. Western workers go from nine to five.

"But every hour here our staff put in a lot of heart. Animation is a staple diet for Asians. We grow up with them and we are still into them in our thirties," said Mr Chen.

He added that a host of Chinese studios are following in Imagi's footsteps, thanks to government grants in five key "animation" areas on the mainland.

There are rumours that big Hollywood studios are outsourcing their work to the east coast of China. "At the moment they value process over creativity," said Mr Chen, eager to play up Hong Kong's westernised mindset as a competitive advantage.

Across three shaded floors, Imagi's staff are hunched in front of monitors, drawing, colouring and lighting the cast of Astroboy. Their average age is just 24, and many seem far younger. Their desks are crowded with manga models, Batman figures and fluffy toys.

The decision to take the far-fetched leap from manufacturing to digital movie-making was made by Kao Waiho, 31, Imagi's chairman, whose office boasts a Robocop figurine and a cigar humidor inlaid with a skull and crossbones.

His father, Kao Cheungchong, had built the Christmas tree business, but had become anxious that more and more people were switching from fake to real trees. Wal-Mart had cut the prices it was paying.

In 2000, Kao junior was toying with a computer character to market the trees, who he called Dr Festive. It proved a flop. "We did it before most people had broadband, so the website took a long time to load," he said. However, the seed of an idea was planted. "I was searching for a new business, a business that did not depend on how much we could cut our costs but on knowledge.

"There was a moment of clarity when Huawei [the manufacturer of most of the UK's 3G mobile internet dongles] opened a new plant across the way from our factory in Shenzen. It was like Silicon Valley. I knew that the shift up the value chain had started and that our workers would soon want to work for Huawei instead," he said.

After just a couple of years of low-key investment, Kao persuaded his father to sell the manufacturing operation to Carlyle Group for HKD1.1 billion (£80m).

"I persuaded him we could have the same competitive advantage in this. I used examples he could relate to. We can be much more cost-effective. Animators in the US are paid five times as much as they are here."

He also pointed to the ability of an Asian company to buy up popular Japanese animation franchises, whose owners might not always welcome an approach from Hollywood.

Kao is hoping that Astroboy, a manga classic, will boost Imagi into the same league as Pixar. The company's annual report notes that computer-generated movies, between 1997 and 2007, made twice as much as action movies with a similar budget. Investment bank Goldman Sachs, in a research note, noted that while Imagi's share price has fallen steeply on Kao's gamble, the studio is likely to churn out steady profits in the future if it can keep its costs down.

Imagi's remarkable conversion is only one of many on the Chinese mainland. BYD, the world's second-largest battery maker, is now looking at building hybrid cars and has hired a team of Italian designers. Airbus is about to start manufacturing the A320 in Tianjin, Intel is making chips in Dalian, and Chinese companies are leading the way in renewable energy technology, especially photovoltaic panels.

The Communist Party is determined to move industry up the value chain, using a variety of incentives and punishments. China's low-end manufacturers have found their tax rebates withdrawn, and complicated export duties imposed. Their raw material costs have spiralled and they are going out of business in their thousands.

"Move up or move out" said the front page headline of the state-owned China Daily's business section yesterday,

"The process may seem painful," the newspaper intoned, but "it can help the economy achieve a more balanced and therefore more sustainable growth in the long term". At Eight Commercial Tower, the transformation is well under way.

Continue reading "The Pixar of China?"...