On March 22nd the world’s biggest video streaming service dropped the trailer for its next original movie, an adaptation of Japanese anime mega-hit Death Note. The decision was met with controversy, hailed a masterpiece amongst fans of the medium, many were rightfully nervous about the ‘Americanisation’ of this iconic franchise. However, watch a few episodes of Death Note and it’s easy to see why the creative minds at responsible for such shows as House of Cards and Stranger Things were excited by the concept.
Death Note is a crime drama with a rich cast of well-drawn characters and a supernatural twist. When high-schooler Light Yagami finds a magical death note dropped by a god of death he begins exacting his own twisted brand of justice on the criminals of the world, by killing them from afar. Meanwhile, the genius detective known as L begins an investigation into the mysterious deaths which draws the pair into a web of deceit and death.
It’s an exciting premise which hints at the core reason western production houses are showing such interest in anime properties: they tell great stories.
Earlier this year Paramount Pictures brought the gorgeous sci-fi world that served as the chief inspiration for The Matrix to western filmgoers with Ghost in the Shell. Elsewhere, even British TV studios like ITV are getting in on the action with the recent announcement of a live-action take on Cowboy Bebop, a cult-classic that combines the tone of a western with the aesthetics of Blade Runner. Elsewhere movies based on long-running series Naruto and Bleach are also in the works.
Of course, the motivation for adapting Japanese franchises is not purely artistic – the built-in audience is impossible to deny. Multi-territory anime streaming service Crunchyroll recently smashed its one million-subscriber milestone, while Amazon is eyeing its own dedicated anime service entitled Anime Strike. Elsewhere, critically acclaimed feature films such as Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece Your Name and Studio Ghibli’s latest The Red Turtle are taking cinemas by storm with the former grossing a staggering $350 million worldwide ahead of its second UK movie theatre run in September.
Max Arguile at GB Eye, a firm who's products cover a vast range of anime licenses including Attack on Titan, Cowboy Bebop and Death Note, believes that it is the youth that is driving the rise of this genre, with their passion for their favourite series.
"Not very much is being done by a lot other licensing firms, but we've got 18 anime licenses, with Attack on Titan being one of the flagship licenses," explains Arguile. "All kids have screens and access to the content through sites like Crunchyroll. This is something that grown-ups don't understand and the kids can really feel ownership of it."
So far, a handful of stateside licensing firms have picked up on the hunger for anime-inspired merchandise, while the market remains relatively untapped on the UK side. From clothing to box sets to toys (an area which Funko has begun to tap) fans of animation across the world are yearning to show their love for these weird and wonderful worlds.
Anime should no longer be viewed as the domain of basement-dwelling nerds, lest we forget that this was the reductive view once held for comic book fans. With western firms bringing more of these brands to the west, as with video games, there is a lot of money to be made by those adventurous firms who understand the medium.