Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Animation Up, Animation Down

Ice Age 3 and Up are chasing the record books as they unfold in movie theaters around the world. Cartoon Network is 19% higher in viewership. Family Guy is vying for multiple Emmys and The Simpsons is working on their 21st season. Dven hand-drawn animation is making a comeback.

But apparently animation is not quite as robust in another country that has always loved itself the cartoons.

Japan's domestic toon market, including pics, TV shows and DVDs, has declined for the second year in a row, according to a study by private media think tank the Media Development Research Institute.

After taking a record $2.54 billion in 2006, the local toon market fell to $2.24 billion in 2008. This number includes both domestic and foreign toons.

The drop occurred despite the 2008 release of Hayao Miyazaki's smash hit "Ponyo," which earned $163 million domestically, making it the year's top box office earner. But the number of toon releases that exceeded 1 billion yen ($10.5 million) -- the traditional mark of a hit in Japan -- fell, while foreign toons failed to take up the slack.

The one constant of the animation market around the world is its up and down nature -- much like a roller coaster. Cartoons are a commodity that rise and fall based on their perceived quality.

The American cartoon biz has always been boom and bust. The early promise of animated features (1938-1941) quickly gave way to a long fallow period that lasted into the fifties. The roaring success of television animation (1958-1961) faded into the up-and-down nature of the seasonal Saturday morning market powered by the broadcast networks until the 1980s and syndication, the 1990s and cable, the turn of the century and the big money earned by animation on video cassettes and disks. (Family Guy was reborn when millions of DVDs got sold.)

What Japan is going through is its own version of the American cartoon marketplace, where good times follow bad ... and vice versa.

I would wager that when the world economy repairs itself, Japanese animation will hit new records. (Of course, product will need to be created that people want to see, but sooner or later somebody will do that. Japanese artists haven't lost their talent, after all. Just their hot streak.)


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