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Is it the end of the road for anime in India?

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MUMBAI: Back in the 90s, a new legion of toon addicts was created in India with the advent of anime shows such as Pokémon, Dragonball Z and Naruto that were telecast on Cartoon Network. A few years later, the genre hasn’t found the popularity in Indian kids that it has in some other parts of the world.

The popularity of anime has suffered owing to parental restrictions because of the adult themes in some of the content, relatively low promotions and the lack of merchandising. Long gone are the days when anime fans, or Otaku, went bonkers collecting tazos or duel master cards or even the Pokémon Red Emulators.

While cartoons and anime are both caricature sketches that are, in turn, animated, the latter has a very distinct style of art using specific visual elements for its characters. A majority of the animes are based on manga comics that were not easily available in India until online shopping companies started selling anime DVDs and manga comics from other parts of the world.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s channel Animax was one of the channels that aired Japanese anime content in 1998. Last year, the channel was replaced by Sony Yay, which has a full-fledged focus on local home-grown content. Recently, Turner International India announced that it would pull the plug on its anime offering Toonami from 15 May. This is a clear indication that the genres failed to elicit interest from its young audience. At present, Toonami airs shows from the Cartoon Network Studios, Hanna-Barbera and the Warner Bros Animation libraries.

Doraemon, Shinchan and Ninja Hattori, which are still the most popular among kids after Chhota Bheem, started life as manga series and were subsequently adapted as anime shows. These shows are among the flagship shows that the Indian broadcasters showed on television but, as the TV viewing evolved, the focus shifted to local home-grown content. That was the time when Chhota Bheem was born in 2008.

A media professional said that anime series are still popular among the kids. “Who wouldn’t love watching Pokemon, Dragonball Z. These shows would have worked only if they were promoted well like the shows like Chhota Bheem, Motu Patlu and among others. If these channels push anime content, the kids will love it. It is not the case like kids are not watching these shows that are why they are shutting the channel; in fact, it is because they want to come up with their original content.”

However, another media expert had a different view. “Japanese content was created during the 70s and 80s and was picked up by the broadcasters because they had to fill the programming slots, so there’s a different approach between Japanese content and original content,” they pointed out.

In the early years of Indian animation, broadcasters found it suitable to licence shows from other countries for air time. But as the industry picked up, producing and owning IPs became cost-effective. Channels didn’t need to depend on borrowed material like anime. Another aspect is that it is not easy to dub anime content, considering the different East Asian culture. Local shows can be easily modified to the kids’ thinking.

However, it would be wrong to say that the anime culture isn’t developing in India. Growing fan clubs; online social media groups are providing great platforms to share and gather information; stores are printing anime clothes, cups, gifts and other merchandise for shopping in several areas. Though not in every city, Comic Cons are being organised and promoted as well. Awareness is increasing, but slowly and it seems the teen and adult audiences are more inclined towards it than children.

It remains to be seen whether Turner comes up with a replacement of Toonami just the way Sony Yay entered the market. The future of Indian home-grown content seems bright, as far as new characters emerging on every kids' channels is concerned, but it will be interesting to observe whether broadcasters find answers to the conundrum of Japanese anime content in India.

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