Anime in China is big business. Since the opening and reform of the Chinese economy under Deng Xiaoping beginning in 1978, Anime in China has grown from the syndication of a few shows to a 21 billion dollar industry.
Due to the Chinese market’s dominance and influence in the anime industry—it is second only to the United States in size
—, the interaction between China and the anime industry should be of interest to many.
The beginnings of the anime/otaku culture in China follow similar patterns to how it developed in the west. With the opening of the Chinese market in 1978, anime began to get syndicated and shown on broad based television. It has been noted that some of the most popular anime in China during the 1980s and 90s were shows like Ikkyu-san, Astro Boy, Slam Dunk, and Doraemon.
As people became exposed to anime, their taste for similar content began to grow and expand. Small groups began to actively seek out similar content and they reached out to individuals who lived in Japan, who began to tape and send back bootlegged anime.
The dawn of the internet began to change all of that. Regardless of how “firewalled” or blocked the Chinese internet may be, it expanded the capacity of those living in Japan to send bootlegged anime back home to be translated and distributed to fans. The small groups of otakus watching bootlegged raws were now united online, creating a demand for anime, and torrent sites and fansubbers began to pop up everywhere. These torrent sites became a portion of the rampant piracy that was a large part of the anime fan culture globally, and still is.
Growth and Expansion
But, the torrent sites simply could not do it all. The traffic was getting very large and the time was ripe for a streaming site. So in 2007, a few people started Anime, Comic and Fun (otherwise known as AcFun
) as a video sharing/streaming site based on Sina Video, which became notorious for its instability and slow loading.
AcFun’s instability led Xu Yi, an AcFun user, to create a video sharing site which was initially meant as a fandom site for Hatsune Miku, called Mikufans.cn. This site eventually remonikered itself after Misaka Mikoto’s nickname in A Certain Scientific Railgun becoming the now infamous Bilibili
video sharing site in 2010.
This explosion of streaming and video hosting brought forth the wholescale expansion of licensing and merchandising deals so that the content hosted on these video sharing sites could stay up rather than being taken down for copyright infringement.
Also, the Chinese economy was becoming a force in its own right and many industries, including the Japanese animation industry, began courting its investors.
This courtship of investment resulted in many Chinese companies joining anime production committees and profit sharing arrangements.
The exposure to the financial backend of anime production led to a desire to to create and collaborate on anime that could cater to the Chinese market. Thus, the time became ripe for the creation of a Chinese animation company, and one of the first companies to pop up was Haoliners Animation League
. Founded 3 years after Bilibili in 2013, Haoliners has since collaborated with Studio Deen and produced numerous anime, including The Silver Guardian and To Be a Heroine.
Future of Chinese Anime/Animation
All of this leads us to consider what the future prospects of anime in China may be. With the birth of many homegrown animators, there has a been a boom in Chinese art house animation.
In fact, some of China’s animators have gone even further than just art house films. For example, animators like Chengxi Huang, who entered the anime industry as a Naruto fan, has now become a major force in its sequel, Boruto. His leadership and work on Boruto episode 65, in particular, was a window into what a fully unleashed Chinese animator is capable of and proof that Chinese animators of the requisite skill/technique do exist.
These improvements in animation and skill, when coupled with the willingness of large firms like Tencent and Baidu to invest and develop local comics and animation suggests that the possibility for Chinese Animation in the future is immense.
Not to mention its potential for original work that may come to rival Japanese animation.
The Shadow of Censorship
However, there is a shadow that looms behind this meteoric rise of Chinese interest/influence in animation or anime, and its name is censorship. Since the popularity and rise of animated content in China, the Chinese government began to keep a blacklist of shows that cannot be licensed, hosted, shared, or watched within the country (not that people don’t find ways around that).
The current blacklist includes popular shows like Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass, Death Note, and
The list is also continuously updated with new blacklisted shows, like when Darling in the Franxx was put on the list and then taken off it during spring.
All of this is due two pieces of Media law in China, the “Film Management Regulations” and the “Internet Information Service Management Rules”. These two Chinese State Government “decrees” defer in their stipulations and goals but in essence state that content in a film/show is restricted by these rather vague points:
- content that defies the basic principles determined in the Constitution;
- content that endangers the unity of the nation, sovereignty or territorial integrity;
- content that divulges secrets of the State, endangers national security or damages the honour or benefits of the State;
- content that incites the nation hatred or discrimination, undermines the solidarity of the nations, or infringes upon national customs and habits;
- content that propagates evil cults or superstition;
- content that disturbs the public order or destroys the public stability;
- content that propagates obscenity, gambling, violence or instigates crimes;
- content that insults or slanders others, or infringes upon the lawful rights and interests of others;
- content that endangers public ethics or the fine folk cultural traditions;
- other contents prohibited by laws, regulations or State provisions.
In particular, the “Film Management Regulations” state that any film/show in shown in China must first have its script scrutinized by the government according to the rules above before anything can be shot or made. It must also, upon its completion, be scrutinized by the government according to the rules above before it can be shown to anyone.
Now anyone that knows how anime is made or anyone who has at least finished watching Shirobako knows that anime production is inherently improvisational and is an exercise in pragmatic adaptation. Sometimes things are cut or changed at the last minute and the final product can look very different from the initial script. This incompatibility in the rigidity of the media laws in China and the flexibility of the anime production process may be why Haoliners receives so much criticism for their work, especially for their lack of consistency.
Will this looming shadow stifle the potential richness, diversity, and originality of Chinese Animation and the anime industry as a whole? Who Knows? Thanks to Chariotwheel for articles about real issues in anime. Your work has been an inspiration for this.
Thanks to KVin over at Sakugablog whose bitchfest about localization in To Be a Heroine, gave me the idea for this piece.
Thanks to the anime writing club for their companionship and fun times, they truly bring even more fun to something I love doing.
I'd also like to point everyone to 888888Zombies post about his own experience of the changes in the Chinese Otaku Culture.
Lastly, all the authors I sourced for their work, without whom it would have been impossible.