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Anime Fans Convene in Tokyo to See What's Hot

Millions of people around the world are fans of Japanese animated films - known as anime. The big names in the industry and its most dedicated fans recently gathered in Tokyo to look for the next big thing in the business. As Yuriko Nagano reports from Tokyo, among the hot topics are on-line distribution and horror movies.

Hours before the doors opened on Japan's largest exhibition devoted to anime, Masakazu Kubo was prowling through the Tokyo convention center.

Kubo is the executive producer at Tokyo Anime Center, and the top producer for the long-running "Pokemon" animated television and movie series. "Pokemon", which features a group of mythical creatures led by a fellow named Pikachu, is a favorite program for children and their parents all over the world - it is shown in at least 70 countries.

Kubo stalked around the booths at the exhibition to learn where anime - Japanese-style animated film - is headed, so he can try to continue "Pokemon's" 10-year reign at the top of the anime business.

The good news for the industry, Kubo says, is that anime films are attracting more U.S. fans.

Kubo says about 60 percent of anime films are based on Japanese comic books, known as manga.

In Asia, fans of manga, which tend to have complicated story lines aimed at adults, are able to make the shift to complex anime plots. Westerners, however, are less familiar with manga, and they are more used to the simpler story lines of Western animated films, so, Kubo says, they are less receptive to anime.

Kubo says that when an artist creates an animation based on manga, at times the complicated story line tends to creep in. He says people often assume anime is solely for kids and do not bother to look at it. But graphic novels are becoming prominent in countries such as the United States, he says, so people are becoming more receptive to complicated anime titles.

Kubo was among more than 100,000 anime professionals and fans who swarmed the hallways of the recent Tokyo International Anime Fair.

Tony Mullen, an American teaching computer science at a Tokyo college, had a professional interest in anime, which uses high-technology computer design.

"I'm interested in seeing especially new artists and new creators in C.G. [computer-generated] animation," he explained.

Anime and manga grew up in Japan in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, were in high demand all over Asia. Young adults can be found reading manga all over the region. In Hong Kong there is a television channel dedicated to anime shows.

In the past decade, anime and manga also have taken off among teens in the United States and Europe. Western writers have begun to produce graphic novels - novels written through sophisticated illustrations, and movies based on them.

Kubo says that Western viewers are more keen to follow a complicated story line if they can download content off the Internet. So the next step for "Pokemon" is to go on-line.

Kubo says he does not want Internet piracy. But he thinks Internet film sites such as YouTube have matured into media outlets well worth taking advantage of.

While Kubo is thinking about getting "Pokemon's" cast of cute creatures popping up on home computers, other anime producers say older fans can expect more blood and gore in films.

Miki Takamoto is with Production I.G, a company known in the industry for doing the animated scenes in Hollywood movie "Kill Bill".

Takamoto says besides children's anime, which tends to be funny and full of laughs, anime with scary plots on a grownup level is in. She says she is not just talking about being scared by seeing a ghost. The trend, Takamoto says, is for stories that are chilling psychologically and spiritually.

I.G's latest titles include "Blood +", a story about a teenage girl fighting vampires, and "Holic," a horror story with a touch of humor featuring a teenage boy who can see ghosts.

Takamoto says I.G also is doing a modern remake of "Reideen," a manga story aimed at grownups. I.G's "Reideen" remake has chilling plots to reflect the global demand for spooky tales.