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China Hopes for Anime Buzz as 'B.E.E' Takes Flight in Japanese

B.E.E. character Liuli (Credit: U17)
B.E.E. character Liuli (Credit: U17)

Chinese filmmakers have long admired animation from Japan, and now they want to bring their own works to their "anime kingdom" neighbors.

The first episodes of "B.E.E," a sci-fi thriller series produced by Chinese online comics platform operator U17, began streaming last month for Web audiences in Japanese. This was the first Chinese anime project developed with Japanese viewers in mind from the onset.

China is keen to boost its cultural industries, including animation. Growth has been rapid at home, but the business has so far made little headway outside its borders.

"B.E.E" uses well-known Japanese voice actors like Kana Hanazawa and has a Japanese theme song.

"We wanted to make this anime more 'local' to audiences through familiar voices," Zhiling Dong, vice president of U17 owner Beijing Starry April, said in a phone interview.

The series was adapted from the manga "School Shock," whose writer, Heng Sun, has cited Japan's "Mobile Suit Gundam" and "Evangelion" as influences.

Producers said the lack of major cultural barriers in the story made it a good fit for international viewers, and they wanted to start with Japan because of its strong animation culture.

"Japan is an anime kingdom," Dong said.

Set in the near future, "B.E.E" revolves around Liuli, a bioengineered part-human, part-bee "vanguard" tasked with rescuing a hostage in her final mission. The series consists of 12 15-minute episodes.

The anime debuted in China in late July. The Japanese-language version then appeared on U17's YouTube channel, which the company set up in 2012 to reach foreign audiences and gauge future expansion opportunities.

Dong said that if Japanese audiences respond well to the Web series, his company would like to increase its offerings for the Japanese market.

Beijing Starry April hopes to have a global reach eventually, Dong said, but added that the Chinese industry needed more time to up its game before it could compete with the likes of Walt Disney Co. or Studio Ghibli.

"I believe success will come, as long as we are able to make works of good quality," he said. "The culture business requires patience."