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From Pokémon to ‘Ninja Hattori’

On his first India visit, producer Masakazu Kubo talks about what he has learnt about anime here

Masakazu Kubo produced several Pokémon movies between 1999-2011.
Masakazu Kubo produced several Pokémon movies between 1999-2011. (Photo: Mint)

It would be a mistake to forget Pokémon’s role in the global anime boom of the 1990s. One of the people behind the anime that has grown to be one of the highest-grossing entertainment franchises is producer Masakazu Kubo, director at Shogakukan, Inc., a Japanese publisher and media house. Along with the series, Kubo also produced several Pokémon anime movies from 1999-2011. Shogakukan publishes the manga for the hit anime show Ninja Hattori, which is exclusively managed in India by brand licensing and merchandising firm Dream Theatre. In the country to scout for business partners for Ninja Hattori’s consumer products, Kubo spoke to Lounge about Pokémon’s fame, the appeal of ninjas and India’s anime market. Edited excerpts from an interview:

When did you realize Pokémon was becoming a global phenomenon?

Before Pokémon was published in Shogakukan’s Japanese monthly manga magazine CoroCoro, I met the concept’s creator, Satoshi Tajiri, in 1995 to see Pokémon’s video game from his company, GameFreak.

The game went on sale in 1996. It also inspired a trading card game. CoroCoro advertised Pokémon with a free prize giveaway—a new Pokémon card—to the comic’s first 20 subscribers. We went on to receive 80,000 subscription entries. We thought it was a mistake at first, and repeated the exercise, which yielded the same result. That was a key indicator.

What are your plans with ‘Ninja Hattori’, the series you have made in partnership with Reliance? Is it popular here?

We aren’t directly involved with the production of the anime series here since we manage the consumer products. The brand, though, has a long history since the show has been running for a long time. It is liked in a lot of territories other than Japan and India, indicating its potential. There has also been a big fascination with the ninja theme here.

For Ninja Hattori’s licensing and merchandising, I have realized that the same strategies we use in the US or Europe aren’t going to successfully work here. From what I have seen and know about how the series is received here, I can tell that India’s fan base overlaps with Japan’s quite a bit and the target audience—comprising mainly children—is similar.

How would you characterize the Indian market for anime and manga today? What are you concentrating on more here?

In the case of markets such as the US and UK, traditionally the comics entered first, developed a fan base, and the animation series came after, and the franchise expanded out from there. In India, Ninja Hattori’s animation series entered first, so there was a difference in how the audience learnt about it.

I think it’s difficult to bring in the comics now, from a medium standpoint. The animation series is strong enough to keep going without the manga.

Do you worry about Hollywood appropriating Japanese properties, like ‘Detective Pikachu’ or the recent ‘Godzilla’ film?

With any property that becomes a Hollywood movie, it boils down to the contract. In this case, the principals of the Pokémon brand and the film studio heads had a good agreement in place. The creators had all the control they wanted.

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