By Liao Bowen (Centre for Sino-Indonesia People-to-people Exchange Studies, BFSU)
An animated film co-produced by China and Malaysia, SeeFood tells the story of Julius, a white shark, and Pup, a brown-banded bamboo shark, who are good friends living freely in coral reefs on the ocean bed. Their peaceful lives are upended by greedy humans recklessly stealing shark eggs and pollution from chemical plants.
In recent years, China’s animation market has started growing rapidly. The total size of Chinese cartoon, animation and game markets now exceeds US$50 billion. From comics to animation and films, Chinese content has also become popular in ASEAN countries.
Journey to ASEAN: From Comics to Animation
Compared to animation and video games, comics have the lowest production cost and are usually produced by studios. More importantly, comics can be published and disseminated easily via cell phones, and users can download from every corner of the world. This requires comparatively less bandwidth, making online comics more competitive among users especially in some Southeast Asian countries with underdeveloped internet infrastructure. Southeast Asia has a combined population of 500 million, of which 100 million are comics fans, including more than 30 million loyal paid users mainly scattered across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
At the end of 2016, Shanghai Kidstone Network Technology Co., Ltd. signed a strategic cooperation agreement with GameView, the largest online game news portal in Malaysia. According to the agreement, Kidstone’s comic app launched a Southeast Asian version covering 11 countries in the region. The mobile app provides online comics in languages such as Chinese, English, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Thai.
“Southeast Asian users are highly loyal but not patient,” reveals Wang Jun, chairman of Kidstone. “Our app offers full-color comics that are updated every day, which is just what they want.” The Southeast Asian version of Kidstone’s comics app provides a brand-new avenue for China’s outstanding original comics to explore overseas markets.
Alongside comics, Kidstone will also spread excellent Chinese ACGN (animation, comics, games and novels) products to Southeast Asia with the help of GameView, to help Chinese comics and animation become known by more people. Capitalizing on GameView’s localized advantages in Southeast Asia and sister companies in China, the two sides are expected to further cooperate in television dramas and films. Kidstone is likely to attempt a localization strategy in its comprehensive entertainment business and cultivate a series of intellectual properties that appeal to the Southeast Asian market.
At the end of 2017, the “Belt and Road” (Nanning) Comics, Animation and Game Forum, themed “Future Globalization of Chinese Comics, Animation and Games Industry,” was held, at which participants discussed cooperation between China and countries along the Belt and Road in the fields of animation, comics and games and their future prospects. The forum attracted representatives from many animation and games companies and institutions around the world including China Animation Comic Game Group, Guangxi Comics and Animation Association, Tencent Video, Hunan Golden Eagle Cartoon Co., Ltd., Italy’s Chili company, France’s Eurodata TV Worldwide and Indonesia’s MNC Animation. They exchanged views on Sino-foreign cooperation in comics, animation and games.
“The major reason we attend the forum is seeking opportunities to buy or invest in excellent Chinese animation projects for the purpose of win-win deals,” declared Foong Yee Ching, assistant vice president of Astro, a leading entertainment content provider in Malaysia and the ASEAN region.
With the spread of Chinese comics in Southeast Asia, some have gradually expanded into mobile games, animation and even films. After localization, the animated film Monkey King: Hero Is Back (2015) and the animated series Amy & Gulu (2016) presented by Shanghai Left Pocket Studio Ltd., as well as popular animated television series Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf and Boonie Bears have all proven successful in the Southeast Asian market.
Digging for Gold in Animation
With the rise of the comics, animation and games industry in China and ASEAN countries in recent years, many relevant Southeast Asian companies are actively seeking partners in China. On April 29, the 2018 CAEXPO Cartoon, Animation and Games Exhibition (CAGE 2018) opened in Nanning, capital of southwestern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in a bid to further deepen cultural exchange between the two sides in terms of comics, animation and games. The exhibition attracted participants from 18 countries.
With increasing improvements in Southeast Asia’s telecommunications infrastructure, Chinese-made mobile terminals are swarming the region, laying the groundwork for the development of comics, animation and games. The online cultural market of the ASEAN region has attracted global attention. As China’s mobile payment platforms such as WeChat Pay and Alipay have settled in Southeast Asia and indigenous online payment platforms are seeing diversified development, many consumers in ASEAN countries have formed a habit of paying for online digital content. However, the vitalization of the Southeast Asian market demands Chinese companies to provide more excellent, innovative comics and animation.
Leong Chun Chong, founder and CEO of Animamundi Studio, worked at Shanghai Disney Resort for several years before returning to Malaysia to start his own studio. His studio now employs nearly 100 and is cooperating with China Film Animation to produce animations and VFX shorts.
Leong admitted that the journey of exploring the Chinese market wasn’t all smooth sailing, and he overcame many failures. However, since the moment his studio was founded, it set sights on the Chinese animation market. Though the process didn’t proceed as smoothly as expected, he never gave up. Leong likens the relationship between Malaysian animators and Chinese filmmakers to that between horses and horse whisperers. “We have many strong ‘horses’ in Malaysia,” he asserted. “We’ll lead the development of indigenous comics and animation to meet the demands of the Chinese market.”
Huang Jun, general manager of China Film Animation, admitted that he didn’t know much about Malaysia’s animation industry until he met Leong Chun Chong. Leong’s studio impressed him with outstanding staff and output.
Animamundi Studio and China Film Animation have already launched cooperative animated film projects including Sharp, The Bull, Beast of Burden, and Dragonkeeper.
ASEAN countries are home to large numbers of overseas Chinese, who represent a potential audience for Chinese-language comics, animation and games. Moreover, Chinese-language games and animation developed by ASEAN countries with the help of their Chinese residents can be directly introduced to the Chinese market without additional spending on translation.