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Comic books inspire flesh Japanese toons.

TOKYO Comic books, once the inspiration for most of Japan's top animated shows, have been superseded by another staple of child life: videogames. With merchandising opportunities equal to their paper predecessors, vidgames are versioning onto TV like never before, say many production company execs.

With the popularity of PC-based videogames among kids and young adults, more and more are made into TV cartoon series like "Monster Rancher," that is now shown in Japan and also by Fox in the U.S., along with some 200 other countries, explains Satoji Yoshida, executive director of the international division at TMS Entertainment.

Until recently, he continues, most of the successful TV cartoons, both in Japan and overseas, were based on popular comic books, which sell by the millions (way over circulation of general magazines for grown-ups).

"We used to develop TV series based on print-based characters, then develop videogames and merchandising items," says Yoshida, who was behind such successful toons as "Lepin III" (Cliff Hanger) and "Detective Conan."

One of Japan's highest-rated sitcoms (over 23%) is "Sazae-san" (Mrs. Turban Shell), which is based on a popular comic book. It has been a staple of the country's TV schedule for over 30 years, currently airing Sunday night on Fuji TV at 6:30.

Fuji, the commercial leader among the five commercial networks, virtually monopolizes the field Sunday nights by pairing "Sazae-san" with three other half-hour skeins, beginning at 6 with "Chibi Maruko-chan," (Little Maruko), an animated sitcom about a smart grade-school girl, running since 1965; "Kochira Katsushikaku Kamearikoenmae Hashutusho," a comedy about a policeman, at 7; and "GTO or Great Teacher Onizuka," a toon chronicling the life of a frazzled high school teacher.

Even a space adventure toon for kids like "Gundam Wing," which was voted the best animated show by a national poll organized by Sony's Animax Channel, youth magazine Brutus and the Tsutaya videostore chain, has numerous adult fans. Bandai/Sunrise's "Gundam," which has been airing continuously over the past two decades, has inspired numerous merchandising opportunities, vidgames and theatrical features.

No. 2 on a recent top 100 poll was "Lupin III," a series centering on a globetrotting thief that has been on different networks since 1971. TV Asahi's "Dorae-mon," a quirky toon about a supernatural trickster doll, which has been running since the 1980s, came in third.

Kids programs that are not watched by grown-up enthusiasts are limited to a few nonanimated programs like the Japanese-lingo version of "Sesame Street," which airs on pubcaster NHK's Educational Channel, and "Okasan-to-Issho" (Together With Your Moms), another NHK program designed with both mothers and juniors in mind.

It is out of this latter NHK program that the phenomenal hit song "Three Dango Brothers" sprang last year, selling over 5 million copies within a month.

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Comment:Comic books inspire flesh Japanese toons.
Author:OSAKI, TAD
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Sep 25, 2000
Words:460
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