An anime based on a popular Chinese manga makes no bones about its artistic roots but hopes to show the world mainland Chinese culture.
Since early July the anime Hitori No Shita: The Outcast began airing on Tokyo MX. It is fantasy action story about a college student who, after getting attacked by zombie, discovers he may be the heir to powers that can help save humanity.
At first glance you’d be forgiven for not realizing that this is actually a Chinese anime co-produced with a Japanese studio. Hitori No Shita is originally known as Yi Ren Zhi Xia written by Dong Man Tang and illustrated by Mi Er. Created as a webcomic published by internet giant Tencent. It is also currently negotiating publishing internationally in Europe and South Korea.
The creators of Yi Ren Zhi Xia are quick to acknowledge the heavy influence of Japanese manga and anime artists, citing their three biggest influences as Hiroaki Samura (Blade of the Immortal), Yoshihiro Togashi (Hunter x Hunter), and Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto). However, they also won’t hesitate to point out that the similarities end there.
According to Niconico News, part of the impetus for Yi Ren Zhi Xia was that, while interesting and stylish, Japanese manga and anime were largely steeped in Japanese values. Yi Ren Zhi Xia claims to have taken no influences from Japan with regards to plot and characters and instead drew on Chinese traditional stories and the culture of mainland China for their inspiration.
They also reported that when approaching Japanese distributors, China-based Haoliners Animation was initially met with a cold reception. However, they also said that the birthplace of anime and manga recognizes quality when they see it and ultimately a deal was struck.
▼ Cast members of Yi Ren Zhi Xia gather to watch their TV debut
アニメ：一人之下 the outcast (@hitorinoshita) July 09, 2016
The formula of Chinese culture wrapped in a manga proved to be a hit inside China, building a large fan base who found it more relatable than standard manga and anime. Some fans and media are going so far as to call its entry to Japanese broadcasting China’s “first step towards a counterattack” against Japan’s domination of the anime landscape.
▼ The theme music for the anime is performed by Chinese visual kei band Lilith
However, according to comments from Japan, more work may need to be done as many people still haven’t heard of the series.
■ What? Hitori no Shita??? I never heard of it.
■ I don’t think anime will work under the Communist Party. Personally I think anime without free expression is crap and it will never live up to Japan’s.
■ This is the first I’m hearing of this anime.
■ A big part of anime is social criticisms, I don’t think they can do that in China.
■ If they can keep up the quality of Reikenzan [another Chinese anime released earlier this year], Japan is definitely in trouble.
■ This one is kind of boring, I lost interest after three episodes. Reikenzan is much better.
■ Looks kind of low budget.
■ I watched all of the episodes so far, and I can’t say I really noticed anything that made it distinctly Chinese.
■ If this is a counterattack, then they are heavily under-armed. Japanese anime has moefied everything from tanks to battleships and even gods.
■ This is no counterattack. If you have to copy our style, you’re losing already.
Although judging by these comments, reaction to Hitori no Shita has been lukewarm so far, it is still an accomplishment to get a foreign produced anime onto Japanese television. Several comments also referenced Reikenzan: Hoshikuzu-tachi no Utage, which is an anime based on the Chinese web-manga Congqian Youzuo Lingjianshan, in a more positive light.
So to whatever degree, Chinese animation is at least attempting to make inroads with Japanese consumers, but it still remains to be seen how successful they will be in the end. With its population there certainly ought to be no shortage of talented writers and artists, but as some comments asked, is the environment for creating to their full potential?
Time will tell.