Spotlight
Korean Animation: A Fairy Tale Come True
Wonderful Days: Korea's groundbreaking feature
Gradually, Korean animation is finding a niche in the international market, selling its product abroad and partnering with foreign producers and distributors. Lineage, a popular game evolving from a comic book created by Il-Sook Shin, will be animated as a 13-part TV series by global animation company Cyper; the award-winning Mari Iyagi will be distributed in North America in 2004, first in theaters, followed by Anime Network and home video release, and the 26-episode series Ki-Fighter Taerang, was recently exported to US distributor Crash Media Group at the highest price among all Korean animated films to be sold abroad. Wonderful Days, a groundbreaking feature because of its colossal US$12 million budget, about seven years of production, and mixture of traditional 2D, 3D computerized methods, miniatures, and live-action, has been sold to Spain's Manga Films and will be released in France and possibly Italy, England, and Germany. Hong Kong and Taiwan purchased Spheres, the center of a merchandising push, and Kids WB aired the 2001 series Cubix on US Saturday morning television.

All types of partnerships have been put together involving Korean and /or foreign broadcasting systems, governmental and educational institutions, animation studios, toy and game developers, and digital graphics companies. The Island of Inis Cool series is a co-production of Korean, Irish, and Luxembourg companies, while the clay animation series Dragon is a joint venture with Canadian studios. There are others, such as Odd Family with a French firm, Netibee and Dr. Cookcook's Big Math Cooking with Chinese TV and animation companies, and the Antenna Tales series with Sante Fe Communications of the US. More specifically, the globally popular Beyblade (also known as Topblade) television series, released in the US and Canada through Nelvana, is a collaboration between Seoul Broadcasting System, Seoul Animation, and toy company Sonokong, all in Korea, and Tokyo TV and Madhouse Studio in Japan; and Dongwoo Animation has several projects with US, Canadian, and Japanese support. Dongwoo's Tank Knight Fortress is affiliated with seven other Korean studios, game developer CCR, and Japan's Bandai Co., and its new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series is tied to 4 Kids Entertainment of the US.

Korea, China, and Japan, with similar cultural, philosophical, and linguistic roots, recently began exploring a number of possibilities of working together in animation, such as joint production/distribution of at least eight television series, the trading of festival exhibition space, and the extension of meetings for future cooperation. Animators from the three countries are proud of their joint activities thus far, pointing out those operational decisions and procedures and the division of credits have been executed democratically, allowing each company in these arrangements to reach its full potential.

Despite its seemingly fairy-tale existence, Korean animation does suffer some real-life maladies. Many studios have no production orders and about half of Korea's 20,000 animators are idle during this transition period from overseas to domestic production; feature-length animation films (there were already 105 from 1967 to 1999) have been unsuccessful at the box office, generally not attracting adult audiences; and Korean animation, though superior in technology, lacks good storytelling, is inexperienced in marketing techniques, and still seeks a uniquely Korean style.

Relatively speaking, however, Korean animation is still young, and even its critics predict a brilliant future for the industry as government support continues (and possibly expands) and as the transition period fades into the past.
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