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Japan’s Latest Export: Soft- Core Cartoon : * Video: Adult-oriented animated erotica, a billion-dollar business in Japan, tries to shed its cult image in the U.S. Some predict American resistance.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cartoons are not just for kids.

While most animated programming is aimed at youngsters, the prime-time success of Fox-TV’s “The Simpsons” seems to have sparked a new interest in sophisticated animated humor.

In fact, adult-oriented cartoon projects are in development at all three major television networks, with NBC and ABC expected to deliver animated evening shows by next winter.

But is the public ready for a pornographic cartoon?

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John O’Donnell, managing director of Central Park Media, thinks so. On Friday, his New York publishing firm is scheduled to screen the U.S. premiere of the Japanese carnal comic “I Give My All” at the AnimeCon Festival in San Jose.

Produced in Japan by Sony Music Entertainment Inc., and distributed in the United States by Central Park Media, the 45-minute soft-core porn animated comedy satirizes the sexual coming of age of a wealthy teen-age girl, detailing a series of erotic encounters that transpire during her first love affair. The dialogue is in Japanese, with English subtitles.

“It’s aimed at adults who grew up on cartoons but are looking for something a little bit sexier and more mature,” O’Donnell said in a phone interview from New York.

While there have been X-rated cartoons in the United States before--Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat” in 1972 and “Heavy Traffic” in 1973--sex was incidental to the plot lines. Based on a comic-strip series created by illustrator Hikaru Yuzuki and published weekly in the million-selling Young Jump Comics magazine, “I Give My All” embodies the Japanese “love comedy"--an animated genre that relies heavily on titillation.

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While the video--stickered with a parental warning advisory that reads “NOT FOR CHILDREN"--features animated enactments of masturbation, oral and genital sex, O’Donnell said he anticipates no backlash from media watchdog groups in marketing the film stateside.

“We don’t expect to run into problems with (the Rev. Donald) Wildmon or any of the Southern Baptist types,” O’Donnell said. “This isn’t hard-core animated porn like some of the stuff available in Japan. In fact, most anybody who has ever seen R-rated sex will consider this video to be pretty silly. I think they’ll get a laugh out of it.”

Not everyone is chuckling.

The video has already come under attack by Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian media watchdog group and radio broadcaster with offices in Pomona.

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“We intend to pay close attention to what happens with this video,” said Robert DeMoss, the organization’s youth culture specialist. “We believe there is no redeeming value to this kind of degrading entertainment. (Central Park Media) assumes that Americans are moral morons, but I think they may be surprised by the resistance they are going to get from U.S. family groups.”

Erotic cartooning may be a new phenomenon in the United States, but in Japan it has long been a staple of the billion-dollar adult animation industry.

In Tokyo, more than 200 serialized comic magazines--one-third of which specialize in pornography, sadomasochistic sex and violence--hit the newsstands every week. About three dozen family-oriented animated TV shows air weekly and more than 40 full-length animated features (of which approximately five contain graphic sexuality) are released each month at theaters and on video in Japan.

Bakshi, whose eccentric cartoons were criticized in the ‘70s and ‘80s by family groups, said that he takes offense at the explicit sexual detail presented in paperback comics marketed to Japanese consumers.

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“They seem to have a section of comics for every sexual desire and perversion imaginable,” Bakshi said. “The Japanese carry something obscene for every age group and they seem to have no problem marketing the stuff over there. But I can’t imagine who (Central Park Media) plans to sell a soft-core animated film to or what retailers will carry it over here.”

Central Park Media hopes to tap into a burgeoning underground network of U.S. high school and college “anime” (pronounced Annie May) fan clubs plus more than two dozen domestic computerized electronic bulletin board services dedicated exclusively to Japanese animation.

American devotees of the genre--of which there are reportedly more than 50,000--currently spend about $1 million each year on pirated rip-offs of popular Japanese animated videos and merchandise, according to a survey conducted by Lea Hernandez, systems operator at Japanimation Online, a division of GEnie, an electronic bulletin board arm of the Rockville, Md.-based General Electric Information Service.

To entice collectors, Central Park Media will ship the first 2,000 copies of “I Give My All” in its original Japanese packaging with a promotional pink panty insert for $35--about one-third the price of bootleg imports.

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The company has also entered into a distribution pact with Carson-based U.S. Renditions and Wilmington, N.C.-based AnimEigo and is preparing to release a line of violent science-fiction and cyber-punk animated videos--including such Japanese titles as “Gun-busters,” “Appleseed” and “Riding Bean.”

John Dacey, manager of Hi De Ho, a collectible comic-book store in Santa Monica, believes the time is ripe for graphic animation videos to crossover into the mainstream.

“The Japanese animation video market is wide open in America,” Dacey said. “Japanese comic magazines and paperbacks that feature sex and violence have been good sellers in the States for years. So why not videos?”

Kevin Seymour, animation division manager at Books Nippan/U.S. Renditions in Carson, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, Japan’s largest book, magazine and video distributor, agrees.

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“The American prejudice that cartoons are for kids is fading fast,” said Seymour, who has been distributing non-sexual animated science-fiction comic books and video imports for more than a decade. “It’s just a matter of time before Japanese animation breaks out of its cult status in this country. I believe that before the end of the decade every video store will have its own Japanimation section.”

Central Park Media’s O’Donnell expects video retailers that stock offbeat and “cutting-edge” foreign films to venture first into the “anime” market.

“What we’re offering cartoon-lovers is a brand new kind of animated experience,” O’Donnell said. “This stuff is fun and risque. The kids can still have ‘Bambi.’ What we’re talking about here is a new form of entertainment for adults.”


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