China animates historic figures, events to attract youthful audience

By Zhang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/27 16:26:35

Three main characters from the animation The Leader Photo: Courtesy of Bilibili

How do you imagine Karl Marx, the "millennium's greatest thinker?" A leading anime video site in China will soon release an animated series called The Leader, which tells his life story.   

Bilibili, a video site that focuses on anime, comics and games, posted on Sina Weibo that the animation series will talk about how Marx met his wife Jenny and their "thwarted love story," as well as his friendship with Friedrich Engels, his close companion and co-author of the Communist Manifesto.       

The release date is probably early next year, according to Bilibili. Its trailer has so far been watched 570,000 times and 98,000 people have followed the series on the website. The numbers continue to increase.

In the trailer, young Marx "strives for his faith with an indomitable spirit." His marriage with Jenny is a "perfect match of two souls" that is not affected by their different backgrounds. His friendship and companionship with Engels is an "unparalleled alliance," which fuels "a revolution that never ends."    

Bilibili user WuqiA followed the series, and wrote under the trailer that he cannot help singing The Internationale while watching.

Zhang Tong, a 23-year-old graduate student from Baylor University in the US, is looking forward to the series with enthusiasm. "I am interested in a young and energetic Marx without a thick grey beard, a different image from cold textbooks," Zhang said.    

The anime may be the most special tribute to Marx among exhibitions and symposiums that China held this year to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. But it is not the country's first animation that seems to promote mainstream values, also known as the "main melody" in Party terminology.

Year, Hare, Affair, also known as The Chronicle of the Rabbits (The Rabbits), is an animated series that has run several seasons about China's modern history. It started airing in 2015.

The cartoons depict China as rabbits that were weak and small at first but ultimately overcome countless hurdles to become strong. Other nations are also represented by animals, making serious military and diplomatic issues cute.

The series has been watched more than 120 million times on Bilibili. The second and third seasons received 8.7 and 8.5 out of 10, respectively, on leading Chinese review platform Douban.

Zhang first heard of The Rabbits from a short fan-made video. The music aroused her interest to explore more about the series, which features rabbits, bald eagles (US), bears (Soviet Union), cranes (Japan), and other animals.

"The anime echoes with what I have learned from school with more emotions and details. It's really exciting to understand history in such a unique way," Zhang told the Global Times. "It is still very informative and makes me more patriotic," she said.

Jessica Gao, currently an intern at Google in California, felt a strong bond to The Rabbits because her grandfather was a veteran of World War II, and had told her a lot about China's suffering in the past.

"I burst into tears when I saw so many rabbits stand on the deserted Gobi, promising to plant an apple tree," Gao told the Global Times. An apple tree is a metaphor for atomic bombs in the series.

Some of Gao's family members were dispatched to Gansu and Sichuan provinces, far away from home, to make atomic bombs. When Gao was a little girl, she knew about them from the older generation's word of mouth and black-and-white photos.   

A scene from Xibaipo, which tells stories that happened in Xibaipo in Hebei Province, a revolutionary base for the Communist Party of China Photo: VCG

Make heroes cute   

The Leader is produced by Wawayu, a private studio based in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang Province.

"We don't think works promoting mainstream values will lose their market. 'Main melody' can also be thrilling and attractive," Pan Bin, president of Wawayu, told the Global Times.

"China has a potentially large number of viewers, and all genres have a chance in the huge market as long as they tell good stories," Pan said. 

"The Rabbits is about Chinese people's shared past and can easily stimulate our emotions. Marx is only an icon in textbooks, and I don't think The Leader can be as successful," said Gao.

Animating Marx as a handsome young man itself is not enough to attract Chinese youth. Gao said she will watch The Leader only if it could rank high on Bilibili and Douban, with "good storytelling, music and art."

The fourth season of The Rabbits also taught a lesson. It earned 6 out of 10 on Douban, a plunge from previous seasons.

A Rabbits fan surnamed Liu said the rating dropped because the fourth season became "too serious and too much like propaganda."

History is serious, but that does not mean the storytelling has to be that way, Liu said, noting jokes and humor should be tolerated in main melody works. 

"I would have never taken a look at The Rabbits from the beginning if it had been an animated version of CCTV news," Zhang said, expressing her disappointment about the fourth season. 

Newspaper headline: The young Marx


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