"Suraj--The Rising Star" is just starting.
This fiery animated series is based on the Japanese baseball saga "Kyojin no Hoshi" (Star of the Giants), but with a distinctly Indian flavor: cricket.
Yoshiaki Koga is the creative genius behind the series. To kickstart the project, he visited Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad to meet with corporate sponsors, television networks and animation production houses.
The series' protagonist Suraj is a facsimile of "Kyojin no Hoshi" star Hyuma Hoshi, from his upbringing to his setbacks and eventual comeback. His rival is the long-haired scion of a powerful family with a striking resemblance to Hoshi's nemesis, Mitsuru Hanagata. Other familiar characters such as Hoshi's father Ittetsu, or Hoshi's rivals Hosaku Samon and Chuta Ban, also appear in localized visages.
Each of the 26 episodes runs for 30 minutes.
It aired as a new show in December 2012 and ended its run in June. Now, reruns are screening.
The response from viewers has been positive.
Here are two typical comments: "It's not as childish as most Indian animated shows, so adults can enjoy it, too." "It has a believable story, and you can't tell that it's based on a Japanese baseball manga."
However, the estimated viewer rating for the first broadcast was 0.2 percent. This isn't as bad as it seems, given that India has more than 700 television channels. But Koga wasn't satisfied.
"It'll be a long while yet before this show takes hold in a nation as huge as this and ancillary products become popular," said Koga.
INDIAN-STYLE 'KYOJIN NO HOSHI'
When Koga joined publisher Kodansha and was first assigned to the editorial department of weekly photo magazine Friday, he threw himself into covering stories on disasters, crime and other news hotspots. When the Mount Unzen-Fugendake in Nagasaki Prefecture erupted in 1991, he was investigated by Shimabara Police for entering the no-go zone and his case was sent to prosecutors (the charges were later dropped).
On his days off he often took his camera to Mount Unzen, and eventually published a book of his photos.
During his time with weekly news magazine Shukan Gendai, Koga reported on the Aum Shinrikyo cult and paid frequent visits to Kumamoto Prefecture where leader Chizuo Matsumoto's family home was located, and to Yamanashi Prefecture where the Aum Shinrikyo's facilities, called "satyam," were built.
He even dug up exclusive stories on what went on inside Aum Shinrikyo, to the ire of journalists affiliated with national newspapers and television networks.
However, in his fifth year as the inaugural editor of a new magazine, Koga decided he felt unfulfilled. He had joined the company out of a desire to do work that interested him, but before he knew it he was spending his time poring over sales and advertising revenue figures. He was also spending less time in the field. In his mid-40s, Koga felt his energy draining away.
When he finally decided to quit his editorial position, the first attractive "hotspot" that came to mind was India.
He had visited Kolkata as a student, and was captivated by its chaotic atmosphere. The streets were noisy and dirty. The people were poor and had attitude. Despite being laid low with a high fever by a week, he marveled at the sights and sounds of India.
"I want to start a brand new project in India!"
Koga had a hunger to start afresh in India.
He brainstormed with his boss about the future potential of the Indian market and began making plans for a new career.
Using up 30 days of his annual leave, he traveled to India once again. It was his third trip. During his stay there, he kept thinking: What could he export to the country? Who should he sell to? Koga had nothing to go on. Even after returning to Tokyo, he spent his days racking his brain for ideas.
One day, Koga received a surprising call from an editor of a leading newspaper company in Chennai (formerly Madras). The editor was interested in Kodansha's iconic boxing manga "Ashita no Joe" (Tomorrow's Joe), and wanted to serialize it over several months in the paper. He immediately began to negotiate a deal, but soon realized he was up against a number of obstacles. The original manga was mostly in black and white, but the newspaper wanted it all in color. Also, unlike in Japan, pages are read from left to right in India, so it would be necessary to print the manga's panel in reverse. However, simply doing that would turn its hero Joe Yabuki into a southpaw. The deal proved too difficult, and was eventually called off.
The next project that emerged was the Indian adaptation of "Kyojin no Hoshi." With the cooperation of a person who works for a major Japanese advertising agency, an animated pilot episode was produced for 3 million yen ($30,000).
However, this time the agency would not give its approval, and expressed a desire to quit the project. Koga refused to give up. He approached acquaintances at the newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun and national broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), which gave prominent coverage to Kodansha's attempt to export an animated television series in the Japanese "supokon" (tenacious athlete) tradition to India. Such exclusive news reporting had a marked influence on the project's fortunes.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry also displayed a willingness to support the export of a Japanese animated property.
Kodansha's top brass consulted with the advertising agency, which ended up coming on board again. It promised that Japanese companies with interests in the Indian market such as All Nippon Airways, Suzuki Motor Corp., Kokuyo, Daikin Industries, and Nissin Foods would provide sponsorship. At last, the project began to move forward in earnest as a co-production by major animation production houses from Japan and India.