How ’90s Kids Are Redrawing the Boundaries of Chinese Animation

China’s millennials are all grown up. The country’s animation industry is finally starting.

When Zhang Ping released the first episode of his flash-animated web series “The Legend of Luo Xiaohei” in 2011, it amounted to a shot in the dark. Zhang, who goes by “MTJJ” online, had moved to Beijing five years prior to take a job at a small animation company. After years spent quietly making and uploading short GIFs online in his spare time, he decided to try his hand at something longer.

It was a fortuitous decision: The clip was a hit, and Zhang soon had hundreds of thousands of fans clamouring for updates. Funding followed not long after, and in 2015, he began work on a feature-length installment of “Luo Xiaohei,” called “The Legend of Hei.” It took four years to finish, but the resulting film has already earned 313 million yuan ($44.3 million) since hitting theaters this September. Not bad for a cult classic starring a spirited black cat.

Stills from the animated film “The Legend of Hei.” From Douban

“The Legend of Hei” isn’t the only Chinese animated film with eye-catching numbers at the 2019 box office. Since opening this July, “Ne Zha” has earned almost 5 billion yuan in theaters — enough to make it the second-highest grossing Chinese film of all time. In the process, the film’s tale of growing up and conquering your inner demons has won over everyone from skeptical audiences and critics to the Communist Party.

The two films’ success, combined with other recent animated hits like “Monkey King: Hero is Back,” has some optimistic observers dreaming of a Chinese animation renaissance. It is, as the story goes, the result of bold risk-taking on the part of creatives and producers, who poured time — “Monkey King” took eight years to make, “Ne Zha” five, and “The Legend of Hei” four — and millions of yuan into China’s moribund animation industry.

A promotional still from the animated film “Monkey King: Hero is Back.” From Douban

There’s truth to this, certainly. Without money and talent, none of the above-mentioned films could have been made. But this narrative makes the rise of Chinese animation seem like a happy accident, when in fact it’s the result of a long-gestating generational shift: the rise of China’s post-’90s kids.

In China, animation, comics, and gaming culture — often abbreviated as “ACG” — is the near-exclusive domain of the generation born after 1990. In 2017, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology pegged the number of “core users” of Chinese animation at over 80 million, and the total number of consumers of ACG content at more than 300 million. Of these, more than 97% were born in the past two decades. Continue to read the full article here.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.