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Ganging up on Disney

(Global Times)

17:00, June 26, 2013

Book cover of Wei Chengeng's Rabbit Gang Photo: Courtesy of Wei Chengeng

A few months from now, audiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore will be able to see a serial animation called Rabbit Gang on the Disney Asia-pacific channel. Thus, Rabbit Gang, created by famous cartoonist Wei Chengeng, who is also known as 19Van (Shijiufan in Chinese), has become the first animation series bought by Disney that was produced by a mainland company and adapted from a serial Chinese cartoon.

Allowing for a significant reduction in the total minutes produced - from 260,000 minutes in 2011 to 220,000 minutes in 2012 - the bunch of cute rabbits particularly brought fun and hope to the industry.

From comics to cartoons

Comic lovers in China are probably very familiar with Rabbit Gang as the print version has been published by the two most popular magazines in the field: Comic Fans and Comic World. Since it first came out in January 2007, there were also 23 offprints made for the story. And in six years, Rabbit Gang has developed about 5 million readers in China.

Rabbit Gang stories and characters are built upon the idea of the famous Chinese tale about Chang'e who lives on the moon with a rabbit. But in Rabbit Gang, it's a whole town of rabbits and occasionally, rabbits are sent to Earth and live among the humans to accomplish important missions.

The creator Wei has an academic background in Chinese literature. He borrowed elements from traditional Taoist mythology and a famous piece of literature, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, and incorporated them into the story, making each rabbit possess different superpowers and skills. Such an international plot with a Chinese flavor and drawn in a Japanese style has made Rabbit Gang a special entry among all the other Chinese serial cartoons.

What makes Rabbit Gang more special is that it was the first long-running serial comic to be made into an animation. Three years ago, Toonmax Media, the animation unit under Shanghai Media Group, started the project of moving the pictures onto TV. Last year, the first season of over 50 episodes of Rabbit Gang was finished and has been a success since being broadcast on Zhejiang TV's children's channel.

"There has always been a gap between comics and animation here," said Wei. In the Chinese market, comic books and magazines containing literal characters often target middle school students whereas animations target mainly primary school students.

Rabbit Gang has developed an audience base among younger readers, but as the fans of the series get older, the animation needs to change as well. A staff member from Toonmax Media surnamed Dong who is responsible for the project told the Global Times that the target audience for Rabbit Gang is from 6 to 14 years old. The company hopes to include some relatively complex content related to honesty, betrayal, dream and reality in future productions to match the growing sophistication of its audience.

"The interesting characters and funny plots in Rabbit Gang are very suitable for the screen… The common shortcomings for stories in many Chinese comics is that the world values involved are huge, but the stories are too simplistic and repetitive. Rabbit Gang does not have these problems," according to the Toonmax Media source.

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