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Dogasu's Backpack | Movies & Specials Guide | Tenth Anniversary TV Special

When "The Mastermind of Mirage Pokémon" was announced to be airing on Kids' WB! in April, many people were puzzled.  Where did this all-new hour-long special come from?  Why is it debuting in the U.S. before it debuts in Japan?  Was it made specifically for American audiences?  Everyone had questions about the origin of this special, but nobody really had any answers. 

The purpose of this article is to try to figure out where this special came from and to try put these questions to rest.  Now this is all merely conjecture since nobody involved with the show has really come out and said "we made this for this audience," so I'm going to invite you guys to come up with your own interpretations of the facts I'm about to lay out here.

From looking at all the facts that we have, I believe the special was a co-production between the Japanese creators and the American creators.  What this means is that the money to produce it came from both sides of the Pacific and that certain story ideas may have been shared as well.  I don't believe that this was a purely Japanese produced special that just happened to air in the U.S. first for a number of reasons.

First of all, the special was announced in a unique way; at the 2006 Toy Fair in New York.  It was announced via a press release on February 13th, 2006, roughly two months before the special's worldwide debut.  In other words, it was announced in the U.S. first.  Now you have to understand that this is never done with an animated product that was created solely for the Japanese audience without any input from the American producers.  And why would it?  You wouldn't see a Pixar movie announced at some Japanese animation expo unless it was co-produced in that country, right?  Now video game companies will do this all the time (i.e. the annual E3 event in Los Angeles, California) but animated productions are never announced outside their country of origin. 

There's also the fact that the Japanese fans didn't really know anything about the special's existence until well after information had been reported in the U.S.  If the Japanese fansite Pokeani is any indication, fans on that side of the Pacific didn't even know about the special's existence until about ten days before it aired on Kids' WB!  Now if a special was made without any input from the Americans (like every other episode/movie), wouldn't you think the Japanese fans would have found out about it sooner?  After all, this is the same country that posts episode synopses in Newtype magazine up to a month before the episode actually airs.  The spoiler-happy fans should have known something long before then.

Then there's the fact that Al Kahn,
CEO and chairman of 4Kids Entertainment, sees collaborations between the US and Japan as the future of children's entertainment.  Here's what the man said about it at the ICV2 Graphic Novel Conference at NY ComicCon 2006:

"I think that the um...right now the trend that I believe is gonna happen, and if you look in the next five or six years, we're seeing the Japanese, um, anime companies.  They're looking for co-production partners.  They're looking for people who will help them localize a show in its inception and create something that has a much more global reach coming out of the market.  One of the issues that happens in Japan sometimes is that you get a show that has a lot of Japanese culture built into it.  And that culture is hard to translate in France, in Italy, in Spain, in Germany.  So what we're seeing now, especially with the anime...animators - Toei, uh, especially - we have a number of joint ventures.  We're developing new shows, one of them called Chaotic, for instance, which will be coming out worldwide in September which is being produced and written in Japan, but the pre and post was done in the U.S.  As opposed to the usually...when the pre and post is done in Japan they do it the animation, we get it, we do the post.  Now we're doing the pre and post, and we're using them to add the sensibility, the spin, the look.  But the story arc, or the idea, is our idea, and it's being done in conjunction of with other Japanese companies.  So I think that's going to be a process.  Every Japanese company I know of is looking for joint venture partners to do that.  The second part, will be, I think...will be complete...co-productions where the...even the intellectual property is co-owned, which is a totally foreign Japanese concept.  They don't wanna give you any copyright.  Yet all the products we're currently involved with are co-copyright holders.  We will own them in perpetuity.  We won't go through another Pokémon experience.   And, y'know, we will end up working more colla...more collaboratively with the Japanese to create something that can spin out for a long time."
Co-productions aren't anything new.  The second season of The Big O, for example, was a co-production, with Cartoon Network USA, Bandai USA, and Sunrise Japan contributing to the funding.  Dead Leaves is a collaboration between Manga Entertainment and Production I.G., and Oban Star Racers is a collaboration between Jetix Europe and Sav! The World Production.  4Kids isn't about to be left out of this collaboration party.  They've already had those extra scenes in the Pokémon Johto League Champions opening created as well as those extra scenes in Pokémon 4Ever.  Outside of Pok
émon, the company has co-produced the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie, an additional season of Ultimate Muscle, and are working with Studio Gonzo to create Chaotic.  The precedent for a 4Kids-funded Pokémon special is certainly there, as is the drive to do so.

As you can see, I'm basing this whole article on the idea that 4Kids funded this special.  PUSA could have provided the money for this, but the way I see it, that isn't so likely.  Animated projects take a long time to complete; the average 22-minute episode of an American animated series takes about nine months to create, from conception to finished product.  So the funding for a special like this would have had to have been provided at least that much in advance.  Nine months before the special aired (possibly longer, since we are talking about a 45-minute TV special here), PUSA hadn't taken over the dubbing from 4Kids.  Now don't get me wrong; I'm sure the plans to do so were already in motion.  However, at the time, the co-production loving 4Kids was probably unaware that they'd soon have the dubbing rights pulled from right under their noses.  So why not co-fund a special that, in 4Kids' mind, would eventually be dubbed by their voice actors? 

It's also possible that PUSA contributed to the funding, meaning that the money for this special came from three sources; 4Kids, PUSA, and OLM (the Japanese company that animates Pocket Monsters).  Again, merely conjecture on my part.

Since 4Kids and/or PUSA helped fund the special, they would have had some amount of creative control over the product.  Now they wouldn't have gone as far as to actually write the script, since doing so would require a translator to rewrite the thing from English to Japanese so the Japanese storyboard artists could have something to work with.  But I'm sure they would have been able to have some say as to what goes into the special.  They probably requested appearances from Misty, Professor Oak, and all those legendary pokemon, and they may have even come up with the whole idea of Mirage Pokemon in the first place.  Remember Alfred Kahn's words:  "
the story arc, or the idea, is our idea."  The American company helps fund the product and submits story ideas while the Japanese company does the actual production.

There are other telltale signs that this special wasn't created in the usual way.  Yuyama Kunihiko, who has directed every Pocket Monsters movie and the Raikou TV Special, is bumped down to an Executive Director for "The Mastermind of Mirage Pok
émon."   There's also the fact that the special was animated by Goldenbell Animation and Hanil Animation, two companies who have never worked on Pocket Monsters before.  I don't know about you, but to me, that's a big red flag indicating that the program was created under unusual circumstances.  If it was created by the Japanese for the Japanese, just like every other TV episode and movie, wouldn't you think they'd do things the way they've always been done?

There are arguments that the special was created without any input from anyone in the U.S., but those arguments seem pretty weak to me.  The most popular counter argument I've run across is that the credits are filled with Japanese names, but you'll find that's true with any co-production.  You can't claim that a project had no American involvement because it wasn't directed by someone with a name like Bob Smith. 

Like I said earlier, this whole article is merely speculation.  Nobody from either side has said anything about the origin of the special, so it's really hard to say with any certainty whether this was Japanese-made or American-made.  However, until someone comes out and lets us know one way or another, all we can do is speculate.




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