Motion Comics Debut at New York Comic Con via Japanese Company Happinet


At New York Comic Con, I came across Happinet, a company with a very interesting product: motion comics. They’re calling it Manga 2.5, and it’s something you’re going to want to know about.

Happinet is under the Bandai umbrella, and itself has several subsidiaries. Over the last fifteen years, traditionally the company has managed geek product distribution such as tie-in toys and gaming console items (at one point they handled Xbox distribution in Japan). And since acquiring Wint Corp. in 2009, they’ve also had a visual art and music division, which has found itself an interesting niche in the last two years: motion comics.

What exactly is a motion comic? On screen, it looks a bit like a manga book trailer — but this time, with actual animation, not just fancy camera movement made in Flash. At first glance the concept seems something like visual novel, but with almost constant animation … the end product is far cooler.

Happinet explains their product as creating a mini-movie using existing comic panels, rather than full-on animation. They have artist teams who isolate and remove the characters from cells, expand and repair the image backgrounds to fit standard TV size frames, then return the character and color the entire image. They then isolate and animate certain parts of the image for the best focus, including moving limbs and adding mouth flaps, moving objects across the frame, and introducing interesting camera techniques. I’m reminded of Marvel’s four-episode animation “Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers,” which has minimal animation based on Esad Ribic’s exquisite comic paintings: It takes a little getting used to, but once it clicks in your mind, you’re hooked.

The trick in the product is to avoid static space, which many Flash videos and “videos of reading comics page by page” suffer from, albeit with a narrator. And speaking of narrators, Happinet’s motion comics also come fully-acted. A team of voice actors from Japan have been put to work for their various titles. Right now, Happinet has Japanese motion comics with English subtitles available, but are looking to expand. In the future, they hope to engage the US audience in part by producing motion comics made from US books, and voicing them over in English.

As of NY Comic Con, the company had just reached out to Comixology to see if Comixology’s now ubiquitous comics-reading platform could host their product as-is. Who knows: if the idea sprouts in Comixology’s developers, we may, down the road, see native-screen comics with a voice-over option. (With good acting, one hopes.)

And that’s what I find most exciting about this: Happinet has the chance to bring together American manga and US comics readers together like never before, all through new technology. While motion comics haven’t yet taken off in Japan, everyday life there is more saturated with visual art and animation; in America, the stimulation motion comics provide — especially Happinet’s high-quality product — doesn’t have as much of a readily available alternative. It also offers a chance for comics with not-quite anime-worthy sales some new life, while conceivably also garnering enough interest to get a comic to the cartoon-adaptation point.

It’s a time-intensive product, so I worry about the ability to have a working profit margin. However, anything that employs artists is worth supporting in this day and age, so I wish them all the best. Happinet’s motion comics fit an interesting place in the media market, too — either a poor man’s animation or a rich man’s beefed-up comic. So, at the end of the day, whether motion comics are here to stay, or will be relegated to an on-demand specialty product, is entirely up to you to decide.