Written by Aki Uehara
In March 2023, the Malaysian 3D animation “Mechamato” won the Anime Fan Award at the Tokyo Anime Awards Festival 2023 (TAAF2023)(*1)! It is an action adventure in which the famous duo of boy Amato and MechaBot fight against bad robots from outer space. Mr. Faiz Zainal Abidin, director of Animonsta Studios, the production company behind “Mecha-Amato,” spoke with us about the series, Malaysia’s animation industry, and other topics.
“TAAF2023″ Awarded the Animation Fan Award to Mechamato
3D animation attracts attention in Japan
— First of all, how did you feel about receiving the Anime Fan Award at TAAF2023? What do you think was the key to “Mechamato” being a hit in Japan, a country with a huge anime market?
I was very surprised to receive the “Anime Fan Award” in Japan. Japan is a leading animation country, full of works that are attracting attention from all over the world.
The comments from Japanese fans on social networking services and other media showed that 3D animation is gaining popularity in Japan as well. In fact, when we tried to sell “BoBoiBoy,” our previous work before “Mechamato,” to the Japanese market, it did not go well because 3D animation was not very popular in Japan then. However, “Doraemon” and “Crayon Shin-chan” have recently been 3D animated movies, and I feel that the Japanese animation industry is beginning to change. This is a good sign for us.
Winning this award has given us confidence that our work will be accepted in Japan. It is currently airing on Cartoon Network and Netflix Japan, and will be available on another TV streaming site this year. I would be happy if we can gain more and more exposure in Japan and if Japanese kids can get to know “Mechamato” as well.
For the Japanese dubbed version, we were able to cast popular Japanese voice actors, including Ayumu Murase as the lead boy Amato and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as his buddy MechaBot, which also helped us to gain Japanese fans.
Set in the historical city of Malacca.
Malaysian uniqueness is present throughout the work.
— Is the story set in some town in Malaysia? Does it also portray the culture that is uniquely Malaysian?
The setting of Mechamato is inspired by Malacca. Malacca is a historic city and a special place where buildings and other structures are still strongly influenced by the colonial period. Not an urban city like the capital Kuala Lumpur, but with a charm different from that of a rural village, Malacca can be described as a “mini Malaysia” where the diverse cultures of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic society are concentrated.
In designing the town in the animation, our architectural specialists actually surveyed the town of Malacca and created “Kota Hilir,” a fictional town that is a cross between the imaginary and the real. By depicting the famous buildings and streets of Malacca, we hope that fans from Japan will visit the city in a manner similar to ” Anime Holy Land” pilgrimages. We also included tourism elements to let people know about Malaysia, such as depicting a scene in which the main character is eating Karipap (curry puffs) so that people can learn about the variety of food in Malaysia.
I grew up watching Japanese anime such as Doraemon, Ultraman, and Dragon Ball, etc. I also have a large collection of manga. I learned a lot about Japanese culture through anime, such as the Japanese food, towns, and the fact that Japanese people sleep on futons on tatami mats instead of beds. When I visited Japan for the first time, I ate Dorayaki. Now I hope that through our animation, people will become interested in Malaysian culture and try karipap when they come to Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Animation Industry is Growing Rapidly
Becoming Southeast Asia’s “Anime Hub“
— Did most of your crew members learn animation production skills abroad? Are there more institutions to learn animation production in Malaysia?
Most of our studio’s production staff graduated from the Multimedia University in Kuala Lumpur. About 20% of our staff are foreign nationals, mainly from Indonesia, Thailand, or Bangladesh, but most of them have studied at the said university. Since around 2000, more and more students from overseas have come to Malaysia to study animation. The number of animation studios is increasing, and I believe that Malaysia will develop further as an animation hub in Southeast Asia in near future.
“Mechamato” released in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic era
Turning a Hardship into an Opportunity
— I was surprised to see the release of “Mechamato” as a new animated series during the pandemic. Despite the difficult times, an increasing number of animated works are being produced in Malaysia, and it seems that they are attracting attention outside the country as well. Please tell us about the current situation of the Malaysian animation industry.
Malaysia experienced a prolonged and severe lockdown due to the spread of a Covid-19 pandemic. It was in December 2021, in the midst of such a Covid-19 disaster, that the broadcast of this animation began. Just before the first Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented, the production crews took their computers and equipment needed to produce the animation back to their homes and began working on it remotely. It was a difficult situation due to the pandemic, but there was no use complaining about it, so we decided to take advantage of this hardship and turn it into an opportunity.
In fact, the demand for the animation industry grew dramatically during this period. Not only did the demand for animated contents increase due to the increased use of video streaming sites at home, but commercials featuring actors and physical corporate filming could no longer be conducted, so animation was sought as a substitute. Globally, various companies are increasingly using animation in their advertisements. It can be said that the possibilities for animation have expanded. As a result, the studio nearly doubled its staff.
This high demand remains much the same today and is moving in the right direction, but we believe that in order for the animation industry to continue to grow, it is necessary to continue to produce good works in the future.
Season 2 will begin airing in April 2023, and the movie will soon be released in cinemas!
— So “Mechamato” will further expand its airing in Japan. What is the future development of this series?
In Japan, “Mecha Amato” Season 2 will begin airing on Cartoon Network from April to September 2023, and will be available on Netflix Japan after October. A new movie will be released in Japanese cinemas at the end of this year or in early 2024. We are also currently preparing to launch a YouTube account for our Japanese fans.
The imagination of the story, which mechanizes any object, is limitless. We will strive to create new works that also suit Japanese tastes so that Japanese children will become familiar with 3D animation and “Mechamato” will be loved by many fans.
An action-adventure in which the famous duo of Amato, a boy, and MechaBot fight Bad Robot from outer space. Produced by Animonsta Studios, this animated television series began airing on Cartoon Network in December 2021. Season 1 is also available on Netflix Japan!
Official Twitter account in Japan: @MechamatoJP
(*1) TAAF2023 Website: https://animefestival.jp/ja/post/17244/