Pokemon, Digimon, Sailor Moon and Yu-Gi-Oh!

These are some of the Japanese TV animation series that have grabbed the hearts of children abroad; exports of such programs have skyrocketed in recent decades.

Recognizing the potential of the animation industry, the government has started to provide some support for cash-strapped creators who just might bring out another Pokemon.

The average amount of exported TV animation reached hours in 2001, up from 13,000 hours in 1992 and 2,600 hours in 1980, according to the latest 10-year survey by NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute and some academics.

The number of animation series aired in the United States increased from 23 in the 1980s to 42 in the 1990s and has already reached 40 during the four years through 2003, according to a separate survey by the government-affiliated Japan External Trade Organization.

The U.S. market for made-in-Japan animation was estimated at $4.36 billion in 2002, 3.2 times the value of Japanese exports of steel products to the U.S., JETRO said.

” ‘Trade follows the films’ is what people in the U.S. entertainment business often say about the impact of the film industry on other businesses,” said Shingo Nagai, who handles content business exports at JETRO. “We can say the same thing when we talk about Japan’s animation industry.”

Pokemon, for example, has generated an estimated 2 trillion yen in sales of videos, games, character goods and related products, according to a July 2003 report released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“Japanese animation clearly stands out in the world in terms of quality and dramatic story-telling,” Nagai said.

But industry insiders say many animation creators are exploited by TV stations, which reportedly beat down prices, delay payment and even snatch copyrights from creators. Relevant regulations were revised in April to better protect the creative talent.

METI last year came up with measures to help them with financing, education and overseas market information.

For example, 500 million yen will be used to launch an international fair in which Japanese animation creators can exhibit their works and meet potential buyers from abroad.

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