Manga Live!

Japanese entertainment companies are always looking for new things to export to the rest of Asia.

The latest innovation is so-called 2.5-D musicals, which adapt popular manga (comics) and anime (cartoons) for the stage and add musical numbers. “2.5-D” refers to the use of three-dimensional projections of manga scenes on stage mixed with live performances by actors. One of the most popular is “Naruto,” a musical based on the long-running action manga produced by the theatrical stage company Nelke Planning.

The musical had a very successful run in Tokyo and other Japanese cities and has since been staged in Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. Nelke eventually went on to help found the 2.5 Dimensional Musical Association last year, which endeavors to promote the genre and export it to Asia. Other members of the association include major talent agency Hori Pro, anime producer Pierrot and the toy maker Bandai Namco Group.

The association has already set up a venue in Tokyo reserved exclusively for 2.5-D musicals, and according to the Nikkei Asian Review, a good portion of the audience has been foreign tourists from Asia. Consequently, the theater now offers special pairs of glasses that display subtitles in a number of languages. Nikkei points out that the 2.5-D stage musical experience cannot be pirated so easily and revenues are estimated to grow steadily, especially with regard to licensing. Hori Pro, in particular, has shown a great deal of initiative with the form, hiring an established Broadway writer to adapt a musical version of the manga “Death Note” in English for international audiences.