In recent years, Japan has seen an interesting trend regarding their live stage performances.  In addition to their culturally classic forms of theater and some popular hits imported from Broadway, Japan is now turning their beloved anime and manga into live-action stage productions! Similar to the way that Disney’s “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and others have been given new life on the big stage, Japan’s popular niche series are also coming into the limelight.

The potential for Japanese comics to be made into stage plays was first realized back in 1974, with the Takarazuka Revue’s ground-breaking musical rendition of Riyoko Ikeda’s popular girls’ manga, “The Rose of Versailles.” Takarazuka is famous for being a highly selective, top-class theater troupe, wherein all of the actors are female and are schooled in the art of performance from a young age.  The group has produced more than 25 different versions of the story since its debut, sometimes focusing on various side characters and adding extra scenes not found in the original manga.

And yet, despite the early success of “The Rose of Versailles” it took nearly 20 years for another comic-based play of this kind to really catch on. It took the production of “Sailor Moon” the musical in the summer of 1993.  This series of plays was based off of Naoko Takeuchi’s metaseries of the same name, “Sailor Moon,” and followed plot concepts found in the both the manga and anime, along with some original story arcs.  The series boasts a total of 29 musicals and ran for more than 800 performances until it was put on indefinite hiatus in 2005.

Although Sailor Moon as a musical franchise has more or less dissolved, its long-lasting success and popularity made a large impression, inspiring a number of other producers to make manga into musicals.

Since the turn of the century, Japan has seen a huge influx in the number of comic and anime-based plays, though unlike their earlier counterparts, many fall under the category of action and adventure series originally marketed toward boys.   For example, titles such as Tite Kubo’s “Bleach,” Ogure Ito’s “Air Gear,” and Kazuya Minekura’s “Saiyuki,” have all found themselves with musical counterparts.  But perhaps the most impressive of all is the series of musicals based off of Takeshi Konomi‘s “The Prince of Tennis.”

That’s right. There are musicals. Based on a manga. About playing tennis.

In fact, this particular series of sports musicals, often referred to as TeniMyu, has been appearing in theaters since the spring of 2003 and is still going strong!

Many of our readers out there might not understand the appeal of watching an all-male cast chase a dot of light back and forth across a stage before breaking into musical ballads about balls, sweat, and victory. However, for the past 10 years, thousands upon thousands of play-enthusiasts across Japan have paid generous amounts to do just that.

For what was at first considered a theatrical experiment, the TeniMyu franchise has absolutely exploded in popularity.  Over the course of the past 10 years, they have performed thirty-one separate musical runs, each one bigger and more spectacular than the last. Believe it or not, between 2008 and 2009, all of the characters had to be double cast to allow for tours across not only the whole of Japan, but in Korea and Taiwan, as well.

The popularity of this series is so great that despite that fact that the story told by the manga was wrapped up by the twenty-first musical produced in 2010, they decided to start over back at the beginning with Tenimyu’s “2nd Season,” covering the same storyline as before but with an all-new cast and revamped versions of the “1st Season” songs.

The majority of fans who go to these musicals are women in their twenties and thirties, and as a result, a lot of the merchandise created for Tenimyu is similar to what we see from Japan’s idol industry. Dedicated enthusiasts will join the “Tennimu Supporters Club,” a fan club that offers exclusive news, photographs, and event opportunities unavailable to non-members, as well as a pre-sale ticket lottery for the best seats in the theater. When attendees arrive at the event, they are met with a sales booth offering a wide selection of in-character and off-shot photographs of the actors, pamphlets, posters, and other merchandise. Thanks to an increase in popularity as of late, if by chance, a person is unable to acquire tickets to one of the live shows, the final performance of each run is recorded and streamed live to movie theaters all across the nation.  And even then, these tickets will sell out long in advance!

Whatever the appeal—whether it’s the love of the story, the actors, or theater as a whole—it’s clear that by crossing the obsessive nature of diehard manga fans with the market strategies of the idol industry, play producers have created a successful little niche in the Japanese entertainment world.

What will they think of next?! Musicals from virtual dating games?! Oh wait…. Done.

Top image: Musical Prince of Tennis