After watching that insanely adorable Mininja short, we decided we had to find out more about it–like when we could watch a full-length film! Fortunately, we were able to track down the tiny “not actually a ninja” alien’s creator–Sean McPhillips, an American who also just happens to be a senior vice president at DLE. In the process of discussing Mininja’s origin, we got the chance to learn about how the Japanese anime industry is growing and just how an American ends up working at a Japanese anime company.

If you’re curious about the future of anime and the origin of our favorite pink ninja, be sure to check this out!

As you may already know, DLE is one of the bigger studios in Japan, thanks largely to their idiosyncratic Eagle Talon, a show about super villains and the jerk hero that bullies them. And thanks to their current collaboration with Toho Cinemas, Character Battle Club, DLE is also the studio responsible for this:

▼Head-exploding adorableness.


DLE was founded in 2001 by Ryuta Shiiki, a former Sony executive, and has grown significantly in the last 13 years–they’ve even undergone a successful IPO. In addition to their tremendous domestic success, the company is currently in the process of expanding internationally, and while they’re growing throughout Asia, they’re also making inroads into North America. As you might have guessed, that’s not exactly the easiest region for an entertainment company to break into, and it always helps to have someone with local knowledge helping out. This led Mr. Shiiki to hire Sean McPhillips, an ex-Miramax Films employee with experience in acquisitions in Japan.

▼Sean and some of the DLE staff enjoying Halloween


Obviously, Sean has a special set of skills–he’s familiar with both the Western film industry and tastes as well as the Japanese film industry. More importantly, he has an understanding of what works in the US from both an artistic and business standpoint. As he told us, many Japanese companies–not only DLE–are working at making their products appeal to larger, more international audiences. And if you’re a fan of anime or manga, you probably know that while the central stories may appeal to anyone, there are quite a few cultural “quirks” that might make things difficult for new viewers. One of Sean’s jobs is to provide advice on finding the middle ground for anime that will retain its “Japanese spirit,” if you will, while also creating something that has international appeal.

But what, exactly, does that mean? Well, Mininja might just be one of the best examples you could find!

▼If not the cutest.


That’s not to say that Mininja is what all future anime will look like–its primary target demographic (for Japan, at least) is fairly young, after all. And we’re sure a wide variety of anime will continue to be produced, but what we’re actually talking about is how Mininja was created. Sean told us that it all began as a sketch on a post-it note that he showed to Azuma Tani, one of DLE’s animators. Working together, they developed Mininja, with Azuma designing the character while Sean came up with a short script–the initial story takes place in Japan but has an international perspective. As he explained, “Mininja is first set in Japan and it revels in Japanese ‘stuff,’ but it is inherently universal because that’s my perspective.” Obviously, there are certain tropes that we expect from anime–little kids feeling frustrated doing their homework is certainly one of them. It’s also incredibly easy for anyone to sympathize with–who didn’t hate doing their homework at some point? And when you’re getting sick of math, don’t you just wish you had a tiny little alien that looks (and acts) like a ninja to give you candy?

Of course you do!

Still, Mininja is set in Japan–and the primary audience and most of the staff working on it are Japanese as well. This isn’t a samurai film from Hollywood! But we think it’s fair to say that it’s a bit more international than FLCL, for example. (Though, to be fair, FLCL doesn’t make sense to anyone. Which is probably why everyone loves it!)


However, the industry is still in the process of adapting to a wider audience, which is what makes Sean’s job so interesting. It’s not just him helping tell stories that will appeal to people in places like North America and liaising between the Japanese headquarters and American companies–the very fact that someone even has this job represents a change in how the industry thinks about anime and manga. For another example, just look at the simultaneous world-wide release of the new Sailor Moon show. The anime industry is realizing their audience is far from the shores of Japan and they’re searching for ways to tap into that audience. And for a really fun time, take a look at some anime companies’ financial reports and see how many are discussing efforts to expand overseas.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll suddenly start getting Batman Beyond in Japanese–the studios realize how important it is for Japanese properties to retain their “Japaneseness,” as it were. Even if they do have an international audience, their core audience will still be living in Japan–but it does mean that there is more effort put into making the finished product something with wider appeal. While it’s impossible to say what the future holds, Sean seems confident that Japan’s rise as an international intellectual property powerhouse has only just begun–which is good news for anyone who wants more anime in their life. It also serves to reinforce one point Sean was sure to emphasize–anime itself is still going strong. While there are apparently some who think the industry isn’t so healthy, he disagrees, saying, “Anime is the rock and roll of animation. It will never die.” It’s pretty hard to argue with that!

▼Does that make Mininja the equivalent of an indie rock band?


Whether or not Mininja will win the Character Battle Club competition remains to be seen (hey, did we mention you can vote?), but regardless Sean has some ideas in mind for the little alien, including a possible feature-length film. If you’re wondering how this cute-but-tiny alien could sustain a full length feature, we have only two words for you: Space battles.

Now you’re definitely going to vote, right?

Sources: Facebook (Mininja)Twitter (Mininja), Character Battle Club
All Images © DLE

▼And here’s a sneak peek at what the future of Mininja might look like!