Bilibili, a Shanghai-based video streaming platform, released an animated series last year based on popular sci-fi novel “The Three-Body Problem” by Liu Cixin, but it failed to achieve a positive public response. However, the firm has now ushered in “Yao-Chinese Folktales,” an eight-part series inspired by traditional Chinese literary works.
The series, which features various monster-like characters, or “yāo” (妖) in Chinese, has now reached its third episode, with more than 60 million broadcasts on Bilibili and an impressive score of 9.5/10 on Chinese social media and review site Douban.
This animation, with episodes of about 20 minutes and eight short films based on traditional Chinese culture, was jointly produced by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio and Bilibili itself. One viewer commented that “domestic animation with traditional vibes is back” and stated excitedly that “this is the real light of the country’s animation.”
The first episode is based on the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West,” with characters preparing to capture a Tang dynasty Buddhist monk. “The little monster at the bottom of the ladder really reflects my sad life as an ordinary worker,” one viewer commented on Bilibili. The second episode is obscure, and its style reminds people of monster stories in the Northern and Southern dynasties, which shows the extraordinary imagination of the ancients and strong practical significance.
The third episode tells a story of women’s growth. In the story, a small female wolf makes friends with a little boy from a hunting family, and does not yield to her mother’s attempt to persuade her to visit their house. Eventually, the wolf’s mother died, and the little wolf finally grew up and looked across the river with the boy who also became a hunter.
Zhang Shengyan, the vice president of Bilibili and chief producer of Yao-Chinese Folktales, said recently that they received the project submitted by Shanghai Animation Film Studio last year, and that it was the “short” content feature that most attracted Bilibili. Zhang said he believed that compared with other domestic animations on Bilibili, Yao-Chinese Folktales combines different short films to make a cluster, and each director has a different aesthetic and style.
This is not the first time that Bilibili has cooperated with the Shanghai Animation Film Studio. Based on a previous collaborative foundation, the two sides began to discuss this show in mid-2021 and put it into production in early 2022. By June last year, all the storyboards were essentially agreed upon.
Shanghai Animation Film Studio is responsible for the overall coordination, including the theme and production team. Meanwhile, Bilibili provides financial support and production advice.
In the past few years, Bilibili has gradually increased its emphasis on Chinese animation, even buying an animation platform in 2021. The firm has now achieved more than 300 animation licensing projects and took in over 2 billion yuan ($296.4 million) in this field last year.
However, Zhang said that China’s animation market is still in its early stage from the perspective of commercialization. As more and more works emerge, there is no perfect and complete chain to support commercialization.
As far as the market prospects for Yao-Chinese Folktales in China are concerned, Zhang believed that the form of short films collections can give directors room to show creativity. On the premise that the planning and directions are clear, Bilibili and Shanghai Animation Film Studio will seek the possibility of turning short films into feature films.