IFC Boosts Anime, Acquires Three Series

Continuing to expand beyond independent film, Cablevision Systems’ The Independent Film Channel is bolstering its anime programming by acquiring three new series from Japanese animation distributor FUNimation Entertainment. The shows -- Witchblade, Speed Grapher and HellGirl -- will join the network’s schedule with staggered premieres in 2008.

IFC has found fan favorites in anime fare before, such as 2007 series Samurai 7, Basilisk and Gunslinger Girl. As the young male-skewing genre’s popularity continues to grow online, on home video and on other cable networks, IFC has joined other cable networks that program the genre in making itself a presence at comic-book convention Comic-Con.

The titles build on other fare the network has programmed outside of independent films, such as infamous R. Kelly rock opera Trapped in the Closet and acquired musical sketch comedy The Whitest Kids U Know, as well as original series The Business and The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman.

"We consider ourselves the voice of independent culture, and we’ve taken that on as our mission," IFC general manager Evan Shapiro said. "People who come to IFC want different, new things and new cultures, and anime represents the epitome of that kind of world culture."

Witchblade, in collaboration with comic-book publisher Top Cow Productions, is an adaptation of a comic book about a woman fighting a destructive force (24 episodes premiere next month).

Speed Grapher follows a tabloid photographer documenting a futuristic Tokyo where rich and wicked rule (24 episodes premiere next March).

Hell Girl is a supernatural thriller, premiering sometime in 2008, about a girl who surfs an after-midnight Web site to find postings of people wanting to send their enemies to hell.

As it has done with all of its series recently, IFC will promote the anime shows heavily online. The network bought the digital rights to the shows and is working on an innovative online and video-on-demand component to the linear series for 2008 that will "change the television landscape," Shapiro said.

Anime has yielded ratings success for other cable networks, such as Cartoon Network and, most recently, NBC Universal’s Sci Fi Channel. Sci Fi is looking to fold more anime into its primetime schedule after the "Animonday" block of late-night fare it debuted earlier this year brought it a ratings increase of 70% over last year with the men 18-34 demo.

On Starz, film critic and author Richard Roeper will host a look at anime in special Anime: Drawing a Revolution Dec. 17.