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  • Writer's pictureSwati Bhat

Gkids and N Lite to Premiere First Afro-Anime Film 'Mfinda' at Annecy

Anime legends Masao Maruyama and Gisabur Sugii, as well as U.S. animation producer and distributor Gkids, have collaborated to produce "Mfinda," a first Afro-anime film that will be the subject of an in-depth first look at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June.

Swati Bhat

Courtesy of GKids/ N Lite

The N Lite original was made by Congolese-American artist Patience Lekien and Christiano Terry, founder-CEO of N Lite, and was chosen among the pitches this year at Annecy's MIFA market in the feature film category.

"Mfinda" depicts the journey of a 12-year-old Congolese girl to the mfinda, a primordial forest overflowing with spirits, gods, and ancestors. There, she meets another little girl from another time, and the two of them start out to discover the mystical Nkisi, receptacles that contain ancestral spirits as well as empowering ingredients or medicines, that will help her find her way home.

N Lite Japan, led by CEO-Producer Shin Koyamada and president Shigeru Igari, will lead the development and production of "Mfinda" in Tokyo alongside Maruyama and Studio M2. Maruyama has joined N Lite Japan's board of directors to help grow the company's in-house 2D hand drawn animation studio for international co-productions and feature films.

"Last year, my good friend Shigeru Igari, whom I have known for many years from Madhouse, and Shin Koyamada introduced me to 'Mfinda,' a new African anime film." Christiano's excitement for the film encouraged me to join when we met in Japan earlier this year. "I'm ready to tell a story about the positive power of spirits and community that will ring true in Japan and around the world," Maruyama said. Best known for the critically acclaimed films "Perfect Blue" and "Summer Wars," as well as the upcoming Netflix Studio M2 series "Pluto."

Maruyama is the chairman of MAPPA and the founder of Madhouse, two of Japan's finest animation studios.

"Mfinda" will have a dual Japanese and Black directing crew, with prolific filmmaker Gisabur Sugii ("Street Fighter II," "The Life of Gusuko Budori") collaborating with Black anime pioneer and first-time co-director Arthell Isom, founder of Tokyo-based D'ART Shtajio ("Star Wars Visions" Vol. 2). D'ART Shtajio is also a collaborator in the development of "Mfinda."

The screenplay is co-written by Donald H. Hewitt, who directed the English-language translation of "Spirited Away," Lekien, Terry, and Mika Abe ("Forest of Piano").

N Lite, which was founded to deliver untapped, true stories from the Black and Indigenous imagination to a global audience, has trademarked the term "afrime" to characterise the fusion of Japanese anime and storytelling from Africa and the African diaspora. It intends to create content from a diverse portfolio of franchise-driven animation and live-action IP. “We selected ‘Mfinda’ as our flagship film because it’s not often that audiences are able to experience the power of storytelling through the journey of a young Congolese girl and her community,” said Terry, adding: “Anime has a global fanbase amongst audiences of color, it’s an honor to work alongside legends of Japanese anime on this historic project.”

Gkids, based in the United States, is affiliated as a producer, with Eric Beckman, Gkids' founder and CEO, executive producing. "From the moment we saw the first early drawings and treatment, we fell in love with the project and committed to helping bring Patience's vision to life," Beckman stated. "As the Annecy audience will soon see, the world of 'Mfinda' transcends the boundaries of geography and time with a deeply resonant story full of wonder, beauty, and ancient wisdom."

"Mfinda" is Gkids' third feature as an executive producer, following the Oscar-nominated "Wolfwalkers" (2020) and "The Breadwinner" (2017).

Now in its 15th year, the company has received a total of 12 Oscar nominations for best animated feature. It also handles North American distribution for the Studio Ghibli library of films as well as the television series “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” Gkids is the founder and host of Animation Is Film, the annual LA-based film festival.


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