Gkids, N Lite Set to Unveil First Afro-Anime Pic ‘Mfinda’ at Annecy (EXCLUSIVE)

Anime legends, producer Masao Maruyama and director Gisaburō Sugii, as well as U.S. animation producer and distributor Gkids, have joined global multimedia company N Lite and N Lite Japan to produce “Mfinda,” a first Afro-anime film which will be the subject of an in-depth first look at June’s Annecy Int’l Animation Film Festival.

Selected amongst the pitches this year at Annecy’s MIFA market in the feature film category, the N Lite original was created by Congolese-American artist Patience Lekien and Christiano Terry, founder-CEO of N Lite.

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“Mfinda” follows a 12-year-old Congolese girl who is taken to the mfinda, a primordial forest teeming with spirits, gods and ancestors. There she meets up with another young girl from a different time and together they set out to find the magical Nkisi, vessels that hold ancestral spirits as well as empowering materials or medicines, that will help her find her way home.

N Lite Japan, led by CEO-Producer Shin Koyamada and its president Shigeru Igari, will spearhead the development and production of “Mfinda” with Maruyama and Studio M2 in Tokyo. Maruyama has joined the board of N Lite Japan to build 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 shared this new African anime film, ‘Mfinda,’ with me. When Christiano and I met in Japan earlier this year, his enthusiasm for the film compelled me to join. I’m ready to tell a story about the positive power of spirits and community that will resonate in Japan and around the world,” said Maruyama, known best known for the critically acclaimed films “Perfect Blue” and “Summer Wars” as well as the upcoming Studio M2 series “Pluto” at Netflix.

Maruyama is chairman of MAPPA and a founder of Madhouse, two leading Japanese animation studios.

“Mfinda” will showcase a dual Japanese and Black directing team, pairing the prolific director Gisaburō Sugii (“Street Fighter II,” “The Life of Gusuko Budori”) 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 development partner for “Mfinda.”

Donald H. Hewitt, behind the the English-language adaptation of “Spirited Away,” Lekien, Terry and Mika Abe (“Forest of Piano”) are co-writing the screenplay.

Established to bring untapped, authentic stories from the Black and Indigenous imagination to life for a worldwide audience, N Lite has trademarked “afrime” as a term to describe the merging of Japanese anime and storytelling from Africa and the African diaspora. It plans to produce content from a wide-ranging franchise-driven slate of animated 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.”

U.S.-based Gkids is attached as a producer with Eric Beckman, Gkids founder-CEO, executive producing. “From the moment we saw the first early drawings and treatment, we fell in love with the project and committed to help bring Patience’s vision to life,” said Beckman. “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” marks the third film Gkids is executive producing since the Oscar-nominated titles “Wolfwalkers” (2020) and “The Breadwinner” (2017).

Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the company has scored a total of 12 best animated feature Oscar nominations. 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.

Annecy runs June 11-17.

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