Noah Robischon
October 29, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The saucer-eyed heroines and hell-spawned demons of Japanese anime flourish online, and not just because the rich colors of this hyperrealistic animated genre translate perfectly to the digital palette. The Web has always proved a fertile home to niche-oriented fan bases, and the term anime is broad enough to include styles that run from cutesy (Sailor Moon) to violent (Legend of the Overfiend) to erotic (the subgenre known as hentai). But all anime-niacs seem to agree that the 1997 eco-fable Princess Mononoke is a classic of the form. Japan’s all-time biggest hit until Titanic sailed over, Mononoke comes to American theaters Oct. 29, complete with celeb voice-overs by Gillian Anderson and Claire Danes. While it isn’t likely to gross the $150 million it did overseas, the surprisingly complex drama may awaken a few dormant Japanimation spirits in the crowd — who will want to head for the keyboards in search of more info.

Start at Nausicaa.net (www.nausicaa.net), where Hayao Miyazaki, Mononoke‘s creator and Japan’s premier animator, is given godlike treatment. The official-looking fan site has an English-translated script of Miyazaki’s previous hit, the witch-in-training story Kiki’s Delivery Service; links to video clips and sounds from his 1978 TV series Conan the Future Boy; and a chronicle of his early manga (comic-book) work, such as 1969’s Puss in Boots.

By that time anime was soaring on U.S. TV with the likes of Astro Boy and Speed Racer. Glen Johnson’s 60’s Anime TV Series (www.alphalink.com.au/~roglen) is an excellent compendium that includes the retro-techno-poppy theme songs for Gigantor, 8th Man, and other shows. The site also devotes ample space to Kimba the White Lion but omits the brouhaha Kimba inspired in 1994, when critics accused Disney of ripping off the idea for The Lion King. Details on that stink, along with biographical info on Kimba and Astro Boy creator Dr. Osamu Tezuka, can be found in An Introduction to Anime (www.rightstuf.com/introduction), part of a retail Japanimation site.

Kimba and Simba are suspiciously similar, but accusing Disney of creative theft is a bit disingenuous, since Japanese companies have tended to ignore the network of underground pirates known as fansubs — amateur subtitlers who illegally distribute anime imports on video (see the Fansubber Resource Network at http://www.fansubs.net for more info). Still, the fansub movement probably helped to build a more adult audience for films like 1988’s violent sci-fi biker romp Akira, the cult success of which helped bring anime to corner video stores in this country. If you’re not sure what to rent, try Animerica Online’s Halloween Anime Viewing Guide (www.animerica-mag.com), or pick from j-pop.com’s top 10 list of American and Japanese best-sellers (www.j-pop.com/anime).

The release of Princess Mononoke (whose Miramax site is at http://www.princess-mononoke.com) should give the genre enough critical respectability to move it beyond cult-video status — and the November arrival of Pokemon: The First Movie (www.pokemonthemov ie.com) should firmly position anime in the U.S. mainstream. Will this J-pop invasion affect the style — if not the fate — of such all-American animated faves as King of the Hill? Stay ‘tooned.

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