Share / Discuss

Anime Ninja

From Japan, he's helping shape the world's most animated Netflix options

With more than 400 animation production companies in Japan, it makes sense that global streaming behemoth Netflix would base its anime operations in Tokyo—after all, the genre has exploded in worldwide popularity over the past few decades.

“Anime is a unique form of storytelling,” says John Derderian ’97, Netflix’s Tokyo-based director for Japan and anime. “There’s a broader scale of emotions that are on display than in, say, your typical Hollywood blockbuster or television series.”

His own animated journey began in March 2013, when Derderian, a former corporate lawyer, left AMC Networks to join Netflix to help them negotiate and execute licensing agreements for independent television. At the time, the company’s international footprint was relatively small.

“We had launched the service in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and the Americas,” he says, “but we hadn’t yet expanded through Europe, Asia, or Africa.”

Derderian’s interest in pop culture started at Swarthmore, where he was active in theater and reviewed films for The Phoenix. Though his entrée to Netflix was his law degree, he had always been drawn to the creative side of the TV industry.

“The independent television team was a scrappy group,” he says. “So even though I was working on the legal side, the team was open to anyone finding interesting programming opportunities.

“At first we were concentrating on shows that would work for our existing footprint,” Derderian adds. “But we quickly learned that there were a lot of global shows that worked well across all markets.”

Among several examples is the Australian drama series Wentworth, set in a women’s prison, and the British sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror.

“Basically,” he says, “our hypothesis was that excellence will find a broad, global audience.”

When Netflix launched in Japan in 2015 and in Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore the following year, Derderian found himself spending more and more time in Asia. After being named to his current position, he relocated to Tokyo with his wife and infant son.

As in other markets, Netflix has quickly moved from signing licensing deals for properties such as Naruto, an anime classic that chronicles the adventures of an eponymous adolescent ninja, to producing original content.

“As a team, we try to find stories and storytellers that can flourish in anime, which, because the worlds are brought to life through drawings, is essentially boundless as a narrative medium,” Derderian says. “Some of the best anime tackles unlikely subjects and novel environments—but that’s what makes it challenging and fun to program.”