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World get ready: Exchange Student Zero

Aussie animation studio Bogan Entertainment Solutions were onto a winner in 2012 when they created and produced telemovie Exchange Student Zero.

From this weekend, Exchange Student Zero is back as a 13-part animated series for global children's TV channel, Cartoon Network. The series is a unique combination of two traditional animation styles: anime and western cartoons.

The story goes like this: Max and John, two school friends, inadvertently bring a character from a card game that they’re obsessed with to life – Hiro. Hiro is mistaken for an exchange student in the local community. But he’s anime through and through and has powers, which is a source of much confusion for everyone. Max and John try to keep Hiro’s real identity a secret, while they figure out how to return him to his original world.

Exchange Student Zero creator Bruce Kane says he got the idea for the show while playing YuGioh, a card game, with his son. “My son was about four, he couldn’t read, and he was trying to work out what the [YuGioh] characters were and he was making up stories [about them]. Trying to play the game with him, I thought ‘well, it’s interesting how he perceives those characters,’” Bruce says. “One thing lead to another and I started to imagine if those characters existed in a real world. A real, animated world.”

Bruce’s favourite episode has a six-legged wolf warrior, who’s a general of an army, and finds himself in a suburban house where has to pass himself off as a dog and behave like a dog. “Which he finds extremely degrading,” Bruce adds.

Bruce says Cartoon Network was looking for shows that would work internationally, and that for Bogan, mixing anime and western-style animation in one show, would achieve that. Bruce says creating a show with two distinct styles was both challenging and fun. “The line weight and the approach to design is quite different [in anime]. And to make [the characters] move like anime characters as well – it’s different timing,” Bruce says.

“We ended up combining elements of anime and manga, the Japanese comic book [style] where you’ll see symbols appear next to characters heads denoting emotion, and including those elements that you don’t normally see in Western animation was a lot of fun,” Bruce says.

The creative team used anime consultants initially to help get their heads around it. And the Cartoon Network connection gave the team access to a lot of fantastic international talent too. One example Bruce gives is Exchange Student Zero voice director, Charlie Adler, who voices Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel in the US.

“It’s all been designed and written in Australia and we’ve worked with some really great, key international [talent], which has been fantastic: To have folk that haven’t necessarily worked much in the Australian animation industry come on board and really like, and want, to be involved,” Bruce says. “That cross pollination has been really fantastic.”

The show’s stellar creative line up doesn’t stop there. Mutato Muzika (DEVO co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh’s music production company) did the scoring throughout and created the theme tune. Australian comedians wrote episodes – along with Bruce and series writers Scott Edgar, Shane Krause, Shayne Armstrong and David Witt – and star, including Rove McManus who voices Max and Hiro.

Exchange Student Zero starts on Cartoon Network Saturday 26 September.