Ellation Media today announced the launch of Ellation Studios, a new unit devoted to creating original content for its anime-focused Crunchyroll and VRV communities.

Margaret Dean, former general manager of Stoopid Buddy Stoodios and current president of Women in Animation, has been named head of studio for the new division. She’s charged with developing originals for both brands, including overseeing production for High Guardian Spice, the first Crunchyroll Original Series, slated to premiere in 2019.

“Animation is a beautiful art form,” Dean said. “We think there are endless stories that can be told through animation.”

Ellation’s original programming efforts build upon the existing content strategy of licensing and co-producing premium content for both Crunchyroll and VRV, a streaming platform whose fan-focused channels also include Funimation, DramaFever, Rooster Teeth and Shudder.

Crunchyroll has co-produced over 50 series, including Kiznaiver, Classroom of the Elite, Space Patrol Luluco and Laid-Back Camp. Developing anime-inspired original content is the next step in its evolution, and it will operate production facilities in Burbank and Tokyo.

“Our ambition and goal is to have a slate,” said Dean. “One of the core things about Crunchyroll is we love anime … but out of respect we’re not calling what we’re doing anime, per se. It’s anime-inspired or adjacent. It’s heavily influenced by this medium that we love.”

The first project is High Guardian Spice, which follows the lives of four fierce girls, Rose, Sage, Thyme and Parsley, as they stumble towards adulthood. At High Guardian Academy, they master the ways of battle and sorcery, form allegiances and comical kinships, uncover legacies and betrayals, and discover their true identities while preparing to protect the world from an ominous unknown threat.

Raye Rodriguez, a lifelong anime fan, is the creator of High Guardian Spice. His production team features an all-female writing room, along with a diverse and passionate group of artists and creatives. Audu Paden, director of the Animaniacs and other animated series, joins Rodriguez as mentor.

High Guardian Spice is the first of four original series Ellation Studios hopes to produce in its first year, with stories reflecting the versatility of the medium.

“In Japan they don’t limit the kinds of stories they tell in animation. They have horror stories and murder mysteries, slice of life, science fiction, Westerns — unlike in the U.S., where we either do kids or prime time comedies,” said Dean. “Our mission is to open up the world of animation outside of Japan to embrace” this diversity.

The High Guardian Spice creative team will appear at this year’s Crunchyroll Expo, a Crunchyroll convention celebrating the best of Japanese animation and pop culture. The panel, taking place on Saturday in San Jose, will feature Dean, Rodriguez, Paden and Story Editor Amalia Levari as they discuss new series

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