Dahlia in Bloom anime allegedly used North Korean animation studio

Dahlia in Bloom anime

A watchdog website has claimed they uncovered evidence that a North Korean animation studio provided animation work in the upcoming Japanese anime series Dahlia in Bloom.

According to Martyn Williams, webmaster and head writer of the site 38 North, the discovery of such involvement is purely by accident by Nick Roy, who also runs the NK Internet website.

An incorrectly configured cloud storage server from a North Korean address was discovered, and apparently misconfigured as the server itself was no longer in operation.

North Koreans, due to their closed connections to Internet, employ cloud storage servers and are heavily monitored. Roy and Williams later observed exchange of files throughout January, mainly instructions for animation and the results for the day’s work.

While the instructions in one evidence are in Chinese, some of them are translated to Korean, as shown below: the animator is being asked to improve the head.

Williams and Roy deduced that the North Korean studio in question are April 26 Animation Studio, also known as the SEK Studio, and North Korea’s largest animation studio.

The studio produced the infamous “Squirrel and Hedgehog” cartoons, and during a thaw of relations with South Korea during the 2000s (called the Sunshine Policy), had collaborated in South Korea’s own animation industry.

Studio SEK’s headquarters in Pyongyang.

Because of its connection to the North Korean state, the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned SEK Studio in 2016, along with Chinese entities in 2022, namely the Everlasting Empire Limited, Tian Fang (Hong Kong) Holdings Limited, Yancheng Three Line One Point Animation Co., Ltd., Quanzhou Yiyangjin Import and Export Trade Co., Ltd., and Fujian Nanan Import and Export Corporation.

Furthermore, the US Treasury Department accused them of helping a state-controlled North Korean entity of money laundering and illegal technology exports. In addition, the DOT also previously sanctioned more Chinese firms in 2021 for transferring money to the SEK Studio.

Previously, the DOT also warned that North Koreans may pose as non-Koreans and operate on foreign VPNs to gain employment and sometimes even listed “graphic animation” as one of the areas of work where IT companies could be engaged.

Williams and Roy deduced more material allegedly created by Studio SEK for Japanese, American, British and Chinese clients such as:

  • Animation material for Season 3 on Amazon’s “Invincible”
  • Dahlia In Bloom, an anime scheduled to air from July 2024.
  • Iyanu, Child of Wonder, a cartoon by Maryland’s YouNeek Studios and Lion Forge Entertainment, airing for HBO Max this year
  • Octonauts, a BBC children’s cartoon
  • Files named “猫” (Cat) that also carry the name of Ekachi Epilka, an animation studio in Hokkaido, Japan, and
  • An unidentified animation series with documents that refer to Dalian’s Shepherd Boy Animation

In addition, some files pertaining to a Chinese cartoon about basketball and Russian language videos about horses were found.

None of the studios have appeared to have known to have used Studio SEK’s services. 38North said that “In fact, as the editing comments on all the files, including those related to US-based animations, were written in Chinese, it is likely that the contracting arrangement was several steps downstream from the major producers.”

The staff for Dahlia in Bloom claimed that “neither the production committee nor the production studio were aware of the information,” and they said they will investigate the situation. Ekachi Elpika also launched a statement that said that the material was released without their permission and they have no inkling they subcontracted their works to a North Korean company.

The Dahlia in Bloom anime is set to premiere sometime in July 2024.

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