In 2009, anime fans lost faith in Hollywood anime adaptations. The fandom trotted into theater that year with tickets to see Dragonball Evolution, and many left before the film even finished its first act. The movie, which was based off the iconic Dragon Ball series, forever skewed Western live-action adaptations of anime because it was so bad.
No, really. There’s nothing redeeming about the film.
More than five years have passed since Dragonball Evolution made its tragic debut, and anime continues to evade Hollywood’s sensibilities. Fans are currently eyeing Paramount’s remake of Ghost in the Shell with trepidation, and anime lovers revolted when news broke that Lionsgate was developing a live-action Naruto film. It’s safe to say the fandom doesn’t trust Hollywood to make a good anime film - and they have every right to be weary.
Currently, there are a handful of major anime franchises being shopped around Hollywood. Not only is Naruto being whipped into a live-action film, but reports have surfaced that Attack on Titan is also in the works with Warner Bros. For years now, Akira has been shopped around various studios, and these franchises are not ones to be trifled with. Abroad, these series are money-making juggernauts, and Hollywood would be wise to level up its anime approach if they want to tap that market.
Little has been done to reassure anime fans that Hollywood learnt its lesson after the fallout of Dragonball Evolution. Controversies about casting and source material changes have popped up as recently as with Ghost in the Shell, and the industry cannot afford to slack for long. Fans agree that both anime and manga are on a rise after a prolonged slump, and sales for these mediums continue to grow each day. Japan rivals traditional comic book sales with its manga earnings, and anime is a global phenomena to put it lightly. Hollywood may be preoccupied with superhero films these days, but many expect manga to become the industry’s next big resource pool.
So, at ComicBook.com, we’ve pooled a few ways Hollywood could start to regain trust amongst anime fans and not totally botch live-action movies moving forward.
First and foremost, crews need to be informed about the work they’ve signed on to make. It is not up to studios to cover the tracks of those creating the adaptations. Directors can and will be held accountable for the movie’s flop when it comes, and they could avoid so much fallout if they simply took a step back to understand why anime fans fell for a series.
Famously, the would-be director of Akira sent anime fans into an outright frenzy when he lambasted Katsuhiro Otomo’s work. The manga and anime franchise is one of Japan’s most iconic and enduring series. And, what’s more, Akira is the franchise which popularized anime in the U.S. So, when Jaume Collett-Serra said the series featured no strong characters, fans were understandably pissed.
Speaking to Coming Soon, Collett-Serra told the site, “Nobody’s interesting. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird sh*t happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.”
Fans rioted at the director’s uninformed reading, and they backlash only continued when news broke that the adaptation was eyeing an all-white cast. If this version of Akira were to be produced today, the film would bomb at the box-office, and it’d be a long time before another major studio got rights to one of Japan’s anime franchises.
When you think of characters like Son Goku, you think of a buff man with blonde hair. Of course, anime characters are not often in-touch with realistic human proportions, but the basis are there. Each character has a race, gender, and overall aesthetic. So, naturally, fans were gobsmacked when Justin Chatwin was cast as Goku in Dragonball Evolution. No amount of make-up could make the lanky white actor look like the Saiyan warrior, and fans don’t even want to talk about how Piccolo looked.
Casting an anime live-action film is a doable task; Japan has been doing so for year. The country releases a slew of anime adaptations each year, and their casting is nearly always on-point. While the quality of the projects may be lacking, films like Attack on Titan were commended for their casting if nothing else. Western adaptations of the manga may look different because of its audience, but that doesn’t mean casting can’t be authentic.
Vetting Source Material
If you have ever read Attack on Titan, then you more than likely saw Japan’s live-action films of the anime. Critics and fans may have panned the film’s pacing and cheesy graphics, but many readers agree it was a faithful retelling of Hajime Isayama’s story. If Warner Bros. were to bring the franchise to Hollywood, the studio should force the cast and crew to give the films a shot even if it means watching some hilariously bad CGI.
Anime fans are more particular then most other fandoms when it comes to canon. Abroad, manga and anime reign supreme when they have been vetted by creators. A franchise’s canon may be the only thing keeping fans in check when shows accumulate hundreds of episodes and being in the know acts as a badge of honor. Hollywood has a tendency to make things sexy when they should be prude or blow something up when a conversation could have settled the matter. Anime is a diverse genre with a wide-ranging collection of storylines; Making a live-action anime film appealing to a wide audience is a must, but there’s no need to sacrifice vetted source materials for it. So, please, don’t let Attack on Titan take place in Santa Monica if it’s adapted in the West.
Tone & Direction
In the early 1960s and 1970s, fans were first introduced to anime through shows like Astro Boy and Speed Racer. These modified shows are still a nostalgic part of the medium’s history, and fans still look back on them with fondness. Back in 2008, Speed Racer was adapted into a live-action movie by the directors of The Matrix, a respected thriller influenced heavily by anime. Fans were tentatively excited about the venture, but they were ultimately letdown.
Speed Racer may have a cult following, but the adaptation left many with directional whiplash. The film was respectful of the source material’s original story, but its glitzy aesthetic threw fans off. Many fans and critics felt Speed Racer looked like a movie filed on an acid trip, and its campy lighting further blemished anime’s reputation in Hollywood. Moving forward, studios must be respectful of more than just source material; It must give equal measure to direction and tone. Speed Racer entered American pop culture thanks to its wholesome image and down-home tone; The 2008 adaptation was such a departure from the anime that fans were left wondering if the projects were even related.