Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Resurrection of the Anime/Manga Adaptations

Eons ago in 2011, I wrote up a post about several anime and manga adaptations that were stuck in Hollywood development hell.  The "Akira" adaptation was threatening to go forward at the time, and it seemed likely that we would see a surge in media with similar origins. The American "Akira" never went forward, but several others on the list look to have a good chance of being made at last.  I waited a bit before doing this post, because projects like this are on one minute and off the next - the "Noir" series at Starz never did go forward - but it's looking pretty solid right now for at least two of these titles.

The likeliest one is the Dreamworks adaptation of "Ghost in the Shell," which has two of the big indicators that the movie is really going to make it to theaters this time: a release date of March 31, 2017, and a star - Scarlett Johanssen.  After the success of "Lucy," the role of the Major is a perfect match for Johanssen.  Yeah, I'm well aware of the racebending worries, but there's no chance that the main character is still going to be a Japanese woman named Motoko Kusanagi instead of a Caucasian equivalent in Hollywood's hands.  I'm okay with this, since unlike "Akira" there was little in the original "Ghost in the Shell" that had to be Japanese.  You could transplant the story into a Western milieu with very little fuss.  Rupert Sanders has signed on to direct - you might remember him for those oddly Miyazaki-esque visuals in "Snow White and the Huntsman."

And when one big anime project heats up, several of them do.  So a few days ago, it was reported that James Wan, fresh from "Furious 7," is in talks to helm "Robotech" for Sony, which acquired the rights from Warner Brothers earlier in the year.  No word on whether Tobey Maguire, previously onboard to produce and possibly star, is still involved.  Plenty of other directors have come and gone from this project before, but the switch in studios and the involvement of James Wan suggest that this could be ready to take off.  Then again, keep in mind that Wan is also being courted for Warners' "Aquaman" movie, and he has more "Fast and Furious" sequels on his plate.  I never thought that "Robotech" was a very promising candidate for an adaptation since it's always been a little obscure and very dated.  The fans it does have are very fervent ones though.

Then there's the "Death Note" adaptation at Warner Brothers, which now has Adam Wingard of "The Guest" attached to direct.  That's a definite step down from Shane Black or Gus van Sant, who were previously reported as being involved, but I thought "The Guest" was a fun genre movie with a good sense of humor.  And "Death Note" definitely needs someone with a good sense of humor.  Honestly, I don't think that this one is going to make it out of limbo anytime soon, but its chances are better than some of the more high profile projects like "Akira" or "Voltron" because "Death Note" still has a lot of name recognition and it would be relatively cheap to make.  Remove the demon character, Ryuk, and you've got a pretty typical supernatural thriller.
There are a few other projects still kicking around, like Justin Lin's  "Lone Wolf and Cub" and rumors of "Evangelion" coming back to life after the success of "Pacific Rim."  It seems like the studios are acquiring the rights to some property or other every day.  However, most of the live action films based on anime and manga  lately have been coming from Japan: the "Rurouni Kenshin" movies, "Space Pirate Captain Harlock," and soon "Attack on Titan." The effects are getting better, even if the production values are still nowhere near Hollywood's standards.  I expect this will continue for the foreseeable future unless something major changes - "Ghost in the Shell" becoming a big hit, for instance.

Anime and manga fans shouldn't hold their breath.  Video game based movies have been facing similar troubles, and we're just starting to see some of the big franchises like "Warcraft" and "Assassin's Creed" make their way to the screen after ages in development hell.  But as long as anime and manga remain popular, eventually Hollywood's interests will follow. 

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