Even the best anime sucks in Hollywood’s hands.
Recently Netflix released the anime adaptation of Death Note and with it a serious question, “Why is it so hard for Hollywood to make a good anime movie?”
Unfortunately, Death Note follows the long trend that includes such films as Dragonball: Evolution, Guyver, The Last Airbender (which I know isn’t technically “anime”) and many, many more. In fact, the closest Hollywood has come to getting it right was the recent Ghost in the Shell film and even then fans were divided over the outcome. So, why is it so hard to bring anime to the big screen?
The Source Material?
One could say it’s because the average anime series is about 24-25 episodes long which is roughly about 8 hours of run time. Of courses, there are some that are only 10 or 12 episodes in length, but there are also several that have hundreds of episodes (Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, etc). So condensing 8 hours into 2 means that a has to be cut or changed in order to get even close to a cohesive story. However, the same could be said about a novel or comic book adaptations. Lord of the Rings and the most recent Spider-man: Homecoming were beloved by fans and the general public alike. So, it can’t be just the length of the source material that causes so many problems in anime movies.
Of course, whitewashing is a serious issue that has been facing Hollywood recently, and pretty much every anime movie adaptation in America faces this issue. The Major was played by Scarlett Johansson, Goku was played by Justin Chatwin, Ang was played by… That one white kid. However, even hardcore anime fans know that there have been issues with live adaptations made in Japan starring Japanese actors have been far from great. So, while whitewashing is a problem, it doesn’t seem like it is THE problem with anime movies. That being said, it is crucial that Hollywood get it together when it comes to making these adaptations. Even if the settings of these films move to America, there are a lot of Asian actors that could still be the lead. After all, there are Asians in the US.
Anime is extremely stylized by nature. The impossible is the standard in most series and characters fly around punching holes in walls and shooting energy blasts. All of that would seem daunting to even attempt to recreate in a live action film. Well, that might have been true years ago, but superhero movies have torn down that wall. The Matrix was a game changer for what is possible to do with visual effects, and love it or hate it, Man of Steel showed that insane action sequences were not only possible but could look amazing as well. The technology is there to take even the most extreme series and recreate the visuals. Now, there’s no telling how good a faithful recreation might look, but that doesn’t mean that Hollywood is more than capable of capturing the essence of anime action.
Ah, here is where the true problem might lie in anime movie adaptations. Many times Hollywood claims to put “fans” of anime series behind and in front of the camera. There is a big difference between being a fan though and being capable of capturing the heart of a story and recreating it. It seems that there is so much focus on finding talent that enjoys the source material, that they forget to look for the talent that is right for the project. In many ways, anime movie adaptations need to embrace the challenges that comic book movies have managed to overcome. The focus needs to be on the characters and the core of the series. Of course, it’s tempting to try to make a faithful adaptation. But a lot can be taken from the Cowboy Bebop film adaptation, Cowboy Bebop the Movie: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. It was an original story featuring the characters and managed to capture everything fans loved about the series in a film format. True, it was made with fans in mind, but that doesn’t mean that Hollywood wouldn’t benefit from a similar approach.
There are a lot of “announced” anime movie adaptations in various stages of development. However, if any of them are to be successful, it’s clear that Hollywood needs to rethink its strategy. Anime is a lot more elegant and complex (in most cases) than a lot of people give it credit. There are crucial themes and elements that should be the primary focus for those responsible for doing it justice. Rather than being completely faithful to the source material, it’s important to remain faithful to the characters and the essence of the story. Focusing on the talent that is best suited is more important than talent whose “passion” might lend it legitimacy is another key element to any good adaptation.
There’s no question that Hollywood has the abilities to make incredible anime movie adaptations with the potential for new franchises. They need to take it more seriously though. These passive attempts in the past where they were simply relying on fan service for success, are obviously not working. Despite how awful adaptations have been in the past, I have faith in the future. If Hollywood gets serious than anything could be possible.