While many live-action filmmakers in America take inspiration from anime, Hollywood’s track record for adapting anime to live-action movies has been spotty at best. Speed Racer is probably the best of the bunch thus far and that was still incredibly divisive and financially unsuccessful. Films like Ghost in the Shell and Dragonball Evolution are only remembered for their controversies and their spectacular failures. The one American anime adaptation that’s been an unqualified success is Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix, and that’s still animated. Considering even the Japanese live-action movies of popular anime rarely rise above mediocre, maybe anime just isn’t meant to translate between mediums?
That isn’t stopping Hollywood from trying, with more anime adaptations hitting theaters in the near future. Hopefully some of these attempts will be successful. Theoretically it shouldn’t be that much harder to make live-action anime movies work than it is to make live-action comic book movies work. Most anime is based on manga anyway. What these adaptations need are creative teams that understand and respect the material, as well as smart judgement on which anime makes the most sense to adapt to live-action in the first place. Producers might want to acquire any big name they can get their hands on, but many of the most successful anime either wouldn’t work in live-action or would require a ridiculous budget to work. Here are five adaptations you can expect in theaters sooner or later, as well as five that should be made and five that shouldn’t.
15. COMING: ALITA BATTLE ANGEL
Yes, the motion-captured Alita, played by Rose Salazar, has ridiculous giant anime eyes. It’s an odd design choice, though it thankfully looks less creepy in newer trailers than it did in the teaser thanks to making the rest of her features less photorealistic. Produced by James Cameron and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel should be technically impressive if nothing else.
Cameron wanted to adapt Yukito Kishiro’s manga about an amnesiac cyborg exploring post-apocalyptic America for decades but kept putting it on the back-burner. Rodriguez condensed Cameron’s 186-page script into a manageable length, which audiences will be able to see the results of on February 14, 2019.
14. WANT: JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE
At the Alita: Battle Angel panel at Crunchyroll Expo 2018, one fan asked Robert Rodriguez about his favorite anime. Rodriguez mentioned Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure as one of his current favorites and the series he’d most like to adapt after Alita. This makes a ton of sense; Rodriguez’s work generally leans towards campy, over-the-top, comically violent. That’s Jojo’s to a T.
The big question is, which part of the multi-part series would he adapt? Part 1 is the easy starting point but it’s generally regarded as the weakest, so some heavy adapting would be necessary. Rodriguez could definitely have some fun with Part 2’s Latin American setting, though there might also be a desire to skip to the more iconic Part 3.
13. DON’T WANT: AKIRA
Every few years, Warner Bros. threatens to make an American live-action Akira movie. These plans never go through, but it’s always being talked about. It probably shouldn’t be, though. Effects might be improving all the time, but matching the animated Akira‘s visual mastery in live-action would require the sort of budget R-rated movies rarely get. A PG-13 Akira is a terrible idea, and Americanizing a very Japanese story is fraught with complications.
Directors as talented as George Miller and Jordan Peele have passed on it. Taika Waititi is the latest in line to give the adaptation a crack. Maybe he can pull it off (his refusal to whitewash the cast is a positive sign), but this project just gives off the vibe that it’s cursed.
12. COMING: POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Perhaps the weirdest blockbuster of 2019, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is the first Pokemon live-action/animation hybrid film. It stars Ryan Reynolds as the voice of a Pikachu who solves mysteries and can speak with a human boy played by Justice Smith. It opens May 10, 2019, one week after Avengers 4. We wonder how well that will work out for its box office success.
The sight of Pokemon in the “real world” and the sound of Deadpool’s voice coming out of Pikachu might just be crazy enough to work. It’ll be fascinating to examine the reactions when the first trailer eventually drops. A generation that grew up with Pokemon will either fall in love or reject this instantly.
11. WANT: COWBOY BEBOP
Cowboy Bebop is one of the rare anime that’s even more popular in America than it is in Japan, and it’s easy to understand why. Its main reference points are based more in American movies than in Japanese culture. Firefly pretty much resembled a live-action Bebop anyway, so it feels like one of the most logical anime for Hollywood to adapt.
Attempts to do so, most notably a big budget Keanu Reeves project, have languished in Development Hell. Currently, Tomorrow Studios has the rights and is planning to do a TV adaptation, but given its history, it’s easy to be skeptical about its chances of completion. Still, it would be exciting if it got made!
10. DON’T WANT: ONE PIECE
An American version of One Piece could work… if it was animated. Give Rebecca Sugar the rights and the results could be amazing. However, it might be the single worst fit for live-action of any anime. In animation, you can get emotionally invested in its wacky characters. In live-action, a faithful adaptation would look ridiculous and a “grim and gritty” One Piece is the last thing anyone needs.
To make matters even worse, the proposed live-action version from Tomorrow Pictures is a TV show. On a movie budget, maybe there’s a chance this wouldn’t look bad, but there’s no way a TV version doesn’t become embarrassingly cheesy.
9. COMING: DEATH NOTE 2
Hate-watchers, this is your fault. Audiences and critics mostly agreed that Netflix’s first live-action Death Note movie was bad, both as an individual movie and as an adaptation. Plenty of anime fans watched it just to see how bad it could possibly be. However, Netflix doesn’t care what you think of its movies, so long as you watch them.
Enough of us watched the first Death Note that now we’re getting a sequel. We might not want one, but we’re getting one anyway. When it comes out, enough of the audience will probably hate-watch it that, presuming the film doesn’t reach an official conclusion, even more bad Death Note movies get made. It’s a circle of pain.
8. WANT: MONSTER
Monster is one of the rare anime which would almost certainly be better in live-action than in animation. The story’s completely realistic, and great actors could make it more involving than stiff animation. A medical drama mixed with a crime drama, it seems ready-made for primetime.
Guillermo Del Toro thought so, and developed a pilot for HBO. HBO passed on the project, and as of 2015, Del Toro was pitching it to other networks. The lack of news since makes it unfortunately seem like one of the many promising Del Toro productions to never see the light of day.
7. DON’T WANT: PAPRIKA
The closest thing to a good live-action adaptation of Paprika already exists: it’s called Inception. Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster borrowed ideas and some images from Satoshi Kon’s final feature, yet has a wildly different feel. Where Inception is logical and relatively restrained, Paprika is dreamlike in the wildest of ways.
A live-action version would either have to be way toned down and essentially just Inception, or it would be such a mess of CGI that the “live-action” elements would be superfluous. Either way, it’s pointless. Wolfgang Petersen was attached to do a live-action Paprika but there’s been no news of its progress since Inception‘s release.
6. COMING: MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM
Of all the pop culture references in Ready Player One, the coolest might have been the scene where the Gundam RX-78-2 fought MechaGodzilla. It seems that exciting scene was a test run for the real deal: a big budget live-action Mobile Suit Gundam movie from Legendary Pictures!
Legendary already has experience with mecha movies in the form of the Pacific Rim series. At Anime Expo 2018, this movie was announced to be set in the Universal Century, the continuity of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime. Hopefully this turns out better than the forgotten Canadian Gundam TV movie, G-Savior.
5. WANT: TIGER & BUNNY
If Hollywood knows how to do superhero movies well (some of the time), superhero anime should have better odds for good films than most other genres. Tiger & Bunny is not only a superhero anime, but one that’s already set in America, with a diverse cast and a “have its cake and eat it too” satire of commercialism. The show itself might not be a big name, but a movie could easily win over mainstream audiences.
This seemed to be in the “happening” column until this September, when production studio Global Road Entertainment admitted it was going under financially, leaving the film’s future in doubt. Hopefully producer Ron Howard is still dedicated to this project enough that he can find another studio to work with.
4. DON’T WANT: NARUTO
With so many anime adaptations facing whitewashing controversy, we already dread the inevitable fight over the casting of a live-action Naruto. Naruto Uzumaki has blond air and blue eyes, so casting directors might just pick someone who has those features, but he’s also named Naruto Uzumaki. Giving an Asian kid a wig and contacts might be the best option, but this could easily end up being one of the most confusing whitewashing controversies ever.
Michael Gracey, the director The Greatest Showman, initially wanted a Naruto movie to be his follow-up film but now he’s not so sure. Successfully adapting such a long series to movie form is proving to be an immense screenwriting challenge, and it might not be worth it.
3. COMING: YOUR NAME
Where does J.J. Abrams go after Star Wars? It’s still a ways off, but it seems like his next directing gig after Episode IX will be a remake of Makoto Shinkai’s 2016 blockbuster Your Name. This project’s announcement naturally set off a lot of skepticism in the otaku community. What’s the purpose of remaking such a great movie so soon?
One cause for optimism is the screenwriter attached — Eric Heisserer — whose screenplay for Arrival dealt with similar themes of communication across time in a heart-wrenching way. Heisserer’s promised that the movie will not be whitewashed, and there are many possibilities for new twists that he could put on the anime’s body-swapping concept.
2. WANT: AMERICAN ATTACK ON TITAN
Two Japanese live-action Attack on Titan movies already exist, but they’re kind of… not good. Great effects work on the Titans, but otherwise fans generally agree the films are pretty bad. This could be one time Hollywood could improve on what the Japanese studios failed at. Even in terms of casting, this is one of the few anime adaptations where a mostly white cast would be accurate!
Who should direct an American Attack on Titan movie? Let’s propose this as a project for Sam Raimi. Combining the high-flying action of Spider-Man with the gory horror of The Evil Dead is right in Raimi’s wheelhouse, and it’s exactly what a great Attack on Titan movie requires.
1. DON’T WANT: BAY-VANGELION
Raising money for an attempted live-action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion from WETA Workshop emptied the pockets of anime licensor ADV Films. Yet the prospect of a live-action Evangelion entered the news again in 24 when a Korean gossip site claimed Michael Bay was going to make an Evangelion movie.
Anyone familiar with the wildly different styles of Evangelion and any Michael Bay movie was horrified by the prospect. Bay confirmed the rumors were false, though the idea did inspire an NSFW spoof from FOX’s ADHD. Now for a director who would be a good fit for Evangelion, is there any chance of Darren Aronofsky getting a giant budget again after Noah and mother!?
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