Remake. It’s almost a dirty word in American pop culture. Hollywood continually revisits old favorites - - sometimes just a few years after the original - - and tries to make them into something more. More current? More accessible? More profitable? Nah, just more. Other areas of entertainment are just as guilty, from comics to video games. Repackage, rerelease, repeat. Sometimes they work. Usually they don’t.
Somehow, anime manages to buck this. More often than not, the remakes are at least good, if not downright great. But what is it that makes an anime remake work where other types so frequently fail? Stick with me for the next few articles and we'll examine the most recent remakes coming out of Japan, trying to understand just what it is that makes them different.
It also happens that most of the original versions of the shows we’ll be talking about were favorites of mine growing up...
...Which probably means I’m getting old.
If we’re going to make sense of this rather unlikely success anime has with remakes, we’ll first have to sort the data into sensible categories. To my mind, there are three classifications. I’m pretty sure most anime shows/movies we’d consider remakes can be classified like this...
- The “Reimagined” Remake
- The “Manga” Remake
- The “We Don’t Know Yet” Remake (as in, not enough information out there yet)
This week we’re going to focus on the “Reimagined” Remake. These are current shows or films that take a pre-existing animated series or movie and recreate it by purposely deviating from the original animated release. They do this by presenting entirely new story elements, plot twists, characters, and/or changing the perspective of the viewer.
Mission Statement: Retell the fan-favorite "Kyoto Arc" of RUROUNI KENSHIN from the perspective of a different character.
Release Type: Two OVAs with a limited theatrical run in Japan prior to DVD/Blu-ray release
In the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t actually gotten to sit down and watch these yet so our first example may fall a bit limp. However, I’m willing to put my credibility on the line here and assume these are pretty awesome - - sight unseen - - just by virtue of the information available.
We’re talking about what was already the coolest storyline in the original show. We’re gorgeously reanimating it. And by presenting it from Makimachi Misao’s point of view, we’re cutting out a ton of material, making this a very lean and focussed “Kyoto’s Greatest Hits.”
RUROUNI KENSHIN: SHIN KYOTO HEN isn’t something meant to replace the old, or even to stand without it, I’d wager. This “reimagined” version acts as a complementary piece that seems intent to celebrate the original. That’s worth my money any day.
It’s been a big year for RUROUNI KENSHIN, with a blockbuster live-action adaptation coming out just after these OVAs wrapped up. We won’t get into it since we’re focussing on anime remakes. But two well-reviewed remakes in one year? Not bad for a series that ended more than 10 years ago.
Now, if they’d only animate the "Revenge" Arc. Someday... Someday...
Mission Statement: Hideaki Anno realized he wasn’t done messing with your brain.
Release Type: Theatrical (wide in Japan, limited in the U.S.) followed by DVD/Blu-ray
I’ve been waiting for three articles to say something about my beloved EVANGELION and now, finally, I have a platform. I’ve been in love with this series since I first got my hands on (poorly) subtitled bootlegs from my old Chinatown haunt. The original TV series, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, warped my young mind in ways that I’m sure are illegal in some states. My wife and I braved torrential rain to get to EVANGELION WORLD at Fuji-Q Highland on our honeymoon just so I could hang out with the life-sized replica of Unit-01.
So yeah, I have a personal stake in the REBUILD OF EVANGELION films. Lucky for me, they haven’t disappointed. I’m trying to keep things spoiler-free here, so please forgive any ambiguities. We can get into the nuts and bolts of EVA in another article (if you guys are down for it).
What REBUILD OF EVANGELION has set itself on doing is taking your expectations and subverting them. As a fan of the series, you think you know what happens. You know who dies, when it happens, what the central mysteries are and how they have (or haven’t) been explained. So the films take great pleasure in holding these things out in front of you, leading you one way, and then breaking in a different direction. Not just for the sake of toying with your emotions, of course, but in the service of what is clearly becoming a very different story with exciting new characters, events, and twists. Very little in these films has felt like rehash after the first few sequences of 1.0, and it’s especially fresh once you hit 2.0.
Despite the changes, what remains at the core is familiar to long time fans. Characters may make different choices, but they do so as a result of new events leading them down a different path and in line with who you know them to be. This isn’t grafting new events onto an old frame to try and spice it up; it’s creating something new and fueling it with the essence of the original.
Sound hokey? Maybe. But, it’s true.
REBUILD OF EVANGELION 3.0 is due out in Japanese theaters in November, with FINAL supposedly not far behind. Will it leave behind as many questions as the TV series and first movies did? Who knows, but it’s still been one hell of an unpredictable ride, and for a remake, that’s a pretty cool accomplishment.
So what makes The “Reimagined” Remake stand up? It seems like it’s a masterful balance between respect for what made the original special and fearlessness about deviating from it when the occasion's right. We’re not talking about just adding harsher language, more explosions, or doing a shot-by-shot replica of something that came before. It’s a fine line that I think we see walked by Japanese creators with unrivaled success.
And that, I think, is our answer: the “Reimagined Remake” is the art of taking something well-loved and reinterpreting it,with care and love for the source, without falling prey to reverence.
What do you guys think about “reimagined” remakes? Do you prefer adaptations to stick close to the original or would you rather see it reinterpreted? Any favorites? Keep the conversation going until next week’s article!
Next week on OTAKU COMING HOME: Part 2 - The “Manga” Remake.
On previous weeks of OTAKU COMING HOME...
- How FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST Saved Anime (For Me)
- SAILOR MOON Is For Boys (Too)!
- KINGDOM HEARTS Rescued an Anime Exile
Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.