I don’t like standing in line or shelling out money for something I think I’ve already seen (Hollywood has trained me to gag at the prospect, actually). Even so, more and more anime remakes are clogging up my instant queues, streaming content and Amazon wishlist lately. They’re everywhere, climbing over the fences, banging on your door and clamoring for your attention.
To try and sort through the lot of ‘em, and to understand why some work while others (though a seemingly rare occurrence in anime) fail, over the past few weeks we’ve categorized the unruly beasts as follows:
- The “Reimagined” Remake
- The “Manga” Remake
- The “We Don’t Know Yet” Remake (as in, not enough information out there yet)
Our not-so-impartial study - - also known as one dude’s opinion - - has found that “Reimagined Remakes” are probably the most creatively successful (and my favorite) while “Manga Remakes” might be hit or miss depending on the approach (even if they’re the ones most likely to make fans blindly happy).
But how do we reconcile our last category, the “We Don’t Know Yet” Remake? These are shows that have been animated in some capacity at least once before, and have remakes currently in the works. Thing is, we don’t really know a whole lot about them... Yet.
Do we blindly cheer on our favorites, anxiously awaiting every crumb of news? Roll our eyes at yet another remake whilst shaking our fists at the networks/studios for greenlighting something we’ve seen before rather than supporting creativity with a new/exciting show? Should a remake be automatically written off, even if you haven’t seen the original?
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO FEEL?
To figure it out, let’s look at two remakes due to hit in the coming months, each from an end of the spectrum. One's a favorite series of mine being remade, and the other I’ve never experienced.
Title: SAILOR MOON
Release Type: Broadcast TV (presumably) followed by DVD/Blu-ray release (presumably)
Nick’s Franchise Experience Level: In the name of the moon, I will school you.
Should We Be Excited? Yes.
I’m not gonna bore you guys with my love of SAILOR MOON. I’ve already done that at length. The short version is that SAILOR MOON is secretly an awesome show for everybody, not just girls. It mixes shonen and shojo tropes effortlessly and mainstreamed a new genre. It’s awesome.
So what makes this particular remake one worth cheering for? We only know a handful of details so far, but what’s been revealed is enough to get my attention:
- All new animation, not a DRAGON BALL KAI debacle
- It’s a series, not an OVA or film
- Toei is behind the new show and, for the most part, they did a superb job with the original
- It’s due out starting next summer
Regardless of whether it’s a “Manga Remake” or a “Reimagined Remake,” this new iteration of SAILOR MOON promises to, at least, provide fans with something special in the new animation. It also has designs on being a lengthy series, which means there’s more to invest yourself in than a movie or OVA would offer.
More valuable than what it can do for existing fans, however, is what it can do for those who’ve never experienced the original. Where DRAGON BALL Z has never really left the collective unconscious thanks to video games and constant DVD re-releases, and EVANGELION is always being talked about, SAILOR MOON is more like RUROUNI KENSHIN and other mid-90’s favorites: fondly remembered but rarely seen since its conclusion. Their remakes, however, couldn’t be more different.
Where the RUROUNI KENSHIN: NEW KYOTO ARC OVA's seek to highlight a fan-favorite storyline in celebration of the show's anniversary, the new SAILOR MOON opts to invite newcomers and initiates alike into the fold. The KENSHIN approach is a great one and certainly isn’t a members-only affair, but we old timers have the most to gain from the material.
The new SAILOR MOON, however, is kicking the doors open wide. With the manga finally getting a faithful translation/release in the U.S., one that’s topping the graphic novel sales charts month after month, it seems like the story still has legs 20 years later. It’s catching the attention of both a new generation of fans and those who grew up with the show. There’s a timeless quality to the story, one that makes it as accessible to folks today as it was to me when I was growing up.
And that leads me directly into our next example:
Title: 009 RE:CYBORG
Release Type: Theatrical Release (Japan/Asia) followed by DVD/Blu-ray (international)
Nick’s Franchise Experience Level: I’m sure I’ve heard of this before. Wait... No, no, I’m wrong.
Should We Be Excited? Well, *I* am.
FACT: I know next to nothing about CYBORG 009
FACT: I’m still excited about this movie.
I’m sure I’ve heard of CYBORG 009 in passing before now, but it never registered on my radar the way GHOST IN THE SHELL or its ilk did (despite those shows/books/films owing CYBORG 009 a great debt). It wasn’t until I saw the latest trailer (on a comic news website, no less) that my curiosity was piqued.
Beautiful animation? Check. Cool-looking action? Uh-huh. Awesome character design? Oh yeah. An intriguing story? Yup (admittedly I had to dig into the internet to learn more, as the trailer was mainly eye candy).
What really got my attention though was the history of the franchise. Its basic themes - - Cold War fears coupled with a loss of freedom/control -- are just as timeless as the fairytale-esque SAILOR MOON. Though I’d never really heard of it, a 50-year-old series with multiple adaptations under its belt finally caught my attention thanks to a new remake.
When I set out to write this article, I planned on emailing your pal and mine, Sam Weller, to chat about CYBORG 009 since I’ve heard he’s quite a fan. I wanted to get some context for the title’s history, hear someone talk about how much they’ve loved it, all that stuff. But then it occurred to me that my not knowing about it was actually more important. My lack of knowledge, but being no less excited about the release, has given us the final piece of our “Remake” study. It’s the last bit of context we needed to understand not only where anime remakes succeed and fail but, more importantly, how we should regard them as fans.
Let’s put all of our conclusions from the past few weeks together then, shall we?
The successful anime remake takes a series or film, with timeless themes that transcend format, and reinterprets it for fans both new and old, showing respect for the source without falling prey to reverence.
So are anime remakes the death of creativity? Nah. In fact, Hollywood and its endless stream of vapid remakes could learn a thing or two from Japan. Though when done wrong they cause us intestinal discomfort, anime remakes done right are really something special: a celebration of the shows we love, inviting a new generation to check out the stories we count among our favorites, and worthy of our praise and excitement.
I’ll line up for that, cash in hand, even if I do think I’ve already seen it. Odds are there’s enough new in there to surprise me, and enough old to make me smile.
Nick Tapalansky is the 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.