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Tim Burton Rumored to Be Working On a Live-Action Adaptation of...Mai, the Psychic Girl? Again?

After twenty years in purgatory the title gets picked up again, but should Hollywood stay out of live-action anime adaptations?

Hollywood: it never ceases to amaze me. 
 
Sources of movie news website Latino Review disclosed Monday that director Tim Burton has restarted work on his live-action adaptation of the manga Mai, the Psychic Girl after a very, very extended hiatus. Of twenty years. Perhaps only Vice's older audience, or archaeologists of a certain San Francisco-based manga publisher's back catalog, might be familiar with the title in question, a three-volume series by Kazuya Kudo (story) and Ryoichi Ikegami (art) which follows Mai Kuju, a psychically gifted Japanese girl whose powers are sought by the shadowy Wisdom Alliance in their bid for world domination. Mai stands as a significant landmark in the American manga market for being one of the first titles to be published in America in its entirety by an unlikely partnership between the now-defunct Eclipse Comics and an infant Viz Media in 1987.

Burton, a fan of the series, purchased the rights in the late 80s and spent a handful of years between Beetlejuice and Batman Returns trying to get studios enthusiastic about the outsider source material. He ended up selling his rights to the film in 2001 to Sony Pictures who, now cash strapped, recently sold them straight back. Latino Review's source claims that Burton has moved the project to his "front burner" and is personally reviewing the screenplay, but this conflicts with other reports that the director is working on at least two other projects.
 
By now you're probably thinking "Tim Burton and an obscure twenty-plus-year-old manga title: WTFBBQ, man?" That was my first reaction as well, but now it's actually starting to make sense. No time in big-budget American entertainment history has ever been more fertile for tales about kids/teens with supernatural endowments who stick it to The Man. Harry Potter. Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The Last Airbender. Need I say more? But let's not get too carried away with excitement, because Hollywood's record with live-action anime and manga adaptations is spotty at best. Of course, this is Tim Burton, one of the industry's more consistent purveyors of creative entertainment, but even he fires off a critical dud from time to time, a la Alice in Wonderland. And then there're Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer to consider... 
 
Ouch.
 
What do you think: do you believe American studios are capable of doing justice to live-action adaptations anime and manga series, or should they take their hands out of that particular honey pot?
Count_Zeroon May 19, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.
In my opinion, and I probably should do a longer blog post or a column on Bureau42 about this, but I think Hollywood is approaching doing live-action anime the wrong way. They're picking properties which may have some fan base with otaku, and possibly some name recognition among mainstream audiences (Dragonball, Speed Racer, etc.) but require a lot of suspension of disbelief to pull off.
 
I think that if Hollywood wants to make live action adaptations of anime that will do well with western audiences, they need to pick genres that western audiences would be familiar with, without as much of the gonzo stuff that Speed Racer of even Dragonball had. For example, Gunsmith Cats would be a perfect fit for this - it's a buddy action series with some comedy elements, with beautiful women, fast cars, and interesting action sequences. It is, essentially, an anime and manga version of a Western summer movie blockbuster, but without the wacko stuff that a series like Miami Guns has.
 
Similarly, while sports anime don't do well among anime fans in the US (possibly related to anime fans finding sports kind of boring), sports films tend to do well among mainstream audiences - Rudy, Friday Night Lights, The Natural, Rocky, etc. Consequently, a sports anime, if you picked the right one, could work well as a live action film, or even TV series. While I wouldn't pick something like Bamboo Blade, I would think that a series like Princess Nine, if put in the right hands, could become an entertaining television series. Similarly, a boxing anime like Hajime No Ippo or Ashita No Joe could be turned into an interesting film or series of films (though I'd probably change the ending of Ashita No Joe, just because I don't think it would test well with Western audiences).
 
What do you think, sirs?
Boddingtonon May 19, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.
@Count_Zero: I'm definitely in agreement with you on the Gunsmith Cats adaptation. It can even be shot in Chicago, where the series is set.
sickVisionz moderator on May 19, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.
Not a big fan of Burton.  This will probably end up as some weird flick with gothic stylings starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. 
 
@Count_Zero: I approve this message.  There's a lot of anime with a great story that doesn't have super crazy outlandish surroundings and are very small in scope/setting.
OmegaMekixon May 19, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.
Scary thing is, I'm not surprised.
Boddingtonon May 19, 2010 at 2:53 p.m.
@sickVisionz: Considering the source material I can't imagine he'd actually take this in his typical screwball gothic direction. But hey, who knows what to expect out of this.
Oishi_47on May 19, 2010 at 5:31 p.m.
@Boddington: He has refined his taste to the point where it made him the one-trick pony he is today. That trick, of course, to make feature-length advertisements for Hot Topic. 
transgojoboton May 20, 2010 at 9:27 p.m.
Alice in Wonderland may have been a critical dud/clunker, but it raked in (as of today) $980 million worldwide! Tim Burton can pretty much do whatever the 'eff he wants for his next film. If he wants it to be Mai: The Psychic Girl, it's going to be Mai: The Psychic Girl.  Or May: The Psychic Girl because I will be visibly shocked if the main character remains Japanese or even remotely Asian for the Hollywood adaptation.  
 
However, I would be the first in line to give Burton a huge amount of kudos, if he casts an unknown, Asian-American actress for the titular role. But I won't be holding my breath.

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