SO in the last post i tried to explain why anime live action adaptations suck, starting with the fact that anime might simply be too complicated to adapt to the screen. Now i will admit that that post was me trying to give some of these writers and directors an excuse. I mean, they cannot be so bad as to keep getting it wrong again and again, year in year out.
Surely there has to be a reason success in this genre has eluded them. And my excuse for them was that anime is simply too difficult for them to adapt. Now i am going to put that excuse aside as it is really difficult to deny these individual’s own culpability in the failure of their adaptations.
Now what i was going to do initially was to provide a list of up to ten specific factors that writers and producers get so wrong about anime adaptations. I changed my mind; rather what i am going to do is generalize all that in two or three major points that will in most cases cover all but one or two other points.
So here is what i have seen and inferred (accurately or not):
---Ignorance- Really how many of you have watched an anime adapted movie and wondered if the writers knew anything but the basics about a given story? This is what i have come to presume about so many of these writers and directors, that they simply make no effort to acquire a comprehensive knowledge on the material they are choosing to adapt.
I feel really envious reading or watching interviews with actors and directors who will sometimes explain how they carefully and thoroughly studied the source material for a given title in production, reading issues and books stretching several decades back, even going so far as to interview the various writers and creators for their insight on the story, characters and concept.
Get it wrong as they might sometimes, individuals that adapt comic books clearly place considerable effort into learning the source material, something i don’t think makers of anime adaptations put much thought into. Anime is, as i explained before, really complicated and to adapt it in its true sense, to bring its spirit to the big screen requires an intricate understanding of what makes the story what it is, how it arrived at the point where it is at the present, what endears the characters to the fans and so on.
Writers and directors do not do ample research before adapting anime. I for one hope they never adapt anything like Naruto or one piece, not until they can prove that they can adapt some other simpler titles like Evangelion; because despite Evangelion possessing a quality story (so they say) the world of Naruto and one piece are much harder to bring to life, and what we would most likely have would be two rather generic movies about ninjas and pirates.
---Greed- Well of course it always comes down to money. Look at some of the most glaring mistakes to occur in movies in the past few decades and in most cases money and greed sit at the center of the failure. That is what most people i have talked to say. But the thing is i do not know how much of that i agree with, that money and greed kills movies.
The idea basically is that the quality of movies these days has tanked because of a heightened desire to earn in the billions, that movies of old took quality over costs and profit into considerations- or at least that is what i hear from the debates i have had or heard. But i question that. I am pretty sure that even movies released in the 70s or 80s were made with the aim of making money.
No matter the era of movies, money matters and it will always matter. So on the one hand i do not know if it is right to blame greed for movie failures. When a company decides to adapt a comic or anime/manga, they will probably look at the fan base, to determine how viable the project would be profit wise. The argument then is once production is underway, changes come into effect, with producers cutting here, snipping there, making all sorts of alterations in order to cash in on one element/target audience or another.
But here is the thing, movie makers want to make money. And how do you make money in Hollywood? By making a quality movie. So if a writer decides to make drastic changes to attract a certain audience, and that audience drinks in it, the movie then making hundreds of millions, clearly a quality movie was made. So the question is what is quality and whether it is a concept that only the minority that decided to trash a more widely accepted movie get to define.
Okay that was me just thinking out loud, and i am still ambivalent about the issue. Here is what almost convinced me that money might play more of a role in the business than i assumed. I was talking to a friend of mine, a comic fan, and he was telling me about how greed was the reason why Blade 3 sucked. Apparently before production began, Wesley Snipes’ original brilliant script, one that was inline with the events of the second movie, was trashed in the last minute in favor of a clearly inferior one presented by another writer. Why?
Because this less than stellar script included the night stalkers (the vampire hunters) and apparently the producers wished to create another franchise after blade based on these characters. So they decided to sideline Wesley’s contribution in favor for potential cash in the future; and apparently Wesley wasn’t too happy about it, only choosing to act in the movie because of his contract.
That pissed me off. I loved blade. Now whether anime is affected by the money issue, that i am still not convinced about. Was the reason the makers of last air bender chose cast non Asian characters because they thought it would resonate better with a western audience? I don’t know. But clearly no one goes into movies without an intent to make money.
---Market- The core of this issue of greed will usually stem from the difficult decision of market, which i believe plays an equally destructive role in the overall success of these adaptations. Well, maybe it doesn’t play a destructive role, but i expect it to be a difficult decision trying to figure out exactly who your target audience will be; who you will be making the movie for in the first place. Because whether it is otaku or non otaku you have in mind, it will affect the final product.
A. Otaku- Let’s first consider the otaku, clearly they are important in any preliminary studies used to determine the viability of a project. I don’t think anyone would have attempted dragon ball if they didn’t already know of the enormous fan base it possesses. But this isn’t where the decisions end, figuring out if there are really enough fans of an anime to warrant making a live action movie.
After this, one has to ask if they want to aim the adaptation at Otaku, and if they choose to do so it will mold the direction the script will follow. If an adaptation is written with an Otaku in mind, chances are the writers will keep it as true to the original source as possible. That in itself sounds like a good thing. Like i said in the previous post, it didn’t occur to me that the writers could mess up the Last air bender story.
Avatar already had a brilliant story. So if you are going to make an anime with otaku in mind, then what you are going to get is a stellar story and cast in the anime translated into a stellar story and cast on screen. Really the work is already done for them. The problem is things never work out this way.
What i have noticed is that live action adaptations aimed at Otaku tend to be rather shallow and lacking, usually failing to meet the standards of otaku and completely failing to impress the none otaku. An example.
Not long ago i was re-watching Advent children with a friend of mine, who was also an ardent gamer. We had both watched his movie several times over and i for one loved it. This was just to pass the hour as we awaited another’s arrival. What happened though was more talking and less watching. What happen is we got to that point in the movie when cloud is invited to speak to the fellow in the wheel chair, quite early on actually.
It was a pretty straightforward scene to me. I don’t remember what my friend thought he saw on my face but he suddenly felt the need to ask me if i knew why cloud was hostile towards the fellow in the wheel chair. I didn’t. My friend went on to break the history between these two down, when they had met, who had done what to whom and so on; when he was done, all i could think about was ‘when the heck did all that happen.’
And almost as if to make his point, he began to rewind the movie to the start where we see a meteorite falling through space; we however stopped at the point where cloud is standing on the hill, by a large sword. Asking me what i thought the scene with the sword was all about, i remember proffering a few guesses, maybe he was disposing of it, or he found it etc. Then i was treated to another lecture about the original owner of the sword and what it meant to cloud…
My point is i have watched Advent children several times over and after this experience, i began to wonder if i even knew what the hell i was watching. Who were all these characters my friend was speaking of? When did all these battles happen? And what about all that history"? My view of final fantasy was that it was a fairly shallow story accompanied by some kick ass fights and characters. What my friend said seemed to say the very opposite, that this series was a much more complex story than i thought (the only final fantasy i have ever played is Dirge of Cerberus).
I think my point should be clear. For one thing movies aimed at Otaku alienate non otaku. They write stories with the idea that the viewer possess some knowledge of the world and the characters beforehand, hence creating what to none otaku seem like half baked characters and stories filled with plot holes. But even with otaku these movies fail to deliver the message across. Even with prior knowledge of the story, these movies will either just show what we have already seen in the anime/manga, or something void of the excitement and depth and quality we are used to.
B. None Otaku- If you were a movie producer, then the most logical step you would take would be to adapt a movie with non otaku in mind. It makes sense, they make up the largest portion of the market. And you would think that this might prove easier, after all you can create an original story for a new audience but with the anime concept in mind. The problem is that this isn’t what most writers do.
Rather than create original plots based on an anime’s concept, they choose to simply use the original anime story but with some alterations. In the first place, most Otaku will not be happy to watch a movie that distorts an anime concept they have grown to love, especially when done in a crude and drastic manner. So for that matter you will have Otaku rejecting it.
I mentioned above that for the most part anime comes perfectly packaged with great stories and characters. So what happens when writers try to alter these stories to try and reach western audiences? They are going to start snipping and cutting all over, not really changing the core of the movie but resulting in what i would describe as the basic shape and figure of what was a stellar anime story but with absolutely nothing inside.
Writers usually tend to deform rather than rewrite anime stories, trying too hard to keep enough of the original story alive that they can attract otaku but devouring most of what made the anime unique in order to adapt it to foreign tastes. Just look at dragon ball, the same character names and concepts but something that simply isn’t dragon ball.
---Imitation- This is my final point and i only noticed it recently. I was a pretty big Harry potter fan when the movies first came out and i like many other fans showed up in force to watch our beloved story come to life. But while i was entertained, i wasn’t particularly impressed by the first and second movies. Why? They copied the story from the book and pasted it on the big screen exactly as it was.
I had read the books enough times to remember considerable portions of the story. So there were moments in the cinema were i couldn’t believe how much of the movie was exactly as i had read it, literally page for page and word for word. These first two movies followed the books to the dot. I wasn’t happy with this facsimile, which is why i was elated when Chris Columbus retreated to producer and we finally got a true adaptation of the book in Azkaban.
Here is the thing, i do not want to walk into a cinema to watch a movie play out exactly as the anime i watched. Because all they would have done was replace the animated world with a real one. What would be the point of watching a story i would have watched several times over in the anime. I have noticed this in some of the few Japanese live action anime adaptations i have watched. They literally translate the anime or manga to live action exactly as it was; and by everything i mean everything, from e crazy clothes to the crazy hair to the crazy gestures and behaviors.
When i watched the first X-men movie i was afraid i was going to see the same wolverine in yellow tights i had seen in the cartoon. They had the sense to change things up for the movie. Comic adaptations actually try to sensibly adapt comic concepts to the big screen. There is a clear attempt to bring a realism to the concept. Anime doesn’t seem to do that.
And again i notice this mostly in the Japanese movies (i have watched the earlier dragon ball adaptations). There is sense in bringing a concept from the anime to the big screen intact as it attracts us Otaku who want to see our favorite elements of an anime come to life. However there are some elements that simply cannot work on screen.
Okay so this run on longer than i expected again, but i think i got my point across. The question though is, is it possible to adapt Anime to live action? Is it simply impossible to adapt anime to screen?
My answer is a brutal YES. Unfortunately with what i have seen so far, i do not believe it is possible to adapt an anime that will completely satisfy as it should. Sure Samurai X was pretty good but there were definite flaws that i can point out, especially that silly fight in the end against those few hundreds of goons.
What is the solution?
This is the problem, what can be done to change the situation of live action adaptations? I have heard the popular answer, that the west needs to keep its hands off anime and leave it to the Japanese Chinese and Koreans. They are wrong of course as even the Japanese alone, for all the anime based movies they have released, have yet to perfect the formula.
The answer is in union. Yes the west needs to keep its presence in this sector, but not in the way it is operating these days. I discussed this with a friend and we came to a solution. The west needs to leave the Japanese alone to develop the story or at the very least maintain majority control over any given project. They know what they are doing when it comes to anime.
The west needs to provide the money and the technology, allowing the Japanese to produce movies on par with western productions, with proper effects and less silly CGI. That is the best solution, the kind of marriage that would allow them to successfully indulge in complex anime stories, the sorts they haven’t been able to do up to now.
I will believe that the movie industry has mastered the art of adapting anime if i ever see a proper Sengoku Basara movie in my cinema.
As it stands we will just have to weather the crap they keep throwing at us. At the present the best anime adapted movie i have ever watched is Speed racer. Yes it was no masterpiece and i preferred Samurai X, but being judged solely on the fact that it was adapted from an anime, it managed to pull off something i have never seen in any other anime based movie and all other movies need to learn from it.