Our Two Cents: Anime Goes to Hollywood

What do you do when you want to write a top ten list, but you’re too lazy to come up with ten whole entries? Just ask your friends to chip in! Our Two Cents is a new feature, in which the writers of The Glorio Blog take turns to throw in their proverbial two cents on one topic at a time. That’s one far-fetched question, with up to ten entirely unsolicited answers! Today, we’re discussing hypothetical Hollywood anime adaptations that wouldn’t make us want to cut and run.

So the Hollywood Death Note movie is finally upon us, and guess what — critics didn’t particularly like it. Inevitably, the whitewashing of the main cast was an oft-cited point of criticism, but even more frequently addressed was the fact that this movie like almost none before it showed the detrimental effects of whitewashing. Stripping Asian actors of the opportunity to land a big role and Asian moviegoers of the chance to see themselves as flesh-and-blood characters on screen is one thing, transplanting a Japanese story to America without any regard for how this change in setting would alter the plot at all, is another. While Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s original work was a bombastic indictment of the death penalty and the Japanese media’s disregard for criminals’ privacy, the American adaptation ended up little more than a generic slasher movie in its misguided attempts to “transcend” its cultural context.

And it’s not as if the potential wasn’t there. America is no stranger to sensationalist journalism, death penalty debates and heinous violations of privacy in the name of some nebulous semblance of safety. Heck, even the race lift could have been justified — if they’d had the guts to do something with it. I mean, a narcissistic white college student assembling some sort of Internet cult around his pseudo-fascist ideal of a war on crime, squaring off against a genius detective who looks like the kind of people his police allies would get away with shooting in the streets? We could have had something on our hands here, if the people involved had any desire to look beyond the surface and figure out what made the manga so popular in the first place, in stead of using its popularity to market their third-rate Final Destination ripoff.

It seems to teach us that Hollywood simply doesn’t want to understand manga or anime. Yet still, there is something inherently exciting about the idea of seeing your favourite stories acted out on film. With the grandiose success story that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the movie industry has even shown it’s finally figured out what makes comic books appealing in the first place — so maybe, maybe there’s still hope for Jaoanese source materials yet. That’s why the question for this Our Two Cents is: Which anime would you like to see adapted as a Hollywood blockbuster? We’re talking top-tier, all-American blockbusters here, with top-notch visuals and a cast that would probably earn more than the GDP of a middle-sized country. Is there an anime that would actually benefit from this Tinseltown treatment? Jel, Iro, Aqua, Gee, Euri, and Artemis are here to throw in their two cents.

91 Days

I found myself wavering between choosing something super bizarre and abstract that would be interesting to see interpreted through live action and picking an easy slam dunk choice that is practically a Hollywood movie already. In the end I decided to go all the way back to… several days ago… and choose 91 Days. The series is already an homage to mafia films (they stole The Godfather logo) so the transition would be super easy. “But Jel”, you might say, “wouldn’t that just make it a generic revenge flick? “ Maybe, but I think the relationship between Avilio and Nero is unique enough to carry a story in any medium. And that ending is so good, as long as they keep that intact I think it would all work out.

Honorable mention(s): Mawaru Penguindrum as a musical. Think about it.

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Black Lagoon

Is this cheating? Yeah, kinda, but Black Lagoon might as well already be a summer blockbuster. Buff dudes, ladies in skimpy clothes, and a hell of a lot of guns; it’s a natural fit, full of trashy, shooty, crime action. The multiple arcs from the series even mark perfect points to make separate movies! We could have Black Lagoon, Black Lagoon 2: Fuckin’ Nazis!, Black Lagoon 3: The Maid-inator, Black Lagoon 4: The Devil’s Twins, Black Lagoon 5: Tokyo Drift… it practically writes itself. Hire some actors with good chemistry to be your wacky crew of misfit criminals shooting even worse criminals in the face, and bam. Let the Hollywood money flow in.

Honorable mention(s): Aquagaze stole my first choice, but I think if you really put the work in, Tsukihime might fare okay.

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The Fate franchise

Adaptation, especially as far a blockbusters are concerned, is cutting. To fit an entire novel, video game, comic book or whatever else into two hours of money being thrown at a screen, you will have to cut some of the fluff (or fat). In the worst case, all you’ll get a watered-down neglect of the source material’s depth. If there’s no depth in the first place, however, culling the bullshit is an absolute plus, and you’d have to be an exceptionally terrible screenwriter to try to simplify any Fate/Stay Night-related story and somehow end up with something worse. Type-Moon’s idea builds on a premise so strong it seems almost impossible to screw up, but the original visual novel comes very, very close with its compulsive need to make every single story detail as complicated as humanly possible. Every rule that is painstakingly established gets broken into a billion pieces, and at times, Fate/Stay Night even seems to try and destroy its own premise, perverting the legends it builds on into unrecognizable narratives that weigh down whatever remains of that fascinating core idea.

A Hollywood adaptation would force the Fate franchise to go back to those fundamentals. Seven wizards summon seven heroic spirits and fight over the Grail. No Lesser and Greater Grail, no Reality Marbles and Noble Phantasms, no Servants from the future or Servants with Servants of their own, and perhaps most importantly — no genderbent King Arthur. Robbing the franchise of its beloved mascot, you say? Blashphemy, you scream? It makes sense. Altria Pendragon — or Artoria, or whatever the heck we’re supposed to call her now — is the very embodiment of Fate‘s complexity addiction, a needless, hackneyed distraction the visual novel only ever reinforced to turn itself into a dating sim starring one of the most infuriating male protagonists in anime history. In other words, rather than following the deluded offspring, our movie should return to the relative sanity of Fate/Prototype — regular old King Arthur, with a female Master. Sure, we may lose an iconic female character, but we’ll get one who gets to be the actual hero of the story in return.

Another plus is that unlike, say, Death Note or Akira, the Fate franchise does not tell stories that could only reasonably be set in Japan. If Hollywood is so insistent on this whole “we’re making the cast more diverse* to make the movie more marketable worldwide” thing, then fine, give me a movie about Japanese onmyoji facing off against French wizards, South American shamans against Irish druids, African diviners against Jewish mystics. Give me King Arthur dueling Lu Bu on motorcycles. Give me Medea summoning skeletons like it’s Jason and the Argonauts. Give me Gilgamesh decimating the Hashashin from atop Big Ben or the Eifel Tower or whatever landmark in whatever city we wanna see torn to shreds. Give me sword fights and magic guns and betrayals and the Holy fucking Grail. It’s all right there. How hard could it possibly be to screw that up?

*Read: white, with maybe one or two black people and an old Chinese man.

Honorable mention(s): I could definitely see the initial arc of A Certain Scientific Railgun working as the quirky, quippy romps Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kingsman) likes to make, at least if you cut out all the references to its ridiculous bigger brother and scale back, well, Kuroko. Just, like, in general.

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Art by the always excellent Takani YoshiyukiGundam

I don’t believe Hollywood could make a faithful Gundam movie, but like the Fate franchise, is one with so much flexibility across the overarching franchise itself that I’m actually fairly confident that with the right people in place, a loose Hollywood adaptation could actually succeed at attracting a Western audience while maintaining the thematic and aesthetic elements of what Gundam is. From the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, to the stunning tragedy of 0080, to the M*A*S*H inspired 08th MS Team, Gundam has already spent much of its 35 years experimenting and evolving. Or to put it cynically, there are already so many bad entries in the franchise, what’s (another) live action film to potentially add to that pile?

A Hollywood Gundam movie could take cues from both 0083 and 08th MS Team in their more western military aesthetics while happily dropping the anime bullshit that dogged both, and honestly, would probably end up being a better product as a result. Focusing on the grounded military elements while keeping out the annoying teenagers and space magic would honestly do wonders for the franchise as is. Additionally, Gundam is already a fairly diverse setting. This is a franchise with people named Ryu Jose, Seabook Arno, and Jamitov Hymen, so who can really say what nationalities anyone is. So for better or worse, Hollywood wouldn’t even have to worry about whitewashing.

The real risk of a Gundam movie is the design of the titular mobile suits themselves. Hollywood’s record for mech design is inconsistent at best, with Pacific Rim being basically one of the only examples of good mech design in Western blockbuster film in the last decade. The idea of the iconic Zaku or Gundam being bastardised into some kind of Michael Bay Transformers abomination would be perhaps an even greater insult than whatever they could do to the story itself. And from a selfish personal standpoint, would have a detrimental effect on the inevitable gunpla merchandising.

Still, all said and done, a standalone Gundam film that takes its cues from various elements of the One Year War era OVAs could make for a potentially exciting and acceptable entry in the storied franchise. Even at its worst, we still might get some cool toys anyway.

Honorable mention(s): In a similar vein, a Votoms movie would be pretty rad, but my suspicion is that the iconic Scopedog design would probably feel too dated to a modern Western audience.

chris

Baccano!

This story is set in the US so perhaps I’m not being super imaginative, but there’s something about Baccano!‘s non-linear storytelling that I think would make it a good fit for Hollywood. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is the first movie that popped into my head when thinking about how the characters and their stories could be handled, as it similarly jumps between past and present. Baccano! gets crazier with this, with parts of the story being set around 200 years between each other, and there’s a daunting number of characters with their own roles to play in the larger plot that would have to be accounted for.

The plot of Baccano! has supernatural elements, but nothing that goes so far that pushes this out of the realm of being a show about thieves, thugs and mafia, and I think it should be treated as such. Cast this as that kind of film, and really have some fun when it comes to alchemists and immortality elixirs. This show has so many characters with their own quirks, who form groups with their own quirks, who meet up with other people we’ve seen earlier and who have their own motivations. Sounds like a casting nightmare, but a really, really fun nightmare.

Most of all, I have a morbid curiosity over who would play Isaac and Miria, and whether they would keep names like Jacuzzi Splot and Nice Holystone (please don’t change them). Do I really think Hollywood would do a good movie adaptation? No, not really. But they damn well could if they wanted to, so here’s to that slim chance.

Honorable mention(s): There have already been rumblings of an Afro Samurai film with Samuel L. Jackson involved, but development seems to have stalled. Just think about what the soundtrack would be like.

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Perfect Blue

Many viewers have already pointed out the striking similarities between Perfect Blue and Black Swan, so perhaps my choice is taking the easy way out, but I do genuinely believe that with exactly the right people behind the project, Perfect Blue could make for a decent Hollywood adaptation. I think one of the main problem with many Hollywood adaptations of anime shows and films to date (apart from, you know, the all but inevitable white-washing of the cast) is that the material itself just doesn’t suit a live-action film adaptation in the first place. The stories tend to be too cheesy to take seriously enough in live-action form, or are too complicated and need to be severely watered down to fit into the space of a single film, or simply require way too much CG that never ends up looking good anyway. So how about taking something like a thriller or psychological horror over an action or sci-fi/fantasy piece, as well as something that’s proven can be well-paced while already comfortably fitting the confines of a one to two-hour space? It would solve a lot of problems before they even become an issue, and frankly, I’d prefer watching a slow burn over the action-heavy and over-edited material that Hollywood usually shoves in my face anyway.

Honorable mention(s): The Sky Crawlers

What’s your answer to this question? Which question would you like us to answer? Make sure to let us know in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Our Two Cents: Anime Goes to Hollywood

  1. Funny thing, there’s a series of novels in the Fate franchise called Fate/strange fake, which actually takes place in America during a proxy Holy Grail War. One of the Masters is just a wolf, not telepathic or anything. That is awesome.

  2. I feel like, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, Gunslinger Girl, Blast of Tempest (maybe?), Jormungand, D. Gray-man (have Tim Burton direct it or someone similar), Darker than Black (possibily have Michael Bay direct because, explosions are in the anime a fair amount), and/or Baccano turned into Hollywood films/shows.

    • I’d be interested in a Gunslinger Girl, but I don’t think Hollywood will ever be able to do that one without cutting out the whole bit where the girls are conditioned to be in love with their adult male handlers, which to me at least is the core of that series’ drama.

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