- Anime is a Japanese style of animation for film and television with a worldwide fan base of millions.
- Hollywood studios have largely failed to adapt anime to Western audiences.
- Hollywood’s $ 100 million remake of “Ghost in the Shell” completely bombed the box office and lost at least $ 60 million.
- Watch the video above to find out why anime adaptations are terrible and what studios can do to make them better.
Narrator: During the original animated film, “Ghost in the Shell,” director Mamoru Oshii asks a challenging question. In a world where humans can merge with machines, he asks the viewer, “What is it that makes us fundamentally human?” It’s a beautiful film with a sprawling world that, as cliché as it sounds, is really sobering.
Hollywood’s $ 100 million remake is a far cry from the original concept. It also completely bombed the box office, losing at least $ 60 million. The remake of “Ghost in the Shell” is not the only one. Virtually all Hollywood anime adaptations are critically reviewed and don’t make any money. Why?
Justin Sevakis: Well, for the most part, they’re just not good.
Narrator: Justin Sevakis is a writer for Anime News Network. He thinks it’s the practical differences between the movie and the anime that are contributing to the Hollywood flops.
Sevakis: When you see an animated character, you never think of the actor, you never think of the day on the set. We get lost a lot in this fantastic world. So a lot of the really whimsical and interesting things in animation just don’t work in the live action. They just look a little bit silly.
Narrator: The “Dragon Ball” franchise is a good example. It first aired in 1986 and follows the adventures of a human-like alien child, who protects Earth by fighting enemies from another world. As the series continues, the battle scenes become epic as the characters shoot energy beams at each other. As you can imagine, it’s absolutely newsworthy in the 2009 Hollywood adaptation.
So why are comic book movies so successful, given that they also feature characters with superpowers and ambitious fight scenes? It has to do with the source material.
Sevakis: The adaptations of the existing comic strip are very free. They don’t need to change where this is happening as it is already in a western country with tropes that are already familiar to filmmakers. There is a lot of visual language shared between American comics and movies, as they have influenced each other greatly over the decades.
Narrator: Our favorite superheroes exist in the cities where we live. When an evil force threatens New York City, for example, it means something to the American public. In that sense, comic book adaptations are already one step ahead of anime adaptations.
Sevakis: I think a lot of times filmmakers go into an anime adaptation without really understanding what made the original anime or its original manga compelling in the first place.
The adaptation of “Death Note” by “Death Note” is an example. In the original animated series, the main character, Light, comes across a supernatural notebook. If you write somebody’s name in that book, then that person dies. Light feels like a judge and continues to kill hundreds of them, taking on a pseudonym, “Kira”, so no one knows who he is or how he kills.
There are, however, a multitude of rules. For example, you have to write how the person dies within 40 seconds. Otherwise, they will die of a heart attack. The many rules in the book and the way they complicate matters is part of the reason people loved the show. But the Netflix adaptation forgoes all that.
The adaptation also doesn’t understand why viewers of the original series liked the characters in particular. In the anime, Light is a smart kid from a sympathetic and supportive family. This is what makes his choice to become on death row so interesting. In the adaptation, however, Light’s mother is killed by people who get away with it, making her motive for killing people much more obvious and straightforward.
This indicates how much complex ideas are lost in translation when they are adapted.
Sevakis: Obviously, a lot is going to be lost because what the original filmmaker meant, say, Mamoru Oshii from “Ghost in the Shell”, was not going to be reproduced by a director, making a “Ghost in the Shell” movie. “which was not the same movie.
Narrator: Let’s look at a specific scene from the anime. Police chase a man who steals and destroys people’s memories. When the conflict ends, they realize that man is part of the machine and that he has been programmed to commit these crimes.
Sevakis: So there was that great emotional moment at the end of that fight scene where you go, “Oh, there was nothing behind that.” He’s just some kind of poor lost soul that’s been programmed to be that, you know, that foot soldier. And now he’s just a sort of empty, lost, aimless shell. And it was really haunting.
Narrator: This scene is recreated in the 2017 remake. And while it does succeed in its visual cues to the original, it doesn’t serve as a bigger purpose for the story. It’s just a fight scene. Generally, the remake is simplified into a simple story about the protagonist’s quest for her memories, losing the deeper meaning of the original story.
For better anime adaptations, Hollywood needs to do two things. First, they need to do a much better job of figuring out exactly which anime is going to translate well into live action. Once they’ve done that, they need to be sure why the fans love the anime in the first place.
For a genre of animation teeming with amazing stories and beautifully complex ideas, this really shouldn’t be that hard for Hollywood studios to fathom.