With now only about a month until Dragonball: Evolution graces (or disgraces) onto big screens across the nation, I once again address the topic of adapting anime and/or manga series into live-action movies in Hollywood.
While many in the anime community are inherently opposed to such adaptations for one reason for another, I’ve always thought that such adaptations are a way to perhaps help the movie industry from endless sequels and remakes, while validating the medium that those of us in the anime community love.
Every medium has it’s own problems with being adapted into movies. Adapting movies from novels have the the often unenviable problem of crunching several hundred pages of stuff into 120 minutes of screen time – to say nothing of the actual translation of words on a page into an audio/visual medium.
Adapting anime into a live action movie has several adaptation problems as well. I think most of the problems can be boiled down to 4 points:
- The show has to be one that will appeal to a wide audience to begin with
- The show’s story has to be one that can survive being condensed down to 120 minutes
- The movie shouldn’t be a “live-action cartoon”
- The show has to be logistically adaptable to a live-action show
The first point is rather self-explanatory: to have a successful movie adaptation, it has to be of a story that people would actually go watch in the first place. For example, as much as it is adored by anime fandom, I doubt that a live-action Cardcaptor Sakura movie would exactly be a big hit in the US, no matter what you did with it. However, a show such as Cowboy Bebop is one which may be attractive to a broad audience.
The second point is perhaps one of the biggest worries of anime fans when the topic of live-action adapations come up: will a story have to be cut down to such an extent that it would become unrecognizable? A show would either have to be largely episodic in nature, have so much fluff that it could be sufficiently cut down, only have a particular story arc told, or could have it’s central themes expressed via a new story that could work in a movie.
Once again I return to a show like Cowboy Bebop which would be episodic in nature, and thus a movie could basically be an episode on steroids, as far as the story is concerned. A show which could perhaps be told with an alternative story, but still keep the things that make the original show good include a show like Chobits, where the actual specifics of how one gets from start to finish matter less than the basics of the story and the lessons learned. Meanwhile, a show like Evangelion seems like one which would be very difficult to adapt since there are too many things that you can’t cut out (sorry ADV).
The third point is one which, I think, Hollywood has the biggest problem with, and that is “cartooning” the adaptation. What I mean is this: when people see a live-action movie, they want a live-action movie. Meaning a movie which appears like it is or could take place in our reality, unless the show is just based in a completely different world.
Popular franchises like Star Trek and Harry Potter are fantasy all the way, but they’re still made to look like they could take place in our world. Meanwhile, I think one of the downfalls of the old Batman movies is that the world they took place in looked less and less like “our” world and more and more like some world which was alien to us, so people lost their suspension of disbilief, and, thus, their interest. This was the primary downfall of the Speed Racer live-action movie, and threatens to take down the Dragonball one as well.
Any adaptation should look and feel like it is taking place in our world. I know there seems to be a strong tendency to keep cartoony looking things cartoony looking, but whomever is making the adaptation should avoid doing that unless it can be done in a way that looks “real” (which, with the help of cgi, should be possible for many things).
The final point is that it be logistically possible for a show to be adapted. There are few anime series that would be caught up in this final point, especially with the state of cgi animation, but there are still a few. My top example is Gunslinger Girl. I think the story in Gunslinger Girl would be one immediately attractive as an action/drama movie. I think it would be relatively easily adapted to a 2-hour script, and I think one could easily do it in a “real” way.
The problem? What’s the chances that one could find 8 to 14 year old girls – or actresses who could pass as 8 to 14 year old girls – who could act the necessary parts competently? The answer is probably “you couldn’t,” and the only recourse would be to bump the girl’s ages by about a decade, making them 18 to 24 or so. While this may be fine for many series, with Gunslinger Girl, doing such a thing would take away much of what makes the series good, as part of the “tragedy,” if you will, of the series is the fact that they are so young. The age of the girls make it both amazing that they can do what they can do while at the same time make them very pitiable characters, both of which become less effective if you make them older.
As one might have been able to tell, I have high hopes for the announced Cowboy Bebop movie. It’s always been near the top of my list as the type of show that can be quite good if done right. It just has to be done right. If it is, hopefully it can be an example that any further adaptations can follow.
Oh yeah, and here is the Dragonball: Evolution trailer: