In the 90's, a nine year old version of me could not wait to get home after school, to catch a little anime that would become an instant classic: Dragon Ball Z. I don't know a kid, or an adult for that matter, who doesn't have Dragon Ball Z in their top anime of all time list. I just remember during recess I would play fight with the other kids as any character from the show. The show was so epic, that I wanted to see a live action version of the movie. Fast forward ten years later, my nine year old soul was crushed by a monstrosity known to fans as Dragon Ball Evolution.
I have a laundry list of why I hated this movie. I know that hate is such a strong word, but so is my opinion. Hollywood itself has a list of films based on mangas/anime that may fall in the category of "worst anime adaptations ever." I wanted to elaborate on some of the flaws with anime adaptations.
Race bending is a term that was created six years ago when another film that suffered the same critical annihilation as Dragon Ball Evolution: The Last Airbender. Airbender, which happens to be inspired by anime(one of my favorite shows), takes place in a fictional Chinese inspired world where people control elements such as fire, water, Earth and air, to bend around their surroundings. With the casting of white leads portraying obvious Asian characters. The studio "bent" the casting.
For those that don't know, I'm a strong advocate for ethnic diversity. My problem with Dragonball Evolution was that a white actor played Goku, while the supporting characters were Asian. Recently, a film called Gods of Egypt was released. In short, the movie took place in Egypt, but the lead characters were played by white actors, while the Black actors were supporting characters. To add fuel to the fire, the studio that released the film put out a statement apologizing about the casting. That apology meant absolutely nothing to me, simply because the movie was still made. That's like making a George Washington biopic with Marlon Wayans as the titular character. Offensive, right?
As mentioned earlier, Hollywood has a list of anime live action films in the works. They are: Death Note, Akira, Naruto and Ghost in the Shell. Those stories were created and take place in Japan, yet all of them except one, which I'll get to in a minute, have white actors/actresses in the lead. Death Note has Nat Wolf (Paper Towns) playing Light Yagami, a kid from Japan who stumbles upon a notebook that holds ones name in a life or death situation, literally. Also, Margaret Qualley (HBO's The Leftovers) is playing Misa Amane, a Japanese pop star/actress who comes across a death note herself. Death Note could work, if the studios change the names and locations. Look at films like the The Ring and The Departed. Both of those were Japanese films that were then Americanized.
Akira has been in development hell for years, but it was just recently announced that Christopher Nolan (Interstellar and The Dark Knight trilogy ) would be producing. I respect Nolan, but if the movie doesn't take place in Neo-Tokyo or have Asian leads, this will be another film where my wallet can take a break. With Ghost in the Shell, starring the beautiful Scarlett Johansson, I'll admit my only familiarity with this anime is the fact that it has a cool opening theme song. Aside from that, I have no history with the series, whatsoever, but after doping research, Scarlett is playing Kusanagi. Judging by that name, clearly it was meant for an Asian actress.
Clearly these studios could care less about race bending. They just want to cast actors that could bring, "asses to seats." However, if they keep this up, they will not have to worry about my ass sitting down watching these films.
Now, I stated that Naruto was among the list of mangas being adapted. With Naruto, I have no issue with them casting a white actor as the titular hero. One, I don't know too many Asians with blond spiky hair and blue eyes, for that matter.
Aside from casting, Airbender and Dragon Ball Evolution suffered because the movies felt rushed. For fans of the both franchises, like myself, these films were missing the what made these franchise intriguing in the first place: story. It took Aang from Airbender twenty episodes to learn how to bend water. Whereas in the film, it took him two hours and missing plot points that were left out. Same with Goku.
It took about ten episodes of the original Dragon Ball for Goku to battle Piccolo and then later his son during a tournament. For audiences new to these franchises, they I felt they were definitely short changed. That's like ordering a burger from McDonald's and putting your own condiments on. Now, I seen the Japanese live action adaptation of Death Note and it worked well, but with Naruto, he has story arcs on top of story arcs, that it almost feels like the story is never ending, even though the series itself ended last year, after fifteen years.
Now, because I didn't enjoy the American adaptations of my favorite anime and am still reserving judgment about production on these upcoming titles, that's not to say I didn't adore the animated films that came before them. Take the Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back for example. I'm a big Pokemon fan. I have every game from Blue version to Y version and own all the DVDs of the films. The first Pokemon film is still the highest grossing anime film of all time.
Pokemon was such a phenomenon in the 90's, that a movie was made and not a live action one at that. The closest we had to a Pokemon movie, was that super bowl commercial that aired this year, celebrating 20 years. Many young fans, probably around nine years old, were saying they can't wait for Pokemon to be a movie. Meanwhile, real fans are too hesitant for a live action movie, just yet.
If Hollywood wants to win over anime fans with their live action films, then they have to put in the effort and take risks. Stop being afraid that Asian leads will lead to box office flops. Comic book films are a trend, now. One day, I would like to live in an era where that could be the case with films based on anime.