For quite a long time, anime adaptation has been the butt of a collection of bad jokes that Hollywood has made over the last couple decades. Going all the way back to the early '90s anime adaptations have never really met expectations of fans; not by a long shot. In reality, the few Hollywood adaptations have created quite a large stigma of being unapproachable and undesired stories to develop for the big screen. You may be thinking, there haven't been that many anime adaptations, how could it be that bad, Matthew?
Well, here are a few Hollywood adaptations that didn't quite measure up:
The Guyver (1991)
Based on the 1985 manga Bio Booster Armor Guyver, and both the anime and film focus on a young man who discovers The Guyver Suit. This suit is actually an alien device that creates a biological super-suit that bonds with the young man to fight an evil alien monster. Panned by critics and viewers for its B-Movie feel and for veering from the much darker, original story.
Fist of the North Star (1995)
Based on the anime from the mid '80s is a hyper-violent story that follows a man, Kenshiro, who is wandering the wasteland after civilization is all but destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Kenshiro utilizes an ancient martial art known as Hokuto Shinken (Fist of the North Star) which allows the user to use 100% of their human strength in a fight. The film strays so far from the original content that it's barely comparable outside of the fact that they have the same characters.
DragonBall: Evolution (2009)
Based on the seminal manga by the legendary Akira Toriyama as well as the anime inspired by the manga. For my generation, this is where we were introduced to anime and manga as entertainment. Dragonball follows the main character, Goku, as he learns of his heritage and the mystical power of the 7 Dragon Balls that summon an ageless dragon, Shenron, that can grant any wish. It was with joy in our hearts that we waited for our beloved series to finally receive a mainstream Hollywood release. Our hopes were that it would retain the charm and heart that never ages in the anime series itself, considering that it's one of the main reasons we love the characters and the story; it's full of charm and heart. The film did not do anything like we expected, it tanked and soured Hollywood again on adapting animation.
Based on the anime of the same name from 1999, Kite is a story about a young schoolgirl, Sawa, who is orphaned in her early teens after her parents are the victim of a gory double murder. Sawa is an assassin who kills without exception as directed to do. Sawa meets another young assassin and goes on a deadly escapade in order to escape from the corrupt detectives who control them both. The film matches the violence of the anime and some of the characters, but that's about as far as it goes.
And that's just a few examples over the last 20 years, there are others and it begs the question:
Will Hollywood ever adequately adapt anime or manga?
The simple answer is: we don't know yet.
The more complex answer is: They're going to keep trying regardless. And because they're going to keep trying these are some of the series rumored to be coming over the next few years: Ghost in the Shell (in production), Battle Angel Alita, Death Note, Akira, Voltron, Bleach, Dororo, Lone Wolf and Cub & Mardock Scramble. Some of these have better odds at succeeding where Hollywood has failed before, but it's going to ultimately come down to how faithful the production team stays to the original content. And that is part of the problem that Hollywood has encountered over the years when they try to adapt an anime or manga series.
Staying faithful or true to the source material is, sometimes incredibly, difficult considering that often the stories contained in the more popular series’ are so fanciful that it’s hard not to change various aspects. The best example of this in my mind is DragonBall: Evolution from 2009. DragonBall is a beloved series that follows a young boy as he grows up into one of the, if not the most powerful being in the universe. The show involves martial arts, alien races, energy and destruction. Now, I will agree that the 2009 film failed in ways that just makes me hurt right in the heart of my adolescence. DragonBall: Evolution strayed from the original material that it missed the whole ‘feel’ of the series, and that’s what makes anime adaptation so difficult.
But it’s not impossible, and here are a couple anime/manga that I think that Hollywood could bring to theaters and still keep true to the source material.
Trigun – Probably one of the easier series to adapt, Trigun follows the escapades of the infamous outlaw Vash the Stampede across the desert dystopian-style wasteland. The series is a sci-fi/western/adventure/comedy and isn’t obscenely out-there when it comes to making the movie believable. Vash, although hunted as the most wanted man on the planet, is a pacifist who wants to simply just be forgotten. In a way similar to how Pirates of the Caribbean was developed, Trigun could follow a similar pattern as Vash has a good heart and goes out of his way to be a hero. It’s unique blend of adventure, comedy and drama would fit well on the big screen.
Similar films: Westworld, Serenity, The Book of Eli, The Dark Tower (2017)
Fullmetal Alchemist – With today’s special effects pulling off the fantastical elemental transmuting should be breathtaking. The original series follows two brothers, Edward and Alphonse as they search for the Philosopher’s Stone so that they can reverse what happened to them during a failed experiment to return their mother from death. A film based on the adventures of the brothers would be amazing, and although the adaptation of the Homunculi may be a bit far-fetched, altering it a bit to just make the characters embody the deadly would be easy enough (just look what they did with the Purple Man in Jessica Jones). It would be just the right balance of science-fiction and drama to make a film marketable.
Similar films: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, The Sorcerer's Apprentice & The Last Airbender.
Soul Eater - This may take some additional effort on the part of the production team, because it would stretch some of the special effects, but just imagine Maka and Soul standing there and then slowly Soul melts away and a scythe appears. It would be easy enough to translate the concept to a major motion picture considering how well movies like Maze Runner, Divergent & Hunger Games did. I could envision a similar approach with a Soul Eater adaptation as the movie focuses on the three teams of Death Meisters and their weapons as they unravel and uncover the plot that I won't give away if you haven't seen/read the series.
Similar films: Harry Potter series, Hunger Games & Percy Jackson
So where does Hollywood go from here?
Ultimately, it's really going to come down to how faithful the development team stays to the original series. I believe that anime/manga adaptations have a place in Hollywood and could truly reach the masses, but it's going to require faith in the stories and fan interest. If studios keep pushing out DragonBall: Evolution style films that may keep some of the general concepts but miss out completely on the heart of the series, then it's going to be hard for anime/manga films to take off like the DC/Marvel comic book frenzy has over the last decade.