Ever since being announced in 2002, Warner Bros.' live-action take on the anime classic Akira (1988) remained as nothing but a pipe dream because no matter what, the fates seemed to align against them and shut down the new Akira every time it tried to get up. After 13 years in development, Akira accumulated vast amounts of material that never left pre-production and even if Akira is back on the drawing board, doubt is still in the air as to whether or not it will actually manifest into something tangible. Until Warner Brothers greenlights it or otherwise, here's a quick look back at everything about what could be the American take on Akira.
Akira Prime: From Mange To Animation
Akira is a six volume manga by Katsuhiro Otomo that was later condensed into the two-hour anime classic that's known and revered today. The story follows teenage delinquents Kaneda, Tetsuo and their biker gang the Capsules when they find themselves caught in a government conspiracy that involves an ancient power known as "Akira" which if unleashed, could bring an end to Neo Tokyo.
Alongside Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira is credited for being one of a handful of anime that introduced Western audiences to the medium's capabilities and decades after its release, it still holds well. Serving as both a grand cyberpunk tale and a commentary on Japan's post-war society, Akira helped redefine the sci-fi genre by introducing themes that were barely touched, such as youth rebellion and a blue-collar approach to grand ideas like philosophy and religion.
Hollywood's Akira: Who Has Been Involved So Far?
As mentioned earlier, nothing ever became of Warner Bros.' acquired rights. Many filmmakers such as the Nolan siblings (The Dark Knight trilogy), the Hughes brothers (The Book of Eli) and George Miller (the Mad Max series) were attached before leaving the project for varying reasons.
Zac Efron, James Franco and Keanu Reeves were all optioned to play the lead role of Kaneda at one point while Tetsuo (now named Travis) would've been played by either Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, or Robert Pattinson. To round it off, supporting characters were set to be played by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Helena Bonham Carter, or Gary Oldman, just to name a few. Thanks to the unsure production schedule of Akira and a multitude of conflicts including creative differences and disagreements about the movie's rating, many of the attached creators left to pursue other projects while Warner Bros. struggled to find anyone willing to take part in its long term anime based commitment.
Little to nothing else was known up until recently, when Bloody Disgusting discovered abandoned Akira concept art by Ruairi Robinson. While the images shown are just recreations of scenes from the original movie (especially its climax), they still provide a good glimpse at what could've been if Warner Bros. chose to pursue their Akira project back in 2014.
Due to the story's close ties to Japanese culture, the proposed casting of predominantly white actors in key roles was met with ire, not just because of skin color but because of the drastic shift in these characters' traits and personalities. Gone were the lost and damned members of a doomed youth and in their place were pretty emo boys right out of any Young Adult movie out there. While the attached actors are talented, the fact remains that the characters they may have portrayed would resemble their original counterparts in name only, losing everything that made the likes of Kaneda and Tetsuo memorable.
Whitewashing wasn't the only problem, with the fact that the new Akira would be set in the awesomely named Neo New York (essentially "New New York"), inspiring more anger than excitement.
The change in settings effectively erased everything that made Akira personal for Otomo and many Japanese fans, and it wasn't just relegated to changing the Tokyo Fireball (the story's allegory to the Hiroshima and Nagaskai bombings in 1945) with the 9/11 terrorist attacks: It was about a shift in culture, and in essence, disregarding everything that made Akira a Japanese icon.
Switching the commentary about a society that survived a literal nuclear holocaust for one aimed at Bush's America and the War on Terror just begged the question why Warner Bros. would even bother adapting a Japanese manga just to rewrite it instead of making an original story simply inspired by Akira in the first place. Add in Warner Bros.' demands that stated Akira — a story known for its violence and disturbing imagery — should get a PG-13 rating and this added more salt to any fan's open wounds.
2016 And Beyond: New Signs Of Life With Justin Lin
Warner Bros. still wants a franchise or a potential trilogy for their Akira license, so they enlisted the aid of Netflix's Daredevil writer and showrunner Marco Ramirez to write a script that would hopefully catch the interest of director Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious 3–6), who they want to helm the project.
With live-action adaptations of anime and/or manga including a Netflix version of Death Note and Hollywood's take on Ghost in the Shell (2017) from the director of Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) currently in production, there is still a strong possibility for the American retelling of Akira to hit theaters, but whether or not it will triumph is another story. Warner Bros. is playing it safe for now, opting to instead look at the competition before moving ahead with their own project.
The success or failure of Ghost in the Shell, which is coincidentally facing similar accusations of whitewashing and cultural appropriation, will determine the fate of many Westernized anime adaptations that are still kicking in development hell. For the mean time, check out the original Akira movie or better yet, hunt down the manga and feast your eyes on a true classic of the genre.