A brief history of Hollywood trying — and mostly failing — to adapt anime

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A weird truth: Even in the midst of the current comic book gold-rush, major studios can’t seem to get a good anime or manga adaptation off the ground—although the influence of those works can be seen everywhere. This weekend’s Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic that’s heavily (perhaps even problematically) inspired by anime and manga. As tangentially connected to the art form as Big Hero 6 is, could it be the harbinger of a sea change in Hollywood’s approach to manga and anime?

Tackling this question can be kind of tricky—after all, “anime” and “manga” are styles rather than the names of genres. While works that fall under those umbrella share a general visual language and similar approaches to storytelling, anime and manga tell all sorts of stories—slice of life, romance, mystery, supernatural thriller, action.

One of the reasons it took so long for American filmmakers to even begin considering adapting manga or anime is because of how long it took for the source material to even become popular stateside. The first anime to find success here weren’t the action-heavy, mind-bending sort that would become prominent in the boom years of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but much lighter fare like Speed Racer and Astro Boy in the ’60s and ’70s. But even during those boom years, anime adaptations usually didn’t fare well. For example:

The GuyverOne of the first notable anime adaptations to be made in the US, this 1991 film starred Mark Hamil and was based off the 1985 manga Bio Booster Armor Guyver, by Yoshiki Takaya. Both the film and manga centered on a young man who discovers The Guyver Unit, an alien device that spawns a sort of biological super-suit that an unwitting young man bonds with in order to fight an evil megacorporation (and also alien monsters). The film was panned both for being B-movie cheese and also for straying from the source material’s far darker, more violent story.

A direct-to-video sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero would stay closer to the manga’s more violent roots, but the rubber-suited aliens still left a lot to be desired when compared to the manga’s anime adaptation.

Street Fighter: While not technically based on an anime or manga, Capcom’s legendary fighting game would go on to inspire plenty of adaptations—including the notorious 1994 Jean Claude Van Damme film. There are many reasons why this did not go well, but at least people saw it—unlike the 2009 reboot, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, which you’re probably remembering for the first time right now.

Fist of the North Star: Another hyper-violent action anime received an unfaithful adaptation that doubled as a really bad movie. Here’s clip from that movie. It is very bad. Unless it’s after 2 A.M., and you’re looking for this sort of thing. Then I suppose it’s great.

The MatrixWhile, again, not technically based on an anime or manga, The Matrix represents a watershed moment in how Hollywood looked at anime. According to producer Joel Silver, the Wachowskis pitched him the film by showing him an anime film (according to Wikipedia, it was Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 classic Ghost in the Shell), saying “We want to do that for real.” The 1999 film, with its mix of philosophical science fiction and stunning action scenes, is the closest a major Hollywood release had ever gotten to faithfully depicting the medium of anime. Incidentally, while a large number of anime adaptations would enter development in the intervening years, none would make it to the big screen until the Wachowskis’ next directorial effort, five years after 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions.

The debt that the film franchise owed to anime would be acknowledged in the direct-to-video release The Animatrix, an anime anthology of short stories set in the film’s world.

Stronger: Kanye West’s music video for his hit 2007 single heavily references Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark 1980s anime film/manga series Akira. Let’s talk a little bit about Akira. Both the manga and the film adaptation are pinnacles of their respective mediums, cyberpunk masterworks that use their dystopian futures to explore deep philosophical and societal quandaries. Critically acclaimed in the U.S., Akira is largely responsible for popularizing anime and manga stateside. A Hollywood film adaptation has been in development hell since at least 2002—the last update came in February of 2014—but don’t hold your breath for it. It’s quite likely that Kanye’s music video is the closest we’ll get to an American adaptation—and maybe that’s a good thing.

Speed Racer: While it was poorly received at the time, the Wachowski’s Speed Racer succeeds by being exactly what it set out to be—a bright, colorful adventure for kids. Which, in turn, makes it exactly like its source material. Unfortunately, the film’s poor critical reception and box office performance very likely served to further stigmatize anime adaptations to big studios.

Dragon Ball: Evolution: Akira Toriyama’s seminal manga Dragon Ball and the anime it inspired, was, along with Sailor Moon, an entire generation’s introduction to the medium. As such, the series is pretty sacrosanct in the eyes of fans—and even if it doesn’t hold up all that well, it retained a certain heart and charm that never really gets old. The film that came out in 2009 had none of these things.

Pacific Rim: Like The Matrix, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 blockbuster isn’t an adaptation of any particular manga or anime. Instead, it’s a Western take on giant mecha-action epics like Gundam. While it’s a pretty straightforward bit of sci-fi action, it is very, very good at what it does—and perhaps clears the way for the genre’s stranger, more complex fare like Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Oldboy: Spike Lee’s 2013 revenge thriller is an unfortunate case of Hollywood’s inability to leave well enough alone. Originally a 1996 manga by Goron Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, the story already received an acclaimed film adaptation in 2003 by South Korean director Park Chan-wook—one that’s far preferable to the American version. Which is a shame, because the U.S. cast is pretty stellar.

Edge of Tomorrow: Although it received really good reviews, Edge of Tomorrow didn’t perform so well in the box office. Perhaps if it kept the name of the manga it was based on — Hiroshi Sakurazaka and Yoshitoshi Abe’s All You Need Is Kill—it would’ve been more more memorable to those watching the trailers. But as the latest Hollywood effort in manga/anime adaptation, it’s quite the hopeful note to end on.

[UPDATE — As some readers have pointed out, All You Need Is Kill was originally a novel. The manga adaptation, by Ryusuke Takeuchi and Takeshi Obata, came out roughly at the same time as the film.]

While this list is pretty spare, it doesn’t include the wealth of optioned material languishing in development hell or shelved for any number of years. James Cameron’sBattle Angel Alita is a great example—the director has the rights to make a movie, but won’t even start thinking about that until he’s done with the next ten Avatar films.

But if you’re not too jaded by the number of non-starters, it’s quite possible that we’re now on the cusp of a new wave of quality Hollywood films based on anime and manga. With the previously-noted critical success of Edge of Tomorrow and reports of Scarlett Johanssen signing up for the lead role in Ghost in the Shell, it looks like Hollywood is finally ready to start looking at comic books that weren’t made in America for inspiration. If they do, then movie theaters will doubtless become a stranger—and more interesting—place.

Anime’s Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy shows up on a pedestrian walk signal in Japan

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For many newcomers to anime and manga, it can be hard to tell characters drawn by the same artist apart. In general, Japanese designs use fewer lines, especially in the faces, than those of Western comic books, and even some artists themselves, such as Touch creator Mitsuru Adachi, have been known to get their own cast members mixed up.

That’s not a problem with Atom, though. Also known as Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka’sbeloved mighty robot is instantly recognizable, whether in the pages of the manga where he debuted, onscreen in one of his many anime adaptations, or, in his most recent appearance, a pedestrian walk signal in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Sagami, a coastal area in southern Kanagawa, is home to a number of technology and manufacturing centers. In order to promote the district’s cutting-edge image, 10 Sagami cities have banded together under the umbrella organization Robot Town Sagami.

Atom serves as the group’s mascot, and in its promotional video, Robot Town Sagami says it’s inspired by seven of Atom’s features: his 100,000-horse power motor, satellite and camera, sense of hearing 1,000 times stronger than a normal human’s, speech capabilities, artificial intelligence, empathy, and jet engine-powered flight.

The citizens of Robot Town Sagami may not have ticked off every item on that checklist yet, but Fujisawa, one of the member cities, does now have Atom keeping pedestrians safe, as shown in this photo.

 

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Even in silhouette, you can instantly tell who it is. Atom’s stalwart “don’t walk” posture shows you can be cool even when following the rules, and his gallant “walk” stride somehow makes the simple act of crossing the street seem like the start of a jaunty adventure.

▼ All right! Let’s do this thing!

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Unfortunately, Atom doesn’t have jurisdiction over all of the city. Cool as it may look, the special signal doesn’t comply with the standards signage on public roads are held to, so the only place you’ll find this one-of-a-kind signal is inside Tsujido Kaihen Kouen Park.

Boston theatre puts on play about Astro Boy and Tezuka

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Osamu Tezuka‘s Astro Boy, in addition to being a historically important piece of entertainment, is also widely beloved around the world. And now, some sixty-plus years after its first inception as a manga, it’s been granted additional life on the stage, thanks to the efforts of playwright and director Natsu Onoda Power, and the folks at the Company One theater company.

Titled Astro Boy and the God of Comics, this production is running every Wednesday thru Sunday at the Boston Center for the Arts‘ Plaza Theatre until August 16.

From the website:

Astro Boy – a crime-fighting, sweet-faced robot – and his creator, Osamu Tezuka – the real-life Father of Manga and “Walt Disney of Japan” – explore the intersections of science, art, and family.

 

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Power, an assistant professor in theater at Georgetown University, is also the author of God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga. Those eager in learning more about her interest in Tezuka, live animation, and theater can check out this interview in the theater company’s curriculum guide for the Astro Boy play.

This production marks the New England premiere of Astro Boy and the God of Comics. For ticketing information, check out the official website.

 

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Five Hollywood movies with a taste of anime/Japanimation

 

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What do you think of when someone mentions Japan? Anime certainly may be one of the things that comes to mind with all the Japanese animations being seen around the world in recent years. In fact, those of us here in Japan are often amazed by how passionate and knowledgeable some foreign fans are about Japanese anime.

So, we guess it’s not a complete surprise if some Hollywood movies seem to have been influenced by Japanese anime. Movie creators would have watched anime too, and I think we all know to a certain extent how some anime or TV programs, especially ones that we saw as a child, can grab our imagination and never really completely go away.

Well, we happened to find a post on information-compilation site Naver Matome that listed some Hollywood blockbusters containing what seem to be subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) tributes and references to Japanese anime, which we thought would be fun to share with you. Let’s take a look below at the movies that were mentioned in the article.

 

1. Clash of the Titans 

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This visually stunning action adventure film is a remake of the 1981 classic based on the famous Greek myth of Perseus’s battle with the sea monster Kraken. In the 2010 remake directed by Louis Leterrier, the Olympian gods don’t wear traditional Greek robes but are instead clad in costumes that resemble medieval armor. Leterrier has said in an interview with the Japanese media that the armor-like costume was inspired by the anime Saint Seiya, which also borrows heavily from Greek legend and in which the characters battle with each other wearing special armor called “Cloths”. Leterrier says he is a huge of the anime which he saw in his native France and had thought the Cloths looked so cool that he wanted to pay homage to the anime in his movie. (Personally, this bit of information made me smile because it just so happens that I actually saw Saint Seiya on TV in France — although it was called by the fancier sounding French title Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque— when I home stayed in the country for about a month a long, long time ago when I was still in high school.)

 

▼Characters from Saint Seiya wearing their Cloths

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It’s hard to believe the popular anime, based on a manga of the same title, is now more than 20 years old! Back then, at least to me, the graphics seemed to be of very high quality by the standards of the time; okay, so the guys looked hot/cute/beautiful in their armor-style suits.

 

▼Zeus in his armor-like costume in Clash of the Titans — do you see a strong resemblance?

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2. The Matrix

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Many of you have probably seen this hit sci-fi movie, which caused a sensation in many parts of the world with its innovative story and stunning visual effects when it was released in 1999. It’s considered a classic cyberpunk movie, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the creators were inspired by anime of the same genre in making the film.

As those of you familiar with Japanese anime may expect, Akira and Ghost in the Shell are anime that are often cited as having influenced The Matrix.

 

▼Akira and Ghost in the Shell, both cyberpunk anime that likely had an influence on The Matrix

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The super-human powers exhibited by some of the characters in the Matrix are certainly evocative of parts of Akira, and Ghost in the Shell seems to have been even more of a strong influence, including the visual concept of a cable being connected into the neck, as well as the cinematography in some of the chase scenes. In fact, the directors of The Matrix, the Wachowski Brothers, have said that they were so impressed with Ghost in the Shell that they wanted to make a live-action movie like it and even gave a video of the anime to the creative staff when making The Matrix as an example of the kind of world they wanted to create. Oh, and speaking of Japanese influence, did you know that the falling green digital code that appears in the movie contains mirror images of Japanese katakana letters?

Well, I certainly think the Wachowski Brothers succeeded here in making a film that leaves a strong and lasting impression. The Matrix is a movie that kind of gets to you, isn’t it,when you start to wonder about whether the world you live in is … well, really real?

 

3. Avatar

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This is another mega-blockbuster many of you will have seen. Although the plot, which involves greedy business and military oppressing and attacking an indigenous tribe for materialistic gain, is not particularly original, the movie does create a whole new world visually unlike any we had seen before. And that’s definitely something Hayao Miyazaki, anime producer and cofounder of Studio Ghibli, also excels at. James Cameron, who directed Avatar, admits that he is a big fan of Miyazaki’s films.

As such, it is no wonder if there seem to be parallels between Avatar and some of Miyazaki’s works, be it the industry/technology vs. nature theme, the uniquely vibrant colors or the amazing, speed-filled flight scenes. Movie fans have also been quick to point out that the presence of a strong, attractive female lead character is another element Avatar shares with many of Miyazaki’s works, particularly bringing to mind San in Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind — both young women who battle fiercely against armies possessing sophisticated technology to protect the precious natural environment around them.

 

▼Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, both films featuring young, strong heroines fighting to save the world they live in

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There are also many visual details in Avatar that are reminiscent of images from Miyazaki’s anime, like the floating islands of rock that bear a noticeable resemblance to the floating castle Laputa in Castle in the Sky, or the supernaturally powerful tree with healing tendrils, which is a concept that also appears in Princess Mononoke. I’m sure it’s a testament to the creative genius of James Cameron and his team that they succeeded in making such a beautifully unique and thoroughly engaging movie while at the same time incorporating elements that we have seen before in some very well-known anime films.

 

4. Real Steel

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Perhaps befitting a movie set in a world where robots programmed to engage in boxing matches in place of human boxers, Real Steel is another film that contains images and references evocative of Japanese anime, which is after all, famous for its robot/mecha genre, among which some hugely popular anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion can be counted.

What could be more symbolic than the fact that the robot the main character comes into possession of is named Atom? Although the name may not necessarily ring a bell with those of you outside of Japan, Atom is actually the name by which Astro Boy , the iconic anime robot character, is known in Japan. I’m sure a lot of Japanese movie viewers smiled at that, since we all love Astro Boy here in Japan — in fact, I think most people over a certain age can sing the anime theme song completely by heart.

 

▼Astro Boy, or Atom as he is known in Japan

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Another anime that viewers of Real Steel may be reminded of is the classic Tetsujin 28-go, which was released in the United States as Gigantor. The design of some of the robots in Real Steel seem to bear a certain resemblance to those in the anime, and what’s more, the robot in Tetsujin 28-go is controlled by a young boy, which is also the case in Real Steel.

 

▼Tetsujin 28-go, the original Japanese version of Gigantor

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Of course, for those of us in Japan, it was also good fun to see some other references to Japan as well in the movie, albeit not necessarily anime-related, such as one of the robots being initially set to be controlled in Japanese, and the young boy managing to give some commands in Japanese, saying that he learned the words playing Japanese video games. Well, you have to admit it is kind of nice when your country receives a positive nod of recognition in a big Hollywood movie.

 

5. Transformers 

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I guess this sci-fi action film can be considered as receiving a kind of honorable mention here, as the movie is not exactly a work containing Japanese influences but rather based on a franchise that started as a line of transforming robot toys that was produced jointly by a Japanese and American toy company, so the series does have a good part of its origins in Japan.

 

▼Transformer toys from Takara Tomy

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Since then, it seems that the whole franchise, including the animated series, has been a combined effort between American and Japanese companies with South Korea involved as well in the animation.

 

▼One of the earlier animated versions

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Some fans also seem to think that the basic concept and some of the designs of the original Transformer toys were likely influenced by the anime series Macross.

 

▼The Macross anime series — the robotics certainly look sophisticated

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The Transformers anime was certainly a hit in Japan, but the question of whether it is technically an American or Japanese series still appears to be a subject up for debate even today. Well, either way, it’s certainly been a good source of entertainment for us, and we can’t complain about that.

 

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Five Hollywood movies with a taste of anime/Japanimation

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Street artist Invader posts plans for Astro Boy work on Instagram

Street artist Invader posts plans for Astro Boy work on Instagram

Just posted onto Instagram, French street artist Invader shows plans for a new work featuring Osamu Tezuka‘s iconic anime character Astro Boy. This is a departure from his usual tile matrix street art installations, which usually depict video game characters.

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Daughter of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s “God of Manga,” discovers his stash of hand-drawn sexy mouse artwork

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In Japan’s sizeable pantheon of beloved comic artists, Osamu Tezuka is Zeus. He’s uniformly referred to as Manga no Kami-sama, literally the “God of Manga.” Despite having passed away more than 25 years ago, Tezuka is still so famous and uniformly revered that fans will come to see exhibitions of things as mundane as a desk he worked at.

 

Osamu Tezuka: manga artist, trained medical doctor, lover of berets…and mice?

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Tezuka is survived by his daughter, Rumiko, who works as a producer involved with her father’s vast intellectual properties. Recently, Rumiko managed to open up her father’s desk, which had been locked, with the key missing, since his passing in 1989.

Inside, she found a mix of the ordinary and extraordinary. A half-eaten piece of chocolate speaks poignantly to the transient nature of life. A hand-written essay regarding Katsuhiro Otomo, who proved in 1988 that he could direct as well as he could draw with the astounding theatrical animated version of his masterpiece Akira, show a magnanimous side to the God of Manga in his willingness to acknowledge the talents of those coming up in the industry in which he had been the principal figure for most of his professional life.

 

▼ Tetsuwan Atom, retitled for international release as Astro Boy, remains Tezuka’s best-loved work.

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Of greatest interest to manga fans though, were the bags of sketches by the artist which were discovered inside his desk. The drawings, such as these of the protagonist of Tezuka’s 1970s manga series Marvelous Melmo, were later authenticated by the studio archivist.

 

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However, not all of the subject matter was as kid-friendly, as Rumiko announced on Twitter that among the artwork uncovered was a huge number of erotic sketches produced by her late father.

 

▼ We realize these things are more accepted as just another form of expressing your talents in families of great artists, but should our kids ever stumble across one of our old skin rags, we hope they handle the discovery with a little more discretion than Rumiko.

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For her part, Tezuka’s daughter seemed relatively unfazed by what she’d found, jokingly praising her father’s “self-censorship” in not publishing the artwork, and even going so far as to call the characters “cute.” And in all fairness, plenty of manga artists have produced erotic drawings, whether to pay the bills, brush up on their anatomy-drawing technique, or even just get the creative juices flowing. In one way, Tezuka’s foray into pencil and paper perviness isn’t so strange.

In another way, though, it’s a little out there, since several of the suggestive drawings were of an anthropomorphic mouse. Don’t worry, though, it’s not like all the pictures are focused on her voluminous mouse breasts.

 

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I’ve got no idea what these were going to be used for,” tweeted Rumiko, and we think we’re OK with that mystery being left unsolved.

Source: IT Media

 

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Daughter of Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s “God of Manga,” discovers his stash of hand-drawn sexy mouse artwork

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Artist Profile: Bruce Yan’s pop art makes familiar logos even better with Studio Ghibli characters and more

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Today the marketing industry is a multi-billion dollar entity that spends countless man-hours designing and maintaining relatable brand logos. That’s why the work of pop-culture artist, Bruce Yan, is so cool. He takes characters we all know and love and uses them to recreate logos we see every day, somehow managing to give rise to a brand new and yet completely familiar logo. From the Girl Scout symbol to Morton Salt, take a look at his clever redesigns after the jump!

▼ “Ghibli Scouts”
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▼ “Astro Big Boy Burgers”Bruce Yan Logo2

▼ “Regular Blue Jay”

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▼ John Deere God

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▼ Kiki and Jiji in the Hawaiian Airlines logo.Bruce Yan Logo4

▼ Charlie Brown as the BIC pen mascot.Bruce Yan Logo

▼ Ariel, Sebastian, and Flotsam and Jetsam as the Starbucks logo.Bruce Yan Logo11

▼ Bugs Bunny as the Playboy logo

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▼ Our favorite one! Morton Salt Totoro and friends.Bruce Yan Logo6

You can actually buy Bruce Yan’s artwork over at Gallery 1988, though many of his pieces are unfortunately sold out. At least we can all admire his creative works!

Source: Kotaku

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Artist Profile: Bruce Yan’s pop art makes familiar logos even better with Studio Ghibli characters and more