American film studios have a less than stellar track record in terms of adapting anime and manga. Not only are the released adaptations almost universally disappointing (Dragonball: Evolution, Speed Racer, and even a straight-to-video Fist of the North Star movie have, probably for the best, mostly faded from public memory) even more have been in development for years, such as Akira, Death Note, Gunm, and Cowboy Bebop.
In the past decade, studios have seen the lucrative and creative potential of comic book adaptations. To branch out more seriously into anime properties could be fruitful in many ways. That’s not to say I have no appreciation for Japanese adaptations of anime (which are far more numerous) or that I have no excitement for the American adaptations of anime that are currently in the works. I simply believe that, as one of the largest film industries, America is in a unique position to earnestly attempt this development. Anime is a diverse medium with fantastic stories, worlds, and characters from which to take inspiration, and are pieces of work that deserve the budget to be written, directed, and promoted properly.
The works I’ve chosen not only stand on their own as examples of fantastic stories or characters, but could also be effectively re-told or even improved upon in a live-action adaptation. With the right direction, writing, and casting, each story could come to life in a new way.
Vampire Hunter D
Taking place in the year 12,090 AD, Vampire Hunter D mixes elements of western, science fiction, and gothic fantasy. Vampire Hunter D chronicles the life of D, vampire hunter who is half-vampire himself. D hunts Nobles, demons, and all manner of supernatural creatures that plague earth after a nuclear war. A huge amount of source material could be used as inspiration for a film; twenty-six novels, manga, a video game and two animated films. With the strong visual eye of a director like Guillermo del Toro, who has an affinity for dark fantasy, creature design, and folklore, as well as the right casting for D, the dark and unique atmosphere of Vampire Hunter D’s world could be brought to life.
In a similar tonal vein is Berserk, a more aesthetically familiar mix of European-inspired medieval dark fantasy. Despite a disappointing animated adaptation that aired in 2016, the original 1997 animated series was not only well-received in its time but has aged fantastically and remains terrifying. Berserk follows Guts, a mercenary, who joins a band of knights serving under the enigmatic Griffith. Their journey becomes darker and more otherworldly as it goes on. While some violence and sexual content would likely have to be toned down, the story could (and should) maintain the brutality and horror of the original series. A Berserk adaptation could balance psychological themes and dark imagery with a haunting but often beautiful story.
A change of pace in terms of tone, Hyouka is a comedy-drama that focuses on an antisocial, low energy high-school student named Oreki who joins his school’s Classical Literature club to save it from being disbanded. The four students of the club solve small mysteries together, and eventually grows closer as they face the struggles of early-adulthood together. Oreki is pushed to open up among this new eclectic group of students. Hyouka that isn’t afraid to show the melancholy nature of growing older, is remarkably sensitive and often quietly heartbreaking. The problems of the main characters, no matter how small, feel as emotionally intense for the viewer as they do to the characters. Stylized, dream-like sequences pepper the mysteries and allow for both humor and varied visuals, and could be creatively executed. A charming visual style, a screenplay that could properly adapt very episodic source material, as well as a talented cast of unknown young leads, could make an adaptation of Hyouka a charming comedy-drama.
Worick and Nicholas are mercenaries in the fictional city of Ergastalum, where mercenaries, the mob, the police, and super-human beings called “Twilights” all exist in opposition and tension with one another. It’s a gang story with a supernatural twist that remains rooted in a contemporary setting. A highlight is the unique main cast (the main trio is composed of a singer and former prostitute, a blind “Twilight” swordsman, and a charming gangster/part-time gigolo with a photographic memory). While the show combined great characterization, dark humor and over-the-top action sequences in its early episodes, in the end the storytelling somewhat fell apart, and could be improved with a re-write and condensed story. Its gritty setting and the rockstar attitude of some of the main characters could be suited to a director like Guy Ritchie. Coincidentally, or possibly in homage, the period included in the stylized title of the series “GANGSTA.” bears a similarity to the stylized title of Ritchie’s 2000 film “snatch.”
In terms of the mecha genre, anime offers more than enough options to choose from. Macross and Gundam both have dozens of series each to choose from, which vary in quality. I’ve chosen Macross Plus not only because of its moving story and gorgeous aesthetic, but because it was originally aired in a manageable four-episode OVA that was also adapted as an animated film. Macross Plus is a story of war, rivalry, and love, and the complex relationship between two rival pilots and their childhood friend with whom they reconnect in adulthood. Their story takes place against a futuristic backdrop complete with an intergalactic war, aliens, and an obligatory malfunctioning AI. Despite the futuristic setting, the military aspects of the series are largely rooted in contemporary military imagery and accessible motifs. Macross Plus is a succinct story within a huge franchise, with a heartbreaking ending. While the characters could be fleshed out, the overall imagery and visual character is stunning, and the already impressive dogfighting sequences that take place between the pilots would be amazing if correctly executed. The 1984 anime film Macross: Do You Remember Love, would also make a beautiful, but more ambitious adaptation. A delightful detail: the setting is the once-faraway year of 2009.
According to Psycho-Pass’ director Naoyoshi Shiotani, the series is inspired by films such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Gattaca, and L.A. Confidential. Psycho-Pass takes place in a futuristic Japan where a computerized system can calculate, among other characteristics such as intellectual capacity and personality, the likelihood that a person will commit a crime. If a person’s likelihood to commit a crime (their “crime coefficient”) rises above a certain level, the Public Safety Bureau must take action. The series follows rookie Inspector Akane, a naive but hardworking young woman searching for purpose as she begins work for the Public Safety Bureau. As Akane and her team confront a criminal mastermind that can manipulate his crime coefficient, Akane uncovers the truth about the system that judges her society, and begins to question her ideas about justice and her role in the actions of the Sibyl System. The story addresses, through enthralling futuristic stories, themes of public safety and police action, as well as larger issues of human psychology, free will and morality. With well-executed effects and the correct sets and atmosphere and handling of its complex themes, Psycho-Pass could make for a poignant sci-fi film.
Unrelated to the 2007 racing film of the same name, Redline is also the name of a 2009 anime film about a dangerous interplanetary car race and that becomes even more treacherous as it is caught in the crossfire of an interplanetary war. This is a movie that rests almost entirely on its high-energy, unique aesthetic and a creative, innovate character design. Its main character, JP, for example, has a pompadour and drives a “TransAM20000.” Every aspect of the setting is with careful attention, and every lively scene is populated with futuristic greasers, varied races of aliens, and beautifully designed machinery. If Mad Max: Fury Road can excel mostly on the strength of its characters and sublime visual direction, I have no doubt Redline could attempt the same. If a director could commit to a similar level of energy and cohesive, adventurous visual character and avoid getting bogged down with too much sci-fi exposition, Redline could be an ambitious film and visual spectacle.
Kids on the Slope
My last choice is one of my favorite anime of all time and likely the most easily adaptable of the bunch. Kids on the Slope is a series about a group of high-schoolers in 1960s Japan who play jazz. Kaoru is a quiet, withdrawn student, new in town and initially withdrawn and out of place. He is content to play classical piano until introduced to jazz by delinquent student Sentarou, the son of an American World War II soldier and a Japanese mother. Kids on the Slope has a gorgeous soundtrack comprised of covers of jazz staples and a fascinating setting. In the background of a touching coming-of-age story are the complex influences of the Western world on Japan as a result of World War II that feel deeply personal. With brilliantly written leads and incorporation of the jazz soundtrack that gives the original series its heart, Kids on the Slope could be beautifully adapted. The right director could give both the setting and nuanced themes the respect they deserve.
These are just a few of the anime I think are often overlooked when considering the possibilities of Western anime adaptations. I feel they have the visual character as well as narrative strength to not only be effectively adapted, but to appeal widely to Western audiences. Ghost in the Shell, problematic casting practices notwithstanding, has the ability to be at least an aesthetically interesting film, and in the best case scenario, could further expose an American audience to the remarkable storytelling capabilities of anime. Ideally, successful anime adaptations will lead to a wider acceptance of anime as a diverse and fascinating medium in its own right.
Featured Image: Triangle Staff