Hollywood hasn’t had a whole lot of luck when it comes to adapting one of Japan’s premier exports, anime. Low points include Fist of the North Star, Speed Racer and Dragon Ball Evolution, giving the impression that the task is destined to fail. Adaptations often disrespect the source material and make needless changes, with many people also criticising whitewashing. Japanese studios bringing homegrown properties into live-action hasn’t been very successful either, with the best efforts still blemished by special effects inferior to what Hollywood is capable of. However, as Hollywood is getting extremely confident with adapting American comic book material, and with a couple of high profile anime adaptations coming soon, it is a good time to ask the question: what manga and anime is right for Hollywood?
Attack on Titan
Whitewashing is a big problem for anime adaptations, but Attack on Titan already features a group of predominantly Germanic characters. This was ignored by the Japanese live-action films, which feature an all Asian cast, somewhat erasing the significance of one character, Mikasa, who is the last human left with Japanese heritage. Instead of going through the controversy of changing races, as has happened with Ghost in the Shell and Dragon Ball Evolution, this is one film where Hollywood could cast an ensemble of well known Hollywood actors (while retaining Asian representation) and still be faithful to the original work.
Also, more engrossing and impressive visuals would only be a good thing, since Attack on Titan is a franchise that relies on spectacle and jaw-dropping action scenes. Attack on Titan is well known enough globally that American producers should see it as lucrative.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
The first part of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a pulpy fantasy set in 1880s England, featuring evil vampires and insane action scenes. The role of a noble English beefcake, Jonathan Joestar, has Henry Caville written all over it. The mad events of the story could be captured in a similarly ingenious and off-kilter way by Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim). Part of the charm of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is that Western culture is filtered through the eyes of Hirohiko Araki, and an adaptation would have to be careful to not dilute silly aspects, or play them up. The Anime adaption of Jojo also famously employs Roundabout by Yes as its closing theme, but getting rights to the Western music that inspired the series has been difficult for the animation studio. In a big budget movie, the villainous Dio could make a grand entrance to the thumping metal of the musician he is named after, Ronnie James Dio.
The television landscape may be a barren place once the behemoth that is Game of Thrones finally ends. Television studios will no doubt be scrambling for the next big thing, and while the next show that reaches those heights of popularity may not necessarily be fantasy, there are already shows with swords and monsters popping up in order to cash in.
Berserk is tailor made for such an adaption. It is a long running manga series set in a dark-fantasy Medieval world, following a lone mercenary named Guts. The European setting makes it perfect for adapting outside of Japan, while the cast can still be diverse, even calling for a black woman in a lead role. With loads of violence and adult themes, a live-action Berserk could render the story with more grit than the recent CGI-heavy anime adaptations, and could appeal to people who have never even heard of the manga.
Dragon Ball Z
Another Dragon Ball film needs to be made, not because it would be easy, but because more than any other Japanese property, there is a demand for it. It may seem a controversial notion, considering how the woeful Dragon Ball Evolution lacked the necessary budget or any reverence for the source material. Despite that, the Dragon Ball series is the one Japanese manga property that has the same pull around the world as US comic book blockbusters. Marvel characters including Doctor Strange and Ant Man have had their time to shine and, compared to Goku, they are obscure.
Dragon Ball Z has also already had a significant influence on Western cinema. Matrix Revolutions’ climax back in 2003 showed what a big budget Saiyan battle could look like at that time, and it wasn’t quite convincing. Today, modern Hollywood special effects and fans behind the camera could yield something really great. The film would need to respect the original text, and it would have to cast Asian actors if it wants goodwill, and have a powerhouse studio like Disney behind it.
Death Note revolves around a dramatic battle of minds between the authorities and a protagonist with dubious morals. Though they may seem totally different, with its supernatural elements, it thematically treads similar ground to the massively successful and influential Breaking Bad. A Hollywood attempt could bring depth to some controversial areas that the original didn’t delve deep into, and it could bring the sometimes-cheesy tone down a little.
While this is not the easiest Japanese work to adapt, the risk is already being made with a 2017 movie, being distributed by Netflix. This could be a missed opportunity, because a Netflix series, rather than a film, could have built suspense to a greater degree. The cast is diverse, and features the masterful casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, so there is hope. If the movie does fail, it would have squandered a perfect opportunity.