A number of years ago when I was regularly a guest and panel lecturer at the Glass City Con and other small anime conventions, I took pride in creating and offering unique, educational anime panels. Moreover, I made a point of never repeating myself. Each presentation was only given once. But as years have passed, I think it’s a bit of a waste not to share some of these presentations with a wider audience.
So with my very rudimentary video creation & editing skills, I turned one of my PowerPoint lectures into a self-contained YouTube video. This presentation highlights the origins of some of the homages and visual references that repeatedly come up in anime. Some of the references are easily recognizable, some not so much. But knowing what the references are, and what they’re references to, will allow viewers to better understand and appreciate the jokes and influences embedded within anime.
Iconic Anime Images that Every Viewer Should Recognize - YouTube
Earlier this month Brazilian amateur filmmaker Chris Tex released the first global teaser trailer for his live-action short film Wind Princess, evidently an abbreviated live-action remake of a portion of Hayao Miyazaki’s modern classic 1984 anime film Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind.
WIND PRINCESS - OFFICIAL TRAILER (NAUSICAÄ TRIBUTE) - YouTube
AnimeNation.com Weekly (Not really) Update May 16, 2019 - YouTube
AnimeNation’s John discusses anime topics including Non Non Biyori season 3, the new Leo Ieiri album, opinions on current shows including Kimetsu no Yaiba, Carole & Tuesday, Sarazanmai, and Gundam the Origin, and the incarnations of the rare English language Five Star Stories manga.
I know you had a column recently on Battle Angel Alita and you’re probably impressed with the reception where fans and some film critics are commenting this is the truest adaptation of a live action film based on a manga to date by the film Director Robert Rodriguez and ‘Avatar‘ creator James Cameron, even the manga creator Yukito Kishiro was impressed in your opinion what factors that the writers and producers gotten right with this adaptation compare to others in the past like say the live action Ghost In The Shell, Dragon Ball Evolution, Crying Freeman and what does that mean to ‘Development In Hell’ projects like Ninja Scroll, Akira, Bubblegum Crisis and a rumoured Hellsing live action (just speculation)
The lessons to be learned from the success of Robert Rodriguez & James Cameron’s Alita: Battle Angel movie are multiple and subtle, which is why I’m afraid that they likely won’t be learned from this film alone. Reflection upon particularly Western live-action adaptations of manga suggests that an initial concern of great importance is the adaptability of the original narrative. Manga series including Gunnm and Crying Freeman are action titles starring a singular character. While these titles exhibit some characteristics of Asian and particularly Japanese philosophy and culture, they’re not inextricably tied to Asian philosophy. Dragon Ball & Death Note, for example, are much more intrinsically steeped in Asian culture. Dragon Ball is essentially Akira Toriyama’s hybridization of the Chinese Saiyuki legend. Death Note is fundamentally grounded in the pagan concept of shinagami. On one hand Ghost in the Shell is an action title starring a singular character, but GitS is also a concentrated philosophical, meditative, and reflective drama deeply in the vein of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Interconnected with the original material itself is also the nature of the screenwriter and director chosen to handle the adaptation. Rodriguez & Cameron are an optimal choice for a number of reasons. Both men have made a career of creating crowd-pleasing action films. Moreover, their skills and experiences balance and complement each other well. Rodriguez has made a career of maximizing low budgets, of being ingenious and inventive. Cameron, on the other hand, has made a career of sparing no expense to capture complete believability. Both creators have been fans of comics & sci-fi for decades, so both were clearly committed to visualizing and adapting Yukito Kishiro’s original vision, not necessarily creating their own interpretation of Kishiro’s work. 2017 Ghost in the Shell director Rupert Sanders admirably attempted to largely stay faithful to Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 original (as the 1995 movie is far more Oshii’s “original” film than a direct adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga). But particularly screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger, who do not have much experience in the sci-fi field, implemented some small but very significant alterations that fundamentally changed the nature of the Ghost in the Shell concept. Instead of depicting Motoko Kusanagi as an experienced veteran leader, she was depicted as an inexperienced rookie, thereby robbing the film of its central source of power. In effect, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell had the visual aesthetic and some of the plot points of the 1995 original but didn’t retain the original characterizations and many of the original concepts. It’s a film without enough faith in the source material to literally adapt the source material. Rodriguez & Cameron, moreover, deserve great credit for entirely ignoring potential external criticisms over whitewashing, sexism, or diversity. James Wong’s Dragonball: Evolution adapted a Chinese legend while stunt casting a single Chinese actor in a supporting role. Moreover, Wong clearly succumbed to external and studio pressures, resulting in a heavily compromised film bearing little resemblance in character, personality, and theme, to its source material. Rupert Sanders, while directing GitS as only his second feature film, defended against claims of whitewashing yet still made the principle a narrative turning point in his film when the concept was never part of the source material. Rodriguez & Cameron simply adapted the manga literally, as they saw it, resulting in a picture (largely) unburdened by external social criticisms.
Unlike Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell, which fundamentally re-envisioned the character of Motoko Kusanagi, or James Wong’s Dragonball: Evolution and Adam Wingard’s Death Note (2017) that drastically “Americanized” their source material, the most successful Western manga adaptations, including Christophe Gans’ 1995 Crying Freeman and Robert Rodriguez’ Alita, have been especially faithful to the themes and characterizations of their sources. James Cameron’s Alita screenplay cut and pasted liberally from Kishiro’s manga and its anime adaptation, but Cameron’s original additions were very minor and were careful not to alter the spirit and tone of the source story. So a simple lesson is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If the original manga is good enough to be worth adapting, it’s likely good enough as is, without tune-ups and vast alteration by someone who is not the original creator. For example, Tatsuo Yoshida’s Mach Go Go Go has been popular since 1966. The Wachowski Brothers’ 2008 Speed Racer movie was vibrantly colorful and entertaining but was only loosely inspired by Yoshida’s original manga.
Toho has specifically requested that J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Your Name adaptation be “Westernized” rather than a literal adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s original movie. So approaching that film as a manga adaptation may be a moot point. Possible American live-action adaptations of titles including Lupin III, Cowboy Bebop, One Piece, and Mobile Suit Gundam could potentially succeed artistically and critically, if not financially, if they’re handled faithfully with care. These titles are ones that have an inherent global appeal, that aren’t necessarily grounded in Asian perspective. To be truly successful these adaptations need to be produced by creative principals who respect and appreciate the integrity of the source material, principals who actually want to adapt rather than re-write. These franchises also need sufficient budget to look fully convincing. The Alita movie was reportedly a very expensive $170 million production. And it’s been universally praised for putting its budget up on screen. By comparison, the 2017 Ghost in the Shell cost $110 million and does periodically suffer from under-production. However, I’m far more skeptical over the possible American adaptations of titles including Lionsgate’s Naruto and Warner Bros.’ Akira, Attack on Titan, and Bleach. Jubei Ninpucho ~ Ninja Scroll is a very traditionalist samurai story, albeit one with over-the-top violence and supernatural aspects. But Hollywood is capable of producing a convincing samurai film, either traditional (2003’s The Last Samurai, or fantastical: 2013’s 47 Ronin). A revisionist, cartoonish ninja movie, however, is unlike anything ever before attempted by Hollywood. Naruto obviously works well in manga and anime form. But my instinct suggests that a mainstream American movie producer will immediately presume that American moviegoers won’t suspend disbelief for a ninja who wears an orange jumpsuit. I simply have a lot of difficulty imaging an American Naruto movie that remains faithful to the spirit of Masashi Kishimoto’s manga. Likewise, Bleach is another manga grounded in the same paganistic concepts as Death Note. If Death Note needed to be heavily Americanized, I shudder to imagine how much Bleach, with its traditional Japanese hakama costumes, samurai guilds, and impractically exaggerated swords, would be altered and Americanized to conform to the assumptions of mainstream American taste. Akira isn’t necessarily an inherently Japanese story, but conceptually it’s a highly complex, moral and political thriller about human rights, discrimination, politics, and the nature of humanity. In effect, it’s thematically comparable to Ghost in the Shell. Yet I immediately envision an American adaptation concentrating on biker gangs, drug abuse, and exploitative psychic horror. Sadly, even Japan wasn’t able to craft a faithful Shingeki no Kyojin movie franchise. If Japan can’t create a faithful live-action adaptation of Attack on Titan, I must wonder how heavily the original manga may be altered for an American adaptation.
Alita: Battle Angel has proven that the secret to a successful manga adaptation is so simple that it’s easy to overlook. Select a title for adaptation that doesn’t need to be heavily altered for mainstream American consumption. Base the adaptation decision on the characteristics of the material itself, not on its transitory popularity. Then adapt the original material as faithfully as possible. One of the reasons why anime are frequently so popular is because they virtually use their original manga as storyboards. American adaptations shouldn’t seek to Americanize the source manga. If the source material needs to be “Americanized,” then it’s not ideal material for adaptation. Instead just license the title for a complete American re-interpretation, as Abrams’ upcoming Your Name theoretically will be. Dragonball: Evolution proved that an American Dragonball movie just isn’t Dragonball when Son Goku’s personality is completely different. Ghost in the Shell (2017) demonstrated that an American Ghost in the Shell isn’t as satisfying when Motoko Kusanagi’s role and personality have been completely undermined. However, Alita: Battle Angel is possibly the world’s most successful live-action manga adaptation. And it’s as literal to the original manga as practically possible.