The anime/manga-invasion has been building for the last twenty years. With live-action films for Death Note, Dragonball, Speed Racer,
Transformers (not anime; Jordan Lapp has destroyed my childhood), and over forty other adaptations behind us, and at least a dozen others (U.S. and Japan based) on the way, it seems like anime and manga have a stranglehold on the film and television market. Of course, both have been hot commodities in the U.S. for several decades. There has been significant growth in the last ten to fifteen years alone with the syndication and dubbing of dozens of anime franchises, many crossed over directly from
popular manga in Japan. One might even suggest that the last ten years have been the Japanese equivalent of a film renaissance.
|One of the best adaptations, despite the silly special effects.|
The best thing about the invasion is that it’s just getting started. The next two years are looking to be some of the biggest for anime/manga live-action adaptations. What’s coming? How about half of the top ten most influential and/or popular anime productions ever made (for U.S. audiences, at least): Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Akira. Plus, you can’t forget the recent release in Japan of the live-action adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato (known as Star Blazers to U.S. viewers), which–we can only hope–will get a decent release in the U.S. so we don’t have to wait for bootlegs to hit the torrent sites or $30 DVD sets with poor subtitle production to hit shelves. Yamato looks like the kind of film you need to see on a massive screen with decent theater audio–one might say that it has “epic” written all over it.
|The best live action adaptation ever? Let’s hope!|
But what it is about anime–specifically, live-action adaptations–that has America in a furor for more properties to push out into the market (I won’t speak for Japan, since I have very little personal connection with Japanese culture)? Even if most of us have never intentionally watched an anime program, or have never become interested enough in anime to step beyond the traditional fair that appears on cable and regular network television, we still support anime programs and anime productions.
The two Transformers movies, regardless of their critical reception, were massively successful in the U.S. (again, not anime…)…Original anime productions–most of them by Hayao Miyazaki–have and will continue to capture audiences for years to come. While it’s true that other franchises, such as Speed Racer, have not faired well among U.S. viewers, many of those franchises didn’t have much of a shot in the first place. Speed Racer, while based on a classic, suffered from a number of problems, the most important being that its target demographic (young people) simply didn’t match up to who the show originally appealed to (folks who used to be young in the 60s)–not to mention that the original television show hasn’t been updated since it originally aired, unlike other franchises that have received movie adaptations. You can’t expect to connect with the largest demographic with a program that young folks largely identify as “that old crap my parents used to watch.”
|Oh silly people and their cars…|
Speed Racer, however, is likely a fluke, since most of the upcoming adaptations are of franchises that will translate well to live-action even if the source material has never been viewed by the target audience. Ghost in the Shell will be, we can hope, a deeply psychological look into identity in a drastically posthuman world; Akira will have a similar psychological framework, but focused on the conflicts of power and the people who want to control it. And there are others: Cowboy Bebop, Voltron, Full Metal Panic, Bubblegum Crisis, Gatchaman, Battle Angel, Gantz, and so on. What most of these share–and what makes anime a great medium to adapt into live action feature films–are a collection of counter-inhibitions–features that make anime a love it or hate it medium in its pure form, but also seem to make live-action anime adaptations work well for U.S. audiences.
- An Unrelenting Orientation Towards Action.
Anime and manga often don’t pull punches on the action, letting high-powered weaponry or magic control the scene. This is in stark contrast to U.S. films, which, while over-the-top at times, are often focused on the effects of combat, rather than the combat itself (i.e. explosions). In anime, however, power is visible. Dragonball Z often went a little overboard with its action, dragging out battles for five or six episodes, but it also showed us action at its most flamboyant.
- Uninhibited Ideas
American audiences might be surprised to know that a lot of the anime that makes it to our TV screens has actually been watered down for our audiences. That might not be so true for the stuff that shows up on late night cable, but the popular shows on Saturday morning or in the afternoon have often had their questionable content removed. Anime, thus, tends to go places where traditional western television is unwilling (except in indie stuff and late night British TV). Sociology would suggest that this has to do with the absence of western-style theology in the Japanese sphere, since a great deal of Japanese people are not “religious” in a traditional sense. In any case, so many great anime are not afraid to go into the darkest, dirtiest, and awful places of human potential. But they also dig deep into the human mind, sometimes in the most beautiful ways (like in Gasaraki, which is both dark and beautiful at the same time).
- Romantic Tension and Emotional Hypersensitity
This may be a strictly Japanese thing, but one of the aspects I most appreciate about anime is how they often create an extraordinary amount of romantic tension that, often times, doesn’t get fully resolved, or, if it does, it’s expected, but still an enormous relief (like in Saikano). Great anime, however, do this by presenting enormously complex and flawed characters torn by conflicting emotions. Romances in science fiction anime are particularly powerful, because they place the selfless in opposition to the selfish. One’s desire to save everyone fights against the suppressed desire to fulfill one’s selfish desires (love, etc.).