Lost in Adaptation

Please stop whining already
by Bolt Vanderhuge

Hollywood adaptations of anime and manga seem to have set off something of a shitstorm lately. Seeing all the complaints on how the latest Hollywood blockbuster totally isn’t like your favorite anime, I can’t help but wonder if people have lost sight of what exactly adaptations are. The fact is, there are going to have to be changes in order to adapt a work.

That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate criticisms, like say forgetting what the source material was actually trying to say, but when it comes to movie adaptations, first and foremost there will be cuts for time. There are also things like changes in setting, culture, and language which by definition, is going to be different from the original. Good Hollywood adaptations usually take an existing Japanese film, like The Grudge and The Ring, and Americanize them just enough to work with our film audiences. These two seemed to do rather well at the box office, so I don’t see why more recent examples made from anime should be any different.

There’s this trend where some folks whine about really superficial details about casting, which showed a lot of ignorance when the American Death Note was accused of “whitewashing” because the main character was played by a white actor. The new film was set in the US, so it shouldn’t have mattered. Plus the fact that L, the palest of all the characters in the anime, was played by a black actor! Why didn’t they cast Japanese actors? Because they already made that movie, years ago – with a Full Asian cast and set in Japan, when they made the original live-action film in Glorious Nippon. Cut the crap already.

Am I saying that Hollywood adaptations are without fault? Not at all! The recent Ghost in the Shell is a great example of how to do an adaptation poorly. It was obvious that while the people who made it took a great effort to copy scenes from the 1995 anime movie and its 2004 sequel, they didn’t seem to understand what those movies, or the manga they were based on. Actually it’s kind of funny in a way, because there were references to every adaptation of the original manga by Masamune Shirow, yet nothing of the manga itself. The result was a mediocre movie that really didn’t make any sense.

Another great example almost everyone loves to kick around is Dragonball Evolution. It is a great example of adaptation fail, but I feel this is mostly for the same reason as all the various anime compilation movies out there – they tried to cram too much into a ninety minute movie. Hell, Akira suffers from this, even with its longer run time, simply because there’s so much in the source material, and the filmmakers apparently couldn’t decide where to trim the fat.

My whole point is that a good adaptation can be set in the US, have American characters played by actors of any race or sex, as long as it stays true to what its source material was trying to get across.

PS – I’d like to give a shout-out to The Dom, whose show I totally ripped off the title of for this article. You should totally go watch him on YouTube.

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