Author: Gabriel Persechino-Forest Published: May 23rd, 2019
In recent years, anime has skyrocketed in popularity and become a global phenomenon with even streaming giants entering the market and super-corporations buying out distribution companies. At some point, we can’t help but ask if this will carry over to the larger entertainment industry and with Hollywood having already attempted on multiple occasions to cash in on anime on the big screen and the mainstream media constantly talking about when anime will “Make it” in Hollywood, it does lead one to wonder if the right anime movie will come out and start the next big movie trend in Hollywood in the same way Marvel started the superhero era of movies.
Image Source: Forbes
First off, lets establish that there doesn’t have to be an “Anime Phase” in Hollywood. Some media outlets act like it is inevitable but the truth is, for all the successful novel and comic book adaptations Hollywood makes, there still hasn’t been a video game adaptation boom and that’s in the home market (Western); so not everything actually goes Hollywood at some point or another. Also, the majority of anime live action adaptations have been really bad up to this point. From whitewashing, to cramming a 500 chapter plot into 2 hours, to licensing an original property but falling back on Hollywood clichés, to giving the middle finger to the fanbase they were hoping to attract, to completely altering the setting and plot… Hollywood has a seriously troubled record, to say the least, with anime live action adaptations. Add to this that every property must be licensed from overseas companies and run by them first and successfully launching an anime phenomenon in Hollywood is an uphill battle for sure.
Image Source: Alita: Battle Angel Movie (20th Century Fox)
With that said, for all the Dragon Ball Evolution and Netflix Death Note out there, there’s also been Edge of Tomorrow and Alita: Battle Angel, so it’s not like Hollywood is incapable of getting it right and therefore it is not at all outside the realm of possibility that the right adaptation could start the right trend and voila! Still, the current approach is completely wrong: To make anime successful, they must cast properly, not try to Americanize it with either whitewashing or politically correct casting but with a casting that actually stays true to the characters’ ethnicities. They should also keep the setting and plot intact. The plot is actually the big one, for so long as they try to cram an entire manga/anime story into 2 hours, they will fail. Either adapt shorter stories or make multiple movies. Of course, the real money in starting another “Marvel” is in shonen. But to get that money will require the commitment to stay true to the source material and to adapt the story slowly, an arc per movie no more. This could lead to enduring movie franchises that could turn into real cash cows.
Image Source: Death Note (Netflix)
With that said, with Hollywood in its “Politically Correct” phase and the way in which anime will need to be changed to conform to increasingly difficult new movie norms in the Western market, I don’t expect Hollywood to successfully start an anime boom of live action adaptations; maybe the odd success story here and there but that’s it. Of course, it’s not like there isn’t opportunity; Marvel, for all it’s glory, is about to start Phase Woke for its movies and it’s anyone’s guess if they will keep on producing quality content and stay on top of the market under those conditions. With Star Wars having been taken down a peg and more and more movies suffering the same fate as the Ghostbuster reboot, there is certainly a vacancy opening in the market. Of course, D.C. appears more than happy to step in and have actually managed to win hearts with Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam! and I expect that others (Like Paramount Pictures with it’s G.I. Joe franchise for example) will also step forward but in the end, there will be more than enough place for anime to rise in the movie industry, if only it can find its footing.
Image Source: Rurouni Kenshin Film Poster (Warner Bros.)
To achieve this, I believe it is not to Hollywood, but to Japan we must look. Anime and manga are a product of Japan after all so why couldn’t it be the Japanese that carry the adaptations onto the international stage? Sure, Japanese live action adaptations have been largely relegated to the home market until now and those few who made it out were not much to look at, with only the occasional cult hit that only anime fans would really notice (Like the Death Note and Black Butler movies), but there have been recent moderate success that seem to indicate Japan’s potential. For one, the Attack on Titan movies did achieve a measure of success and then of course there was the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, which garnered praise, significant success in the home market and moderate success overseas. Of course even Kenshin was still largely relegated to the fandom in its audience reach but I don’t think of the Kenshin trilogy as a game changer but a seed, where the Japanese movie market noticed there was a real audience for their content and started taking otaku entertainment seriously. No, the real game changer could very well be Bleach.
Image Source: Bleach Film (Warner Bros.)
The Bleach movie wasn’t as popular as people anticipated that’s true, but it also only adapted the Substitute Soul Reaper Arc so that might be part of the reason why. Fact is, it did reach a more mainstream audience and is based on a truly mainstream-friendly series that has already played on Western TVs for years and is already a hit in Japan. I believe that when Bleach adapts its Soul Society Arc (Hopefully in a 2-part movie), which is where the series peaked in popularity and was really noticed in the West, that is when the Bleach movie franchise will really take off. If it does achieve international success, you can probably expect Japan to start thinking about franchises like Naruto, Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, My Hero Academia… and then we’ll have a real anime movie phenomenon on our hands. Shonen series, with their themes and style, can truly rival the superhero genre, in fact, they are perfectly suited for that. And their stories are long enough that they can certainly build multiple movie franchises when put together. Add to this the potential for increased manga and merchandising sales plus more views for the anime series due to the increased popularity live action movie hits generate, and it is a very enticing proposition for the Japanese companies that could be involved. Of course, it would require real commitment to be successful. Not just a decent budget, but the guts to truly spend on overseas advertising and investing the cash necessary to give those movies a real theatrical run. And also, pay for a dub in multiple languages upon release; a dub will be a must for a mainstream audience and it needs to be quality work to keep the average Joe and fans alike interested. It is anyone’s guess if the Japanese are willing to spend that much cash, to invest so much for an uncertain venture. But if they do, then I truly believe they can make this work better than Hollywood ever can.
Image Source: Naruto Stage Play / Live Spectacle Naruto (Shonen Jump)
So yes, it is possible for Hollywood to make anime into a real movie phenomenon but I do not believe it will happen. If there is an anime movie boom, I believe it is with Japan that it will materialize. That the ones who made the manga and anime of those franchises become an international success are also the ones who have what it takes to make the movies an equally impressive success. But in order for that to happen, Japan will have to truly put itself out there and take the necessary risks and it is really uncertain as to whether or not they are willing to do so. The next decade of movies should be very interesting as Hollywood embraces political correctness and audiences’ tastes change, as new companies try to break in and new genres are tested, as anime progresses and we see how far it can really go… It will be an interesting and experimental time for the movie industry internationally and I look forward to it.