Before the Hughes Brothers came (and left) as directors on Warner Bros.’ currently-stalled Akira adaptation – which Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) remains attached to helm – the project was slated to be overseen by Oscar-nominated Irish animation/sci-fi short filmmaker Ruairi Robinson.
A handful of abandoned storyboards for Robinson’s take on the Americanized Akira have popped up online, offering a peek at the original planned visual design of the film – based on conceptual panels illustrated by Sylvain Despretz (Black Hawk Down, The Fountain, TRON: Legacy).
Despretz’ take on such iconic Akira visuals as the destruction of Tokyo (changed to Manhattan for the American remake) and Kaneda climbing aboard his motorcycle aren’t too far off from the imagery in either Katsuhiro Otomo’s original manga series or its feature-length 1988 animated adaptation. The most observable difference here is that Kaneda is no longer a disenfranchised Japanese youth – rather, he’s now a blonde-haired caucasian American youth.
Following Robinson’s departure from the project (at least, according to IMDb), such storyboard artists as Chris Weston (The Book of Eli), Jeff Erico (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Jim Magdaleno (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) have all been recruited to help shape the look of the live-action Akira. Based on their collective resume, you can get a feel for the sort of stylized and gritty “Americanized” cyberpunk flick this project is now meant to be.
In a nutshell, the primary source of controversy which has hounded the live-action Akira project since its inception is the decision to shift the story’s setting over to the United States (specifically, New York). Most people see the central motivation behind that change being that it justifies the ethically-questionable casting of more bankable Hollywood stars (such as Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart) rather than lesser-known Asian thespians in central roles.
However, we’ve also previously pointed out that the plot of Akira does touch on such timely themes and ideas (ex. civilian uprisings, an increasingly militaristic government) that would not only be applicable to the current situation in the U.S., but also resonate with moviegoers unfamiliar with the source material. So, in that sense, there is a sliver of hope that this project could turn out okay… assuming it eventually gets made, that is.
We will continue to keep you posted on the status of Akira as the story develops.