Making a critically and commercially successful live-action anime adaptation seems to be harder than convincing Master Roshi to adopt a life of monkhood. As with big screen video game translations, it feels as if whatever source material movie producers choose to adapt, the end result is a disappointing and often directionless effort that fails to either please existing fans of the franchise or draw in a new, more mainstream audience.
Dragonball Evolution was an unmitigated disaster, Ghost In The Shell slumped at the box office after some promising initial buzz, and although there is some debate as to whether it should be considered an anime or a cartoon, The Last Airbender is often counted among the worst movies ever made. Reviews for the most recent live-action anime adaptation attempt, Death Note, came to the consensus that even Netflix and talented director Adam Wingard couldn’t crack the code. The situation isn’t much better over in Japan either, with the 2015 Attack on Titan movie being roundly panned by fans and critics. There are a few further productions lined up: Masashi Kishimoto’s hugely-popular Naruto is getting the live-action Hollywood treatment and trailers for Fullmetal Alchemist are already online. But the movie that has the best chance of breaking the cycle of live-action awfulness is Akira.
Originally a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo before being turned into a hugely popular anime movie in 1988, a Hollywood live-action version of Akira has been long-mooted, weaving in and out of Warner Bros. development hell for years but nevertheless attracting interest from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan. At the time of writing, a live action Akira still looks like an active project and there are a number of reasons to suggest that, if executed correctly, Akira could be the anime adaptation that finally gets everything right.
An Iconic Style
It speaks volumes about the franchise’s lasting popularity that many people who haven’t seen Akira are nonetheless familiar with the image of Kaneda and his futuristic red motorcycle, and this provides a solid initial foundation for success. Perhaps more importantly however, the dystopian, Blade-Runner–esque Neo-Tokyo is simply begging to be given a live-action makeover.
Although Dragon Ball may trump Akira in popularity, putting its wildly fantastic world of ki blasts and flying aliens into a live-action setting convincingly was always going to be an almost impossible task, and the same could be said for the forthcoming Naruto movie. With Akira, however, the grittier and more realistic style is cinema-ready and has arguably been such an influence on directors already over the past 30-odd years that bringing the world of Neo-Tokyo to life is not only totally achievable but, with the right director, should yield spectacular results.
As fans will know however, Akira does have some more out-there moments which could struggle in the adaptation process. The trippy hospital segment and Tetsuo’s monstrous final transformation could both easily become a mess of meaningless CGI but if these troublesome scenes could be successfully navigated, Akira should, at the very least, be a visual feast for the senses.
Of course, plenty of movies have had great visuals, only to ultimately fail thanks to a lackluster story or flat characters but this is another area where Akira should have no problems…
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