With anticipation for Detective Pikachu high after 2 great trailers, is it possible this long-awaited Pokémon movie can break both the video game movie and anime movie curse? For any '90s kid, Pokémon was a pop culture staple. Whether it was the anime and its many movies, the trading cards, or the various video games that were playground favorites for many years, the media empire made dedicated fans of millions of people around the world. First released in 1996 in Japan for the Game Boy, the games sparked an international phenomenon that encompassed over 300 million games sold, making it the second highest selling video game franchise of all time, right behind Super Mario. In recent years, Pokémon Go saw over 1 billion mobile game downloads worldwide, and the 2016 adventure game Detective Pikachu brought new life to one of the franchise's most beloved characters with a fresh spin on the formula.
Given its vast popularity and sheer cultural omnipresence, it was inevitable that Hollywood would eventually make a Pokémon movie. The biggest problem surrounded the adaptation process itself. American studios aren't all that great at making movies from video games, no matter how often they try to crack the code, and they're even worse when it comes to translating anime into a default American story. How do you combine the two and how do you make a live-action movie where the lead character is a small yellow and black electrical creature?
The Video Game Movie Curse is a much-discussed part of cinema. No matter how hard they try or how many incredibly talented people they get on board such projects, the response rarely exceeds “it’s fine.” From Super Mario Bros. (a film so hated that it put Nintendo off making films of their games for over two decades) to Doom to Assassins Creed, Hollywood keeps putting money into these ventures and audiences don’t seem to want what they’re selling. The same goes for anime adaptations. Hollywood hasn’t been able to treat anime projects with the care and respect they deserve, resulting in subpar outings like Dragonball, Ghost in the Shell, and Death Note, all of which also drew controversy for whitewashing characters. A quick look at the last decade or so of big-budget flops would give any potential producer enough indication to decide that maybe a Detective Pikachu movie isn’t a wise investment.
- This Page: What Anime & Video Game Movies Have Done Wrong Before
- Page 2: Can Detective Pikachu Break The Curses?
Enthusiasm About Detective Pikachu Is Already High
Somehow, it seems like Warner Bros. may have finally cracked the code. The upcoming adaptation of Detective Pikachu may have been announced amid much skepticism but the trailers elicited largely positive responses. Somehow, the marketing for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, directed by Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) and starring Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, have managed to dismiss most of the cynicism surrounding the project.
Indeed, people are genuinely hyped for this film, and it’s not just nostalgia based (see the almost opposite responses the images of the new Sonic the Hedgehog received for proof of that). It’s still a bit too early to start declaring Pokemon: Detective Pikachu an unquestioned victory, but the fact that people are by and large unironically hyped means the film and WB have won half the battle already.
What Anime & Video Game Movies Have Done Wrong Before
Video games are one of our newer artistic mediums but they remain one of the most staggeringly advanced and influential, especially given how young they are compared to, for example, film or literature. We seem to have finally moved past all the arguments about whether video games are art and have settled on understanding them as a creatively rich medium that has benefits of both critical and commercial value. So it’s no wonder that major film studios keep trying to make movies from them: They love nothing more than a recognizable intellectual brand that comes with a built-in fanbase and video games today already borrow heavily from cinematic storytelling techniques so why not cut out the middleman?
However, it seems that filmmakers have struggled to turn the inherently participatory nature of video games into one of spectatorship as is required from cinema. How do you turn a player into a viewer, and how do you recalibrate said narratives to fit that? Said adaptations typically struggle with the pacing of a video game’s story and taking those richly developed worlds and translating them into a setting for a cohesive cinematic setting. Condensing 60+ hours of gameplay seems to have more challenges than cutting down a 400+ book, which at least has more in common structurally with a typical screenplay. Sometimes, filmmakers get too wrapped up in the game details and forget they’re making a movie. Warcraft, for example, is generally well-regarded among Blizzard fans but its intricate mapping of the world doesn’t necessarily make for a good cinematic experience, especially if you’re a casual viewer who hasn’t played the games before.
Anime movies, by comparison, are more troubled by issues of cultural clashes than technical or structural quandaries. While executives and directors continue to make excuses as to the supposed necessity of whitewashing, said stories almost always end up missing the point of what made the source material so exciting and special in the first place. The Death Note movie, for example, stripped its story of everything Japanese but did nothing to make itself especially interesting or necessary as an American story. The Ghost in the Shell film became an industry-wide cautionary tale when it tried to avoid whitewashing accusations by adding a subplot that only drew attention to how horribly misguided the translation to the big screen was. It seems like a wasted opportunity to take so many of these stories that are rich in Japanese culture and seep them of that in favor of the same kinds of stories that we see in Hollywood every day. Even more successful attempts, such as the recent Alita: Battle Angel, cannot help but rely on Americanized aesthetics and story structures to get the job done.
- Detective Pikachu (2019) release date: May 10, 2019