Why Hollywood Adaptations of Animated Movies Are So Bad
- Anime is a style of Japanese film and television animation with a worldwide fan base of millions.
- Hollywood studios have largely failed to adapt anime for Western audiences.
- The $100 million Hollywood remake of “Ghost in the Shell” completely bombed at the box office and lost at least $60 million.
- Watch the video above to learn why anime adaptations are terrible and what studios can do to improve them.
Narrator: During the original animated film, “Ghost in the Shell”, director Mamoru Oshii poses an ambitious question. In a world where humans can merge with machines, he asks the viewer “What” “makes us fundamentally human?” It’s a beautiful film with a sprawling world that, as cliché as it sounds, is really thought-provoking.
Hollywood’s $100 million remake is a far cry from the original concept. It also completely bombed at the box office, dropping at least $60 million. The “Ghost in the Shell” remake isn’t the only one. Virtually every Hollywood anime adaptation gets panned and earns nothing. Why?
Justin Sevakis: Well, for the most part, they’re just not good.
Narrator: Justin Sevakis is a writer for Anime News Network. He believes it’s the practical differences between film and anime that lend a hand to Hollywood flops.
Sevaki: When you see an animated character, you never think of the actor, you never think of the day on set. We get lost a lot in this fantasy world. So a lot of really fancy and interesting things in animation just don’t work in live action. They just look a little stupid.
Narrator: The “Dragon Ball” franchise is a prime example. It first aired in 1986 and follows the adventures of a human-looking alien child, who protects Earth by battling enemies from another world. As the series continues, the battle scenes become epic as the characters fire energy beams at each other. As you can imagine, it’s absolutely commendable in the 2009 Hollywood adaptation.
So why are comic book movies so successful, given that they also feature characters with superpowers and ambitious fight scenes? It has to do with the source material.
Sevaki: Adaptations of existing comics are very free. They don’t have to change location because it’s already in a western country with tropes already familiar to the filmmakers. There’s a lot of shared visual language between American comics and movies, as they’ve influenced each other so much over the decades.
Narrator: Our favorite superheroes exist in the cities where we live. When an evil force threatens New York, for example, it means something to the American public. In that sense, comic book adaptations are already a step ahead of anime adaptations.
Sevaki: I think a lot of times filmmakers go into an anime adaptation without really understanding what made the anime or its original manga compelling in the first place.
The adaptation of “Death Note” is an example. In the original animated series, the main character, Light, comes across a supernatural notebook. If you write someone’s name in this book, then that person dies. Light feels like a judge and continues to kill hundreds, taking an alias, “Kira”, so no one knows who he is or how he kills.
There are a plethora of rules, however. For example, you must write how the person dies within 40 seconds. Otherwise, they will die of a heart attack. The many rules in the book and the way they complicate things are part of why people loved the show. But the Netflix adaptation forgoes all of that.
The adaptation also doesn’t understand why viewers of the original series loved the characters, specifically. In the anime, Light is a smart kid from a nice and supportive family. That’s what makes his choice to become a death row inmate so interesting. In the adaptation, however, Light’s mother is killed by people who get away with it, which makes her motive for killing people much more obvious and straightforward.
It’s indicative of how complex ideas are lost in translation when adapted.
Sevaki: Obviously a lot is going to be lost because what the original filmmaker meant, say, Mamoru Oshii from ‘Ghost in the Shell’, wasn’t going to be replicated by a director, making a ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie. which was not the same movie.
Narrator: Let’s look at a specific scene from the anime. The police are chasing a man who steals and destroys people’s memories. At the end of the conflict, they realize that the man is partly a machine and that he has been programmed to commit these crimes.
Sevaki: So there was this big emotional moment at the end of this fight scene where you’re like, “Oh, there was nothing behind that.” He’s just some kind of poor lost soul who’s been programmed to be this, you know, foot soldier. And now he’s just kind of an empty shell, lost and aimless. And it was really haunting.
Narrator: This scene is recreated in the 2017 remake. And while it succeeds in its visual cues to the original, it doesn’t further serve the story. It’s just a fight scene. In general, the remake is simplified into a simple story about the protagonist’s quest for her memories, losing the deeper meaning of the original story.
For better anime adaptations, Hollywood needs to do two things. First of all, they need to do a much better job of figuring out exactly which anime is going to translate well to live action. Once they’ve done that, they must be sure why fans love the anime in the first place.
For an animation genre full of incredible stories and beautifully intricate ideas, it really shouldn’t be that hard for Hollywood studios to figure out.