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Manga Live! Part Three- Manga Goes West

Comic Book adaptations have been a dominant force in Hollywood movies for years now. The problem is, with Marvel and DC now big players in the industry in their own right, the big names are already gone. It's hardly surprising then that some enterprising producers have realised that there's a whole sizeable untapped resource in the form of manga. Japan's massive comic industry could potentially bring us a whole new world of movies, bringing with them brand-recognition, particularity in the lucrative international market and the key youth demographic. What's more plenty of them have already proven to be suitable for the screen as they've already had an anime or Japanese live-action adaptation.

The highest profile anime adaptation currently in the works is Ghost In The Shell. Masamune Shirow's seminal cyberpunk saga has been mooted for a Hollywood adap for some time, but this time it has a director- Snow White and The Huntsman's Rupert Sanders- and a 2017 release date attached. It's also got Scarlett Johansson signed on as the lead. Despite having proven her credentials at ass-kickery, the casting has already attracted some controversy over the “white-washing” of The Major. If Sanders seems an odd choice for the production too it's worth noting that the impressive visuals of Snow White were reportedly inspired by Princess Mononoke. If Sander's d├ębut had issues it wasn't the visuals, so if he gets a half decent script it stands a chance of turning out well.

Ghost In The Shell is one of the best-known names in manga and anime in the West, so it's a sensible choice to get the Hollywood treatment. The best known of all though has to be Akira, so that too has been the subject of many attempts to bring it to live-action. So far, every attempt has failed long before cameras could roll. Despite fans wishes though, it seems to be a project that just won't die and somebody seems to take another crack at it every few years. One of these days our luck might run out, and somebody might actually make the damn thing.

Ghost In the Shell and Akira are just two of the manga that are currently being eyed to adapt for live-action. In the wake of the huge success of Transformers, movie versions of Voltron and Robotech have been mooted. Most of the major megahits or recent years such as Bleach and Death Note have come pretty close to their own Hollywood adaptations. Death Note even had Iron Man Three director Shane Black attached at one point.

A lot of big names have been attached to manga and anime-related projects over the years. For many years Keanu Reeves was attached to play Spike Spiegel in a live-action Cowboy Bebop, despite being about 25 years too old for the part. One of the million unmade productions Guillermo Del Toro was attached to at one stage was an HBO series based on Naoki Urasawa's fantastic Monster.

Hollywood legend James Cameron has been dreaming for decades of bringing Battle Angel Alita (aka Gunnm) to life. With him tied up with Avatar sequels for the foreseeable future it's doubtful if we'll ever see it come to fruition. Cameron was also connected with a possible adaptation of Parasyte back in the early 2000s.

The problem with many of these properties is that they would have required large amounts of special effects and therefore large budgets. The majority of the English-language manga-based films that have actually seen the light of day have had no such issues. They live firmly in the lower budget world of direct-to-video “cinema”.

The live-action Kite was the most recent example of this, but it goes back to the VHS days. The 1991 adaptation of The Guyver (also know in Europe as Mutronics) was popular enough to spawn a sequel Dark Hero- starring David “Solid Snake” Hayter in 1994. Martial arts star Gary Daniels starred as Ken in the live version of Fist Of The North Star, which also featured rent-a-villain Malcolm McDowell. These films were modest successes but most successful of all was Crying Freeman, from Christoph Gans- director of cult hit Brotherhood Of the Wolf.

Crying Freeman had the advantage that it actually saw cinema release in several countries and was actually a sizeable hit in Gans's native France. So pleased were the Japanese licensors with the results that they gave Gans free reign to adapt any property they owned. He apparently chose Patlabor: Mobile Police, although that project was never to be.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is why it's taken so long for Hollywood to discover manga And the truth is that Big-budget manga adaptations have yet to prove themselves as big hits. If GITS is a huge smash, then expect to see more, but the risk-averse Hollywood Studios are not yet convinced that the movie going audience wants manga movies. And they have good reason to be skeptical- the only two major releases based on manga or anime were the mega-flops Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution. It could be argued that it was the quality of the films that was the issue, but all the money-men saw was the empty seats and unsold DVDs. But it seems that Hollywood is now willing to give it another shot. Whether this is a good thing or not, remains to be seen.

More Manga Live!
Part One
Part Two