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Manga Live! Part Two: Manga at the Movies

Manga has been intrinsically linked to the anime industry since the very birth of the medium as we know it. Astro Boy may not have been the first animation produced in Japan – far from it- but it begun the close association between the two art-forms that has endured to this day. But just as in the west, comics in Japan have also been the inspiration for generations of Japanese live-action film-makers, and that's what we're going to be looking at in the second installment of Manga Live!

The benefits of adapting manga via animation are pretty obvious- it's possible to create imagery that could come straight off the page. You can create virtually anything the human imagination can cook up in the medium of animation. By contrast, bringing such material to life in live-action has always been much harder, much less convincing, and considerably more expensive. The Japanese film industry could never compete with Hollywood in budgetary terms, so it's no wonder that for many years, manga chosen to adapt into movies was often much more based in reality.

Stories set in Japan's feudal past have been equally popular in manga as in live-action cinema, so it's natural that a number of such comics have made their way to the silver screen. The most famous of these with western audiences would have to be the Lone Wolf and Cub series. Based on the legendary series from Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, the series has the unforgettable premise of a Ronin Samurai who is accompanied by his infant son. The gore-drenched film spawned five sequels back in the 1970's, but the franchise is best known in the west in the bastardised version Shogun Assassin, which edited footage from three of the films to create a new story.

Lady Snowblood is another infamous manga inspired samurai flick. Cited as hugely influential on Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino, it too was adapted from a work by Kazuo Koike. The feudal genre has remained popular ever since, and more recent series such as Azumi and Ruroni Kenshin have been adapted with some considerable success.

Another genre always popular with Japanese film goers is the crime drama, so it was not long before Golgo 13 and Lupin III got their first live-action make-overs. Lupin and co may have hit cinema screens in 2014 thanks to Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura, but the legendary thief got his first shot in 1974's Strange Psychokinetic Strategy.

Costumed heroes may not dominate Japanese comics in the same way as their western counterparts do in the States, but they've still proved popular with characters such as Kamen Rider proving enduringly iconic. They've also made their way to the big screen- albeit often in theatrical spin-offs of television’s popular Sentai shows.
Away from all this violence and action though, the romance and melodrama so often found in Shojo series has also found success. Rumiko Takahashi's most down-to-earth domestic romance Maison Ikkoku has none of the flights of fancy of her other works so found a natural home as a live-action film drama. Such productions often cast popular idols of the time, helping them to appeal more widely than just the original comic readers.

Unsurprisingly enough, the saucier side of manga has often also found it's way to the live-action movie world. They may have not have made it to cinemas but Go Nagai's stark-naked super-heroine Kekko Kamen has featured in no less than 10 movies to date.

More recently, however, quantum leaps in digital effects- and a drop in costs- have made it possible to convincingly adapt some manga and anime series that would never have been possible before. The Death Note movies feature spot-on CGI renderings of the comic's Shinigami that would have not been possible just a few years before. It's lead to a boom in Japanese made effects-heavy manga adaptations that simply would never have been attempted in the past. Not so long ago the only chance fans would ever have of seeing a live-action version of Parasyte or Attack On Titan would be if in the unlikely event that Hollywood ever made them. Not anymore.

Join us for the third and final part when we look at the past and future of manga adaptations from outside Japan!