Anime Adaptations Part 2: From West to East
In Part 1 of this mini-article series we discussed Western adaptations of anime/manga, including a recent increase of them being made, mainstream streaming outlets taking notice of classic series, as well as providing ideas on what other series or films that could be made into good live actions properties. Now we’re going to look at the other side of this equation, one that’s not as popular or often considered: anime adaptations of Western-based media.
Anime based on English fiction, TV or other media is rare, but not completely unseen. The most obvious examples can be seen in films, mostly of the Ghibli variety, with American and English children’s novels frequently being adapted. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over Hollywood, Animax between 2010 and 2011 created several series and direct-to-DVD movies based upon several Marvel properties such as Blade and Iron Man. Even though this hasn’t continued at the same frequency, several other anime-versions of popular superhero comics have come out since, such as Ninja Batman which was released earlier this year. There have also been some random but fairly successful anime/manga spin-offs of popular Western TV series. Supernatural: The Anime Series is an alternative retelling of the first two series by Madhouse, due to its popularity in Japan, and the BBC’s Sherlock has had several manga commissioned that adapted stories from the show. But even then, the pool of Western media made into anime or manga is often much smaller and less likely to be known as the original property it’s based on.
When an anime is announced to be adapted into a Western form of media, be it a series or film, it often gathers a lot of attention from the anime community. However, when a non-Japanese piece of media gets adapted into a manga or anime series, there’s not as much press or fuss made about it. Why is that? Is it because of their quality, or they’re not as much of a draw in terms of press engagement or do they just slip under the radar? I think it’s a mixture of these things and more; when one culture takes media from another, they’re automatically going to make changes whether it be the location, some plot elements that work better within their culture or even the ethnicity of the characters. When the Japanese do adapt Western media, it can be seen as a creative choice, or if the particular change is related to a trope that is common in anime and not much elsewhere (such as fanservice) it can be dismissed as ‘Japan just being Japan’ and is therefore or not commented upon as much. But if we flip it over, it immediately takes on a ‘problematic’ tone as white cultures have a long history of washing out one another’s history. Regardless of how a director or writer may try to keep the original spirit or says they’re a fan of the original; Americans appropriating other people’s cultures will always be commented on. Also, the Japanese often have very different expectations of their media, and censorship rules that either don’t translate well into Western culture or are just not allowed. For example: a stage musical based upon an anime is common in Japan, but would not be considered worth bringing over to the West. Also, Japan has a sub-culture where under-aged girls are often sexualised through its heavy idol scene, but in the West, this is a complete no-no. But this works vice versa as well; such as the Fifty Shades of Grey movie having a heavily censored version released in Japanese cinemas due to their laws on pornography, and the video game Until Dawn having its most graphically violent scene blacked out for Japanese editions of the game.
Despite the work-arounds, it clearly has been done before, so, if the US or UK wanted to take a few Japanese properties to adapt in their own way, then what Western properties could Japan take for their own? What would make a great anime film or TV series? Let’s have another thought experiment…
Once Upon a Time
Material to adapt: 7 series, or 155 episodes (40 mins each approx.) plus a spin-off series and various tie-in novels.
Synopsis: Emma Swan is a 28-year-old woman living in New York; she has grown up in foster care and without even knowing who her real parents are. On her birthday however, she gets a knock at her door from a 10-year-old boy named Henry Mills. He’s come to tell her that he is her son and wants to take her back to his home in a town called Storybrooke where apparently her parents, Snow White and Prince Charming, have been living with false memories, due to a curse cast by The Evil Queen. Emma doesn’t believe him and reluctantly takes him back to his home but once there, finds herself weirdly drawn to the town and things within it slowly begin to change, due to her influence…
Why adapt this? This ABC series had a wacky, fanfiction-y premise, but was also widely popular for a while due to its charismatic cast, creative stories and the unique atmosphere of magic and wonder, since the characters within the show are either owned or created by Disney (as is the ABC Network). This series wrapped up last year, but I think an anime adaptation could potentially be a wondrous creation, and not just because Japan loves Disney as much as the West does. Changing this from a live action series to anime would actually fix the original series’ three main issues: 1) the vast cast; the original had a very large turnaround of actors and a lot of characters just ‘disappeared’ due to scheduling conflicts. With animation, however, it’s much easier to get a voice-over recorded or find a like-for-like voice replacement whilst keeping the characters consistent. 2) The special effects; the first season of OUAT was fairly decent, but with the budget slashed for every series that came after, they gradually became worse, which was problematic due to the series’ heavy use of green-screen. Animation has no such problem; with the right studio and designers they can bring the magical world of the Enchanted Forest to life like never before. And 3) the writing; the original creators are very imaginative, there’s no doubt, but are terrible with keeping their own timelines straight or remembering continuity. Now that the series is all wrapped up, an anime director could take all these errors into account and either re-write them or accommodate for them.
Material to adapt: 6 comic book volumes, or a 112 min film
Synopsis: Scott Pilgrim is floundering through life; he’s a bassist for local band Sex-Omb, but they’re not particularly good, and he’s dating a 17-year old named Knives Chau, but he isn’t happy. That all changes when he meets Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams (literally) and begins to pursue her, despite already being in a relationship. Ramona warns him however that if they were to be together, he must first defeat her six evil exes, and in this unique world where video game logic applies…anything can happen!
Why adapt this? As mentioned earlier in the article, anime is no stranger to adapting English comics, but it’s mostly been the popular superhero genre. Scott Pilgrim isn’t from the same category although it has a lot of same elements: explosive fight scenes, a young protagonist, love interest and different villains for the hero to take on. The live action movie was a box office bomb, however only a small portion of the original material was adapted, with a lot of Scott’s character arc reduced and the way he faced the various evil exes changing as well. Plus, it should be noted that the original creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley, was inspired to make a shonen type comic, with series such as Ranma ½ and FLCL having some influence, when creating this series. So, wouldn’t it be grand if it came full circle with an anime version of Scott Pilgrim that was more faithful to the comic whilst also being successful?
Material to adapt: 3 films, 3 TV series, web series or animated series…take your pick!
Synopsis: A ‘Stargate’ is a ring-shaped portal that enables transportation across space; no distance is too great, allowing Earth to communicate with other planets with extreme ease. Originally discovered by the Ancient Egyptians, but now under the control of the United States Government, the US uses the Stargate for their own means, but not every planet is welcoming to humans, and some races even use their own Stargates for their plans of universal domination.
Why adapt this? Stargate may not be particularly popular or well-known right now, but back in the mid-90s to early 2000s it was a very well recognised sci-fi franchise. The original movie, starring a young Kurt Russell, was a commercial hit that spawned one very popular TV series: Stargate SG1 that ran for 10 series, which itself generated its own spin-offs, beginning with Atlantis. After that, though, despite numerous attempts to recapture the public’s attention (from direct-to-DVD movies to kids’ cartoons) many have failed to get past their first series, leading to their cancellation and there’s been no news of new additions to the franchise since 2016. So why not give this franchise to anime directors and creators? Sci-fi is not only still popular in Japan, but the genre naturally relies a lot on unique alien designs and strong visual effects, both of which can be easily pulled off in animation. Give the franchise to Trigger or Production I.G. and see what happens! Like my pitch for Fate you could have the Japanese government seize control over the Stargate rather than America, and I’d love to see how anime would handle the unique style of Ancient Egypt outside of Yu-Gi-Oh! Since the series in the past has had their shows take place under water, in the future, and starring non-Earth characters, there’s a whole lot you could play with here.
American Horror Story
Material to adapt: 8 series ranging from 10 – 13 episodes each, all 40 mins approx.
Synopsis: Being an anthology horror TV show, each series has a different theme, plot and characters but with a rotating cast. Ranging from haunted houses to witches to present day politics, the series takes the multitude of horror layers and brings them to life in unique ways every year. Each series tells its own separate story with little to no connecting story elements (bar Apocalypse which is a crossover between the first and third series)
Why adapt this? This seems a bit redundant since the series is called AMERICAN Horror Story, so wouldn’t an anime version be technically called JAPANESE Horror Story? Well, yes, you’re right but I want to make a point. If you’ve seen or at least heard of the show, you’ll be aware that every series tries a different spin on the concept of horror; taking a clichéd setting and/or trope, but pushing it to its most extreme, or twisting it into something unusual. For example, the second series, Asylum, was all about the horrors taking place inside a mental ward, but every patient suffered a different form of insanity from paranoia to multiple personality disorder. Plus, there were serial killer and possession side-plots that were woven into the main theme without it being disjointed or cluttered. I think a Japanese take on this could be incredible interesting. Japan has its own mythology of demons, Gods and ghosts, plus multiple real-life horror stories that the main series also loves to draw inspiration from. If the original creators wanted to play it safe, they could easily have their own actors relocate to Japan and draw from their culture, but I think having an anime adaptation could be interesting as the change of medium may allow a new audience to see what they’re all about, plus animation can allow for more creative and expressive forms of horror and jump scares. You could even have the original cast doing the English dub if they wanted to keep things consistent and it wouldn’t be completely out of the blue, considering that a few of the regulars have voice acting credits. Besides, even if the anime was a flop, the beauty of this series is that they could easily move onto a new idea for the next series with little consequence since each one only lasts a few episodes!
Anything Tudor based
Material to adapt: 117 years’ worth of history, or any of the hundreds of media made about it.
Synopsis: Depends on the year or which Royalty is in power!
Why adapt this? It’s a topic that is almost always part of our history lessons at school, and there have been hundreds of fiction and non-fiction books, movies and TV shows based upon this period, especially the reign of Henry VIII with his infamous streak of wives. So why an anime adaptation of all things? Well, the Tudor period has inspired a lot of modern media, probably more than you think. The politics and bloody carnage in Game of Thrones didn’t come out of nowhere, for example, and the Tudor period and its figures have actually made small ripples in anime as well. Berserk has an empire named after it for one thing, Requiem of the Rose King by Aya Kanno (Otome) is an re-imagining of the Wars of the Roses, centred on Richard III and even Henry VII appears in a Yu-Gi-Oh! game of all places. It’s not common for a country to adapt the history of another, but it’s not completely unheard of. The politics, numerous stories to tell, timeless visuals and multitude of wars could make for some very interesting anime adaptations. Or, worse case scenario, we could have a modern-day school boy Henry VIII attending Tudor Academy where he must find a bride by the end of the school year. It’ll be a harem anime with a Tudor spin where we have modern incarnations of his wives too with Anne Boleyn being a text-book tsundere and Jane Seymour is the quiet one and…this is a terrible idea isn’t it?
(We’ve just a great rock musical in the UK about the six wives, so I can see your idea really taking off! Ed.)
Thank you for joining in this little fun thought experiment! So what Western media, books or films or otherwise, do you think would make a good anime? Have you enjoyed anime-based-on-Western properties in the past? Let us know in the comments!