Whenever I find myself on the verge of being overwhelmed by adulthood (a malady I’ve fought hard to stave off ), I often seek comfort in the sweet, heroin addled claws of anime. Over the last quarter century, our tentacle loving brothers and sisters to the east have helped shape my sensibilities in a way that few other cultures have. Although it is difficult, perhaps even foolish, to try and determine whether my fondness for Japanese animation was the product of some innate bias or the result of surreptitious conditioning, it is undeniable that the medium has captured my imagination and, by consequence, my affection. I believe some of that sentiment owes a debt to the high adaptability of the subject matter. Whether it’s books into cartoons, cartoons into movies, or some combination of the two; the collective stories of Japan’s heroes seem to extend their longevity with every new incarnation. And while it’s become de rigueur to adopt the moniker of “nerdom” on a global level, the adaptation of a beloved comic book or similarly esoteric intellectual property was not always a foregone conclusion (at least not on these shores). Not surprisingly, this new found inevitability has caused many to malign the entertainment industry’s latest pop culture bias (an opinion that is not without some merit). In reflecting upon this dichotomy born of the faithful and the faithless, I have chosen to look at what the last decade or so of pandering has given us in the way of live-action anime adaptations in a three part series that aims to offer a small sampling of the good, the bad, and that which could yet be.
5.) Guyver: Dark Hero
Following in the wake of the prodigiously awful The Guyver, Guyver: Dark Hero continues the story of Sean Barker (portrayed by perennial fan favorite David Hayter) a high school student who has inadvertently bonded himself to a biological suit of armor. This adaptation is unique for many reasons, not the least of which being that it was a decidedly American mid-90’s production of a hyper-violent manga and anime series. Luckily, Dark Hero benefited from a more earnest science fiction direction than its predecessor. While it never quite reached the same level of quality as its source material, this version did at least attempt to examine some of the more salient themes of the anime and manga. Despite some questionable acting, and that 90’s “je ne sais quoi” that made most forays into the world of science fiction a bit of a rough ride, the second Guyver movie succeeded in broaching such lofty topics as humanity’s predisposition to violence and its place in the grander scheme of things.
4.) Cutey Honey
Adapted from Go Nagai’s fairly popular manga, Cutie Honey is the story of Honey Kisaragi; a fetching “female android” who faces off against a mysterious and sinister organization known only as Panther Claw. It’s not high-art by any stretch of the imagination, but it does prove to be a perfectly silly and over-the-top adaptation of the original manga and cartoon. It is charming by virtue of absurdity and it makes a strong argument for taking tasteful liberties with certain properties. Also, I have a deep, deep affection for the theme song.
3.) Space Battleship Yamato
Heralded by many as one of the most influential anime series of all time, the live-action version of Space Battleship Yamato is an extremely competent and engaging adaptation of this beloved property. Although the movie is an encapsulated, adrenaline infused retelling of the original story, it still manages to get us to care about the crew of the Yamato and its mission to revitalize the Earth. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who croons his way through the film’s coda, provides an almost surreal denouement for the entire endeavor.
Caashern was one of those adaptations that came to be right around the time when the internet made access to foreign films a reality for the every-man. As such, trailers for the live-action movie captured my imagination using the kind of trickery that the home team had perfected throughout my formative years. Only marginally based on the original series, Caashern is the tale of a former soldier brought back to life through a mixture of science and preternatural intervention. While the movie is first and foremost a visual treat, the narrative (which may be jarring for some) is surprisingly engaging and nuanced – although it’s very easy to miss this with only a single cursory viewing.
1.) Rurouni Kenshin (Trilogy)
This is the single greatest adaption of an anime I’ve ever seen. Given that the original series shares shelve space with such giants as Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist, the success of this three-part adaption is an achievement that demands masturbatory levels of praise. The live-action version of Rurouni Kenshin hits all the right notes: good pacing, likable characters, phenomenal battle choreography and a tone that skilfully balances humor and gravitas. In this, the movie works not only as an homage to the anime, but as a segue for those that are curious about the series but are not quite ready to commit to the endeavor.