Anime and the World, Part 1: Live-Action Hollywood

It’s been a while since I’ve done a real long series.  These are always fun and interesting things for me to write about.

Anime is a genre which exists on a global stage.  I sometimes call it niche but it ultimately plays with connections to the world.  It influences the world and the world influences it.  But how is it these groups interact?  What does anime send out to the world?  What does it influence?  And how is it influenced by the world?  My focus in this series is looking at these questions for connections between the “world at large” and anime.

First up is Hollywood.  Well, the live-action side of it.  The fabled story of anime’s interaction with animated Hollywood is much longer than I care to type up in a single post like this.  It’s one of the largest groups in terms of economic size.  I mean, it influences most movies you can find in theatres (this goes double in North America).  The concept of anime influencing Hollywood is an amazing thought as it’s almost a self-desired validation for fans: I am a fan of something touching a big place like Hollywood.  Of course, the reaction is much more hostile.  You can find page after page after page of sites claiming that Hollywood is taking pages out of anime’s books.  Now, and this is a story for another future post, I won’t claim that this is my stance; I believe that as we edge towards the future the concept of original works is going to diminish and creating truly original art without copying something else is going to become more and more impossible.

What I will say is that the two are not entirely separated.

The first connection is the very obvious Hollywood anime movie.  I’ll groan with you.  Ugh.

This, as shallow as it is, is one of the most well-known connections between anime and Hollywood.  The premise itself is simple in that it’s live adaptation of the anime.  It’s a simple extension of options for making money.  The premise is tried and true: the anime is popular.  Of course!  Well, as you probably know as well as I do, these movies are pretty much universally terrible.  Hollywood does not do an effective job of translation.  The best example I can give you is the abortion of a movie, Dragonball Evolution.

I’ll give you 5 bucks to bury this movie and all its copies in a fiery lake.

It’s based on the fabled Dragonball franchise, as the name suggests.  This is a lot of source material to work with.  I mean, Dragonball Z is a gateway anime.  A very popular gateway anime for of us who grew up in the mid-90’s at that.  It’s hard to imagine that such a movie would be a disaster, right?  Well, as I’ve hinted to above, it really did end up poorly.  I won’t bore you with the details.  Just let CinemaSins sum it up for you.

So, yeah.  And it’s not like Hollywood’s repertoire past that is much better.  See: Speed Racer, which at best is mediocre.  Or Crying Freeman.  Or Guyver.  Or even movie-based-on-cult-classic-Korean-film-based-on-manga Oldboys.  This is pretty much up there with video game movies right now.

Why is this though?  I personally suspect the problem is two-fold.  First is the issue of budgeting.  Most of these movies don’t have huge budgets.  The biggest of the above worked off of was Speed Racer (120 million), which had a larger budget than all the other movies I mentioned (approximated as about 70 million).  Low budgets likely come from lack of confidence.  I think there’s the same problem here as with most (not all) video game franchise movies: the translation isn’t a sure thing.  The anime may have a huge following, sure, but there’s no proven model for making anime movies a huge success.  We should remember that the funding teams likely know nothing about what they’re funding other than its previous success rate in the field.  And this doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon given the anime live-adaptations out there.  Though, fingers crossed.

Thankfully, anime interacts with Hollywood in other ways.

The second, and much larger field, is influencing directing style.  This field is also much softer and probably more fuzzy in my definition.  Let’s start with an easy one to make this make sense: Pacific Rim.

Every time I look up an image from this movie, all I hear is the theme.

Pacific Rim is probably the best example to look at because its director, Guillermo del Toro, openly admits his influences and points it out as a love letter to the anime he watched as a kid.  From art design to back story to plot, everything done in Pacific Rim has the anime mentality going for it.  Let’s start with art since I love talking about giant robots.  The protagonists use a mecha named Gipsy Danger.  Its weapons are a walking super robot reference facility.  On its chest is a turbine which happens to shoot out massive blasts of energy.  Also, it has rocket powered fists.  It pretty much is a remade Mazinger Z in this weapon layout.  Other mechs contain designs obviously influenced (and then del Toro admitted) by mobile suits, including the Guncannon (Coyote Tango) and Zaku (Cherno Alpha.  Though this one I wasn’t aware of until del Toro came clean).  Heck, this spills into the posters which look just like the anime mecha model kits you buy.

Let’s not forget the narrative either.  The story very much follows the post-apocalyptic narrative that populated anime frequently in the ’80s and ’90s.  To further this thinking, you have a hot-blooded hero who is thrown into the ring with a rookie who does well in practice but is never given a shot.  Both are fairly stock anime characters.  The former embodies almost every stock super robot protagonists while the latter also happens to show many links to the common anime archetype of the Yamato Nadeshiko.

It is so bad that there are anime fans out there claiming that it’s an Evangelion rip off.  That, of course, ignoring the fact that del Toro never heard of Evangelion until he wrapped up Pacific Rim.

But this isn’t even the biggest influence.  No…the biggest is in the invoked tropes.  Every aspect of Pacific Rim is written so it is predictable.  Every little “twist”, from who pilots Gipsy Danger to the durability of the final enemy to the character development in the film are all expected events.  Many run down films for this very point but between marketing and footage it’s clear that this movie’s narrative isn’t serious.  The phrase “you know [x] is going to happen” occurs multiple times in regards to the narrative and that is appears perfectly intentional as the tropes it runs are very close to the ones found in mecha anime, both real and super.  I certainly won’t bore you with the details here as I’m tired and this post is getting much longer than I really can describe for this limited connection, but you can certainly see a description in this article by the Artiface.  And in Pacific Rim, this is entirely intentional.  It’s easy to run down as simple and extremely cliche driven if you’re an anime fan but I feel this is what del Toro intended.  Every cliche is so drawn out that there is no element of surprise.  The movie, as much as it may seem silly to compare, is very comparable to the Transformers franchise as they heavily rely on fans knowing what will happen so that they can purely enjoy the concept of giant fighting robots.  Simple as that.

Pacific Rim is such an easy example to work with because of its obviousness.  Many films draw from the genre but do it in much subtler manners.  TRON: Legacy is a subtler example and focuses on anime character types.  Quorra, for example, is a bookish girl who happens to be absolutely comfortable kicking people around and taking numbers.  I honestly can’t tell you how many times that shows up in anime but let’s just leave it as “lots”.  The graphics are commonly compared to that of Speed Racer.  Take of that what you will but the sequences certainly have a bit of that feel.

So with that example, I’d suggest that the influence of anime on Hollywood greatly comes from this pattern of homages and tributes.  Movies will sometimes copy great scenes from anime and will reflect a great love.  Rarely does this come as heavy and frequent as Pacific Rim but they certainly exist.  I digress though and major issues in terms of transferring stylistic choice from an animated medium to a live one is very difficult.  That’s about as much as I can link the two.  These two fields are fairly difficult to connect since you’re crossing an animation barrier and certain tricks work in each field that flop in the other.  Most live-action adaptations fail fairly hard.  Homages exist and this is probably the biggest influence you’ll see in movies in regard to anime.

So, what next?  That next topic is the neighbour of the live-action Hollywood film…the animated film.

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2 responses to “Anime and the World, Part 1: Live-Action Hollywood

  1. Pingback: Anime and the World, Part 2: Animated Films | Lain's First Law

  2. Pingback: Anime and the World, Part 3: Animated Television | Lain's First Law

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