All that to say that adapting anime’s dynamic, inventive, and realistic medium to a live-action format is truly difficult. So appreciate when I tell you that this weekend I saw the US debut of the new live-action adaptation of Bleach, one of the most popular anime and manga series of all timeand it was good.
Bleach is appreciated for its artistic and conceptual fights between absurdly stubborn characters using large swords. It follows 15-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki, who is thrown into a magical world when a ghostly reaper soul named Rukia Kuchiki injures himself and transfers his powers to him. Reapers guide the dead to the afterlife and prevent corrupted spirits called Hollows from feasting on the souls of the living. They train for centuries to develop inhuman reflexes and transform their swords into highly customizable superweapons called zanpakuto. Ichigo uses Rukia’s power to protect her, her sisters, and her single father from a Hollow gone savage, but the Reaper is unable to regain her powers afterwards. She is stuck in the human world, pretending to be a normal high school girl, which kicks off the series.
Director Shinsuke Sato’s new film compresses all of this information, along with the basic events of 19 other anime episodes, into an easily digestible 90-minute slugfest. It’s really amazing to watch. The decked out costumes look dope, the action is surprisingly believable given the girth of the weapons, and the acting expertly reflects the anime’s variance between stoic deadpan and over-the-top emotion.
Whether Sato’s movie is a success is not just my opinion, but based on watching the theater filled with fans who laughed at the jokes, gasped during fights, and clapped when Ichigo and each of his friends and foes were presented. Everyone I spoke to after the screening was thrilled. “All the reactions I wanted the audience to have, they provided me,” Sato said through a translator during a post-movie Q&A at the annual Japan Film Festival. Society, Japan Cups.
Sato and screenwriter Daisuke Habara spent over a year figuring out how to fit the plot into a single viewing experience. “Put something very big – the world of Bleach– into something very compact was quite a difficult task,” he said. It’s a process that Sato has perfected over his long career. adapt anime like the equally famous supernatural murder mystery Death threat– but not the Netflix and Willem Dafoe version-as well as absurd action shows like Inuyashiki and I am a hero. “I had an image in my head of all the things I wanted to include, but I didn’t want to copy the anime or the manga exactly, I wanted to do something else,” Sato said. This is the line that every artist straddles when adapting text to a new medium.
Moderator Peter Tatara, Former New York Comic Con Content Director and Founder of Anime NYC, told VICE that it’s particularly difficult for Western filmmakers to adapt Japanese anime. “A Japanese creative team understands the nuance and has a deep respect for why the original works – things a Western team might not quite grasp so completely. Part of the appeal of manga and anime lies in their unique Japanese character in the first place, and a Japanese team can inherently preserve this.”
Kim Kindya, a 49-year-old freelance writer and editor who sat behind me during the film, agrees with Tatara’s sentiment. “Bleach captured the spirit of anime and manga. It was a respectful adaptation,” she told me.
A 27-year-old library assistant named Chris, who chose not to give his surname, said: “There are some creative risks, whether related to casting, writing or directing decisions, can ruin my experience as a fan. You don’t have to keep everything, but Bleach much kept.
Noelle Webster, a 28-year-old Marvel employee who attended the screening, said, “Moving from anime to live action is all about making it more realistic. You have to anchor this story in some kind of reality. Taking a fantasy story and making it more believable, but also keeping that fun superhero vibe going is hard, so it’s not always done well. Kristina Winters, a 37-year-old sales consultant, added, “They stayed true to the two main characters and kept it simple.”
This is a stark contrast to ghost in the shell, for example, which has been criticized for its inauthenticity beyond the cardinal sin of whitewashing its source material. Emily Yoshida wrote for Vulture that the film, “is obsessed with the idea that Major ‘Mira’ must unleash his true individuality to defeat the system, an extraordinarily American narrative poorly grafted onto the original story… The filmmakers give little thought to the emotional and intellectual connection that fans already have with this property, and have gone for the aesthetics, it’s exhausting watching them work out which parts of the Japanese origin story are worth keeping and which can be thrown away.
There are eight ghost in the shell animated films, four video games, three animated series and three books. Despite this wealth of inspiration, no one is calling for a sequel to its live-action adaptation. However, one of the most cheered questions during this screening was, “Do you want to do a sequel in the future?”
“A sequel is something I would really like to do, and if it’s something the fans want, I’d like to talk to my producer about it,” Sato said. Fans went wild.
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