With the forthcoming Netflix live-action adaption of the anime classic Cowboy Bebop eliciting both anticipation and angst among anime fans, Brendan and I had a conversation about the issue of adaptions, why they are (sometimes) so contentious, and what are the issues facing the industry as a whole.
Irina: First, let me say that this discussion was so much fun! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Brendan.
BRENDAN: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Irina. I enjoyed our discussion so much – it reminded me of how, at its best, blogging is about connecting with people through conversation.
IRINA: Now – as for the issue of live adaptions of anime, it’s a very interesting subject. I have a slightly unusual stance in that I don’t watch live-action adaptation (or live-action series at all) but I’m very enthusiastic about them getting produced.
BRENDAN: That is an unusual stance! So where do you get your enthusiasm from if you don’t watch live adaptions?
IRINA: Well, I do think that for some people, it’s the actual animation that is a barrier to enjoying anime, so introducing them to great stories in a format that appeals to them is, I think, a good place to start. Also, I just like the industry to have options in general. So, if the adaption is bad…well, it doesn’t change the anime in any way. They’re not going back and destroying all versions of the show I loved, just adding something I can ignore. As I see it, there are no downsides for me and some potential good sides for the industry.
BRENDAN: Hmm. That reminds me of an author who said that once a production company buys the rights to their book, it’s out of their hands – the book’s no longer their baby, so to speak. So you make some really good points. But I can’t help wondering…aren’t you running the risk that, by using live action adaptions as an entree to anime, if the adaptation is bad, it will turn potential audiences off anime altogether?
IRINA: Somehow, I don’t think that part of the audience who are refusing to watch anything anime-related until there is a live-action adaption is all that likely to make up a major demographic. Besides, it’s not like there isn’t plenty of bad anime being made all the time, so the same argument applies – but I would hate it if they stopped making anime altogether because some of it was really bad.
BRENDAN: True. But I’m thinking that a well-made live adaption might at least have a better chance of sparking some curiosity to see the anime source – which might then introduce a new demographic to anime as a unique medium?
IRINA: Sure. Good media in any format is always better and will always attract an audience. However, that’s an argument for making good movies, which is always the way to go more than an argument against making live-action adaptations.
BRENDAN: So, what do you think are the challenges/opportunities for studios making live adaptions of anime?
IRINA: I figure they’re very similar to most adaptations, really. One of the hugest obstacles we have is that a lot of live-action adaptations simply aren’t made with a western audience in mind and although they do quite well in their countries of origin, some markets will still call them a fail because we don’t have the necessary cultural context to enjoy it fully.
I would say the biggest challenge of all is anime fans themselves. They tend to be way more negative about any type of perceived change that an adaption makes to the original anime source, and therefore aren’t as willing to give the adaption a chance. That’s on the marketing side. On the production side, I think the greatest challenge is budget.
BRENDAN: I take your point about things getting lost in cultural translation. But isn’t that also true of the original anime, especially those coming from Japan? Aren’t they made for local markets and yet are also successful in the West? Or is that why platforms like Netflix are now making anime – to better tailor them to western audiences?
IRINA: Yes, what you say about the original anime being made for its home market is entirely true. That said, Eastern animation culture has been influencing animation internationally for a very long time, much more than Eastern cinema and theatre culture, which have their own, different traditions. European animators for about a century now study Eastern animation by default. In most cinema classes, you only hear about a handful of Asian directors and classics. It’s starting to change, but we have a long way to go before it achieves the same level of influence in the West as Eastern animation culture.
BRENDAN: So you’re saying the level of influence which Eastern animation culture has exercised in the West has largely overcome that cultural context problem – whereas this remains an issue for Eastern live-action cinema because of its lower levels of influence?
Well, Guys, that’s the first HALF of our conversation, we left all the best stuff for last so make sure to read the rest over on Brendan’s site right HERE. You won’t regret it. And if you’re not following Brendan yet, here’s your chance! YAY