With three ridiculously popular Death Note and the NANA live actions still in recent memory, it seems like everyone and their mom is making live action adaptations of anime, including some by American companies. The Dragonball movie’s finally got a confirmed release date in 2009, and Fox has just confirmed having acquired the rights to a Cowboy Bebop live action, not to mention that there are rumors floating around about an American adaptation of Death Note (do we really need more?), though I’ve forgotten where I read this. As well, both TOKYOPOP and Viz have recently restructured to include a new media branch that will supposedly focus on pitching properties to Hollywood. I find all of this somewhat surprising considering Speed Racer’s abysmal failure (though I don’t think it really deserved to bomb as badly as it did), but I’m curious — if even one of these live actions manages a mild success in the US, could that open the gates for many, many more, just as 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man seemed to have opened the floodgates for endless comic book adaptations?
As it is now, many of these anime-to-live action projects seem die in the planning stages or are otherwise met with delay after delay. Is Battle Angel Alita still on? Why haven’t we heard much about it if it’s slated for 2009 also? What about live action Evangelion? Let’s not forget that a live action Akira was confirmed in February. I’m probably already leaving out half a dozen other titles that have been “confirmed” at one point or another in the last few years. Speed Racer was the first to see the finish line (correct me if I’m wrong), but it was a huge box office disappointment (they still haven’t made back their budget). What’s going to happen to the rest of these projects?
Cowboy Bebop seems like a good investment considering the almost universal popularity of the series amongst American fans, but that also means that a lot of people are going to be very, very critical (myself included). Still, critiques can’t come until after people have seen the movie, which would mean that it still has a pretty good chance of doing well at the box office. Besides the obvious fanbase, Bebop is also what I would consider a rather accessible series — space mercenaries is a pretty popular sci-fi concept anyway and I don’t think a general audience would feel all that alienated. Then again, Serenity was also a box office flop despite good reviews and a cult following, but that may have been because it was intended as a conclusion to Firefly and not so much as a standalone piece. Is Bebop as popular as Firefly was? Does that underground popularity really even matter? Or is Bebop “mainstream” enough to for the fanbase to really count like it obviously does for huge comic franchises like the Bats and Spidey?
The fanbase question really makes me wonder about how well the Dragonball movie will do, but the fact that it’s Dragonball and not Dragonball Z and the fact that it’s being released half a decade after the peak of the series’ popularity kind of negates the experiment. If they made a live action Naruto or Bleach right now, what would happen? Or even, if they dubbed the live action Death Notes for theatrical release Stateside, what would happen?
But yeah, fanbase is only a fraction of what Bebop would need to be successful in the box office. Being able to act as a standalone piece is probably the most important thing, as well as allowing itself to be taken seriously by an audience that’s unfamiliar with it. Speed Racer probably failed because it was too much of an inside joke. Serenity probably failed because, while the subject matter was accessible, the storyline was not. Depending on how much of the overarching storyline they want to incorporate into the live action Cowboy Bebop, it could overcome both those difficulties rather easily, I think. Stoff mentioned being worried about staying true to the source material, but considering the source material is largely episodic, I think they have a lot of wiggle room as far as canon is concerned.
The cast is a huge point of fan approval, but I don’t think it matters as much as the story. Sure, it’d be great if they can get in good actors, but good scripts can hide bad actors much more effectively than good actors can hide bad scripts. Anyway, we’ve still yet to see how well white boy!Goku performs. They’ve announced the rights, but I doubt we’ll be hearing much else about this live action Cowboy Bebop any time soon. We’re still waiting on Battle Angel and Eva, after all. Dragonball’s performance will likely be very influential though, and we’ll see what Hollywood decides about popular anime live action adaptations after that.