Good news: They appear to be sticking very close to their source material, even taking the initiative in incorporating parts of the manga that never made it into the animated version. This is fantastic because even though I’ve yet to get around to reading the manga, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of storytelling and explanation missing from the movie. To make room for all this extra stuff (after all, the manga is kind of long), they’re making two movies. I’m a little more skeptical about this if only because I feel like they might shit out on a second movie if the first one doesn’t fly far, but if they film them both at the same time, then it might not matter all that much. But in any case, sticking to the script and being faithful to the source material is usually the #1 concern of existing fans, and it seems like things are so good so far.
Bad news: Regardless of how faithful any adaptation is, there are always at least a few changes, minor as they could be. The first change they made I can forgive: The movie will take place in the United States, specifically New York, but it will be in a future, alternate universe where Japan buys the island and dubs it New Tokyo. I’m fine with this because 1) it’s still New Tokyo, 2) it doesn’t change much of the story, and 3) it’s a good justification for people speaking English. It also helps that I love Manhattan, but seriously, I don’t see much to complain about with that one. The second change, though similarly insignificant in that it changes little in the story, seriously annoys me.
Our two main characters become a Japanese and an American. Tetsuo becomes Travis. Honestly, I’m still having a hard time believing this one just because I thought we were well past the days of dubbing Japanese names because oh shit, the stupid Americans won’t understand those weird foreign names! It’s especially surprising because even when we were in that age, most of the dub names appeared in series aimed at a younger audience. I can understand Sailor Moon having dub names — they’re probably right that seven year old girls won’t as readily identify with Usagi as they would with Serena. I can understand Hamtaro and Pokemon having dub names. I’m totally cool with that. But Akira? Come on now. We’re big enough for this.
I also dislike the potential social commentary that may be presented with having protagonists of two different nationalities — especially if Japan supposedly buys out America in the movie. That’s a lot of racial tension and conflict that we just don’t need to deal with. Ironically, it would make the American out to be the “bad” one, but I still find the entire thing utterly unnecessary. What other reason is there to change Tetsuo to Travis? What other possible, logical reason is there? I understand that there are almost never adaptations that are 100% faithful to the source material, but changes made need to make sense, and this doesn’t make sense to me.
It especially doesn’t make sense because they have to know that such a change would incite just about every longstanding fan of the original movie or manga. There is absolutely no way that I would buy the scriptwriters are sitting at their desk going, “Oh, I think we’ll change Tetsuo to Travis! It’s such a minor change, no one will mind!” Like it or not, the people that will see Akira in theatres are mostly going to be otaku who already know about it, and if otaku make up the core of your audience, what’s there to accomplish by pissing all of them off? Can’t they already see the viral rage that’s happening for the Dragonball movie?
It’s become a rather infamous joke, sure, but it’s hard to deny that the dynamic between Kaneda and Tetsuo made up the backbone of the animated movie, and the back and forth screaming of each character’s name was a hilarious part of that. The fans agree: it just wouldn’t be the same if his name wasn’t Tetsuo. Why? …Honestly? I think it’s because Travis only has two syllables in his name. Tetsuo has three. We gotta have three. I can sort of imagine that it might be all right if Kaneda calls him, “TRAVIS-KUN!” or something to that extent (it could happen, Kaneda gets to stay Japanese, after all) because it still fits what the original kind of sounded like. Would that be an acceptable compromise to most? Probably not, and they probably wouldn’t do it anyway, but that’s probably the real reason “Travis” sounds wrong to us.
(On a slightly different note, I wonder how they’ll pronounce “Akira”? Will they preserve the Japanese pronunciation as “Ah-ki-rah” like some dubs have been doing lately (Gurren Lagann) or will they angloize it into “Uh-kee-ruh” like I hear some people pronounce it? I don’t think I’d personally mind either way, but it’s interesting to see more recent dub projects keep original pronounciations. Case in point: Sakura of Cardcaptor Sakura was “Suh-koura,” but Sakura of Naruto is actually “Sah-kura,” as it should be.)