WEEK IN GEEK: With D. Bethel back in the saddle, our hosts settle back into routine. Andrew discusses playing the forgotten entry in the Assassin’s Creed oeuvre, Assassin’s Creed Rogue, and its strange and bold narrative through-line through more than a few other AC games. D. Bethel snuck in some mobile gaming while he was supposed to be grading and fell in love with the vocational routine of the giant robo sim, Last Colossus by Game Stew.
What was your Week in Geek like this week? (Avengers: Infinity War, probably.)
Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita, stateside) is a manga and anime with a cult following, deep history, and a rocky path to big-screen adaptation. The manga was written and drawn by Yukito Kishiro over the course of five years and nine volumes. Early in its run, it was adapted into an Original Video Animation (OVA) comprised of two half-hour, stand-alone episodes (based on the first two manga volumes) that were sold together on VHS, initially. In the states, the OVA (retitled to simply Battle Angel) had a large audience due to its emotional story and cyberpunk stylings, and gathered enough of a reputation to attract the interest of James Cameron, who eventually bought the film rights.
James Cameron, who had professed his enjoyment of the manga, was originally set to direct the film adaptation, but he has since left the dusty, rusted future of Battle Angel for the literally greener pastures of Avatar‘s Pandora. In his absence, the directing duties shifted to action auteur, Robert Rodriguez. After years of speculation and anticipation, a trailer has been released:
From the looks of the trailer, a lot of work has been done to keep the visuals true to the look of the manga and OVA, and the plot summary from the film’s website also seems to be holding to the basic story found in the first two volumes:
Set several centuries in the future, the abandoned Alita (Rosa Salazar) is found in the scrapyard of Iron City by Ido (Christoph Waltz), a compassionate cyber-doctor who takes the unconscious cyborg Alita to his clinic. When Alita awakens she has no memory of who she is, nor does she have any recognition of the world she finds herself in. Everything is new to Alita, every experience a first. As she learns to navigate her new life and the treacherous streets of Iron City, Ido tries to shield Alita from her mysterious past while her street-smart new friend, Hugo (Keean Johnson), offers instead to help trigger her memories. A growing affection develops between the two until deadly forces come after Alita and threaten her newfound relationships. It is then that Alita discovers she has extraordinary fighting abilities that could be used to save the friends and family she’s grown to love. Determined to uncover the truth behind her origin, Alita sets out on a journey that will lead her to take on the injustices of this dark, corrupt world, and discover that one young woman can change the world in which she lives.
Disregarding the nearly twenty year wait since the film rights were purchased where the fan anticipation has done nothing but build, the now-titled Alita: Battle Angel has another hill to climb given the context into which it will be released. Western adaptations of manga/anime doesn’t have a deep history, but, when it does happen, it tends to not do well. However, the most recent attempt, 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, was a cultural disaster as much as it was a box office stumble. Surely, with that still weighing heavy on the minds of fans and producers alike, it seems likely that Alita will be met with severe skepticism.
Optimistically, it has some elements that work for it that actively worked against Ghost in the Shell. For one,all iterations of Battle Angel take place in a far future United States; so, aside from the general appropriation of a story originally written and drawn by a Japanese artist, the wide-scope white-washing that occurred in Ghost in the Shell seems avoidable in this case. In the small scale, the father-figure character from the manga and OVA, Daisuke Ido, has had Austrian-German actor, Chrisoph Waltz, cast in the live-action adaptation; the character has been renamed Dyson Ido, so the criticism can’t be wholly avoided. Second, translated editions of the manga and the OVA have been widely out of print for awhile, so Battle Angel doesn’t have as much presence in the cultural zeitgeist as Ghost in the Shell had with its classic manga, multiple movies and television shows. If anything, because of this, Alita: Battle Angel seems to be in a good position to be released without much fear of controversy.
The manga was brought back into print in English by Kodansha Comics in May of 2017, but it still remains to be seen if the long out of print OVA will see a new release, either on Blu-Ray or on digital services. A re-release seems likely as a marketing move to raise anticipation for the film’s release.
While fan reaction to the trailer has yet to be aggregated here, it’s clear that Rodriguez and his team are making interesting choices that could go either way with fans of Battle Angel and sci-fi movie fans in general. There is the digital deformation of actress Rosa Salazar to make her appear closer to how Alita (or Gally, in Japan) looks in her original representation. Whether this technique is applied to other characters––both main and incidental––throughout the remainder of the movie may be the line between acceptance or rejection of this choice by fans. As mentioned previously, the westernization of Ido by casting Waltz in the role could lead to controversy, but that remains to be seen. Canonically, his character is less tied to the cultural origins of his name in the story and more to the mysterious Zalem (in Japan, or Tiphares in the States; Battle Angel is a veritable totem for how wacky things can get when translating texts for the sake of localization), a city occupied by the wealthy and entitled that ominously floats above Scrapyard, where Battle Angel‘s story takes place. Therefore, Ido’s race-change may be a non-issue, at least within the context of the story.
All that being said, after almost twenty years of being in development hell, it is refreshing and curious to see a property surface from the mire, at the very least. We’ll have to wait until July to see how much of the mud has stuck.
Akira, as an anime and manga series, is arguably better known for being a groundbreaking work than for the story it tells (variable as that may be, depending on the medium). From presentation to content to technology and themes, Akira has earned a place in the cultural discourse of not only Japan but the rest of the world as well.
As I mentioned on the podcast, I have come to Katsuhiro Otomo‘s manga after having seen the anime, which I’m sure is the course most westerners took since the movie was such a significant event, especially in the nerd world. Now three volumes into the story, I have already seen a significant diversion in narrative between the manga and anime, to the point that the movie feels less like an adaptation and like a new story using the same players. This difference intrigues me to the point that I found myself down the hole of an academic database search for any criticism about Akira.
Not surprisingly, the discourse around both the anime and manga nearly unanimously focuses around its use of imagery related to nuclear weapons and Japan’s historical tie to them. While not wrong nor an insignificant approach to the work, I feel that using a small lens on such a large work misses out on a lot of fantastic critical angles. Also, when conversations around Akira happen in person (with friends or fellow fans) and the group wants to take it to serious territory, it seems the only road to travel is the one that leads to nuclear warfare and its relation to Japanese history as well. …
Week in Geek: Andrew simulates walking in Gone Homewhereby he ponders how this mechanic has future ludic applicability; he also starts playing the strange but intriguing indie game, The Bridge. Dan reads volume 1 of the manga, Akira, upon which the classic animated film is based.
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For all intents and purposes, that was a Shortcast recap.
We’ve broached the topicof adaptationsfrom one medium to another a few times over the life of the podcast, but this is a nice, focused look at a unique case. Growing up in the early days of anime proliferation––when titles were few and unprofessional translations could be bought (of varying quality) at conventions––Akira was kind of “the” anime. Not in the sense that it was the only one, but fans talked about it as if the film rested atop the peak of quality, outshining everything beneath it. You had to watch it and you were not going to understand it. It existed as a kind of filmic puzzle box that people would attempt to parse and explain which only further confused the discourse. In spite of that, Akira remains quite an amazing movie when watching it as an adult. Technically, it’s an awe-inspiring work of art. Its story, too, while often confusing and obtuse, does have a lot of incredibly complex social ideas and themes, especially about youth/teenage culture.
The truth is that the Akira film is an adaptation of a manga series that wasn’t even close to being done and writer/director, Katsuhiro Otomo, had to draw conclusions that made sense for a two-hour animated film. That’s what makes the movie such a standout from other adapted manga, however. It must carry some legitimacy because Katsuhiro Otomo also wrote and drew the manga; so, the moviegoer must be seeing a glimpse into the future. However, being such a big story, the task of adapting it into a movie that made any kind of sense at all would be an unenviable task, which makes it a fascinating case study in the continuing dialogue about adaptations. Tom Speelman’s article dives into the relationship between the anime and the manga in detailed and cogent fashion, drawing together the point that––despite some uneven spots––Otomo was able to create two masterpieces in two different mediums in the span of a decade. No matter how you look at it, that’s a feat that deserves a closer look.
With the massive success of the Marvel Studios movies and the can’t-help-but-watch trainwreck that Warner Bros. has done with the DC heroes since Chris Nolan left The Dark Knight trilogy, it’s easy to see the Fox and Sony licenses (The Fantastic Four/X-Men and Spider-Man, respectively) get short shrift from comic book fans, especially. Now, with regard to The Fantastic Four, Fox has done itself no favors and Sony straight-up gave up the fight to an extent by––as we all saw in Captain America: Civil War––giving Spider-man back to Marvel in all but the actual rights, so the anti-Fox/Sony arguments do carry a lot of weight, but the X-Men movies have become almost a forgotten undercurrent over which the “superhero movie” genre now flows.
I think “undercurrent” is the right word and that’s what Dan Marcus’ article does its best to show, recreating how the world felt back when the first X-Men movie was released in 2000. The only successful comic book adaptation made before it––aside from the Superman films––was Blade, but a lot of people didn’t even realize that was a comic book character beforehand; knowing that or not, the movie didn’t make any attempts to really draw that connection, either.
The first two X-Men movies were an interesting and important step because even though they didn’t fly the comic book colors in the way Marvel has deemed necessary in a modern context, it was still obliquely reverent, capturing what was important about the comics even if they changed a lot of details. While I personally think that the drubbing X-Men: Apocalypse received was mostly unearned and feverish due to its proximity to both Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, without the X-Men franchise it’s fair to say that we wouldn’t have the Marvel Studios that we have now, and the X-Men should just be allowed to keep on keeping on (except for X-Men: Last Stand; that should be thrown into a fire).