We’ve broached the topic of adaptations from 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).