State of Arts: Comic/Manga Movies

Whenever a movie or TV series is released that is based on a Manga or comic in the recent years, people cannot help but ask, “Do we really need another manga/comic adaptation?” or “are we so out of material that we have to make another comic/manga adaptation?” Yet, even as we continue to raise these questions, the entertainment industry continues to churn out adaptations based on comics/manga (not to mention movies and TV series that are “remakes”, e.g. The Departed, Batman, Superman, Battlestar Galactica, etc.). So have we really ran out of original material for movies and TV?

Even without exhaustive research, one could find out that comic adaptations in America began as early as the 1940s, and had continued sporadically ever since (although there were hardly any from the late 50s to the early 70s). Comics in general were considered a niche item, for either children or true aficionados. Yet comic adaptations continued as the superheroes became cultural icons. It was less of a case for the Japanese/Asian market, since manga and anime were already considered a regular but separate medium just as television and radio were separate. Since manga and anime were already accepted in the Japanese/Asian market, producers found little reason to adapt material from one format to another, and when they were adapted for the silver screen, usually with little budget and worse results.

What began the influx of comic adaptation could probably be contribute to viewers seeking different types of movies and the advancement of technology. In this bleak modern world, were seeking something more grand than the reality. Just as how Star Wars was a breath of fresh air in a movie market full of post-apocalyptic movies, the recent comic movies also brought larger than life superheroes to the big screen. At the same time, the development in computer and special effects allowed what otherwise would have been cheesy effects look realistic. The most telling of the new comic movies were X-men and Spider Man, though I thought Sin City had much stronger writing than the big hits. With X-men and Spider Man being blockbuster hits, the floodgate for comic movies was opened, and it would seem that every other movie being released was adapted from comics.

The situation was somewhat similar in Japan, with its declining movie and TV industry and a slowing recovering economy. Ring and other horror movies were international hits, but otherwise the industry looked rather grim. Perhaps because of the success of the comic movies worldwide, the Japanese entertainment industry decided to release their own high budget manga movie in 2003. Azumi proved to be a success, and showed the industry that a cross media adaptation would indeed work, if given enough attention and budget. The following year, Cutie Honey and Umizaru were released, and while the first targeted a limited audience, Umizaru was a much more general success. This in turn led to more manga movies, like Nana, Saikano, Honey and Clover, and Death Note.

With the success of the manga-adapted movies, TV studios perhaps realized that it might be the method to save the failing dorama industry. There were dorama adapted from manga in the previous years, like GTO, YUA, the first season of Gokusen. And Gokusen 2, H2, Attack No. 1, Umizaru, Dragon Zakura, Hana Yori Dango, N’s Aoi, Yaoh, Nodame Cantibile, and Jigoku Shoujo are perhaps the more notables of the manga adapted doramas of the last two years, and there are more to come. Of course, there was the phenomenon that was Densha Otaku. In any case dorama adapted from manga have enjoyed a general success if we look at the episode ratings.

There are a number of reasons why adapting existing material for movies and dorama might work better than original material, especially if the producers are feeling cautious. Firstly, adapted material usually includes a much deeper and complete setting and world-view compared to the average dorama, since it usually had more time to development its background settings and story. Second, producer could select works that have proven to be popular, which alleviates some of the risks. Also, a popular novel/manga adaptation comes with an already existing fan base. Third, and somewhat related to the second, is the ability for merchandizing tie-ins with existing medium, and the ability for cross-promotions, meaning the original would promote the adaptation and vice versa. Of course, being an adaptation has its own risk, for people have a tendency to compare the adaptation to the original, and god forbid those who “ruin” the fans’ favorite work.

So are we really running out of ideas/original material for movies and TV? I think not, but that the industry has become more cautious, and using material that is less risky (though I should hazard and say that even Da Vinci Code was not a sure win). At the same time, most people are more used to either original screenplays or adaptations from novels. Manga and comics, while not a new medium, has not been widely used as material for TV and movies, and the novelty is part of the reason why manga and comic movies stand out from the others. Since I am a manga fan, I have to be thankful that the current trend allows for more adaptations, but I cannot help but wish that there are more “original” movies out there that will give us more surprises.


2 Responses to “State of Arts: Comic/Manga Movies”

  1. 1 False Reality December 7, 2006 at 8:05 am

    I find this a very interesting topic. However, the human facter needs to be considered. The era of post-medium condition is undenialble, and will or has already affected the world of the arts, music, mass media, and all catagories of industrial production. So simply looking at the more human side of things, fantasy and natural desires to be closer to the surreal may have been one of the heavy facters that pushes the rise of Comic/Manga movies. Don’t we all have some kind secret desires that overwhelm our imagination at times? This topic can go on and on, just like the discussion of Reality TV shows. Such a fun subject!

  2. 2 uhsieh December 14, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    I guess I forgot to mention that in the entry. You’re right that in this world of 24/7 news coverage on well, everything, people are looking things that are larger than life. It’s not surprising that they turn to Comic/Manga movies, ne?

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Please don't ask me where you could download the anime/movie/dorama. Check Tokyo Toshokan first, please. Thanks.

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