'Astro Boy' And The Anime Adaptation Conundrum

Astro BoyBy John Constantine

Given every major film studio's propensity for pumping out big-screen adaptations, whether they be of comic books, novels, musicals, or theme park rides, it's strange that we haven't seen many anime flicks.

Discounting all but forgotten direct-to-video trash like 1991's "The Guyver," there have really only been three Western-made anime adaptations. I'm reluctant to even count last year's practically budget-less "Dragonball: Evolution", so that leaves the Wachowski siblings' hallucinogenic "Speed Racer" and this week's "Astro Boy".

It's fitting that those two are the first anime properties to receive a significant marketing push and budget from their respective studios considering that their cartoon inspirations were among the very first anime to reach America way back in the 1960s. It is, however, a miracle that they were released at all.

"Speed Racer" was relegated to development hell as far back as 1992 and "Astro Boy" had an original release date of 2000. With the anime/manga boom of earlier this decade, the cultural penetration of properties like "Naruto" here in the west, and the massive, big-screen potential of many anime's action, special effects, and T&A appeal, you'd think anime adaptations would be a sure thing. So what's the deal? Why aren't there more? And why does it seem that the ones that do get optioned for adaptation never get made?

Cost is the easiest answer. The anime movies and shows best suited to Western adaptation are typically very special-effects intensive. AD Vision estimated that their WETA-backed "Neon Genesis Evangelion" movie would cost $120 million back in 2003, and while that may not seem like the most absurd budget in the world today ("Speed Racer" had the same budget) it's still a lot to bank on giant robots, even in a post-"Transformers" world.

Just last month, the "Cowboy Bebop" adaptation Keanu Reeves has been trying to get off the ground is getting held up because the studio thinks that, if they filmed the current script, it would, "cost half a billion dollars to make." That most anime is effects-heavy fantasy isn't enough to keep Hollywood from pursuing a lucrative genre, though.

The truth is that even though anime and manga's has managed to penetrate into the American mainstream over the past decade, no individual property is as recognizable to the American public as Spider-man or Optimus Prime.

However, what will ultimately pave the way for anime adaptations making it into Western theaters is just one success. All it will take is one movie, like Leonardo DiCaprio's still-percolating "Akira" adaptation, to be a hit and the floodgates will finally open.

Until then, anime fans will just have to satisfy themselves with Japan's weird-as-hell film adaptations like "Death Note". Actually, that probably suits them just fine.

Is there an anime you'd like to see adapted? Let us know what you think in the comment section or on Twitter!