Spike Jonze's 'Chobits' and Other Adaptation-Ready Manga; This Should Be A Thing

Even as we speak, Hollywood has its interns raiding the vaults of Marvel (and to a lesser degree) DC comics, turning up every killer story arc and team-up they can muster. And if they can make a movie out of Battleship, I’m sure they’ll be drilling the funny books for a long time, but as long as the door’s wide open, why stop at American comics? Cutting to the chase: when has Japan not been on the cutting edge of WTFculture? Take my hand, wax superlative with me: Manga film adaptations are not only feasible, they could knock current comic book movies out of the park.

But first, a quick word: why is America ready for mainstream manga movies now? For one thing, it isn’t quite as batshit as it seems—I believe the Akira film has been in talks since 2002, and has since attracted the most ridiculous names (Helena Bonham Carter, Leonardo DiCaprio, and George Takei have all been attached at one time or another). But more importantly, we’ve caught a taste for extremes and simply aren’t afraid of flamboyance anymore. Moon-sceptres that encase the wielder in gossamer ribbons, swords three times the size of the wielder, even the hilariously-dumb-when-you-think-about-it concept of giant robots controlled via Wii motions was embraced with open arms for Pacific Rim. If the allure of comic book movies is over-the-top action, more-colossal-than-life characters, and ready-made, expansive universes that lend themselves to film-length installments, the question should be: why the hell not?

To try to sell my case (and hopefully catch the eye of a film exec or two), let’s look at 3 different spins of Manga that would be completely viable for possible investors, conversant with the cultural climate, and most importantly, damn fun for audiences.

First Up:

Chobits, directed by Spike Jonze


In a future where the affluent can purchase ‘Persocoms,’ human-shaped personal computers, loser student Hideki Motosuwa finds a robotic girl-doll in the trash who matches none of the commercial model specs, and who begins developing emotional complexities that should be impossible for persocoms. Together they explore her mysterious origins, and the implications of relationships between human and artificial intelligences. Also, her ‘On’ button is built into her crotch.

Why it’s ripe for adaptation: 

Because it’s got the timely, socio-technological dissections of Her, and because it’s damn creepy of course, and that needs capitalizing on. Not only is it HumanxApp shipping, but true to Manga form, the sexualized Persocom (named ‘Chi’ for the only sound she’s able to make) is depicted as uncomfortably young and childlike compared to Hideki’s college age. It’s debatable whether that was by choice or just a quirk of the medium, but as Americans, I think we’d read it with especially furrowed brows. Consequently, Chobits has got more creepiness layers than a were-onion (I’m so sorry for that joke) and would really benefit from something like a Hard Candy type of approach. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s an incredibly uncomfortable watch: an androgynized, preteen-looking Ellen Page entraps a man she suspects of molesting her friend. This way, we can blow that theme of forbidden love wide open to encompass broad ranges of the romantically dysfunctional, and talk about what it might be like living on the edge of moral transgression. Compared to this doozy, Her feels like your standard Barrymore/Sandler romcom.

Casting and directorial choices:

Speaking of Her, why not Spike Jonze in the director’s seat? He’s the man behind quirky comedy/dramas like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are, and if the first two titles can be believed, he’s amazing at depicting pathetic, emotionally fragile men who are hopelessly distanced from their desires, so he’s exactly who we want commandeering Hideki’s lines and deliveries.

As for Chi and Hideki, I’d set my sights on Dakota Fanning and (here’s the grand slam) James Franco. *Drops the keyboard and walks away . . . stops, and thinks better of it* Dakota Fanning’s the perfect, angelic-looking blonde for the role of the cringe-inducingly nubile Chi, and has the added benefit of being a high-profile child actress in the past. And as for James Franco--come now, there isn’t a rock big enough to keep you from hearing about his recent creep-ventures. Plus, the dude’s so smarmy all the time, I’d put my money on people wanting to see him really squirm.


Berserk, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn


Set in a fantastic Middle Ages populated by sprites and hordes of lascivious trolls, Guts (alternately spelled Gutz, Gatsu, Gutzu, basically every permutation of ‘gutsy as fucksy’) rampages through hordes of kaiju-sized nasties, seeking revenge on former comrade Griffith, who sacrificed their compatriots’ lives and souls to become a living god. Whereas Guts sinks deeper into an increasingly uncontrollable rage, Griffith has built his own mythology as a divine hero of the land, thanks to his supernatural power. As all-encompassing conceptions of morality twist and fade away, all that’s left is base, human ambition.

Why it’s ripe for adaptation:
This series is widely regarded as one of the most metal things not only to come out of Japan, but human culture: the antagonists are skyscraper-sized slug demons and fire-breathing hawkmen, whereas Guts arguably has no discernible powers whatsoever, aside from being very, very angry, and having a very large sword. It’s a Shadow of the Colossus (something that also needs its own movie) situation every single time he’s in a battle—angry man + slab of metal vs. Galactus, every time.

If we can get kicks out of watching giant robots fighting giant monsters, imagine the utter despair and hopelessness you can wring out of an audience by subjecting them to that sort of image. Aside from the absolutely bleak iconography of the series, it’s got a Biblical sense of proportion—Griffith makes himself a ruler with literal divine right on his side, with Guts acting the role of the apostate angel. This is, without much hyperbole, Pacific Rim meets Batman (Christian Bale still has a lot of quartz to eat before he can take on Guts’ sense of darkness and depravity) meets Lord of the Rings meets Constantine.

Casting and Directorial Choices:
Now there was a rumor earlier this year about a Berserk film due out 2017, but it’s since been found to be an IMDB-based hoax, as far as I can tell. However cruel it was to whet appetites that way, the hoax got one thing right—Nicolas Winding Refn would be the logical directorial choice. And I’m not talking about the guy who made Drive and Only God Forgives, I’m talking about the guy who also made Valhalla Rising, a somewhat flop of a Viking movie that nevertheless scored huge with me for its barren, fatalistic atmosphere, and sparse action.

Though it enraged most viewers for only having about two and a half fight scenes (“WHATKINDOFAVIKINGMOV-“), it still imbued the tale of Vinland-bound warriors with an apocalyptic feel, an end of times that is the reflection of human violence upon itself. Perfect for Berserk. As for the rage-disfigured Guts and coldly beautiful Griffith, the trick is to find a pair that embodies the gulf between maculate, gritty reality, and the sinister appeal of fantasy, respectively. So, who else but Mickey Rourke and Tilda Swinton?

More than anyone, Rourke’s face looks like fate’s whetstone, and Swinton looks like a crucified swan’s soul, resurrected in an androgynous, crystalline vessel.


So we’ve got a social commentary, a straight action epic, what else does the world of Manga have to offer us spectacle-starved moviegoers? At this point, I need you to bear with me, folks:

One-Punch Man, by Wes Anderson


Imagine a world populated with superheroes of every size and sort (psychics, atomic accidents, martial arts gurus), each graded by the Hero Association and given assignments neutralizing threats to humanity. These catastrophic beings and monsters have become exponentially more dire recently, with even the elite A-graders finding themselves against the ropes, but within the ranks there is a single superbeing that eclipses all others—Saitama: bald, skinny, terrible retro-costume, completely unambitious, and with an undefeated fight record, each ending with a single blow. Hence, he is the One-Punch Man. The only problems? He’s facing an existential crisis at never having experienced a real fight since gaining his powers, and no one believes that this least ostentatious-looking hero of heroes could be behind his exploits.

Why it’s ripe for adaptation:
One-Punch Man is the sort of meta-superhero manga I’ve been waiting for. Every tenet of popular manga and superhero comics are parodied—the gravitas of the battles, the thick-headed personalities of the heroes, and above all, the idea that power is endowed for a reason. There simply is no reason for Saitama’s unassailable strength (when questioned, he revealed his hellish training regimen: 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and a hefty jog, every day!), much to the complete rage and despair of enemies and comrades alike. Aside from being completely hilarious, it asks natural questions of a world where superbeings exist: is it possible to be too powerful? What does infinite power look like? How does spectacle play into actual ability? In the end, the undisputed conclusion seems to be that only people like Saitama can be entrusted with that degree of strength—namely, the Average Joe. With the advent of comic book movies, America is now equipped to appreciate this kind of joke and all of its ramifications, both for the medium and for our tiny, everyday lives.

Casting choices:

So why Wes Anderson? Because One-Punch Man thrives on deadpan humor, from Saitama’s poorly drawn face, to the colorful personalities of the world’s superheroes; imagine every one of his little token actors as a separate hero: Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman--is this starting to make sense? 


At its heart, the series is about fitting in, finding purpose, and coming to grips with one’s abilities, even as the world is crumbling all around--classic Anderson material. Now casting Saitama is a far more difficult deci- wait, no it's not.There can only be one man. And it is...

This man. 




Andrew Tran's picture
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