Zack Snyder Made A Terrible Superman Movie (But A Perfect Anime)
We at Cracked have talked enough about why Zack Snyder's Man of Steel is a terrible Superman movie, so let's switch it up and talk about why it's actually good ... as an anime adaptation. No, really. Snyder is a talented anime director tragically stuck doing movies based on American comics.
It's been pointed out that Man of Steel is the best live-action Dragon Ball movie to date ... which isn't a terribly high bar given that there's only one official live-action Dragon Ball movie, and it's considered one of the worst adaptations ever produced. But still, this fan edit of the Superman vs. Zod fight scene (the one that left like half of Metropolis homeless) with Dragon Ball Z sounds is genuinely cool:
It's actually impressive how much more sense the action seems to make with dramatic anime sounds thrown in. As it turns out, this is not an accident. The fight was storyboarded by artist Jay Oliva, who is a big Dragon Ball Z fan and says he pitched it as "something I've never seen in live-action American cinema and only in anime." The distractingly artificial look of the CGI city in certain shots is also much easier to swallow when you realize that this is supposed to be a cartoon.
But it's not just DBZ: there are also a couple of "anime opening" edits for this movie on YouTube, and, honestly, they rule. Snyder's overly dramatic way of framing things can be kind of cringe-worthy within the movie itself, especially when he tries to jam in half-assed themes or symbolism that just aren't there, but all that pretension is stripped away when you put the same actions in the context of an anime theme song. There's no symbolism: it's just a collection of cool shots meant to entice you to watch the show (or at least add it to your Netflix queue and keep it there for the next five years).
Man of Steel makes more sense when you realize that its visual approach has more in common with Japanese mangas than with western comics, which are more literal. If you see a building blowing up in a DC or Marvel comic, it's a building blowing up, and if the heroes had anything to do with it you'll probably see a 10-issue plotline about them dealing with the resulting guilt and legal consequences. But in mangas and action anime, style dictates plot and stuff like that can happen in the background without anyone caring because it's understood to be a bit of artistic license. American and Japanese audiences draw the line in different places when it comes to suspension of disbelief, which might go back to those old monster movies where a giant turtle could stomp on a bunch of cardboard buildings and still be the "Friend to All Children" at the end.
Once you start looking for the anime influence, you can see it all over Snyder's movies. Sucker Punch is a fan service-y cartoon that happens to be animated in part with human bodies. In 300, both Gerald Butler's Leonidas and the completely ridiculous Xerxes are basically ripped out of an anime in both look and line delivery.
And then there's Watchmen, probably the gravest director/source material mismatch in superhero movies. Watchmen, the comic, is the opposite of a dynamic action manga -- it's a deliberately slow narrative where some of the most important events are framed as background details because that's how you'd see them in real life. The entire comic is about applying superhero tropes to a mundane real-world setting. The "heroes" look tired, insane, and pathetic because Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to make the point that there would be nothing cool about them if they actually existed. So of course they hired the one director who makes every tiny action look like it's the most epic thing ever, even if that undermines the original creators' stated intention.
On the upside, at least that made it much easier for someone to make an "anime opening" edit:
It seems like the key to enjoying Snyder's work for those who typically don't care for it is blasting some anime music on top of it. Hans Zimmer has been holding him back all these years. The one exception might be Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice -- no amount of cool anime music can make the idea of Superman testifying in Congress in front of a pee jar more palatable. After the negative critical reaction to Man of Steel, Snyder changed his approach in this movie: since people took his destruction porn literally, he tried to incorporate the consequences into the plot in the way he thought a "mature" DC/Marvel comic would. Intentionally or not, he also made the action scenes more literal and less cartoony than in Man of Steel, Sucker Punch, or 300. This fan edit of the Doomsday fight with DBZ sounds and music is a nice try, but it doesn't fit as well as the Zod one:
On the other hand, the BvS version of Lex Luthor, with his "quirky" personality, half-baked philosophical motivation, and nonsensical evil master plan, is the closest thing to a classic anime villain we've seen in a superhero movie so far.
The good news is that Snyder has said he'd be totally up for doing an actual anime adaptation, and maybe even a Dragon Ball Z one if the circumstances were right. He's also working on an anime prequel of Army of the Dead and personally directing at least a couple of episodes. Here's hoping he follows his true calling and gives us a suitably epic movie about the greatest, most brutal anime series ever produced: Popeye the Sailor Man, of course.
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
Top image: Warner Bros. Pictures, Toei Animation