Hollywood's Dumb History Of Trying To Adapt Anime (And Failing)
It's been announced that Rhys Thomas, who directed half of Disney+'s Hawkeye and (according to Wikipedia) the current SNL opening credits, will direct an adaptation of Robotech, the classic '80s anime sci-fi action series/unsuccessful Barbie-ripoff doll line.
If the words "Robotech adaptation gets a director" give you a sense of nostalgia, that's because the movie has been in the works for about 15 years. Let's put it this way: at one point, this was supposed to be Tobey Maguire and Sony's next big franchise after the original Spider-Man trilogy. Over the years, at least four directors (including Aquaman's James Wan) and five writing teams (including Herbie: Fully Loaded's Alfred Gough and Miles Millar) have been attached to the project -- more people have worked on this thing than on some actually finished trilogies.
Part of the problem is that Robotech is a pretty unique franchise in that it was created by slapping three different anime shows together and having American writers create a new plot that, by some miracle, made sense, so it's probably not the easiest storyline to adapt. But this is also part of a larger trend of Hollywood studios buying up anime properties they don't fully understand and spending decades smashing their heads against the wall trying to make sense of them. Just look at the mess that is the Akira movie, which has been in the works at Warner Bros. for exactly 20 years this month.
As of 2017, the Akira adaptation had gone through at least five directors, 10 writers, and an unspecified number of interested movie stars, including Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio (who was also rumored to be intrigued by Robotech at one point, the big weeb). The movie actually went into pre-production in 2011 with Tron: Legacy's Garrett Hedlund as the star, only to be shut down weeks later due to "casting, script and budget issues." In 2017, Taika Waititi jumped in as the sixth director and things actually looked promising for a while, but in 2020 he reportedly told his pal James Gunn that the "(effing) movie fell apart," and not much has been heard about it since then. If the man who made a heart-wrenching childhood comedy co-starring Hitler can't make the movie happen, we're guessing no one can.
Then again, when Hollywood does get anime adaptations off the ground, most people end up wishing they hadn't.
The best-received anime adaptation by a big Hollywood studio so far seems to be Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel, which took about 19 years to make – it was originally gonna be James Cameron's next movie after Titanic – and there's some debate about whether it broke even or lost money. Of course, how much money it made shouldn't be the most important metric when it comes to judging a movie, but it's always kind of hilarious when giant studios spend decades on a project and the result is “we might have made 50 bucks.”
It's pretty clear by now that the best way for Hollywood to adapt anime properties is to just ... not do it. Or, in Robotech's case, maybe grab three Japanese mecha films and slap them together with a new plot. The result couldn't possibly be worse than Dragonball Evolution.
Top image: Toho, Stormrider83/Wikimedia Commons