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'Alita: Battle Angel' is not the first live-action manga adaptation, and definitely not the strangest

by Blake Chapman Film adaptations of any piece of media have always seemed to be a mixed bag. Writers and directors are handed the monumental task of  portraying the source material with accuracy while also not alienating those who are not current fans. This complex process is not confined to Hollywood, however. For years, the anime and manga industry in Japan has been trying to perfect their own formula with a somewhat mixed reception. “Alita: Battle Angel” along with these five other live-action retellings choose to head straight for the silver screen.

Alita: Battle Angel

The most recent iteration on this list, 2019’s “Alita: Battle Angel," is based off a manga that ran in the 1990s known in Japan as “Gunnm." The nine-volume comic follows a cybernetic girl who wakes up in the post-apocalyptic city of Scrapyard without any memory of the past. She is rebuilt by cybermedic expert Daisuke Ido who names her Alita and acts as her interim caretaker. After remembering the legendary martial art of Panzer Kunst, she becomes a mercenary and begins a journey to retrace her past life while hunting cyborg criminals.
Image from Collider
The original series spawned a number of spin-off titles, the most prominent being “Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night & Other Stories” which ran in Ultra Jump from 1997 to 2006. A two-episode OVA was released in 1993 along with a Japan-only action role-playing game for the original PlayStation titled “Gunnm: Martian Memory” in 1998. The production of the live-action film has been a much more arduous process. Originally announced in May of 2003 by then director James Cameron, the movie received three delays between then and October of 2010, when Cameron stated his next film would not be “Battle Angel” but instead two “Avatar” sequels. After six additional years of development, 20th Century Fox set the release date to July 20, 2018, and confirmed Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids” and “Sin City”) would be directing with Cameron as writer and producer. Finally, after another few delays, it hit theaters in the U.S. on February 14 of this year.

Your Lie in April

Working backward, 2016 did not see that many movie adaptations besides the surprising release of “Your Lie in April." Known in Japan as simply “Kimiuso," the original manga series was published from April 2011 to May 2015. The story is about a young piano prodigy named Kosei Arima recovering from the death of his abusive and strict mother. After meeting the free-spirited violin player, Kaori Miyazono, he can suddenly find it within himself to enjoy the sound of the piano again.
Image from The Outerhaven
Just after the original manga came to a close in 2015, the Japanese film production company Toho confirmed that an adaptation of the title was in the works. Within a year, the project was released on September 10, 2016, and amassed a total of 11.44 million dollars at the box office. An average score of seven stars on IMDb adds some more prestige to this youth romance series. A live-action picture is not the only adaptation with the title of “Kimiuso." A-1 Pictures developed the narrative into an anime television series that ran from the fall of 2014 into the spring of the following year. A stage play was also announced for late summer 2017 featuring live musical performances in Tokyo and Osaka.

Corpse Party

The collection of Japanese horror titles is ever-expanding across multiple entertainment platforms. Japan is responsible for unleashing the hellish creatures depicted in classic thrillers like “Ringu” and “Ju-on: The Grudge” as well as terrifying video game fans with Konami's critically acclaimed “Silent Hill” series and Capcom’s “Resident Evil." It is very unlikely if ever that these two mediums will cross paths, but it just so happens that 2015 was the lucky year that brought us the movie “Corpse Party." “Corpse Party” the game is a survival horror title released in the ancient year of 1996 for PC-9801, one of many Japanese personal computers in the now discontinued PC-98 lineup. The plot consists of dimension-traveling high school students trapped in a dilapidated schoolhouse haunted by vengeful ghosts. Players must explore for an escape route while avoiding demonic entities, interacting with their environment and talking with side characters. Typical JRPG goodness.
Image from IMDb
After five sequels released on multiple mobile devices, five manga series spanning 23 volumes and a four episode OVA, a movie was set to release on August 1, 2015. Whereas the original game has amassed a dedicated fan following in the horror community, the film could not do the same, receiving an average of five out of ten stars on IMDb. As per usual, that did not stop the filmmakers from producing a sequel “Corpse Party Book of Shadows” in 2016, based off the sequel to the original game.

Assassination Classroom

The phrase ‘Japanese tentacle monster’ usually garners some very strange looks when placed in everyday conversation. Given the context of Toho’s “Assassination Classroom” movie, the message becomes a whole lot clearer. The 2012 Weekly Shonen Jump series ran from July of that year until the finale was published on March 25, 2016. The manga involves Koro-sensei, a large octopus-like alien, who has become a homeroom teacher after destroying the majority of the Moon. Before destroying Earth, he teaches a class of delinquents to improve in school while also instructing them in the art of assassination. Over the course of a year, the students must discover a way to eliminate him or their summer will come to an abrupt end with the destruction of their homeworld.
Image from TMDb
As the manga’s original run was one year away from completion, a movie based upon the 21-volume series premiered on March 21, 2015. Reception of the adaptation was admirable, ultimately grossing 23 million dollars but landing with some mixed reviews. IMDb has handed out an average six and a half stars while Otaku USA said “Assassination Classroom felt more like a series of non-cohesive chapters than a fleshed-out whole.” Koro-sensei’s famous yellow smiley face has wiggled its way into other forms of entertainment besides just a stint on the big screen. An anime series premiered its first season during the spring season of 2015. A Bandai Namco game was developed for the 3DS and released along with the movie in March of the same year. Finally, two additional movies were released in Japan the following year, one being an anime film called “Assassination Classroom the Movie: 365 Days” and the other being a sequel to the live action edition titled “Assassination Classroom: Graduation."

Dragon Ball

Imagine it is the early 1990s. The Hubble Space Telescope is just beginning its long voyage into outer space, the Gulf War has just begun in the Middle East and the final arc of “Dragon Ball” has come to a close. The “Dragon Ball Z” anime has just begun but some studio executives are still looking for a way to earn money from the now forgone original volumes of Son Goku’s adventures. In December of 1990, a live-action version of Akira Toriyama’s original “Dragon Ball” manga would be produced in South Korea.
Image from TV Tropes
“Dragon Ball: Ssawora Son Goku, Igyeora Son Goku” (yes, that is the full title) is an unofficial and unlicensed Korean film depicting the events of the original “Dragon Ball” story. The movie recounts the events from the Emperor Pilaf Saga all the way into the start of the Saiyan Saga with Nappa. Strangely enough, that is almost all the information you can find on this live-action edition. Availability of the title is very difficult to come by because the only legal method of witnessing this masterpiece is by purchasing the VHS version. Unfortunately for longtime fans, the only copy ever sold in the United States was in 2013 for a total price of 215 dollars. But honestly, the poster gives you enough satisfaction without having to watch over an hour and a half of Goku’s cousin. At least “Dragonball Evolution” was still over 20 years away.

Lady Snowblood

Possibly the oldest example of manga or anime live-action adaptations would be the 1973 Japanese action thriller “Lady Snowblood” directed by Toshiya Fujita. The original story was serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Playboy magazine throughout 1972 and 1973. It centers around female assassin Oyuki, on a mission to enact revenge on those who murdered her family and raped her mother. Equipped with only a hidden blade under her umbrella, she goes slashing through enemies in four volumes.
Image from Film Comment
The feature film of the same name stared Meiko Kaji and while following the same story as the original, it featured a nonlinear plot. After being distributed by Toho on December 1, 1973, it garnered impressive praise and unique influence. On Rotten Tomatoes six critic reviews have given the movie a rating of 100 percent, and it was the major inspiration for “Kill Bill." The director Quentin Tarantino even made cast members watch DVDs of “Lady Snowblood” while on break. Along with the success of the first film came a sequel in 1974 and a 2001 sci-fi remake titled “The Princess Blade." Considering it was only the third manga series adapted to real life, it did pretty well and showed that manga filled with fast-paced action can be made into live action without sacrificing story. It does not seem like crafting classically animated franchises into live action versions is going anywhere, within Hollywood or across the world. Adaptations of other classic franchises from Disney or even stage productions of SpongeBob and Shrek continue to pay out massive quantities to their owners. Now we just have to wait and see if Alita can battle her way to the top of the box office this weekend.
Sources: IMDbOtaku USARotten Tomatoes Images: ColliderThe OuterhavenIMDbTMDbTV TropesFilm Comment Featured Image: Engadget