Let's Animate This is an ongoing series where we explore the idea of adapting non-anime properties as anime productions: what it would take, which works would make for the best adaptations, and what issues would be raised in the translation.
Let's Film This is an ongoing series where we explore the idea of adapting different anime as live-action productions: what it would take, which shows would make for the best adaptations, and what issues would be raised in the translation.

News of a possible new animated adaptation (from Japan, of course) of Katsuhiro Otomo's seminal near-future apocalypse story AKIRA has circumnavigated the blogosphere faster than a torrent of the movie itself. This is a far, far better idea than a misguided, culturally inept live-action adaptation, courtesy of a revolving-door stable of writers and directors at Warner Brothers. Of all the possible ways to do justice to the original manga in another medium, this may well be the most fitting. Let me enumerate the ways.

1. The original manga needs an expanded adaptation

Otomo's original story, which ran to six sizable volumes in English, was shaved down enormously to fit into a two-hour film. Many subplots were telescoped into each other, condensed, or thrown out entirely. Most conspicuous in its absence is a whole subplot about Tetsuo's cultish "Great Akira Empire" and their clash with a female shaman, herself one of the numbered test subjects. Without this material, the story loses much of its original nuance, and seeing it put back in would be deeply heartening. It would amount to creating an entirely new story, at least for those who only know of AKIRA by way of the movie.

2. A TV show is a perfect format for all that material

Where better to deal with all that sprawl than in the context of a TV series? The exact length of the show — 13 episodes, 26 episodes — would be entirely dependent on how much money they could scare up, but modern digitally-assisted production technology ought to make it far easier to realize the scope and scale of AKIRA without going hopelessly broke.

Also, compared to previous eras, the options for financing and distributing such a show are a lot broader than they used to be. E.g., a you have a bunch of avenues for how to finance and distribute it: conventional TV series, theatrically released cycle a la Berserk's reboot, partnership with an overseas outfit (hello, Netflix!), and so on. Even a cycle of OVAs a la the new Evangelion might work, provided they can be put out on a slightly less interminable schedule than that project.

3. It's no diss on the original film

My own feelings about AKIRA are mixed, but my respect for the movie — and my understanding about its place in anime history — remains undiminished. It is a work of art and a milestone. A new adaptation of AKIRA will not touch any of that, in the same way the newer Vampire Hunter D film wasn't a repudiation of the older one.

In fact, putting the old and new versions side by side would be an eye-opening experience, and could spark any number of discussions about how the original chose to condense things made explicit and detailed in the remake. (Yes, I just gave myself an idea for an article there, should this ever come to fruition.)

4. It's a far better idea than a Westernized live-action version

That almost goes without saying, but it's best to say it anyway. The more the folks at Warner Brothers talked up a live-action AKIRA project, the more it seemed like a movie without an audience. Much of what made AKIRA what it was, was rooted in where it came from and how it incarnated a point of view unique to its origins. The Western remake's approach amounted to swapping 9/11 for Hiroshima. That screenwriter Gary Whitta was a big fan of the original material didn't seem to help much, either; sometimes the bigger a fan you are of something, the less capable you are of making sensible decisions about it.

If we're to get another AKIRA in some form, better that it be a version more closely aligned with what the original was anyway. Unfortunately, I know full well a live-action version and an animated re-adaptation are not mutually exclusive; if anything, the success of the latter might well convince some bigwig at Warner Brothers of the viability of the former.

Why, though, is anyone's guess. Isn't this property best left to the creators, and the audiences, that care most about it — even if that audience doesn't happen to be a blockbuster-sized one?

About the Author

Serdar Yegulalp (@GanrikiDotOrg) is Editor-in-Chief of Ganriki.org. He has written about anime professionally as the Anime Guide for Anime.About.com, and as a contributor to Advanced Media Network, but has also been exploring the subject on his own since 1998.