How will Hollywood capitalize on the rising popularity of manga in the U.S.?

June 21, 2007 at 6:34 pm (manga, market, Movies)

The best thing to come out of that Nymphet brouhaha is that Jason DeAngelis now writes a weekly column about being a manga publisher. In the most recent one he talks about how Hollywood feels that Manga are the next Comic Books.

Starting, I think, with the X-Men movie in 2000, there have been a long string of high-budget motion pictures based on popular American comic books. According to, two of the top ten most successful (in terms of gross ticket sales) movies this year are based on comic books: Spiderman 3 (#1), and 300 (#5). Those are good examples because they show the two major things that are going on here.

Spiderman is iconic in the U.S. The studio did not have to explain what the hell this “Spiderman” thing was when marketing it. The two most iconic super hero comic book characters are Superman and Batman, and they’ve both had movie franchises for quite some time. Spiderman is probably the next most recognizable after those two. I would be surprised if you could find many people in my generation who had not at least heard of Spiderman *before* the first movie was released. So with big titles like Spiderman and X-Men, there is this element of name-recognition marketing going on.

300, on the otherhand, is not a comic book title that is very well known in the public. But by the time 300 came out, producers had already discovered the benefits of mining comic books for movie material, regardless of their followings. Look at Sin City: from what I understand, there are very close to zero changes from the actual Sin City books used for the movie, aside from adding the moving actors; they used it as script and storyboard without modification. DeAngelis confirms this in his column:

…Hollywood just loves “source material.” Not only do they adore that particular buzzword, but it’s just so much easier to “fast track” and “green light” a project if it’s based on something visual like a graphic novel or manga.

So it looks like Hollywood producers are making a lot of comic book adaptations for one of the same reason anime studios make a lot of manga adaptations: It’s EASY.

So what about manga-adaptations for Hollywood movies? Well, they have that same advantage of being visual media. I don’t think licensing will be that much of an issue. I imagine the Japanese property holders would be ecstatic to sell live-action movie rights to Hollywood; it’s probably far more profitable than selling them to a Japanese studio. DeAngelis thinks that the major challenge is how serialized popular action manga (like the stuff in Jump) are, i.e. their lack of major “plot”; I don’t honestly see this as an issue, because super-hero comic books have the same problem EVEN WORSE; it’s not that hard to scrape together a major arc into a movie, and Hollywood is all about multi-picture franchises these days anyway.

I think the biggest issue is cultural translation. It is my understanding that the biggest demographic of manga consumers in the U.S. are teenage girls. Obviously the most popular titles are things like Naruto, Bleach, and Death Note. Those three…I don’t see an issue. However, if the rest of the market is riding on shoujo romance titles (maybe it’s not?) then I think Hollywood will have a hard time taking advantage of it. The romances are just too…Japanese. Does Kare Kano even make sense if you make all the characters American? On the flip side, can they sell a movie where the culture is not translated? Where the characters are Japanese? It seems like doing the cultural translation is so much effort it negates the benefits of free storyboarding, but not doing it leaves you with a movie that is almost impossible to make in the U.S. Maybe they would look at contracting a Japanese studio for the acting (my opinion of the Japanese acting talent pool is…not high). This is an interesting thought, but I think to be financially successful, an adaptation like this will have to appeal to a much broader American audience than the manga-consuming demographic. But since romances are largely wish-fulfillment, the problem of “romantic” not translating that well cross-culturally is large.

Maybe some romances are less of an issue. I could almost see an American KGNE movie. The drama there translates quite readily into an American mindset, and it is not tied as heavily to the Japanese Highschool environment. The characters would probably have to change somewhat, raising a pointless outcry from fanboys. But then…KGNE isn’t manga (or is there one?), so maybe it doesn’t count. All I know is I will LOL for a week the first time I see a major Hollywood picture adapted from eroge.



  1. Hidoshi said,

    What I fear is a Keroro Gunso live action movie.

    Directed by Michael Bay.

  2. The_Observer said,

    or a Higurashi live action movie

    Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

  3. redmaigo said,

    In order for Hollywood to take a manga, or even an anime series, and make it into a successful movie would mean they would have to select something iconic — but at the same time simple and universal. I don’t think a big movie production of Gundam or Evangelion would work. Even other franchises that you mentioned — Naruto and Bleach — may not be possible.

    Death Note is the only thing I see as as big maybe. Since you mention that the main demographic for manga in the US is teenage girls, pretty bishounen trying to kill each other may be the way to go.

    Here’s to hoping that it does better than another pretty-boys-killing-each-other offering like the ‘The Covenant’

    All I’m really saying is that something totally romance driven will bring in the girls, but not much else. Titanic aside, you have got to have something for both sides of the human race – male and female — to fill seats and make a successful movie.

    In regards to KGNE, I think it was based on an erogame but I could be wrong.

    Me personally, I liked KGNE but my male friends can’t stand it. Even I’ll admit that the angst levels in KGNE were so toxic that even I had to wear a hazmat suit to finish it. Which pretty much tells me that the adaption of melodramatic erogames are not a good bet for a Hollywood blockbuster either.

    Maybe in a decade or two when, or if, Naruto, Bleach or other anime/manga properties are integrated into the America culture, then there is a possibility that a Hollywood film based on these franchises can actually happen.

  4. jpmeyer said,

    I dunno. That Keroro Gunso movie would be hot.

  5. tj han said,

    Blood the Last Vampire and Ghost in the Shell were rumoured to be in the Hollywood pipe weren’t they?

    Off the top of my mind, good H.wood material would be those, Capeta (with Dakota Fanning as Monami lol), Macross, and basically mecha related stuff.

  6. DrObviousSo said,

    I’ve heard it explained like this from one comic book writer who sold a script to Hollywood. If you do a good job verbally selling your movie idea to one exec, great. You’re a story teller, this should be ok. The movie exec *isn’t* a story teller, and is going to fuck up your expertly crafted, symbolism laced, perfectly paced pitch.

    If you sell a movie to a movie exec, and then plop down “God Love, Man Kills”, “A History of Violence”, or “300” onto his desk, he’s not in charge of telling people about your movie. He’s responsible for forcing them to read a really good graphic novel. All he really has to do is say “Image Tom Hanks as the dad!”

    This usually has better results.

  7. sethjohnson said,

    @redmaigo, well I may not have communicated it very well, but I was saying I don’t actually think they have to appeal to the existing audience or select something really iconic. They just need something that doesn’t require much modification. Death Note seems really easy. Bleach is probably not too bad. Naruto is slightly harder, but still doable I think. Actually I think most action titles work, because, well, they’re action titles. Even bad action titles still have…action.

  8. redmaigo said,

    @sethjohnson, I understand what you are saying. But you also mentioned that the reason why the superhero movies do such big box office is because they are so a part of our culture. Everyone knows who Superman or Spiderman are, even those who have never read a comic book in their lives. I think that is a large part of their success and their appeal.

    However, you may be right about the very lucrative K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid) factor of popular shounen titles. A million Narutards cannot be ignored or denied, so the potential marketability of a movie based on these shows are already there.

    Even more so, who would have thought a half-forgotten, 5th tier Marvel comic book character from the 70’s called Blade would have become a major franchise?

  9. Adam Varner said,

    I have no idea where you get your sources, but Bleach as well as Death Note would make killer Hollywood flicks. Death note held the top of the Japanese charts for months. So you put the Hollywood touch to it and wham a total hit. I also don’t know the first girl watching these flicks, or anime on adult swim. I am older than a teenage person, but I have cousins that are teenagers and mostly guys are watching this stuff. They just may well compete with Spider Man , X-men and so on. .Given that those are known through the ages. This is something new and catchy. If it didn’t do as well in the theater, as it continues to catch on, and through word of mouth I do believe that DVD sales would shy rocket. ..This thing it a hell of a lot bigger than you guys think. This I can promise. …I’m feenin’ every week for the next Bleach. Sure you couldn’t do the whole story, too much detail. I will say that I know the perfect way to go about it, and If I can see the say surely one of these big time writers can pull it off, but don’t go messing it up. That would totally suck! …I’m out!! ..Keep Manga Alive.

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