Opinion: Akira Cannot Be Adapted

Some things are perfect the way they are.

Anime as a medium has a long and rich history. Akira, a film originally released in 1988 is seen as the magnum opus of the medium. It’s dark, featured brooding landscapes, and post-apocalyptic themes which has  resonated for decades.

It inspired many modern works, ranging from Kanye West albums, movies such as The Matrix, and Inception, and even upcoming video games like Cyberpunk 2077. Of course a movie like this doesn’t come very often and par for the course, Hollywood is looking to remaking this classic film, ala Ghost In The Shell.

A live-action remake have long been rumored, and it has just been confirmed that the Hollywood adaptation is definitely on its way - with Taika Waititi taking the helm as director, and also featuring Katsuhiro Otomo, the original mangaka for Akira,  as well as Leonardo DiCaprio serving as producers. Recently the synopsis of the film has also been released and is as follows:

 

"When a young man’s telekinesis is discovered by the military, he is taken in to be turned into a super weapon and his brother must race to save him before Manhattan is destroyed by his powers. Kaneda is a bar owner in Neo-Manhattan who is stunned when his brother Tetsuo is abducted by Government agents lead by the Colonel. Desperate to get his brother back, Kaneda agrees to join Ky Reed and her underground movement who are intent on revealing to the world what truly happened to New York City 30 years ago when it was destroyed.

Kaneda believes their theories to be ludicrous, but after facing his brother again is shocked when he displays telekinetic powers. Ky believes Tetsuo is headed to release a young boy. Akira, who has taken control of Tetsuo’s mind, Kaneda clashes with the Colonel’s troops on his way to stop Tetsuo from releasing Akira, but arrives too late. Akira soon emerges from his prison courtesy of Tetsuo as Kaneda races to save his brother before Akira once again destroys Manhattan island as he did thirty years ago."

 

Two words. Neo. Manhattan. Was it really necessary for them to change the setting from a post-World War III Tokyo to New York? Granted, you could easily say that these two major cities in the world  could easily be traded out for each other, but really... how many movies do we get in a year that is set in New York. From rom-coms like “13 Going On 30”, horror films like “Cloverfield”, and every superhero from “Spiderman” to  the “Ninja Turtles” - all taking place in New York. Not many Hollywood films actually took place in Tokyo, let alone a futuristic, post-apocalyptic one. This downright took the personality out of Akira by setting it in Manhattan, losing its luster by making it just another New York movie.

Then there are the characters in this synopsis. Firstly by having Kaneda and Tetsuo being brothers instead of best friends. Seeing as these two are already close as it is without any familial ties, it remains to be seen how this really changes their dynamic. Furthermore, it might just be a misinterpretation as these two belong in a Japanese gang together, and gang members tend to use more familial pronouns with each other as a testament to their bond. This might just be a more digestible, Western approach to it.

Secondly, you have Kaneda being a bartender? As if being a super-cool, red leather jacket wearing, bike riding leader  of the Capsules wasn’t relatable enough, they had to relegate the main hero into being just a plain old bartender. Does that mean Tetsuo would be bussing tables before he gets his telekinetic powers?

And finally, Ky Reed. They’re pulling a Light Turner  for this one. While it doesn’t seem like Kaneda and Tetsuo are being whitewashed, it does seem like one sacrifice had to be made. As if Kei was too hard to pronounce, they had to change it to “Ky” and add an arbitrary, white last name to it. If Scarlet Johanssen isn’t playing Tetsuo, you can bet that she’ll be playing this Ky Reed.  

But all these factors aren’t the main reason on why Akira shouldn’t be adapted, they’re just the main red flags to this specific adaptation going south. Akira shouldn’t be adapted as it was made for the anime medium, it was also originally  a manga. The original anime film was already a compromise as the film could only fit the major themes and events from the manga, not actually a proper adaptation. The manga told a much richer and full story over the course of 6 volumes, while the original film trimmed most of it down to 2 hours. With the original already being a sum of the story’s parts, who knows how much more the Hollywood movie will truncate?

To sum things up, the manga and the anime can exist separately, and have done so for the past 3 decades or so. Though the anime film does cut a lot of things out, it stands out on its own.  And it still moves people the same way today, the same way it did all those years ago. The manga is lesser known, but definitely just as important. For what it's worth, no new adaptation could ever achieve the same heights as the original, but does that really mean we need a Hollywood adaptation this far-fetched? Definitely not.