Though fans are rightfully cautious about live-action anime adaptations, I think this choice should instill some confidence in the adaptation, or at the very least ease some fears. The reason being that Sato has a long, successful career in adapting anime and manga into live-action film, including the likes of GANTZ, Bleach and I Am a Hero.
The choice to bring on a Japanese director known for adapting this kind of source material is a bold and brilliant one—especially for a Western-produced adaptation. This is the first time that an American anime adaptation has gone this route, and there are a lot of reasons why this should get fans interested in and hyped for the upcoming live-action My Hero Academia movie!
The art of adaptation
Western film industries have not had the best track record when it comes to anime adaptation, with problems of whitewashing, the plot being turned into a generic action movie, overreliance on generic CGI, and the overall dulling effect that tends to happen when you adapt something that was originally animated or illustrated.
There are a few gems; many quote Alita: Battle Angel and Speed Racer as some of the best adaptations, but they are rare cases. Outside of this, Western films just can’t seem to get animation right, possibly because putting out more IP is the main goal of the adaptation.
Regardless, Japan’s film industry has had a much larger and overall more successful history of adapting anime and manga into live action, numbering way higher and with more successful results.
But like Western adaptations, things slip through the cracks—neither are perfect, but American adaptations often lack passion for the source material, creative visual effects, diverse casting, etc., which Japanese adaptations usually have.
Inversely, Japanese adaptation of anime tend to range in quality, have less-than-stellar production values, and in general don’t have the same level of global film industry to back them up—making up for a lot of this by being Japanese media adaptations through an authentic lens.
Bringing two worlds together
I bring all this up to point out that, by bringing in a Japanese director known for anime adaptations into an American-produced, live-action adaptation of an anime, we’re very possibly getting the best of both worlds.
Of course, we don’t know of any production or script details yet, but there should be some level of confidence in this production: we’re getting a Japanese director with anime adaptation experience and a Japanese lens to adapt My Hero Academia, one of the biggest anime of all time, with the production, budget and studio resources of an American production company. This is how modern superhero blockbusters are made.
Again, none of this guarantees a perfect adaptation, especially considering that with a bigger production may come a lot more interference on the creative level. That said, this is going to be the first movie of its kind, and My Hero Academia fans, myself included, should see this blend of talent and experience and think that maybe they’ve got the right idea.
At the very least, the choice to actually bring in a Japanese director deserves praise itself; very few other productions would make that choice, especially in American film. Even if the film doesn’t do well, we can likely expect diverse casting and authentic representation of the source material.
Sure, there’s always a risk with director choice, but risks are good for film, especially in adaptations like this. The fact that Legendary is taking this kind of risk means that maybe, just maybe, the film is in good hands. Overall, Sato is a bold, brave and brilliant choice, and I look forward to seeing the results.
My Hero Adaptation
So, how would an adaptation of Kohei Horikoshi’s hit manga work?
Adapting any serial format into a single film (even with planned sequels) is not easy, and that’s not just exclusive to anime. You have to condense a lot, trim even more, and make sure that the spirit, feeling and general core themes are left intact.
Additionally, you must ensure that highlights of the source material, crazy fights, emotional moments and pillar plot points are kept somewhat intact to maintain the feeling of the original.
It’s a delicate balance, and there are a few ways it could be done. Perhaps the movie could cover Deku’s origin all the way up to the first encounter with the villains in the USJ arc, an arc that would have to have some sense of finality to make the film wrap up nicely?
Who knows how Sato will approach this adaptation, but judging by his track record with the likes of Alice in Borderland and Assassination Classroom, I think Legendary’s live action adaptation of My Hero Academia is going to be one hell of a movie.