Hollywood in recent times has decided popular anime from Japan needs to be adapted for a western audience. The two recent ones are Ghost in the Shell and Death Note and we all know already from reviews and friends that these movies could not hold a candle to the originals. But what is it that made them unfavorable? Kenny had some thoughts in his article earlier, here’s my take on the matter.
Spoilers for Ghost in the Shell (2017) and Death Note ahead!
Also, all views ahead are mine alone and does not represent BAYOG as a whole.
Let’s get everyone’s biggest gripe out of the way first, “whitewashing”. I am probably the only one not bothered by this (and I’ll probably get a lot of hate for saying this). As long as the actor or actress can fully portray the emotions and attitude of the character, is there really a problem? I get it, you want a character you can relate to because they have the same ethnicity than you, but to what point does race even matter anymore? I do agree Hollywood should make an effort to cast actors of the right race, but if they are unable to the story and all other elements need to change around that. The story and the messages it tells, in my opinion, are far more important than something superficial unless the story actually revolves around that feature.
Ghost in the Shell renamed Motoko but left Batou’s name alone. The city is generic enough to be any city in the future so why, aside from name recognition, not just westernize everyone? Moreover, making Major’s Ghost’s race a plot point was completely unnecessary when the story made more commentaries about humanity instead of race. Death Note tried harder with fully westernizing, but Light is not exactly a name someone in Seattle would give their child.
Moreover, what some Hollywood adaptations also lack is maintaining the characters of the source material. While it can be new and refreshing to have them be someone different, sometimes things just feel off if the characters personalities do not fit the role they are playing. Ghost in the Shell made the “ghost in the shell” concept unique to Major so any sort of ghost-hacking wouldn’t make sense. Batou’s eyes were natural until halfway through and even after he got the implants it didn’t feel as impactful.
This is more relevant to Death Note. In Netflix’s Death Note, Light is a wimpy kid and a troublemaker. He’s terrified of Ryuk when they first meet and his original motive for using the Death Note was revenge instead of passing judgment on criminals and only developed into the “Kira” mindset we know from the anime after showing Mia what the Death Note can do. L’s process of deduction, his sitting and movement habits, and his addiction to sweets is glossed over really quickly or not explained at all. Late in the movie L had an uncharacteristic change after Watari’s death. Instead of solving the case normally, he took it upon himself to take out Light.
Major plot points and underlying messages in the source that were included in the adaptations could have also used a little more emphasis. Ghost in the Shell had many scenes almost 1:1 with the original. These scenes were also some of the most vivid. But the message of humanity and what it means to exist are more muted and partially replaced with an out of place racial commentary. For Death Note, many of the anime’s key plot points and features, such as Light and L’s cat and mouse game, were also fairly dull in the Netflix adaptation. The significance of Light’s father speaking on TV about catching Kira did not seem important, especially with how little L talks about that event.
Hollywood adaptations of anime can definitely be better. But to be better they have to commit to bringing the story into the culture the western audience is familiar with and maintaining enough to make the story recognizable in more ways than just name. Death Note’s changes weren’t terrible. It laid a decent foundation for a sequel which can redeem the adapted franchise. Ghost in the Shell overall was mediocre but a decent homage to the original. When it comes to western adaptations, it’s probably best to view them as a new series or a spin-off to the original instead of a 100% accurate representation of the original. Look at the bright side, at least Death Note and Ghost in the Shell were better than Dragonball Evolution!