Saturday, April 13, 2013

Live Action: Part 2, Movies

I said earlier that Asian live action media's reputation for cheesy special effects is starting to wear thin.  The increasingly popular realm of dramas has given story-tellers even more room to play.  The Asian market doesn't seem to shy from the sci-fi and fantasy areas like the American market, so live action has seen a lot more of it lately.  Nevertheless, I still find myself a little embarrassed on behalf of some shows I adore, because I really wish they could look better.

On the other hand--while dramas have started to fill the role of cheesy practice fodder for special effects and stunt artists--Asian movies seem to have taken the next step. (The same thing happens in economics all the time.  someone has to fill the bottom rung, but no one wants to stay there forever.) In the same way that I didn't want to watch dramas based on my favorite anime series, I wanted to watch live action movies even less. 

In the American market, a comic book, video game, or novel being made into a movie used to mean someone wanted to exploit something vaguely popular for a quick and dirty script idea.  For a good part, it still does.  There are some exceptions, like Marvel and the newer Batman movies.  As for anime, I liked Speed Racer, but it was crucified before it could even hit the screens, and I don't think I need to talk about  Dragon Ball Z. Astro Boy was still marketed to kids.

For a long time, I had forgotten that the Asian media market is different.  Comics and novels are not an underground, they are auditions.  A successful story is usually a manga (comic) or a novel first. If it is popular or seen in the right light it may become an anime (cartoon) (a novel may become a manga and then an anime).  A successful anime is likely to sprout all kinds of media like video games, drama, audio drama, side stories in novels and manga, and perhaps even a feature length animated movie or live action movie.*

*this hierarchy is rather squishy and has gotten more so recently.  rungs may be skipped or inverted but the old order was always (novel =>) manga => anime =< video game, audio drama, drama, movie. Video games seem to break this order more frequently, as popular video games will often become anime then manga.

Despite this knowledge, my preconception was still that live action adaptations of my favorite comics, video games, and anime were little more than insults to the fans as our beloved fiction was stripped, whipped, and sent out to dance for the masses. So long have geeks and our fandoms been ridiculed and abused that we've learned to instinctually horde them in dark holes and often crawl in after them ourselves.  Whenever "normal" people handle them it feels like our dark secrets and precious treasures are being hung on display and held hostage awaiting approval.  We feel naked and don't know what's going to happen.

As "geek" culture becomes more popular, this is less dramatic.  It now feel more like reckless mishandling of unearthed artifacts than a brutal attack on our lairs and souls, but the defense mechanism is the same: we fear and hate it... and we still feel naked.  Whether it's accurate or not, whether they like it or hate it, we've still lost our shield: their ignorance.  Before if we said " I like D&D or Dragon Ball, they would wrinkle their nose and say "never heard of it." Now they think they have some idea of what it is.  they can attack us for it, or pretend they understand us.  More often than not, even if they like it, they still don't understand it like we do.  And sometimes that's worse. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: being a geek isn't about WHAT you like, it's about HOW you like it.  There are anime fans that are not geeks, just as there are rock-and-roll or baseball geeks.  There are gamers and people who play games.

Whatever the case, when I found the Rurouni Kenshin movie, I couldn't resist.  When you enter a franchise that is that popular and beloved, particularly for BEING GOOD, if you don't make it up to par, you will be crucified.  While the prequel to this article says we should be able to make things even if they aren't done well, I reserve also that some things just should no be touched unless you are going to do it right.  An established series is one of them.

I needn't have feared. The Rurouni Kenshin live action movie was not only an acceptable addition to the series, it was actually a GOOD movie.  Some of it was a little ridiculous in that "you can totally tell this was meant to be an anime" but none of it left me with the feeling that "they should have just left it as an anime."  It's not only started assuage my fears about live action fantasy and anime adaptations, it actually makes me look forward to more.  While Kenshin is not the most magical of series, it does involve a lot of magic-like movement, which was handled very well.

Dramas may not have the money for it yet (or the techniques are still very expensive), but movies are really getting into shape. After all, movies are about 2-hours long, where a drama averages between 10 and 25 episodes (resulting in about as many hours of aired footage).  And for that long, it seems Asian productions at least have learned to balance good dramatic technique and flashy filming extras.

That established, I'm finally going to dare to say this in a public forum with little fear of being cursed by Murphy.  I first realized it-- believe it or not-- while watching The Dark Knight Rises with my friend, but it's come up since then, particularly with the news that Sony Pictures has bothered to copyright some appropriate titles.*

Devil May Cry the live action movie needs to be a thing.

It doesn't need to be a thing like Dragon Ball Z: Evolution was a thing.  It needs to be a thing like Ruroni Kenshin the live action film was a thing.  DMC is, after all, nothing if not fan service.  It's definitely one of those things that should not be done if not to be done right.  Not because it's an established series, but because it's the sort of thing that you only get one crack at.  It's either done right and the right people like it, or it's done wrong and no one will ever touch it again.

So while I'm less fearful, and even eager to so more in this live action format (the pretty actors doesn't hurt this desire), I'm still guarded about it. What has been seen can not be unseen.

*I will not say anything about the Reboot here.  that's a rant for a different time.  Probably for after I play it. And while, yes, the preemptive copyrighting is probably for the later version of dmc, rather than the former, it did bring the issue back to mind.

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