The Live-Action My Hero Academia Movie Will Be AWFUL

There’s been chatter about a live-action adaptation of My Hero Academia for years, though that’s just been noise until news broke that Netflix would be joining production, alongside Legendary Pictures and announcement of some staff. Spoiler alert: it’s going to be bad.

You know it’s going to be bad. I know it’s going to be bad. Everyone with a pulse and a brain cell knows that it’s going to be bad. It’s not that you can’t adapt a film from a manga or an anime, it’s just that a Hollywood production won’t because they consistently suffer from the same failures. Theoretically, you could fix those flaws and make a good movie. But they’re not going to.

You know how I know? Because I’ve seen it before. Because I can count the number of live-action anime movies that succeeded on one hand. Speed Racer exists, Alita Battle Angel happened, but you are only going to get that kind of successful adaptation when there is a lot of passion behind the project, and when a studio sets out to make a live-action anime adaptation, they have already failed. A company is not going to make that movie: the Wachowskis made Speed Racer, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez made Alita, not the production companies.

As a rule, I don’t abide by psychics, and yet I’m going to tell you right here and now why the live-action My Hero Academia movie is going to be awful.

Let’s begin by saying that Hollywood doesn’t respect animation as a medium. Oh, they respect the kind of money that Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks can get out of their animated features, but those are for kids. If they allow their creators to make good art this way, it’s merely because that is the best business strategy for creating a strong brand.

Animation is not the goofy kid cousin of serious, adult cinema. It’s a different art form, a relationship comparable to the differences between painting and sculpting. A sculptor can be a painter, but you can’t make a painting like you would a sculpture.

Anime, by extension, is a subclass of animation. I think it’s most apt to call it an artistic movement within animation, because it is obviously still animation, but the word genre is too vague. Anime can be any number of genres, so if you’re going to try to categorize it, it’s best fitted underneath animation as a whole. And circling back, Hollywood doesn’t respect animation, and they respect anime even less.

The Academy Awards has never considered an animated feature for Best Picture, and chances are they never will. That has been relegated to a side category that is all but dominated by Disney-Pixar. At best, Studio Ghibli will get a token nod, winning only once since the category was created. And considering Netflix’s butchering of their animation production earlier this year, that attitude doesn’t look like it’ll improve as streaming services supplant traditional films.

Now, there have been adaptations of anime where the production team really cares about the source material. I will say that the makers of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop liked the original and to an extent understood its appeal. They might have lifelessly recreated its opening, almost like taxidermying your childhood pet and parading it in front of you like some kind of grotesque puppet, but you know, hiring Bebop’s Yoko Kanno to compose was a classy move.

The live-action Cowboy Bebop’s numerous issues in writing aside, the biggest mistake they made was far more fundamental. Their shortcoming was that they made it in the first place.

When I say Hollywood doesn’t respect animation, I mean that it permeates their attitude in creating these adaptations. Cowboy Bebop would not improve if you simply took real people and had them say the lines in front of a camera. The animation was central to its artistic identity, and the thought that a mediocre remake with actors would come close to recreating Bebop’s impact was bafflingly arrogant.

When adapting, you have to consider the relationship between the original medium and the one you are trying to adapt it to. A film can afford to be much more subtle than a stage play because the different medium allows for the audience to better study the actors’ faces and words. However, a film can’t completely translate the internal monologue and detail that comes packaged in a novel.

The reason that manga and anime have such a close relationship is that they’re almost like different approaches to the same idea. Both of them try to tell serialized stories through art displayed in sequence, albeit in different sizes. Manga focuses on quality, with a few highly-detailed pieces of art, and anime focuses on quantity, making as many simple pictures as possible to create the most fluid animation possible.

That’s oversimplifying them both, but there is a through-line between manga and anime that makes them compatible for adaptation. If you ignore that and just try to make “the anime but now it’s got people in it”, you will always come up short.

The live-action Ghost in the Shell was soulless for this very reason, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the live-action My Hero Academia film will follow suit.

This is a slim chance that they’ll get this right. What makes it so slim is finding the right team of creatives who understand the complex relationship between animation and live-action filmmaking and creating a version of the story that taps into the original’s potential.

The only information on that staff so far is that they hired a writer from the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, which doesn’t exactly give me hope. To put it mildly, there was a lot of potential that was squandered in what wound up being an unremarkable story. However, I can give a writer the benefit of the doubt, as adapting an existing story and writing an original one are completely different projects.

Is there a way to do this right? Yeah, I think it exists. My Hero Academia’s story arcs function very similarly to standard film structure. The skeleton of a good film exists in each story arc, assuming the studio allows them to progress as organically as they do in the manga and anime.

For reference, take the much-maligned Fullmetal Alchemist films, the first of which attempts to adapt the entire first season of Brotherhood into one movie, while lifting elements liberally from later arcs and even the final season. That’s nuts. Then again, My Hero Academia is a much simpler story than FMA, and follows an easy-to-follow hero’s journey.

I could see them cutting the 12-episodes or about 4.5 hours of the first season into a 2-hour movie, covering Deku’s entrance to UA, his first fight with Bakugo, and wrapping up with the USJ incident. That would be making significant cuts, but mostly towards side characters and subplots that don’t weave themselves well into the overarching story. No matter how you slice it, cuts will have to be made, and while it’s fun to see how each student in 1A handles their fights in USJ, it’s unnecessary.

The worst thing they could do is get too stuck on trying to cram everything in, or even including plot and character beats from later seasons. It might sound more satisfying to give Bakugo some of his character growth in a first installment, especially since a sequel is never guaranteed, but Hero Aca is a massive story, and if a live-action adaptation was going to succeed, it would be because the writers and producers had faith that it was going to stand on its own merit, just as its manga and anime predecessors have.

To reiterate, I don’t think it’s going to be good, but I’m always open to being corrected. Cartoonish worlds can work in live-action, you can make the jump from manga to film, but Netflix has not earned that kind of trust even with the promising first looks at their One Piece series or their adaptation of The Sandman.

Perhaps I’m just growing more cynical, but art is in a touchy place, as it almost always is. It thrives in spite of corporations like Netflix and other major studios, not because of them.

Heck, by this time next year, all of my writing will have already been fed into an AI generator and you’ll be seeing regurgitated ramblings on anime on a blog called the Weeb Gallery. In the face of something as small as destruction of art as we know it, I guess I’ll look forward to the My Hero Academia movie, because at least corporate greed is a much slower death of everything profound about human expression.

So, if you’ve got some spare time to watch the world burn, why not spend some of it following the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress and Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, catching up on all my deliciously garbage takes on anime, and even some bite-sized ones. Until next time, thanks for reading.


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