Why did anime fans ghost Ghost in the Shell?
Last month, all eyes were watching the failed Hollywood live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell. Paramount dipped their toes into the world of anime, but should have jumped in headfirst and partnered with fans from the beginning. Live action adaptations can be successful and lucrative. Disney has the live action money making machine down to a science — copy every element of your original animated movie and success will be yours. Make dramatic changes and the fans will slaughter you; offline at the box office and online via reviews and social media buzz.
In a few months time, we will forget Paramount’s multitude of blunders, but its ghost will haunt us all for years to come. Hollywood doesn’t understand that there are a couple of things you cannot change in an adaptation: story and characters. You can massage them, bring them into 2017, but you can’t damage the core. BBC’s Sherlock is a huge commercial success because it’s true to the spirit of Sherlock Holmes in its story and character development regardless of the time period (they also heavily cater to their fan base).
Paramount took glorious source material and tried to reduce it 100 minutes of visual candy. It was beautiful, but it lacked heart — a fundamental theme in the original telling. Top talent is useless when the characters and story have nothing to stand on. The reason fans relate to the main character in GitS because she is always searching; for herself, for her past, for what makes her tick. The adaptation tried to mimic this theme, but removed all the emotional connection and left audiences wondering what Scarlet Johansson’s character was looking for and why the audience should care.
Anime fans are not kind to Hollywood and Hollywood should take note. Fans feel that the stories they love are violated and soiled; changed for commercial success and never given the chance to stand on their own merits. They respond by turning buzz against the film, writing poor reviews online, and denying you their dollars that are needed to ensure box office success. Before the matinees wrapped on opening day, the verdict was in from the anime crowd — don’t waste your time or money.
Although the anime fandom is small, it overlaps significantly with other fandoms. Within hours, initial reports of PASS, spread into the comic con crowd. Fans of the Avengers and Black Widow withdrew their support. News spread to the SciFi crowd, who were looking for another Matrix type franchise to get behind, to look elsewhere. When the geeks are against you day one, you have no hope. Ghost in the Shell will go on to make money overseas and recoup some of its cost, but the wounds Paramount sustained will become a cautionary tale to anyone trying to adapt anime series going forward.
Paramount will blame it on the whitewashing scandal, the #IAmMajor social media campaigns that backfired, or any other scapegoat they can find, when the true issue lies in ignoring the core audience. That audience is now looking to Netflix and waiting to pass judgement on the live action adaptation of Death Note, a $65M film slated to stream in August (hint: it’s not looking good so far). Finger’s crossed that Netflix doesn’t make the same mistakes.