For all the adaptations currently surging through Hollywood, many cinema-goers seem to forget that some projects spend years in developmental hell, gathering dust on the digital shelf while the search for the perfect filmmaker takes place. Whether this is due to a studio wisely snapping up the rights to a fantastic franchise too soon or an exhausting rigorous search for the perfect cast and crew is debatable, but because of these simple reasons, an adaptation might never see the light of day.
Warner Bros. snapped up the rights to Akira way back in 2002, and the live-action adaptation of the popular manga franchise has been in development ever since. The project has been hit by several public roadblocks, and many fear this is a sign that Akira will never appear on cinema screens. Several directors and actors have been linked to the movie, and none have secured their place at the helm, but this week, one of the names linked with the project revealed some concept images for Akira. The extremely faithful art has since surfaced online, and needless to say, the images have taken the internet by storm.
Several months ago, Movie Web revealed that Ruairi Robinson (The Last Days on Mars) was approached to direct Akira, with an aim to start production on the movie before June. This never occurred, and the ongoing search for a director continues, but that didn’t stop Robinson from revealing his concept art online via his personal website. The filmmaker unveiled some of his initial ideas for Akira, and they have since gone viral. The images are extremely faithful to the original Akira source material, despite some of them being set in America (more below), and show the dedicated fans that all is not lost on this seemingly impossible movie.
The fact that the Akira live-action adaptation is still in development is a testament to the quality of the source material. When it was announced that the film would be made by an American studio and based in the U.S. with white actors, there was a collective groan amongst the fans and critics alike. Despite an uproar, this hasn’t changed in the creative plans if the released images are anything to go by.
Star Trek actor and social activist George Takei spoke to The Advocate in April 2011 about this creative direction, and he revealed that any decision to cast white actors in Akira would be offensive to both Asians and fans of the original manga or animated film.
“The manga and anime phenomenon is mostly white in this country. It originated in Japan, and, of course, it has a huge Asian fan following. But it’s the multi-ethnic Americans who are fans of Akira and manga. The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless. If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans.”
Then, there’s the location of the story itself. Anyone who has seen the Akira animated movie knows that removing the story from its unique dystopian setting of 2019 Neo Tokyo, one so pivotal and key to the story itself, could be a huge mistake. Neo New York has been mentioned several times during production, and again, the fans were not too happy about this. At one point, there were even rumors of a Japanese-owned Manhattan coming into play.
However, Robinson’s concept art, which seems to portray the latter in all its beautiful glory, has all but quelled that uncertainty. It practically confirms which city will play a part, and New York is heavily featured in the concept of his work. The biggest surprise, and no doubt a shocking twist for skeptical fans, is that the images are actually quite breathtaking. They clearly capture the mysterious menace and hidden evil that filtered so effortlessly through the anime. New York or Tokyo, either way, the art speaks for itself. You can see one image above.
Both the original series and 1988 anime feature take place in a post-World War III Neo Tokyo, so adapting this to suit another location in a different country not only seems like a lot of work but also seems to shed one of the better aspects of the franchise — Neo Tokyo. Sure, for a filmmaker, reverting the story to an equally glamorous city like New York might just work, but it strips the source material of its core essence. Despite this major flaw, Robinson has imagined New York in a way that practically screams Akira, the sinister neon glow transporting you into a futuristic, dystopian setting with tremendous ease. This isn’t just concept art, this is a love for the project that only a few filmmakers could bring onboard. We have to hope that Robinson’s departure from the Akira fold wasn’t a bad decision on the part of Warner Bros.
Aside from the pivotal location, Akira also has a slew of infamous characters. Robinson has imagined both Kaneda and Tetsuo (renamed Travis in the picture itself) to perfection, creating their character visuals by using the likenesses of American actors Chris Evans and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, respectively. Kaneda’s iconic red jacket — and in later images, his equally iconic red motorcycle — gives you hope that this adaptation is actually closer to realization than it seems. In the case of unlikely-villain Tetsuo/Travis, Gordon Levitt’s menacing scowl does his character total justice, hiding both his psychopathic nature and uncontrollable supernatural ability behind a single facial expression. Again, the images can be seen above.
There’s just one downfall to looking at this faithful concept art; the chance of us seeing it on the big screen is slim to none. Robinson is no longer attached to the project — rumor has it that Justin Lin (Star Trek Beyond) is currently in talks, so watch this space — and Warner Bros. are no further into development than they were ten years ago. The fact that potential directors are being approached is a positive note, though, and shows that something is happening behind the scenes.
One thing is clear: Akira is a treasured commodity amongst the filmmaking community, by actors and directors alike, so whoever gets the job not only has a massive role to fill but a brutal audience to please. That’s no mean feat if you ask me.
Akira currently has no development schedule or release date, but you can pick up the 1988 anime classic on Blu-ray and DVD now.
[Image via TMS Entertainment]