This year has been a boon for shonen manga fans, especially when it comes to live action adaptations. Whether you’re a fan of those titles or simply like watching ikemen on screen as action stars, here’s a rundown of some of the biggest manga adaptations – from both Japan and Hollywood – of 2017:
Releases in Japan on December 1st, it’s a story about two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, in a world where alchemy—governed by a law of equivalent exchange—can instantly transmute stone into castles and iron into weapons. There are limits, though: transmuting a dead human into a live one is both impossible and unethical. Yet in a moment of desperation and dangerous insolence, Edward, who is a protege alchemist, decides to give it a go. The catastrophe that ensues costs Edward an arm and a leg and costs his brother his entire body. Edward quickly imprints Alphonse’s soul onto a nearby suit of armor, but the damage has been done. Their disastrous attempt at human transmutation spurs Edward’s quest to restore Alphonse’s body.
Ajin is a story about being different, and being hunted for it. Ajin are humans who simply can’t die – that’s why the government are so hell bent on capturing them for
profit research. Headlined by Takeru Satoh who’s an Ajin named Kei Nagai, he’s pursued by the government and fellow Ajins – the former to recapture him, and the latter to get him to join their Ajin army. Of course, Kei has other plans, and he really finds his forte in military strategy even though he’s a med student. In a bizarre twist, the only way to defeat the Ajin (who can conjure up creature-like avatars mainly used for fights) is to not kill them. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of who’s got the upper hand, and it sure is chock full of ikemen in the form of Tetsuji Tamayama, Go Ayano, and Yu Shirota.
Tokyo Ghoul is another manga about being different, this time it’s about ‘ghouls’ who can only survive by eating human flesh, live among normal humans in order to evade being hunted. While ghouls – a powerful human-flesh-eating species with special abilities – are considered the ‘enemy’ of humans, the movie makes us side with them instead, portraying them as a hunted species instead of powerful killers. Like Ajin, the ghouls also have a secret weapon – as individual as their owners – that sprouts from their backs when they need to fight. It’s when humans manage to harness their weapons that the battle hangs on a balance. The movie stars Masataka Kubota who plays the reluctant protagonist Ken Kaneki and newly-minted ‘ghoul’.
Gintama is a gag manga that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s set in a world where samurais have been overtaken by aliens in badly-dressed costumes. The story follows an odd jobs guy, Shinpachi played by Shun Oguri, and his band of hapless buds, Shinpachi and Kagura, who is a perpetually hungry alien. There is a plot: find a missing sword that imbues its user with mystical power, and uncover a plot to overthrow the government. There is action in the form of swordfights, but what you come here for are the gag humor, plenty of parodies (especially of other manga titles), and the breaking of fourth walls. Hilarity aside, it’s chock-a-block with ikemen, including Ryo Yoshizawa, Yuya Yagira, and Masaki Suda.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (August)
Following the fourth arc (named Diamond is Unbreakable) of this epic manga saga, the story is set in the fictional world of Morioh. Kento Yamazaki plays Josuke Higashikata, a son of Joseph Joestar whose bloodline bestows them with unique powers to take down supernatural foes. The movie is about rowdy boys getting into cool fights with ‘Stands’ – physical projections of psychic power similar to those of Ajins – and Josuke’s is Stand has the power to restore objects to their original form. He joins forces with Hirose Koichi and Jotaro Kujo, each with their own Stand powers, to protect Morioh from crazy Stand users who abuse their abilities.
Death Note (August)
The Hollywood interpretation of Death Note was made into a Netflix movie that’s set in Seattle with an American cast. The story revolves around a mysterious ‘Death Note’, which brings death to those whose names appear in it. A book lands in the hands of Light (Nat Wolff), who uses it to randomly kill criminals. To stop him, the FBI brings in L, an arrogant genius. The film was criticised for deviating from the source material by turning Light into a meek character who’s easily influenced by his new love interest Mia, in a role reversal of the manga version. The most controversial role is L, played by Lakeith Stanfield, who was so unhinged he didn’t feel like ‘L’ at all. Unlike other Japanese interpretations (like the recent Death Note: Light Up the New World), the cat-and-mouse game that is crucial to the story is only really played out in the last 20 minutes.
Ghost in the Shell (August)
A major Hollywood production this year, this manga adaptation got a lot of flack for its choice of cast, with Scarlett Johanssen playing the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi (or just ‘Major’ in the movie). Taking place in a futuristic world of 2029, humanity has access to cybernetic bodies (or ‘shells’) that bestows them superpowers. Major – whose human body is fully cyborg after an accident – and her team are assigned to find a hacker known as the Puppet Master, only to find out that she herself has been part of a conspiracy that she isn’t aware of. Much of the movie explore the ‘who am I?’ which resembles the theme in Bladerunner – can machine be human? If all these are too convoluted, at least the action and CGI backdrops are amazing.
Blade of the Immortal (April)
Japanese pop icon Kimura Takuya and Takashi Miike work together for the first time on this epic samurai film. Manji (played by Takuya in a role where you’d hardly recognise him) is a samurai who is cursed with immortality. To regain his mortality, he has to kill 1,000 evil men – a task made easier when he meets Rin Asano, a massacre survivor who hires him as a bodyguard on her quest for revenge for her father’s murder by a group of swordsmen called Itto Ryu. Cue epic fight sequences with plenty of body dismemberment, and over-the-top scenarios with 300-to-1 battles (it’s manga). The plot is pretty complicated – revenge on top of revenge with betrayal thrown in – but it’s got lighthearted moments, and pretty visuals.