During its Friday afternoon panel at Anime Boston, VIZ media announced a new slate of titles for fall 2017, from Astra: Lost in Space, a sci-fi adventure written by Kenta Shinohara (Sket Dance), to SP x Baby, a josei title penned by Maki Enjoji (Happy Marriage?!). And while both are buzzworthy, I’m even more excited by two other manga joining the VIZ line-up: Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories, a selection of shorts hand-picked by Ito himself, and Children of the Whales, a shojo fantasy created by Abi Umeda. VIZ also unveiled a handful of digital-first and digital-only offerings that includes The Emperor and I, eIDLIVE, The Promised Neverland, and Tokyo Ghoul [Jack], a full-color prequel to Sui Ishida’s best-selling series.
Of course, Anime Boston wasn’t the only big event this weekend; the live-action Ghost in the Shell movie opened to mediocre reviews, with some critics praising its visuals and action sequences, and others panning the performances and script. The Atlantic‘s David Sims pronounced the movie a “copy of a copy,” arguing that it never captures what was memorable about Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 version. Sims also took issue with the casting:
As a remake of a Japanese film that retains its futuristic setting and most of its characters’ names (but features white actors in the four leading roles), Ghost in the Shell ostensibly had the chance to delve into the tricky politics of identity and how it might evolve in the future. But a third-act twist attempts to confront Johansson’s casting in a way that ends up feeling awkward, misguided, and vaguely insulting to Oshii’s film, summoning the specter of its original protagonist in an effort to explain why the Major’s “shell” might look like the American actress.
In her review for New York Magazine, Emily Yoshida argued that the film’s biggest flaw is that it retains the surface trappings of the original but not its soul. The filmmakers, she observes, are “obsessed with idea that Major ‘Mira’ (Scarlett Johansson) must unlock her true individuality to defeat the system, an extraordinarily American narrative shoddily grafted onto the original story.” She continues:
If Paramount just wanted to do a female-led cyberpunk Bourne Identity, probably nobody would have minded. But to associate a straightforward “Who am I?” action film with a franchise as philosophically noodly as Ghost in the Shell is disingenuous and pointless — you deny existing fans the actual post-self substance of the thing they like, and you alienate newcomers with a weird title and the obligatory skeleton of an existing franchise, which, when it’s not being explored, comes off as needlessly complicated.
One of the most incisive reviews came from Valery Complex at Nerds of Color. As she explains, the film actually whitewashes its heroine in a particularly egregious origin story:
So, not only has the role been whitewashed but they start with a Japanese woman and put her brain in a white body. So what does this say? It says that an Asian actress was an afterthought and that Asian visibility wasn’t valuable enough to carry this through to the end. This is made worse by Daisuke Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) continuing to speak Japanese to her character at the beginning. Wait, what? I understand many non-Japanese folks can speak Japanese, but since her brain is that of a Japanese woman, she still retains her mother tongue. It’s just on the outside she looks white and is named Mira.
Not everyone panned the film; writing for the Los Angeles Times, for example, Justin Chang acknowledged the “irksome” racial politics while praising the film’s “ravishing” visuals, sentiments echoed by Michael Phillips at the Chicago Tribune. The most glowing appraisal came from Variety‘s Guy Lodge, who bucked the tide of critical approbation to praise Johansson’s performance and argue that the live-action film surpassed the previous anime adaptations. I give the last word to anime scholar Brian Ruh, who states that “the film handles its source material relatively competently, but it really is a victory of visuals over vision,” marred by “monotone” and “wooden” performances.
In other news…
An all-star team of writers and actors tackle the thorny issue of whitewashing Asian characters in Doctor Strange, Ghost in the Shell, and Iron Fist, offering a thoughtful — and powerful — rebuke to Hollywood’s most common justifications for the practice. [Nerds of Color]
The folks at io9 also discuss how Ghost in the Shell fumbles race and identity. [io9]
Brace yourself: the next five years brings a tsunami of big-budget, big-screen adaptations of popular manga, from Alita: Battle Angel to Naruto, AKIRA, and (potentially) Attack on Titan. [Los Angeles Times]
Brace yourself again: Netflix just unveiled the first Death Note trailer and it looks… bad. [Variety]
Manga editor Urian Brown takes an in-depth look at Tegami Bachi. [VIZ]
Tokyopop and Disney are producing a manga adaptation of Beauty and the Beast with a novel twist: volume one tells the story from Belle’s perspective, while volume two offers us the Beast’s POV. [Entertainment Weekly]
If you’ve never read From Eroica With Love, Vrai Kaiser’s enthusiastic appreciation of this queer, globe-trotting adventure may inspire you to search eBay for copies. [Anime Feminist]
In her latest doujinshi roundup, Jocelyne Allen sings the praises of est em’s Love That Does Not Begin, a love story about a merman and a centaur. [Brain vs. Book]
Isabella Stanger profiles Naohiro Kimura, editor-in-chief of the recently launched Hikokimori News, a publication aimed at a generation of young, isolated Japanese adults. [Quartz]
The latest Chatty AF podcast focuses on Japanese adaptations of Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell manga. [Anime Feminist]
As part of its “Pioneers of Moving Comics” exhibition, the Kyoto Manga Museum will screen Japan’s first surviving animated film, Hanawa Hekonai Meitō no Maki (“Story of the Famous Sword of Hekonai Hanawa”). The short, which clocks in at four minutes, debuted in 1917. [Anime News Network]