Adaptations of manga to cinema: “Films are ambassadors”

As soon as it was released on Wednesday, ‘One Piece: red’ broke a record in French cinemas: 267,631 admissions according to its distributor Pathé! Either the Japanese animated film which achieved the most cinema admissions in France when it was released, after scenes of jubilation and even some outbursts during the previews.

The best-selling comic book on the planet, a manga born twenty-five years ago under the pencil of the Japanese Eiichiro Oda, is thus once again adapted to the cinema. But the marriage between Japanese comics and the seventh art is far from recent, as explained Sébastien Célimon, the editorial director of AnimeLand magazinea French magazine specializing in Japanese animation and manga.

Are we witnessing a breakthrough of manga in cinema?

The manga in the cinema is not at all a new phenomenon, it has existed for sixty years! For about twenty-five years, the manga has had occasional successes in the cinema. The most important so far is the film Pokémon in 1998. But you have to keep in mind that for a very long time films based on manga were successful first on video cassette.

Today, One Piece: Red arrives after the release of several animated films that had a certain echo: Demon Slayer: The Infinity Train, and Jujutsu Kaisen 0 last year [qui ont chacun franchi la barre du demi-million de spectateurs au cinéma, NDLR]. Also arriving in October is a new film, Dragon Ball: Super Hero, considered a very important event.

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How to explain that feature films adapted from manga are coming out of confidentiality at the moment?

The movie Demon Slayer: The Infinity Train benefited from the insane enthusiasm surrounding the manga and the original animated series. This film was really a spearhead and participated in the momentum of popularity of the manga in the cinema. At the same time, the manga is now experiencing an absolutely incredible success and revival. It dominates the comic book market: one in two comics sold in France is a manga. There has also been quite a considerable revival of what is called shonen, i.e. manga for teenagers. Dragon Ball is out of fashion! Now, there is Demon Slayer, One Piece, but also My Hero Academia… These new series have, against all expectations, met the public in quite unprecedented proportions. The manga has become popular: the Culture Pass has even been called a ”Manga Pass”.

So the demand comes from the public?

We are talking about an audience used to watching manga on screen forever. The desire is already there, it is already within the cultural perimeter known to the fans. But it’s all the more important today that there are licenses carrying the revival of manga over the past two or three years that are already over. So to keep them alive, we created films. The objective of the publishers is to continue to exploit the licenses as much as possible.

Are movies adapted from manga ultimately just another derivative product?

This ecosystem works in rebound: you read the manga or you see the animated adaptation in series on Wakanim, Crunchyroll or ADN [des plateformes de streaming en ligne spécialisées dans l’animation japonaise, NDLR], and then you go see the movie at the cinema. From the moment you have a license that has an international reputation, film producers will say to themselves: ”Since it’s very well known, that it works, and that I’m relying on something that already has a fanbase. considerable, I minimize the risks”.

We are in the risk management and the management of the rent of the license. It’s the same principle with Star Wars or Marvel! It is above all a matter of business. Afterwards, this business affair does not prevent talent or pleasant surprises.

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Can we compare this business with that of adaptations of American comics into films?

Historically, the animation industry in Japan is decades ahead of that in the United States when it comes to adaptations. Japanese animation is consubstantial with manga. The father of Japanese animation, Osamu Tezuka, is also the king of manga. To put it another way, there was an animation industry in the United States that was not correlated with publishing, unlike in Japan.

Is that why films adapted from manga are not shot live, unlike films from DC Comics or Marvel?

Most manga, especially romance manga, have been adapted into films or series shot in live action. Except that it never leaves Japan. It is very complicated to watch a manga that we liked in drawing when it is shot in the West, or even with Japanese actors. For example, 20th Century Boys was adapted into three live action films, with very big means. They met with fairly decent success in Japan, but not at all internationally. However, originally, the license is considered one of the greatest contemporary manga.

Japanese cinema is not yet completely convincing, except in genre cinema. And of course, on animation, which has permeated the general public throughout the world for decades. In Hollywood, a number of live-action projects have been released or announced, such as adaptations of One Piece or of the Knights of the Zodiac. These are licenses that have become heritage, which have an international audience, and which allow American producers to be able to invest. Often, it’s not famous… The typical example is Dragon Ball Evolution, which had been totally massacred.

Isn’t the adaptation of manga to cinema also, above all, a means of attracting a new audience?

If you have a successful adaptation to the cinema, this allows you to permanently install a license and to introduce much larger territories to universes, creations, characters… Audiovisual is a Trojan horse that then allows, if necessary, to open up to other forms of exploitation. That’s what happened a lot in the 80s, when we first discovered Dragon Ball in Club Dorothée, and then read the manga. Films are clearly ambassadors.

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