Over the weekend we took a look at Square-Enix's take on Darth Vader for its Play Arts Kai figure line - and it was great! In celebration of the awesome silliness that can happen when East meets West, here's 7 of the times Japan has adapted western franchises in its own weirdly endearing style.
Header Image: Bandai Namco's Samurai Taisho Darth Vader
7. Sherlock Holmes - Sherlock Hound
Arthur Conan Doyle's great detective has been a lot of things over the years - A mouse and Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones among the many different creatures to play him. But when legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki got his hands on Holmes, he turned him and the rest of 19th Century London into anthropomorphic dogs - with access to steampunky technology, while they were at it.
Miyazaki only directed six of Sherlock Hound's 26 episode run - early problems with the estate of Conan Doyle lasted long enough that by the time the series was ready to air in 1984 he'd moved on to other projects - but two of those episodes were stitched together and released as a movie in Japan in the same year the series aired, alongside another Miyazaki project you're probably more familiar with: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
If you like your Sherlock a little more like the BBC's most recent adaptation, there's even a manga of that now.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Mutant Turtles: Chōjin Densetsu-hen
The mid-nineties were the height of Turtle power, not just in the west but in Japan as well - so when Takara had new lines of Ninja Turtle toys coming out, they joined forces with Ashi Productions to promote them with 2 crazy OVAs.
The first, pictured above, saw the Turtles free an ancient spirit of light called Crys-Mu from the Muta Stone - who in turn granted them the power to transform into 'Super Mutants' for three minutes, which turned the usual cartoony look of the Ninja Turtles into these disconcertingly buff Piccolo knockoffs. The second, The Coming of the Guardian Beasts - The Metal Turtles Appear! had the turtles granted the power to basically turn into Gundams. Oh, Japan.
5. Star Wars - Star Wars x Manga
Interpretations of Star Wars in Japan are huge - everything from the PAK figure we saw over the weekend, to lightsaber chopsticks. But whilst we've seen the crazy action figures, this time let's have a look at Tokyopop's Star Wars x Manga series, which ran from 1998 and covered the Original Trilogy and The Phantom Menace - there was also a Take Shobo-produced manga based on Clone Wars, but unfortunately it used stills from the series, rather than original art. Tokyopop's manga reimagined Han, Luke and Leia in a cutsey, traditional anime style, much to the chagrin of some western fans.
But just because they looked a bit cute, didn't mean the manga strayed away from violence. Lightsaber battles in particular got a bit more gruesome than the original fights in the movies:
4. Agatha Christie - Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple
As we discovered with Sherlock Hound, it's not just pop culture icons who got the Japanification treatment - literary heroes do too. We've gone from violent lightsaber dismemberment to Agatha Christie crossover fanfiction in one step!
Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple paired together the writer's legendary crime solvers Hercule Poirot (who in the anime was basically David Suchet but with more hair on top) and Miss Marple in 1930's England. A new character, Mabel West - the great-neice of Miss Marple - was made to tie the two previously seperate characters, but aside from Mabel, the short-run series was surprisingly faithful in adapting 20 of Christie's novels and short stories.
3. Halo - Halo Legends: Odd One Out
Just like The Animatrix and Gotham Knight before it, Halo Legends saw a group of legendary Japanese animation studios take on an iconic western property - in this case, Microsoft's sci-fi shooter series Halo. There's some pretty amazing shorts in the collection of 7, but we're going to look at what was certainly the wackiest of them all, Odd One Out, from Dragon Ball director Daisuke Nishio. You can watch the whole short below, from Warner Bros.' Beyond the Lot Youtube channel:
The Dragon Ball influence is definitely strong in the short, which sees the comically OTT Spartan 1337 stranded on a mysterious alien world and in no short time:
A) Gets eaten by a Dinosaur,
B) Engages in a fist fight with a monstrous Covenant creature, at one point punching it so hard the surrounding area promptly explodes,
C) Gets carried away by a Pterodactyl.
Suffice to say, for the usually incredibly self-serious Halo franchise, this was a bit of a wacky oddball. But it's great!
2. The Avengers - Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers
Marvel is no stranger to Anime - there's been plenty of collaborations between Japanese studios and the Comics giant for years, with Iron Man, the X-Men, Blade and Wolverine all getting series and films over the years. However, none were quite so weird as Marvel's latest Anime attempt, Disk Wars.
Disk Wars isn't actually about Marvel heroes - well, it sort of is and isn't. It's set in a world where they exist as actual people, but the series itself follows a group of young children - Akira, Hikaru, Edward, Chris and Jessica - who gain access to a piece of Tony Stark-developed technology called DISKs, which have the power to trap supervillains in them, summonable for a short period of time. Unfortunately Loki intervenes and the Avengers get trapped in DISKs, and the kids now use them to summon the Avengers to do battle against a cavalcade of Marvel villains.
Yes, they turned the Avengers into Pokémon. It's a stroke of genius, honestly. Also, I'd kind of love for Chris Evans to get an MCU version of Disk War's Cap outfit at some point.
1. Batman - DC Comics Variant Play Arts Kai
Now this is good and weird, just what we want from this sort of collaboration!
Born from the same the same toy line that will give us that Darth Vader figure we saw at TGS last week, this re-imagining of the Dark Knight comes from one of Square-Enix's most prominent (and infamous) employees, Tetsuya Nomura, who provided Art direction for a good chunk of the behemoth Final Fantasy game series. Nomura's version of Batman looks a bit radical but fairly vanilla in that image: I mean sure, it's a bit mecha, but it's easy to see the Batman influence in there (even the use of Red is very Batman Beyond). But then you realise that this isn't even his final form:
AAAAAH! Batman's got arm-wing-claws for a cape! And he looks scarily like Bahamut! This one probably does stray a little from 'Weird and Wonderful' Japanese re-appropriation to 'amazingly ludicrous', but still, it's really rather fabulous. Give me an Anime with this bizarre creation, stat! Square-Enix are definitely not done when it comes to wacky versions of Batman though - at TGS they showed off a whole host of new interpretations of the character, including Spartan Batman, Cowboy Batman, and even Bushido Batman. Long may Japanese reinventions of the Caped Crusader continue.
Bonus Round! Okay so this one's not actually Japanese - it's a parody by British Youtube comedy group #Mashed - but come on. Who wouldn't want to play an Anime Doctor Who dating sim?
Bagsy playing as Beige Batball Vegetable Boyfriend!
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