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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Friday, May 2, 2014

HEY, HOLLYWOOD! GET YOUR HOT MANGA PROPERTIES!


Manga Reviews With Hollywood in Mind

By Lyn Jensen

Cross-marketing a manga series with film/TV is commonplace in Japan. In that country manga is often part of an extensive media franchise that also includes anime—animated films or TV or both—and sometimes even live-action productions. Here in America Hollywood has a long history of turning our comic-book franchises into movies and TV shows (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, The Green Hornet, Captain America, the list goes on and on). With one or two exceptions, however, Hollywood continues to ignore Japanese—and American--manga as source material.

How long before Hollywood figures out manga provides a whole new universe of licensing opportunities? The hundreds of thousands of fans that continue to attend comic cons (and gamer cons and sci-fi cons) every year should demonstrate there’s an audience—to say nothing of how Hollywood’s always looking for the latest youth-culture trend.   

After reading manga for nearly ten years, I keep imagining several series (some Japanese, some American) with potential for success on America’s big and small screens. (Animation’s a separate conversation, so we’re limiting our suggestions to possible live-action productions.) Any film directors and/or TV producers looking for your next scripted project, call your agent about the following licenses: 

Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, published in the US by Tokyo Pop

Every film season demands a never-ending supply of fresh new romantic comedy.  Svetlana Chmakova’s English-language manga Dramacon remains one of the most innovative romantic comedies found in any medium in recent memory. Lovers meet up, break up, and make up amid the drama of a comics convention—cosplayers, artists’ alleys, portfolio reviews, J-Pop music, and references to tentacle-sex hentai anime.

The logline:  A pretty young would-be manga creator meets a handsome and mysterious cosplayer who hides many secrets behind his dark glasses. A boorish boyfriend, well-intentioned sister, comics-crazed fans, flirty cosplayers in skimpy costumes, and a superstar manga mentor provide support and sub-plots. As demanded for a successful romantic comedy, it perfectly balances laughs with more serious coming-of-age drama.

A script adapted from the first volume could be shot on a very low budget, too. Just use any small-time comic con for background shooting, and cast some fresh up-and-coming talent. Chmakova’s entire series runs three volumes—the latter two deteriorate in quality but can be held in reserve should there be demand for a sequel. It’d be great as a summertime PG-13 theatrical movie—or for TV or Web or direct-to-DVD markets.

Fake by Sanami Matoh, published by Tokyo Pop

One of the more twisted corners of my mind can see Fake taking on new life as a very, very gay Barney Miller crossed with a very, very gay Starsky and Hutch. When Tokyo Pop published Fake about a decade ago, it introduced the yaoi genre to America. Japanese manga artist Sanami Matoh gave us her unique take—by turns farcical, thrilling and very, very sexy—on all those gay jokes about the buddy-cop formula. It’s easy to find enough ideas for several seasons on some edgy cable network. There’s already enough fanfic (from PG-rated to XXX) about police partners-in-more-ways-than-one Dee Laytner, Ryo McLean and the rest of the romance-minded squad at New York’s 27th Precinct (yes, same fictitious precinct as Law and Order).

King of RPGs by Jason Thompson, published by Del Rey

If The Brass Teapot could make it to the big screen, King of RPGs should, too, and it’s much funnier. Longtime manga expert Jason Thompson has turned the world of Role Play Games (RPGs) into a hilarious two-volume English-language manga series. Make a movie, and grab an audience of geeks, gamers, and anybody who laughed through The Hangover or Bridesmaids.

The logline:  two very passionate young role-play gamers square off, each convinced he’s the campus king of RPGs. Pop psychology, video gaming, comic book fans, Renaissance re-enactors, knucklehead cops, and terror alerts get mixed in. Even though the story’s a farce (and a great one), the characters are multi-dimensional challenges for up-and-coming young comedy stars. The token girl gamer isn’t a pin-up girl, she’s one of the guys, and the policewoman antagonist could be a career move for any number of Hollywood’s young character actresses. There are a few places where the plot could be tidier, but that’s what screenwriters are for.

Banana Fish by Akimi Yoshida, published by VIZ

Government and criminal elements are out to take over the world with a dangerous mind-control drug codenamed Banana Fish—and only one person can stop them: teen super-gangsta Ash Lynx, who’s burdened with a shocking past as a boy prostitute hired out to government men. A Japanese teen, Eiji Okumura, is caught in the complicated web and only he can change Ash’s fate—whether it be death or a new life together back in Japan. Which it will be, however, is beyond either’s control.

That’s the epic and very convoluted plot of Akimi Yoshida’s phenomenal 19-volume Banana Fish, When first published in the eighties, it provided young Japanese audiences with an unflattering and twisted critique of Reagan-era America: secret CIA experiments, wounded Vietnam vets, warring youth gangs, ruthless drug cartels, child prostitutes, government corruption, state-sponsored terrorism, and a possible romance between young men. Parts of the story become unbelievably far-fetched and illogical, especially the tragic final act, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed in a screen adaptation. (Without giving too much away, it’s not the unsatisfying ending that’s the problem, it’s how it’s arrived at.)

If post-9/11 America can welcome 24 into our living rooms, we ought to be able to handle Banana Fish. This is more than a movie, it’s an entire TV season--at least a six-to-eight-part miniseries and possibly a whole 24-style series.  

Saiyuki (manga and media franchise by Kazuya Minekura, published by Tokyo Pop)

Four superheroes embark on a long, dangerous, and extreme mission across the Wild, Wild West. One’s a pistol-packing Buddhist priest. One’s a scorned half-breed who fights like a demon and parties like a rock star. One’s the mighty young Monkey God straight out of the Asian zodiac. One’s that mild-mannered math-teaching serial killer who’s already seen his share of movie makeovers. From China in the East to India in the West, in some far-off forgotten time, they team up to battle gods and demons over the fate of the universe.

Saiyuki is a classic Buddhist epic of gods, demons, martial arts, swords and sorcery. The source has long been familiar to a certain geek streak outside Asia (it inspired parts of Star Wars, for example) but it’s never been faithfully dramatized for mass-market American pop culture. Kazuya Minekura’s in-yer-face manga interpretation, however, may change that.  She twists and turns it into an extreme sci-fi Gen-Next mash-up, with characters freely mixing cross-cultural anachronisms while mad-scientist antagonists run computer data and conduct experiments like demonic Dr. Framkensteins.

Superheroes are trending right now, and so are convoluted seasons-long sci-fi/fantasy/thriller TV series. Think 24, Revolution, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time but start with a demon-possessed Far East. Go heavy on the special effects. Throw in some Star Trek and Star Wars flavoring, add some Conan and some Kung Fu, and cast some appealing young action-hero actors (a blond Genjo Sanzo, an emerald-eyed Cho Hakkai, you get the idea). We could soon see Son Goku the Monkey God become as iconic a character to American audiences as Mr. Spock.

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