You only have to look at the box office to see that there’s no shortage of Western adaptations of (much better) anime properties. Ghost in the Shell is just the latest anime classic to get brought to Western shores. While that movie was a disappointing (but visually appealing) mess that doesn’t hold a candle to the original, it still got us thinking about the times when Japan flipped the script and tried their own hands at popular Western franchises. Here are five times it happened—and the results were actually pretty good.
The sole non-comic adaptation on this list, The Animatrix brought some of the biggest names in animation together at the absolute peak of the Matrix’s popularity for an anthology film that still remains impressive today. The film featured direction by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop), Mahiro Maeda (Gankutsuou: The Counte of Monte Cristo), Peter Chung (Aeon Flux), Takashi Koike (Redline), and Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll). With such an all-star team behind it, it’s no surprise that the film was a success and helped to lay the foundation for many of these director’s future works, notably Koike and Kawajiri. The two Second Renaissance films in particular do a great job of expanding the Matrix mythos and further explain the circumstances that led to the rise of the robots and creation of the Matrix.
Iron Man: Rise of Technovore
As any anime fan knows, if there’s one thing Japanese studios are good at, it’s animating complex suits of robotic armor. Iron Man was practically begging for the anime treatment by the time it was adapted by Madhouse. Directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki (the man behind Shigurui: Death Frenzy and Texhnolyze) the movie was visually impressive but got a little bogged down by poor dialogue and a weak plot. One review pointed out that the animation and colors look great from the beginning and should be enough to keep you entertained for the duration. Another high point was the use of The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus to voice the Punisher in the English dub, even if it took a little getting used to.
Wolverine was the second show in the short-lived Marvel Anime promotion, and it’s also one of the best. Set during Wolverine’s adventures in Japan, the anime was everything that the live action film, The Wolverine, was trying to be. The clawed mutant has long been one of Marvel’s marquee characters, and was a shoe-in to be included when Marvel initially announced its anime project. Wolverine tends to always find himself around when Marvel is making a big move and this goes for the company’s forays into video games as well. Wolverine is even one of the main characters featured in a Marvel roulette wheel in a happy marriage of casino gaming action that brings the colorful characters from the comics to the classic pastime. If you couldn’t get your fill of the X-Man with this year’s Logan then you’d do well to track down the 12-episode season of this gem.
This 2006 release by Gonzo was an adaptation of the popular ’90s comic created by former X-Men artist Marc Silvestri and published by Top Cow. The original comic ran for 20 years (1995-2015) and focused on Sarah Pezzini, a New York detective who found an ancient weapon called the Witchblade that gives her supernatural powers that she then uses to fight crime. The anime featured a whole new main character and storyline but still focused on a heroine discovering the Witchblade. Like most of Gonzo’s work, it’s terrifically animated and was surprisingly well received, earning a respectable 7.4 on My Anime List. Witchblade had one, 24-episode season and is worth a view for any anime or comic book fans looking for a show they might have missed the first time around. Witchlade is available for streaming on Hulu.
Batman: Gotham Knight
This is probably the best received of all the projects on this list. Featuring a who’s who of animation studios including Madhouse, Studio 4°C, and Production I.G., Gotham Knight did for the world of Batman what The Animatrix did for its own movies. The stories were written by established comic book writers like Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello and feature a number of familiar characters alongside more fun and obscure villains. DC’s animated films have long been better than their most recent live-action counterparts, and this is easily one of the best the company has ever done. The animation is positively superb and the stories are fun and fresh, making this a must-see for both Bat-fans and anime aficionados alike.