The other night a bunch of us from the Fan to Pro circuit were chatting about what it would take to get a game maker to create something aimed at the female-gamer market — the U.S. / English equivalent of an otome game, for lack of a better label. That in turn inspired me to go back to my previous post about live-action anime adaptations and ask myself: Where in this list are the live-action shojo anime projects for Western audiences?
It was a damning omission, given how many shojo anime out there are superlative pieces of work: To Terra, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Paradise Kiss (in its manga incarnation as well), Sukeban Deka (which has been adapted to live-action several times, albeit in a somewhat jokey way), Princess Jellyfish (a personal favorite), the list goes on. When made well, they are not simply "girls' stories"; they jump the fence and become something special.
The hard part with a live-action adaptation — especially a Western one — is getting them to jump the fence not once but twice. Their inherent merit as a story (not just a story for girls) has to come through; and the cultural nuances present in them either have to find parallels or be respected on their own terms.
Your mileage will vary depending on the project, of course. I felt Princess Jellyfish would be pretty easy to adapt and keep intact — the only major surgery you'd have to do would be to replace Mayaya's Three Kingdoms obsession with something a little more accessible (say, someone with a Civil War or historical-battle re-enactment fetish). The rest is more or less plug-and-play. To Terra is about as easy: the whole thing is SF, or space fantasy, and is again a plug-and-play job. Paradise Kiss, also a snap — most of what's present has easy parallels for an English-speaking audience, so only some minor tweaking would be needed to make it hang together, and a splendid live-action version already exists in Japan. A project like Utena, though, is closer to some maverick director's mad "one for me" fantasy project than anything remotely resembling a commercial endeavor — good luck getting that off the ground.
The crucial part of any such project, I think, is an understanding that the endeavor is not a "girl's story" or even a "womens' story", but a good story first and foremost that just happens to be focused on women or girls. It's the difference between a disposable "chick flick" and something like Say Anything... (or, at the really high end, Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage).
How you mount and pitch a project like that is also crucial. I'm not sure to what degree the problem of "male vs. female" entertainments is marketing alone, but I suspect it plays strongly into it. A good story is not gendered. It may be about gender, but not constrained by it, and the way the best shojo works can leap the fence and become broadly appealing is a good place to start for how that can be accomplished elsewhere.
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