This year is a big year for anime and video game fans as 2019 will usher in a strong line-up of films based on incredibly popular franchises from the genres. Also on the horizon is the long-awaited release of director and writer Makato Shinkai’s (Kimi no Na wa) next film. The list of upcoming films include the live-action adaptation Detective Pikachu.
Previously, Hollywood’s attempt at movies based on video games and anime have been panned by audiences and critics — and for good reason. Hardcore fans of the long-running franchises are passionate about the stories they hold dear to their hearts and when an adaptation is poorly or lazily done, it’s often seen as a sleazy industry money grab. Whether it be a strong cast or solid writing and directing, the five films below — listed in order of release date from earliest to latest — show great potential to do their source material justice. For better or for worse, these are this year’s “must-sees” for all who consider themselves anime and video game fanatics.
1. Doraemon the Movie 2019: Nobita’s Chronicle of the Moon Exploration
One of the longest-running and most beloved children’s anime of all time, Doraemon has steadily been releasing a new film every year for the past four decades.
This year, Doraemon, Nobita and his friends explore space travel to the moon in the upcoming film set to release March 1, 2019 in Japan.
The film begins when a mysterious student transfers into Nobita’s class and the story explores the Japanese belief that a rabbit lives on the moon (rather than the Western myth of “the man on the moon”). Doraemon has been such a successful series over such a long period of time because the Doraemon film story arc has been done and redone again and keeps fans coming back for more. With any Doraemon film we know to expect a light, playful story suitable for all ages. We expect a movie filled with laughter, tears, and overcoming adversity. We know that the plot will be easy enough for children to understand, yet deep enough for adults to come away with some deeper message or meaning as well.
While the Doraemon series is not yet popular with Western audiences, I highly recommend Doraemon for anime fans of all ages. Hardcore fans can watch the film in its original language this March before the release of the English sub-titled or dubbed versions later in the year.
- Release Date: March 1, 2019 (Japan)
- Starring: Megumi Ohara and Wasabi Mizuta
2. Detective Pikachu
Coming three years after the release of the Nintendo 3DS game of the same name, Detective Pikachu is the first ever attempt at a live-action Pokémon movie. The film follows the main premise of the 2016 video game which features a Pikachu with the voice of a middle-aged man who fancies himself the Sherlock Holmes of Pokémon. Detective Pikachu encounters a boy named Tim Goodman, the only person who can understand what he is saying. Starring Justice Smith as Tim Goodman and Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu, the film has a promising cast and will feature Reynolds’ comedic relief, if nothing else.
With numerous animated films dating back to 1998, I’ve always wondered why it’s taken the franchise over 20 years to release a live-action film. Other Japanese video game and anime franchises have tried the Hollywood live-action route and failed miserably — I’m looking at you Dragon Ball: Evolution. Hopefully The Pokémon Company has been taking notes and won’t disappoint the existing and enormous fan base with its upcoming release of Detective Pikachu this May.
- Release Date: May, 2019 (worldwide)
- Starring: Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds
Update: Read my review of Detective Pikachu.
3. Tokyo Ghoul 2
One of the most popular anime of the past decade, Tokyo Ghoul is based on the manga of the same name. In 2017, the comic book series sold over 5 million copies worldwide.
Tokyo Ghoul takes place in an alternate reality where society cowers in fear of creatures known as “Ghouls.” The Ghouls have super strength, accelerated healing and combat abilities that far surpass humankind. To make matters worse, Ghouls can hide in plain site, taking human form whenever they wish. Like vampires in folklore, Ghouls can only survive by drinking human blood or eating human flesh.
The series follows a university student named Ken Kaneki who becomes a half-human, half-ghoul hybrid after being attacked by his date. The first live-action film, Tokyo Ghoul (currently streaming in Japan on Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video without English subtitles) grossed over US$9.8 million in sales in Japan and received a 79 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Release Date: July 19, 2019 (Japan)
- Starring: Maika Yamamoto and Masataka Kubota
4. Tenki no Ko (Weathering with You)
Fans of the global smash hit Kimi no Na wa (“Your Name”) will rejoice this summer, as writer and director Makoto Shinkai’s new film is set for release this July. It’s been nearly three years since Shinkai’s critically acclaimed film touched the hearts of millions around the world. Finally, the wait for the Your Name director’s next film will soon be over with the release of Weathering with You.
The poster released for the film reads Tenki no Ko (literally: “Child of Weather”) with the subtitle Weathering With You written in English. While not much is known about the plot, the film will follow a young boy who lives alone in Tokyo and meets a young girl with the uncanny ability to control the weather.
In past interviews, Shinkai always remained modest and stated that he felt exhaustion from the attention received by Kimi no Na wa. He said that people were overpraising his film and that he was nowhere near the level of Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki. Whenever a writer has a smash hit, audiences will always compare their new work to the title that made them famous — much like Akira Toriyama will always be remembered for Dragon Ball and Tsugumi Ohba will always be remembered for Death Note. In turn, Shinkai’s Your Name will forever make it difficult for him to surpass audience expectations.
- Release Date: July 19, 2019 (Japan)
- Starring: Kotaro Daigo and Nana Mori
5. Sonic the Hedgehog
Sega’s poster boy — and hero of one of the most popular platform video games of all time — Sonic the Hedgehog is coming to theaters in his first-ever live-action film. The film will follow a small-town sheriff named Tom Wachowski in his efforts to help Sonic avoid capture by the government and defeat his evil nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey.
Like many live-action films based on popular anime, film adaptations of video games have received poor to moderate receptions at best. While films like Super Mario Bros.(1993) and Mortal Kombat (1995) brought in big audiences with their franchise names alone, the end result of both films left video game fans with a sour taste in their mouths and created a culture of cynicism toward films based on the video game genre. Bob Hoskins, the actor who played Mario, said in an interview that Super Mario Bros. was the worst job he’s ever done and his life’s biggest disappointment.
In the end, it’s difficult to adapt video games into films simply because the mediums are vastly different. Loyal fans of any game series will be overly critical of any attempt at film adaptations of the franchises they hold so dear to their hearts. Sega and Paramount Pictures are definitely taking a huge risk with this upcoming release. With Jim Carrey as the mischievous Dr. Robotnik, Ben Schwartz as Sonic and the cinematographer from the Fast and the Furious films, hopefully, video game fans will receive the comedic and action-packed film they so rightly deserve with the release of Sonic the Hedgehog this November.
- Release Date: Nov. 8, 2019 (United States)
- Starring: Ben Schwartz and James Marsden
Remember: when watching film adaptations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of immediately comparing them to the original source material. However, it’s always good to view the film as a work of its own. Did you not like the film because it truly wasn’t a good film or simply because it was different from the video game or anime? While it’s true that new works are beholden to their originals, it’s always better to go into the viewing experience with a clear mind. Less expectation equals less disappointment.
Did we miss an upcoming live-action film you’re looking forward to seeing? What film are you most excited to see this year and why? Let us and our readers know in the comments below!