For those who don't know, Terraformars is a manga about a future where Mars has been turned into a habitable environment for humans, but the cockroaches that were sent there have hyper-evolved into giant bipedal monsters. Mankind, which would probably prefer to nuke the bugs from space – the only way to be sure – unfortunately need to capture live specimens in order to cure a Martian disease that is running rampant on Earth. The team that has been sent to Mars have been infused with the power of bugs and other creatures to combat the cockroaches, because otherwise the cockroaches would end up stealing and using other conventional weapons.
If you think the concept sounds insane, you're right. But the manga is sufficiently action-packed, gory, and fun enough to get a substantial audience, having the sales numbers to prove it. So, apparently that warrants a live-action adaptation. I get it – Attack on Titan was immensely popular and successful. Everybody wants a piece of the pie.
It's been a bit of a trend in Japan, popular subculture IPs getting live-action adaptations simply because they're popular – and usually with disappointing results. Japanese live-action adaptations have had such a poor track-record that simply hearing that a property is getting a live-action adaptation causes an immediate automatic response of exasperated derision at worst, and skeptical curiosity at best.
There probably isn't a single solid reason why Japanese studios seem to have such a problem with live-action adaptations. It could be attributed to a lack of understanding of the source material, the inability to recognise the distinctiveness of the media, or perhaps the high bar set by fans.
Whatever the reason, making live-action adaptations willy-nilly just because the source material is popular, without any proper thought behind it, is a bad way of going about things. It may prove financially successful in the short run – which is the only thing that executives seem capable of seeing – but does a disservice to the medium, the source material, and the fans. An online poll for the "Who the Hell is going to go see this movie!?" 2014 award had several live action adaptation titles among its top voted, indicating that audiences seem to be getting annoyed with the make-a-quick-buck-off-the-source-material's-popularity adaptation genre.
There have been decent, and even good live action adaptations in the past. But I'm not sure the studios fully comprehend why they were good.
A live-action Terraformars is basically a recipe for disaster.
It's science fiction. Japanese movies seem to have trouble with this genre. They don't seem to be able to get past the presumption that if something is science fiction, it must be spectacle, resulting in flat characters with bland, predictable story arcs. The live-action Space Battleship Yamato was fun spectacle, but deep it was not. Not to say that Terraformars is deep, but with a cast of characters with bug powers, you're going to need them to be relatable.
It has a lot of ground to cover. The Terraformars manga currently has 11 books out and is ongoing. A lot has happened. This may be less of an issue if the studio understands the "adaptation" part of live-action adaptation. However, most adaptations seem to feel slavish to the source material, and since they only have a limited amount of time, things are going to get packed in, resulting in what will probably be a rushed slap-dash-edited mess.
It has lots of action. Action is good. Japanese movies can do action very well. Unfortunately, a good movie isn't just about the action. Action is better when it has meaning and depth to it. If you go overboard and good action is all you've got, you've made a mediocre movie. Terraformars is a science fiction action manga. Pretty much 90 per cent of the plot is humans fighting cockroaches. 90 per cent action is fine. But make it mean something. And use the remaining 10 per cent smartly. Ruroni Kenshin did it, so it should be possible.
The main antagonists will be CG. There's no way around it. The giant cockroaches are probably going to be CG creatures. Men in suits will just end up looking like something from Ultraman or Godzilla and that's not gritty realism. Because, of course, everything has to be steeped in gritty realism. Now, while the CG quality of Japanese movies isn't bad, they aren't Weta Digital, and even in recent Japanese movies, when things go from simple touch-ups and head straight into Lucas-ville, the roughness really shows through all the unreal perfection. And if you're familiar with Terraformars, you know that the movie is most likely going to be a CG orgy.
My expectations could be wrong. Director Takashi Miike could turn it around – of course, he made the Yatterman movie, so I'm not holding my breath. The Terraformars live action movie could be great. It could even be golden. I sincerely hope it is. But I highly doubt it.
The live-action Terraformars movies is scheduled to hit theaters in Japan in 2016. No word on an international release.