With Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead projected to reach 72 million households in its first four weeks, it’s predicted to land in the top ten most watched movies on Netflix. Perhaps foreseeing this success, two prequels – an untitled film and an anime series called Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas (AOTDLV) – were green-lit back in September 2020. Unlike the film, which so far has no release date attached, the series is slated to be with us some time in 2021. With the main cast returning, alongside Synder and Jay Olivia in the directors’ chairs, AOTDLV is an anime entry of a Hollywood film franchise, spearheaded by the same creative team as the movie. That makes it a first for the decade.
Given Hollywood’s bad track record with anime, people are right to be wary. There have been several flirtations with the genre in the past, and the results have been mixed, to say the least. AOTDLV is not a straight adaptation of the source material, but will be an entirely new story featuring principle characters from the movie. This differentiates it from Pacific Rim: The Black, which debuted this year and introduced new characters not found in the original film.
AOTDLV will also not be a short film like The Animatrix and Blade Runner: Black Out 2022. Rather, the proposed series will be an ongoing adventure that takes characters the audience will already be familiar with to new and exciting places.
That an American animated series is being described as ‘anime’ may be controversial, as purists argue that only animation from Japan can use this title. In Japanese, however, ‘anime’ means animation irrespective of origin. Despite this, outside of Japan, animations that assume the iconic big-eyed aesthetic but don’t originate from Japan are dubbed ‘anime-inspired’.
Looking at the examples already listed as well as recent productions, this popular definition appears outdated and restrictive. For example, Korean animation studio DR Movie is one of the studios working on the second season of the fantasy series The Rising of Shield Hero set for October 2021. This diverges from season one, which was only animated in Japan, yet few would argue that the series is no longer anime simply because of this change in the production process.
In 2018, the anime Flavors of Youth was a Chinese-Japanese production between Haoliners Animation and Co-Mix Wave Films. Equally, while animated in Japan, the fantasy hit Tower of God is an anime adaption of the manhwa (comics in Korean) of the same name, and author S.I.U. uses the same art style. These are only a handful of examples, but they clearly demonstrate that anime has been expanding beyond Japan in production and source material for some time now.
Naturally, whether or not AOTDLV will be good remains to be seen. Still, the decision of a burgeoning franchise to adopt anime as a medium shows an increasing acknowledgment that it’s a legitimate form for storytelling. This is commendable, as it shifts away from previous American live-action adaptions that pale in comparison to their anime source material or counterparts. So when it’s released, its true merit is not only to be assessed by the strength of its storytelling but also how well it utilises its medium.