Tolkien and Anime: A Helm Hammerhand Adaptation
Now this is something I truly was not expecting. Warner Brothers is producing an Anime Movie of the story of Helm Hammerhand, titled The War of the Rohirrim:
My first instinct was to check the date. No, not 1st April. This is for real: a Tolkien story – one hitherto unadapted – is getting the Anime treatment. It’s quite independent of the upcoming Amazon TV series.
My thoughts here are generally positive:
(i) It has been thirty years since anyone tried their hand at animating Tolkien, and that was the aborted Soviet adaptation of The Hobbit. You have to go back to Rankin-Bass’ Return of the King (1980) to find anything of movie length. As such, this new effort might start freeing Middle-earth screen adaptations from the Jacksonian yoke – they’ve got Philippa Boyens as a consultant, and it is officially compatible with the film-canon, but it’s clearly not a retread.
For a start, most of the mortal characters in Jackson’s movies were not even born when this story took place. No hobbits, and no Aragorn. Gollum’s alive, but he’s out too. None of the immortals (except possibly Gandalf) are going to show up. No Elves, and (on paper) no Orcs. We’re dealing with a familiar location (Helm’s Deep), but, barring a prologue, completely new characters. Also, Anime has enough of its own conventions to stylistically separate it from Jackson’s live-action efforts. So plot different (no Ring), characters different, and different form of visuals… I can live with that.
(ii) Helm is a tragic hero, at once brave, powerful, and arrogant. And, of course, he’s doomed. Rather than a wide epic, this will be a self-contained story that revolves very much around one King and his reaction to a desperate crisis. I do feel such a thing could work in an Anime context, where flawed-yet-powerful figures are a staple. I just trust they won’t suddenly introduce unnecessary magic elements. It’s also a single movie, so they will hopefully not need to load the thing with filler.
(iii) This Anime has the capacity to explore an aspect of Middle-earth that was largely side-lined by the Jackson movies. Specifically, the legitimate grudges that the people on the “other side” have against Rohan and Gondor. I don’t mean Orcs, of course. I mean the Dunlendings. There is a strong streak of Grey vs Grey morality to Helm’s story, after the manner of the Britons vs the Saxons, and while the movie still might make the Dunlendings into Orkish hordes, I really hope they don’t.
(iv) Even if it’s a total flop, it’s just a single movie. It’s not like Rankin-Bass’ Return of the King killed off interest in Tolkien, and neither will this. Amazon’s series, on the other hand, is a much higher-stakes gamble.
(v) As noted, it’s a hitherto unadapted story. Something a bit different from The Lord of the Rings proper, albeit still related. The average movie-goer knows the plot of Rings and The Hobbit, but only appendix-reading geeks know about this one… in short, it’s something fresh.
(vi) If it goes very well, it raises some interesting possibilities, if (or when) The Silmarillion becomes a viable subject for eventual adaptation. There would be no automatic need (or even expectation) for such an adaptation to be live-action.