As if we haven’t had enough Lord of the Rings news this week, New Line Pictures has now announced the release date for the Lord of the Rings anime that focuses on Helm Hammerhand and the creation of Helm’s Deep. We’ve got a while to wait, as The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim is not arriving until April 12, 2024, but there’s plenty of other new Lord of the Rings stuff to satiate you until then.
I won’t get into the problems of creating a ‘Lord of the Rings universe’ in the vein of the MCU, or the fact that too much of something is not always a good thing, but I do share those concerns. I believe that the loudest voices criticising The Rings of Power come from a place of prejudice, I foresee some problems when it comes to the compressed timeline and the changes to the line of Durin. But my excitement isn’t about faithfulness, it’s about risk and reward.
I want to get this out of the way early – I’m not particularly into anime. I’ve watched a bunch of Studio Ghibli flicks and Death Note. I’ll freely admit that this is the first time I’ve heard of Kenji Kamiyama, and I’ve not seen his adaptations of Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell. But conceptually, making a one-off animation (if it ends up being a one-off) instead of a five-season show is incredibly exciting. Compare Into The Spider-Verse with any MCU blockbuster. They’re worlds apart. Now I’m not saying that Spider-Verse is successful because of its animation, it was down to so much more than that, but it definitely gave the movie more freedom than any of its live-action counterparts, even going so far as to inspire the MCU movies that came after.
I’m also not saying that the Lord of the Rings anime will be as good as Spider-Verse, but a man can hope. The anime can take risks that live action can’t – we’ve never seen anything like that leap of faith scene in a live action superhero movie, despite seeing the Spider-Man origin story three times and countless other heroes’ origins in between.
It’s interesting, in this case, that New Line Pictures and Warner Bros. Animation are bringing back so many famous faces for the production. While they could stray further away from previous adaptations due to the nature of animation, the first image of the series looks very similar to the designs of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens.
There’s good reason for that. Philippa Boyens is working on the show (her daughter has written the script) as a producer and presumably a Tolkien consultant too. Iconic Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe are back too, who have an intimate knowledge of the author’s works and created the concept art for the Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens films. Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop also return to work on the digital side of things, for which they won the Best Visual Effects Academy Award three years in a row with the noughties trilogy.
Boyens is probably the most important member of this roster – we want the series to be loyal to Tolkien’s writings – but the addition of the film trilogy’s design and digital teams gives us a strong feeling for how the anime will look. The Rings of Power has had to change Narsil’s design to be distinct from Weta’s copyrighted version, but if the Mûmak in the first image is anything to go by, the anime will have no such problems.
Playing it safe will likely mean that the Lord of the Rings anime will not be a Tolkien Spider-Verse, but it also means I have fewer worries about how it will come out. Amazon is taking risks by filling in the gaps of Tolkien’s Legendarium, and it could go either way. Galadriel looks great, decanonising Durin’s reincarnation does not. But seeing Helm Hammerhand fight off Mûmakil and build the Helm’s Deep that we saw Legolas slide down the stairs of on an Uruk shield? It might not be revolutionary, but sometimes you want comfort food. And let’s be honest, we’re going to eat it up.
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