Looks like Warner Bros. is really going to make a new live-action version of Akira, adapted from Katsuhiro Otomo‘s massive manga of the same name. And it looks like some big changes — cosmetic ones at least, and probably several deep cuts — are in store. We’d already heard that a previous draft of the script was thrown at actors like Brad Pitt and James Franco, which suggested that the Albert Hughes-directed film is going to go pretty far off-book. (The leads in both the manga and anime versions of Akira are Japanese high-schoolers.)

The identities of actors that were offered a previous draft of the script seem to be open to question, but now there is a new shortlist based on the most recent script. That was just turned in by Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves, and has reportedly been delivered to a handful of actors, with a few in mind as possible choices for the two lead roles of Kaneda and Tetsuo. Among the names are Robert Pattinson, Michael Fassbender and Joaquin Phoenix. Stop saying ‘WTF?’ and hit the jump for more info.

Deadline has this shortlist: Robert Pattinson, Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy for Tetsuo. Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Chris Pine, Justin Timberlake and Joaquin Phoenix for Kaneda.

Setting aside the fact that a couple names seem very unlikely at best, everyone on that list is simply wrong for the two roles as previously written. In both manga and anime, brash young biker gang leader Kaneda and his milquetoast friend turned massively powerful nemesis Tetsuo are much younger than anyone on that list. We knew that Warner Bros. is changing things. We knew, for instance, that the setting has been moved to an alternate future Manhattan (no more legacy of WWII and the atomic bomb in the story’s metropolis) and have heard that Kaneda and Tetsuo may now be brothers.

(For what it’s worth, Deadline offers this synopsis: “The story takes place in the rebuilt New Manhattan where a leader of a biker gang saves his friend from a medical experiment.”)

This leads to a couple alternate assumptions. First: WB doesn’t know what the hell Akira is, and is blindly forging ahead. Alternately, that the studio knows what Akira is and why it can’t be done in live-action for any reasonable budget and still make money. So it is being tweaked, simplified and streamlined.

I’m going with the second option. At this point I’m not even close to willing to say “I want to see this movie,” but here’s the thing: if they’re going to change a few things, then might as well go whole hog and change a lot. Go ahead and make the characters very different. Make them brothers. Change the setting, which necessitates changing major themes. As long as the old major themes are replaced with new ideas that are workable for this script, fine, let’s see it. I’m almost more curious now than I would be if this was just a straight adaptation, because now this is something new.

So what are the roles like now, and which actors on that list are good for them? Taking what we know of the characters I’d think Michael Fassbender would be a better Tetsuo than Kaneda, for example. But given that the characters in this version may bear little resemblance to what we’ve seen from Akira before, I don’t have the proper frame of reference.

Akira is still going to be a big event movie regardless, just a different one. Given that no one on that list really opens movies in the way that a $150m+ movie is going to have to open, this will be sold on concept and as an effects piece. We assumed that, too, but the shortlist goes a certain way towards confirming. Whatever happens, Deadline says the actors chosen are likely to be on that shortlist, assuming any/all are interested. The film is gearing up for an August start, so get used to hearing about Akira, because this is only the beginning.

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