Anime Live-Action Films

Anime Live-Action Films: A Hit or Miss?

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that mediums like anime and manga are only growing in popularity. In the past few months alone, series like Demon Slayer have trended multiple times on platforms like Twitter.

Naruto now has a high-end clothing line by Coach with Michael B. Jordan. Of course, with the growing interest in anime and manga comes the desire of filmmakers to try and adapt these series into live actions. For example, there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the Cowboy Bebop live-action that’s coming to Netflix. 

However, a lot of these adaptations have missed the mark with fans. Here’s a look into why so many adaptations were flops.

Keeping To The Source Material

Nat Wolff stars as the lead character Light in Netflix's live-action anime film adaptation.
Nat Wolff as Light Yamagami in the “Death Note” live-action anime film / Credit: Netflix

Anime fans go hard when it comes to their favorite series. One of the biggest concerns surrounding live actions is how faithful they’ll be to the original work. Using Death Note as an example, the Netflix remake barely resembles the original series. The entire plot was reworked and stripped of a lot of the elements that made it so fascinating. Light Yagami turned into Light Turner. 

Unlike Yagami, Turner was a loner and didn’t exude the same level of charm. The fact that Yagami was so well-liked and a perceived genius made his usage of the Death Note that much more terrifying. He was smart and played not only his family but the police force and the world’s greatest detective, L. In the adaptation, L did have a kinda similar personality but that didn’t get the chance to shine because it was against Turner who, comparatively, was pretty plain.

Of course, nothing has to be 100% the same in an adaptation or there would be no point to it. However, watering down much of what makes a series seems to never go over well.

There’s Just Too Much To Cover

Alphonse Eric in the 2017 Japanese live-action anime film adaptation of "Fullmetal Alchemist"
Even the 2017 live-action anime adaptation of “Fullmetal Alchemist” in Japan wasn’t all that great. / Credit: Square Enix, OXYBOT Inc.

So many recent live actions have gone for complex series with lots to cover. It’s hard to force a season (or more) worth of material into a movie that’s probably going to be two hours tops. Characters and subplots will have to be sacrificed to make things work. With that, important details might be cut in the end. Even in the case of Japanese made live-action, it’s still hard to fit everything. The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist has the same problem. Many aspects of the story are rushed past without a second thought. It looks good but the storyline makes it fail – something that’s disappointing for those who know of the original series.

In Western remakes, any cultural context that might not be obvious to a non-Japanese viewer will have to be explained or changed. This can end up taking up a bulk of time that could be spent on something else. In another case, it could be like 4Kids calling onigiri “jelly-filled donuts” or just erasing the cultural aspects of the series altogether. Neither is a good option.

A Lot Is Lost

Alita in "Alita: Battle Angel"
Alita in “Alita: Battle Angel” / Credit: 20th Century Fox

Not everything is able to convincingly translate well to the big screen. That’s especially true for anime and manga. With a medium that’s known for large eyes and wild hair colors, it’s hard for actors to achieve a look that similar without making it look strange. A lot of people were turned off by the look of Alita: Battle Angel for that same reason.

This is also true for a lot of aspects. Characters often have very recognizable voices that actors may not be able to replicate. The same could go for personality. How would some over-the-top characters like Luffy from One Piece or Asta from Black Clover work with real people? Fight scenes or the overall aesthetics of a show also come across different in animation. For example, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a great animated movie. But how well could that be if it was a live-action? It would probably lose a lot of what made it special.

Some Creators Just Don’t Care

The American live-action anime film adaptation of "Dragon Ball" was a total cash grab.
Don’t even get us started on 2009 “Dragon Ball: Evolution”… / Credit: RatPac Entertainment

If you think the Death Note movie was a horrible cash grab, you might not remember the mess that was the Dragon Ball: Evolution. It’s up there right next to the Avatar remake for movies fans refuse to even acknowledge. Evolution was a mess and it’s easy to see why when the screenwriter, Ben Ramsey, admitted to not being a fan. In an interview, Ramsey said, “I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment.” 

This, of course, might not be the case for all remakes but it’s obvious that if the people behind the project don’t care, that will show up in their work.


Scarlett Johansson in “Ghost in the Shell” / Creidt:

This can be tied into the points of keeping to the source material and a lot being lost. Many live-action adaptations whitewash most if not all of the characters. This was particularly prevalent with Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. There are so few chances for Asian American actors in Hollywood to shine and these adaptations would be the perfect opportunity for them. Yet, these roles are often given white actors. It also gives less representation to Asian American audiences who rarely see themselves in media. In the Death Note adaptation, even with the change in setting to America, the role of Light could have still been played by an Asian American actor. 

Today, more viewers are aware of the disparity in Hollywood and would rather see more representation in film. Many are skeptical off the bat if remakes don’t have a cast that reflects the race and ethnicity of the series.

So What’s Next?

"Cowboy Bebop" anime
“Cowboy Bebop” anime / Credit: Sunrise

It’s definitely hard to please everyone. It’s not like comics and animated shows are completely impossible to make adaptations from. Marvel has been doing it successfully for years. It could be that the overall feel and storylines of adapted American comics transfer better to screen. A realistic rendering of something like Dragon Ball Z would be way harder to do than Batman per se.

Nonetheless, many anime and manga series do have the potential to be great live-action movies. With Cowboy Bebop in the works, we can only hope that the state of live-action remakes improves.

What are your thoughts on live-action anime films? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @geekgalsco.

You can read more of Keana’s articles here.

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