It’s nothing new for popular anime to get a live action remake (or a stage play which I desperately want to see someday) but with Netflix getting in the game lately, and the incredible popularity of comic book movies which could be seen as a western counterpart, we seem to be getting more and more non-Japanese adaptations. From what I’ve seen the immediate reaction from most fans is a mix of dread and anger! I can understand this but I’m not sure I agree.

Anime disagree
honestly – me in a nutshell

First let me put an ENORMOUS grain of salt on this post. With the exception of the first Assassination Classroom movie and the Death Note film the gif is from, I have not seen any live action adaptations of anime and don’t really plan to any time soon. I simply have no interest in them. If I wanted to see real people on a screen (and why would I?) I would most likely opt for something that doesn’t have an anime version available. Otherwise, the anime is always going to get priority from me, even if it isn’t the original.

As such, I have absolutely no personal views on any particular adaptation. That doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion about the general concept of creating not only live action anime but westernized live action anime. This is probably not a popular view: I’m kind of for it.

Now now, put down those pitchforks. I get where you’re coming from. Adapting from one medium to another is notoriously difficult and most of the time simply fails. For a lot of us, seeing a beloved story badly handled is worse than having it ignored. But just because no one’s managed to do a proper westernized live action adaptation yet, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. After all, comic book movies were also considered pure unwatchable garbage, detested by fans of the genre, for the longest time. And look where we are?

anime dubious

I have a sinking feeling I just stepped into some comic centric debate I don’t want to be a part of…

Times have changed, I know that, but I do remember when getting my hands on any anime at all was difficult. The idea of saying no to more anime in any form seems counterintuitive. All publicity is good publicity and all that jazz. But is there an argument to be made that a subpar product will actually hurt the industry rather than help it?

Yes, yes of course there is. If the adaptations are so bad that even loyal fans can no longer bare to go see them, they could give the impression that the industry as a whole is unprofitable and drive away foreign investors that might otherwise have brought in some extra resources.

Not only that, but there’s always a risk that it will taint public opinion against the source material driving overall anime interest down. (Although that’s currently not the trend I’m seeing).

samurai_flamenco paperwork
see …clear upward trend when you take into account overall……

However, is the solution really to just stop trying? I should note that the issue for both these problems isn’t the quality of the adaptation but rather the success of it. And that’s part of my reasoning for defending them. Fact is, the anime industry is still very niche, but it has a nice cozy loyal following. There’s no real reason for the industry to diversify, unless it’s to try and reach new fans that would, for some reason, not be attracted to the original medium.

Basically, as otakus, we are in fact not the intended audience. That doesn’t mean we can’t judge these works, but I do think it’s important to keep this in mind. Sure, Death Note may have been a cash grab trying to capitalize on one of the most widely known and popular animes out there. However, I genuinely believe the Erased movie was meant for people that had never seen the series. The “it was better in the anime” argument shouldn’t apply. We have to examine them as stand-alone offerings from the point of vue of someone unfamiliar with the source material.

And I think we tend to dismiss adaptations way too quickly. For instance, despite my noted lack of interest in live action adaptations, I was recently rewatching Beyond the Boundary and realized that I would love to see a live action high budget movie version. It would be impressive on the big screen with proper effects and I think the slightly less extravagant nature of the characters would work very well with properly cast actors.

vote for your favourite bespectacled actress now!

I remembered the groans that followed the recent announcement of a live action Cowboy Bebop as well. I get it. Netflix doesn’t have the best track record with these adaptations and Bebop was lightning in a bottle after all. The odds of this ending well are slim. But can you imagine if they do end well?

A talented writer could easily take the rich atmospheric Bebop universe and make an engrossing movie out of it. The fantastic characters are all already fleshed out, they could just introduce a few to give them room to grow. If Star Wars has taught us anything, it’s that we can make space-based movies look amazing. Mix in that noir element and there’s certainly the makings of a very enjoyable movie or miniseries.

On paper it sounds incredible. Bebop was one of the series to first break into the international market and introduced a generation of fans to Japanese animation, it could do so again in this new form.

And in case you’re worried that live action would replace animation there’s no need to fret. Animation will always be cheaper to make and there are elements that you can never translate from one medium to another.

****I wrote this about 6 hours before Super Scott over at Mechanical Anime published a very similar post – go read it, it’s great! The fact that I think a little like such a great blogger makes me very proud so I’m publishing mine as well, even if it is a bit redundant now****

My Hero Academia redundant

50 thoughts

  1. I’m not against live action at all, I just think that anime (and manga) is such a unique medium of storytelling, the content doesn’t usually translate well. That is, anime can get away with fantastical elements that would seem cheesy or unbelievable in a movie, and that’s not to mention issues with pacing out a movie from an anime series with episode beats, etc. There’s also the issue of adapting the source material to suit the format. Either you stay so true to the original source material that it alienates larger audiences, or you change it so much you alienate the fanbase. It’s true whether or not Japan or the West is making it – Japan generally tries to “recreate” anime irl, which comes across as pretty cringey or nonsensical to me a lot of the time, whereas the West will often seriously change the story, but those projects often lack the visionary drive to be successful anyway and end up a mess regardless.

    Some anime make more sense to adapt than others. I don’t doubt the possibility that a live-action Cowboy Beboy has the potential to be good and that a Western studio could pull it off, because the series has enough maturity to translate to real life in a genre already embraced among mainstream audiences. Cowboy Bebop, iirc, has been cited as an inspiration for several Western sci-fis, including Firefly. I’m tentatively hopeful, but then again, I was tentatively hopeful about Death Note and that did not work out for me, lol.

  2. I would say that quality and success are generally interrelated. Marketing is the bigger component though. If you don’t let people know you’re making a thing then it’s likely not going to be successful.

    The only one I’ve watched from beginning to end was the first (Japanese) live-action Death Note myself, and I enjoyed it. Most other live-action adaptations don’t look that good though. I’ve heard good things about the Gintama one. But I have zero confidence in the live-action Cowboy Bebop series doing anything well (that’s like trying to recreate a gourmet dish as excellent as Gordon Ramsey can produce, and you’re only experience with cooking is putting pizza in the microwave).

    There is, of course, always the possibility you could make something good out of a live-action adaptation of an anime. But depending on what you’re adapting and how integral animation is to the story, will determine the difficulty of making it anywhere near as good as the original.

    The safer bet would be to adapt animated works that weren’t good to begin with, or are more grounded in reality; I can’t see anything moe making a satisfactory transition to live-action, except maybe as a comedic element in a parody work.

    It’s interesting to think about, and would be cool if more effort was put into making them good. But unfortunately, most of them seem to be cash-grabs on the name recognition (and not well thought-out) that either end up being nonsensical bastardizations of the source material (see Netflix’s Death Note) or inferior works trying to copy the original while displaying just how little they understand what they’re adapting (Attack on Titan, Ghost in the Shell, Fullmetal Alchemist).

    And while I have nothing against the concept of adapting anime to live-action itself, I think unless you’re going to do something amazing with it, there’s no reason to do it at all. Let anime be anime and live-action be live-action.

    1. well I think the reason is mostly the audience animation bias so I can understand why I studio would be tempted to make a live action adaptation.
      The successful means quality isn’t always true. Both Twilight and 50 shades where some of the most successful franchises in recent years and although I haven’t seen them, the internet assures me the quality was dubious at best and the budget extremely limited. But just because it made money, it revitalized the genre

      1. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say exactly, so forgive me if any of my responses are based on false presumptions.

        I don’t buy “audience animation bias” as an answer. There are a few who don’t like live-action movies or straight-up just don’t watch them at all and only watch animated works, sure. But I highly doubt it’s the reason behind the low ratings and empty seats.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “I can understand why I studio would be tempted to make a live action adaptation,” if there is an audience animation bias. If they’re after success, and this presumption is taken to be true, why would they go against it?

        As I said, marketing is what breeds success. The Transformers movies spent buttloads of money on advertising (the Twilight and 50 Shades movies were also heavily advertised), and for whatever reason, hearing others say something is (remarkably) bad gets others intrigued to go watch it and see just how bad it is, generating even *more* promotion. Of course, it helps if the word being spread is complimentary, and more so if it comes from reliable sources.

        The (massive) success of bad works does not translate to “quality isn’t always true.” Regardless of success or failure, the quality of a work will remain true.

        I agree, money revitalizes genres, in the sense that it will lead to more of those movies being made now that there’s indication for a hefty amount of revenue to be made from them based on past success (and typically, positive reception).

        1. Studios try to maximize profits as such if they believe a story which has proven to be attractive to a subset of the audience could be repackaged and sold to a greater percentage of the public, they are likely to exploit it. As the box office takes for recent years have been skewed towards visually impressive live action offerings rather than animations it doesn’t seem that odd for a live action remake to be considered an investment worth considering.

          The vampire movies were mostly advertised after the fact and by word of mouth as the studios were not yet sure of their bankability and wanted to minimize initial investment. You heard a lot about them from third party sources and other platforms such as YouTube. This native marketing or whatever the current term is, is outside of studio control therefore difficult to factor in when making production assessments. However, it is exponentially more likely to occur when exploiting an already known franchise.

          These have little to do with the artistic viability of the product but are still generally common considerations for a business.

          This is why I say that the perceived artistic worth of the product isn’t the only factor and that there is a line of reasoning behind adaptive works.

          I’m not sure if that was clear enough?

          1. Intentions-wise, I’m inclined to agree, sure.

            I’ll admit I’ve had a difficult time finding any solid numbers on cost for marketing of those movies, so I’m just going off personal experience of seeing bus ads, tv ads, internet ads, trailers, and promo clips on talk shows. Not fully convinced (I’d need to look more into it), but I agree with the last statement.

            I agree?

            I… agree?

            I’m now wondering if we were having (slightly) different conversations lol

  3. I don’t disagree. Having the ability to let other people experience anime in another way with the potential of getting them to explore the original source material is a pretty good thing overall, I would say.

  4. I dropped a giant comment on Scott’s post, so I’ll try and comment something different on yours. I’m always hestiant of Western live action remakes just simply because I feel at times the ‘core’ of the series might be lost. Maybe that’s just me being pretentious.

    I’m personally a big fan of Japanese live action adapatations. I love Japanese film, and dramas so seeing a popular series be ‘re imagined’ with real actors is always a treat! That being said Japan casts the same 6 people for the same trouped roles which makes it a problem for a different post. This also just stems from having something to talk about with my students or co-workers since rarely will either group of people admit to watching an anime or a manga.

    Seeing your thoughts as someone who isn’t invested in them like perhaps I am, was really enlightening. It’s honestly changed my thoughts towards the subject a bit. So thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks you so much for taking the time to comment here too!
      I do hope you write about the issues with Japanese adaptations. I know very little about them and this one comment has really made me interested in learning more.

  5. I understand and appreciate the fact that different people have different tastes, and applaud the idea that a change in medium might introduce a brilliant story to a new audience. Don’t expect me to watch, though–I watch anime because it’s anime, and have no interest in live-action adaptations. But that’s just me.

  6. I’m personally getting tired of remakes, but I’m not against them on principle. Yes, there have been tons of really bad live-action remakes of anime (Dragon Ball Evolution? I rest my case). While this trend of remakes, prequels, sequels, and what not is frustrating and it’s a testament to how little creativity and originality is in the movie industry at large, I could picture some anime series or movies working in a live-action context. I think some more realistic or slice-or-life series could work if done right for example. Otherwise, it could be quite messy.

    1. The remake debate is a pretty old one but I don’t know. I’ve seen some truly wonderful book adaptations and reimaginings or expansions on existing fictional universes. After all, most fiction is usually derivative anyways

      1. Makes sense. I do wish there was more original content such as brand new screenplays for example. I’ve certainly seen some great adaptations all around in anime or movies, and I’m sure everyone can name at least one that they liked. It comes off as lazy, complacent, and dare I say cynical with this glut of remakes going all around as the film industry is banking on a safe bet with so many things instead of taking a risk.

  7. I suspect the quality of a live action version would depend on the genre as well. I’ll watch the Bebop remake but I don’t have a lot of faith; it’s just too fantastic (in the fantasy sense). But slice of life seems like a genre of anime perfect for live action adaptation. I understand they made/are making one of one of my nemeses: Beck/Mongolian Chop Squad. A film version would give them a chance to fix the narrative problems of the original, and since it’s a contemporary setting it could end up as good or better than the original, especially since they wouldn’t have to play the same damned song over and over! 🙂

    1. Special effects have come a long way and a lot of Bebop is a little grimmy and cheap looking – I think it could work visually. Even a modest budget like Firefly could make it bearable

  8. I actually don’t mind if they keep trying live action. Admittedly, I prefer anime but I love watching movies as well and if they make a decent one that follows a story I love I’d be really happy. I actually really did enjoy the Bleach movie Netflix put out and while it is vastly different at times to the anime, I think the choices they made were necessary to adapt it. Then again, that and the live action Erased series are about the only live action anime adaptations that I’ve enjoyed so far, but that doesn’t stop me watching them and hoping.

    1. I’ve heard the the FMA live action was surprisingly not horrible… I did like assassination classroom for what it’s worth. It’s more like a promo for the show than the actual story though

      1. The FMA live action isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either and definitely nowhere near as entertaining as the anime (not to mention you have to have a high tolerance for really distracting hair).

  9. For me, the more fantasy in a show = less interested in a live action. Simple as that. Obviously, I know in movies, it’s the fantasies that tend to reap in the most money, but I like how anime fantasies tend to have staples like shouted attack names or comedically bickering team members, things that don’t translate well into a more realistic medium.

      1. Well, I don’t read comics, so I don’t really know what they changed. But Marvel has the money that almost no anime live action adaption can match, so that’s also a reason. It’s easier to see a slice-of-life romance be a live action rather than the money they’re going to have to spend to get Luffy’s stretching ability to look fun, cool, and relatively realistic in the live action.

  10. The Bleach live action movie was actually decent enough that..if they had made it a 12 episode series, it would have been actually really great. The potential to make it work is there, we just haven’t got there yet. We are no longer hitting bogeys, but we are just starting to scratch par.

  11. Well, Japanese live action movies are in a different boat: they’re generally adapted from the same source material the anime is adapted from. Adaptions of original anime seem to be rare. I could be wrong, but I think live action movies generally draw more interest in Japan than the anime. That’s something to check up on, though.

    Western anime adaption are almost never made by people who actually like the source material, and in many cases they have to acquaint themselves with it. The driving force are the bookkeepers. That makes success unlikely (but not impossible). If the result is going to be yet another western formula movie, then what’s the point? It’s more likely to tank, if the makers have no special relations to the source, and the people with the money are more likely to question the drawing power of anime than their own dollar-eyed methods.

    From a creator’s PoV, I can see four approaches:

    a) How can I get across what I loved about the original?
    b) I’m going to do my own thing, and flavour it with the original awesomeness (hommage).
    c) The original sucks, I can do this better.
    d) Well, it’s a job.

    All of these approaches can create great movies, but they don’t have the same likelihood to do so, and I feel that most anime live action adaptions in the west fall into it’s-a-job category. (But again I know too little about it.)

    1. The fact that it’s different from the source material isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Blade Runner bears a passing resemblance to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but I really enjoyed both. Also Pure Luck and La chèvre or True Lies and La Totale. I’m pretty sure the directors only skimmed the french films before making the remakes. I get your point, I’m just a touch more optimistic.

      1. Bladerunner vs. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is an excellent example of an adaption that works, and I’d say it’s not despite, but because of the differences. It’s a different take on the material.

        I’m fine with that in general. The problem is if the different take is the same thing as the general company line of a big studio. In that case it’s less an adaption and more an assimilation. Disney assimilates a lot. Many of the films are still fun, mind you, but if they get exclusive rights to something and sit on them, that’s a waste of potential. On the other hand, they could be doing the same thing they’ve always done and just not acknowledge the source: Lion King, maybe – I’m not ruling out the similarities as coincidences, but as someone who’s watched the show as a child, those are a lot of coincidences. The key problem here, though, is this: if Lion King‘s supposed to be an original, and Junglebook‘s supposed to be based on Kipling, the terms have lost most meaning, and what little is left is encoded in legaleze.

  12. I admit I lean more towards Japanese produced live action but I opt not to see them first if I haven’t seen the anime or read the manga. I sort of treat it as an add-on rather than a necessity.
    But point well made when you said that when it comes to the western adaptations – we have to examine them as stand-alone offerings from the point of view of someone unfamiliar with the source material.

  13. Those are definitely good points that I should have considered before but never did! I would agree with you that live action still has hope and potential then. I probably wouldn’t watch one until people around me are all raving about it, but there’s a wait ahead until that point.

  14. I think Bebop is one of the few anime series that could really work well as a western live-action movie, partly because so much of the influence in Bebop has either an American or a western origin in general and partly because it’s hard sci-fi and doesn’t have too many insanely fantastical elements that would look stupid in live action.

    It’s all about how they pull it off. The Netflix Death Note movie could have worked too, but it didn’t. The fact that it’s Netflix at the helm again doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but I’ll try to stay positive.

  15. Great post. I actually have nothign agaisnt Live Action adaptions on the whole. I’ll give them a look-in they interest me and either enjoy them or not depending on how I view the overall quality. The thing is, a lot of people forget how different a medium a two hour film is to a twelve episode series, for example. When you have a shorter timeframe to work in, you have to make changes. It’s why books tend to reveal more than movie adaptions. Sometimes, something will work in one medium and not another too.
    As to Westernized ones…i’m fine with them. They cater to a different audience, and that’s fine. You often find that the original creators have no issue with them being made – and why would they, they’re trying to make a living – and they usually provide plenty of entertainment for their target audience. I get the whole issue of white-washing is at the forefront for a lot of viewers, and I do agree that casting needs to be treated with care if you’re not changing the setting, but it doesn’t mean that all Westernized live action adaptions are worthless.

  16. Great post and sums up my thoughts on the matter pretty well! I don’t care for live action anime adaptations and I mean that in both senses of the phrase. I don’t care to watch them and I don’t care they exist. So what if someone makes some dumb American version of some good anime (or anything really) the original still exists, no one’s forcing you to watch the new version, just live and let live! I remember how many people were up in arms when the live action Avatar film from M. Night Shyamalan was announced and even more so when it was a monumental failure as a film. But now we’re like 8 years after that film came out and does anybody actually even regard that film as a thing? Pretty sure, people are still talking about the original animated series a heck of a lot more than the shitty live action movie…

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