After the lackluster Netflix Death Note live action and other live action series on the horizon that have the potential to be insulting to the source material (looking at you specifically Fullmetal Alchemist), things are keeping the status quo of “all live action anime adaptations are terrible.” However, it is simply not true. The real truth is that while many are terrible, there are also some really good ones out there, and we’re going to help you find them!
Why Live Action Anime Adaptations Usually Suck?
Before we get into the good examples, let’s talk about some of the bad ones. Why do they fall so flat? Why do comic book movies work so well while anime live action adaptations usually end up so terribly? Typically it is all about how the source material is written. Western comics are often given a certain amount of realism to the characters and writing that make it easier to adapt the characters even with ridiculous powers, not to mention those movies have huge multi-million dollar budgets.
Anime, on the other hand, often uses over-the-top gestures, expressions, and unrealistic ways of speaking. In order to appease fans, they try to get actors to replicate this, which leads to corny overacting. Furthermore, with dramatically lower budgets and often little time to do actual filming, you have special effect that look disastrous in order to show things like the parasitic aliens in Parasyte that just end up looking super dumb.
Then there are times like Dragonball Evolution where they try to recreate the wheel, ending up not only telling a terrible story, but pissing off the fanbase for decades to come. If a live action isn’t at least 75% faithful to the source material, it almost assures it will crash an burn.
However, the real truth as to why all live action anime adaptations are bad is that they actually aren’t. Audiences outside of Asia typically don’t end up exposed to the vast majority of live action adaptations unless they turn up somewhere like Crunchyroll’s dismal drama section or they go searching for them on places like DramaFever. For every Dragonball Evolution, there are two more live action anime adaptations that are actually watchable.
Kimi ni Todoke
Romantic slice of life shows are perhaps the easiest things to adapt providing you have a cast that can cry convincingly and look sufficiently doe-eyed enough when the scene calls for it. However, that doesn’t quite translate to Kimi Ni Todoke. It’s special. The female lead isn’t your typical normie, so you have to find a way to preserve her quirkiness while not making it seem of place, all while having a boy fall for her and have making new friends. Sticking to the the source is how they tell the story for the most part, but it is really brought together by the cast.
Coming out of left field and being a complete surprise to many, the Rurouni Kenshin live action movies are pretty damn good. While the source material can paint some of the swordwork in an over-the-top fashion, the live action movies kept it extremely grounded and you find that it actually works better. It also helped that they didn’t go with a neon orange wig for their Kenshin lead either, which helps keep things believable. While the acting can be a little hit-or-miss for the rest of the cast, Kenshin and his advisories always steal the show.
The Nana live action movies actually came out before the anime, so for awhile, they were all the manga fans had. However, while the Nana live action was faithful to much of the original story, the story is quite long. This means that many portions of the manga had to be cut or reworked to fit into a live action MOVIE, something that might have benefited better from a drama series considering the larger-than-usual budget it had. Like the anime series, the second movie also deviated from the plot, possibly because of the content later in the series. However, despite all that, Nana really needed to be carried by an excellent soundtrack, and it was, much to the pleasure of its fanbase.
Released before the actual anime series, the Orange movie benefits from not falling into the same pitfalls. Since it has a smaller amount of time to tell the full story, unlike the anime series, it doesn’t spend a lot of time dilly-dallying. The best part is that it loses nothing from it! The plot is still the same touching tribute to friendship and regret that the manga was, but it only needed an hour and a half to tell it while still doing it justice. Good on you, Orange live action.
Blue Spring Ride
Like with Kimi Ni Todoke, slice of life, romantic, feelsy anime series are often the easiest to adapt providing you have believable chemistry between the leads. That is where Blue Spring Ride excels. It beings back all of those feels from the anime and carries them through the chemistry between the main leads. However, while it sticks to the source material, like the anime that suffers from a lack of a second season, it doesn’t give a satisfying conclusion to the story like its manga source.
Detroit Metal City
The Detroit Metal City series is a parody of the music industry and its personality-produced bands that are popular in Asia. However, there is one reason to watch the anime or read the manga, and that is the superb comedy of the series. If there was one single thing the live action had to get right, it was the comedy. Thankfully it succeeds in very large part to the actor they cast as Negishi/Krauser. He transforms perfectly between sweet and shy Negishi to the terror of the night that is Krauser. Really his facial expressions carry the live action to greatness.
Hana Yori Dango
Hana Yori Dango is one of the rare cases where the live action (both the Japanese and Taiwanese versions) exceed the source material purely because the art of the manga is an acquired taste and the animation in the anime is god awful.
Hana Yori Dango is like the Gossip Girl of the East. It is pure, non-stop drama that is often over-the-top in writing, but tempered wonderfully by the performance of its top-notch cast. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll go from hating to loving characters, and you’ll miss it when it is over.
My Love Story
Although My Love Story stuck close to the source material, it deviated in a few select ways that occasionally resulted in Suna and Rinko seeming slightly out of character. However, as it needed to be, Takeo is the real star of the show. His character is spot on not only in personality, but in looks and it is indeed as hilarious as the show is. The real benefit here is that, like Orange, the humor doesn’t get as repetitive as it does in the anime!
Great Teacher Onizuka
Great Teacher Onizuka is an older live action adaptation with a newer re-imagining. Both of them are good and both stick close to the source material, making for an interesting situation in which you can compare leads and debate which you feel did the bigger job of conveying this punk-gone-teacher. Still, GTO, both the source and the live action, are both inspiring and hilarious at the same time – the true essence of the series. While plot differs from the source at times, it is one of those situations where it is so close to the source that you are actually excited to see something new and how it might effect the story.
This is another live action series that exceeds the source material because the art style of Gokusen was utterly awful despite the story being a good replacement for the GTO-shaped hole in your heart after you finished the series. While the Gokusen live action had multiple seasons, it stops following the source material after the first and thus experiences diminishing returns with the repetitive overall plot. However, some of the sub-plot drama is interesting enough that if you find yourself invested, it is worth sticking with for multiple seasons.
Your Lie in April
So many things could have gone wrong with a live action Your Lie in April, and 90% of those things would have involved either fake crying or gross-looking real crying. However, it ended up being a pretty great adaptation of the tear-jerker. It was faithful to the material, had a fantastic musical score as you would expect, and delivered some excellent performances which really tied the whole thing together.
Gantz is a record holder. It not only had an all CGI movie (Gantz: O) that was really awesome, but it had a live action one that wasn’t bad either. Two things I hate done well? What’s not to love? The reason that the Gantz live action works so well is that much of the series is about normal people being put in a strange situation. While it could have gone wrong with typical overacting, things are kept grounded and believable by superb performances. Of course, the only occasional problem is, predictably, the aliens. They look silly in the worst cases and just underwhelmingly fake at best.
The Tokyo Ghoul adaptation is new, but for the most part, pretty good. It had the usual live action struggles with the kagune since it had to rely in CGI. However, they went through great lengths to make them look like the fleshy weapons they are without being silly about it. It was silly at times, but subtle for many more. While it was an extremely faithful to the source material (the first three volumes of the manga) it did take Kaneki from wimp to badass in record time, which makes for an excellent climax although a slightly out of character one.
Ghost in the Shell
If there was one series that was deserving of Hollywood’s big budgets and could benefit from their special effects technology, it would be Ghost in the Shell. While it was originally criticized for white-washing, people seemed to calm the fuck down about it when it turns out only western fans were enraged and most Japanese fans were pretty down with the idea of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko.
While the visuals were on point throughout and it had some nice shot-for-short recreations of the anime, Ghost in the Shell live action did have some flaws, and mostly it was the same flaws with a lot of Hollywood movies. They replaced the slow-burning deep think of Ghost in the Shell with faster deep action, but it still remains an example to follow for other western adaptations.
Death Note (2006)
…If you could take Willem Dafoe’s Ryuk from the Netflix adaptation (unarguably the best part of the movie) and replace the silly-as-hell CGI Ryuk in the 2006 live action, you would have a damn near perfect live action adaptation. The 2006 live action not only stayed true to the source material, but stayed true to the characters. Netflix tried to reinvent the wheel a bit with that, and it kind of hurt them. It is not so much a race thing so much as it is that the characters in the original live action were directed to stay true to the characters they were based on. Light slowly descended into madness as he ascended to Godhood, and L remained mysterious and quirky. It wasn’t quite the same in the Netflix version because instead everyone was too busy trying to be an edgelord.
Agree? Disagree? Did we miss another one you think is a good live action? Let us know in the comments section below.
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