By: Danielle Sullivan
Anime adaptations, a long-standing debate that has recently made its way back into the current conversation with the release of Netflix’s Cowboy Bebop series and the casting announcement for Netflix’s One Piece series. Let me start by prefacing, I WANT anime adaptations to be good but historically they have not been great. I won’t be touching on Japanese anime live-action because I have only seen a few and they are objectively even worse.
The real questions I want to try to answer are as follows:
Can live-action anime be good?
Why have they been so bad in the past?
Who are they being made for?
I think to begin; the easiest question to answer is what has caused previous attempts to adapt anime to be generally bad. One of the biggest factors to me is that creators are biting off way more than they can chew. Not only are studios choosing to remake beloved franchises with dedicated fan bases (the otaku level of obsession is real) but also many anime and manga series take place in expansive fantastical worlds that are extremely hard to bring to life. One problem with adapting works that have any level of fandom is that many fans generally prefer the original medium they experienced. Anyone who’s gone to see a movie based on a book will know this as true. Doesn’t matter how great the movie was, the book was always better. There is truly no pleasing those types of fans and I think they often muddy the discourse on whether or not an adaptation was good or not. Cowboy Bebop is a great example of this I believe. As of writing this, I have only watched one episode of the Netflix series but the original anime is one of my favorites (I’ve even cosplayed as Faye). Anime purists are slamming the show for every little detail that is different or they don’t like. I think it’s fine so far (like I said only one episode in). It’s hard to tell if fans wanted a one-to-one remake (which it’s not) or something new in the same universe with the same characters (which it seems to be). If you stray too far you’re not being true to the original but if you try to recreate it exactly you’re bound to fit up in their eyes.
This leads beautifully into my next question, who are anime adaptations made for? Are they for established fans or are they meant to bring in new potential fans to the franchise? Are anime adaptations the live-action equivalent of “f you read the manga” anime? Like this story? Gotta check out the source material! But do viewers of live-action entertainment seek out animated works? I tend to believe not. If it’s not for new fans then anime adaptations are for current fans? Unlikely as well. Lookup any live-action hashtag on twitter and you will find a myriad of tweets wondering “who asked for this?”
The announcement of One piece on Netflix had me scratching my head and asking the same question. First off, One piece is perfect the way it is and needs no other version to cement it as one of the greatest series of all time. Secondly, the character and world design are so distinct and imaginative I dare say even the best graphics and costume design could never do it justice. Lastly, One piece is LITERALLY a THOUSAND episode long. How in the heck does Netflix plan to tell that story and do it any sort of justice? The casting looks ….fine and if it can get more people to love and appreciate this modern masterpiece then great but I just don’t see it happening. I hate to be negative about live-action anime and I’ve long used the argument of comic book movies to justify bad and mediocre films. Many people might not remember how awful and campy superhero movies used to be before they became the box office powerhouses they are today. Unfortunately, with live-action anime, I just don’t feel like studios are putting in the same amount of effort to better them. Ghost in the shell was ok and I heard Alita battle angel was good but haven’t seen it yet. Let’s not forget about dragon ball evolution, speed racer, and Netflix’s death note, absolutely awful. I think movie studios forget that anime is still fairly niched in the states and they really need to put in the work to sell it not only to fans but to the general public.
So can lilive-actionnime be good? I hope so, someday at least. Perhaps studios will learn lessons from their absolute failures and do their due diligence to get these adaptations right. You have to crawl before you can walk and live-action anime has been on its knees for a long time. I think while the anime community is wildly divided and opinionated, with the right people and passion behind it, they COULD get it right. My advice to studios looking to get into making anime is to start small with less ambitious titles. Just because a story isn’t some extreme Shonen Jump adventure doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. There are so many incredible stories in anime and manga that deserve to be told and heard by a larger audience, they just have to be done right. Instead of striving for brand recognition with a super popular series, I would love to see studios dip their toes in and maybe do less outrageous and more realistic stories. Anime fans have been burned too many times by live-action adaptations to blindly trust them to do it right. Gain our trust and then when you have the capabilities then and only then try to take on our most cherished series.
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Danielle Sullivan is a guest writer at All Ages of Geek. You can follow her on Twitter @sugarkittymeow & Instagram @sugarkittymeow