I love anime. However, I’m rarely a fan of live-action anime adaptations.
Animation is really magical for me. In my mind, it allows us to create entirely different worlds where the only limit is what someone can dream up that can be bound within two dimensions. It doesn’t matter that castles can float or anthropomorphic figures are commonplace; we don’t need to worry about our special effects looking odd or unnatural or costing a fortune.
To the uninitiated, anime designs can tend to look jarring. I certainly remember my first glimpses of Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z characters wondering what on earth someone could possibly see in such crudely drawn figures. But, a good story will get you far, and sometimes it doesn’t matter so much that the animation looks silly or different than expected (sometimes it’s a great thing, actually!) If you can immerse yourself in this other world and allow yourself to be taken in by a good story, animation is all you need!
So, to me, when a live action adaptation comes out, I often cringe. Taking this beautiful other-worldly thing and translating it with actors and sets and props and special effects…it just ruins the magic for me. It’s true that this isn’t always a hard and fast rule, and in theory it could work really well. Perhaps there are some good ones out there and I just haven’t watched enough. (By the way, the new Attack on Titan trailer is what sparked this discussion):
But, some genres are perhaps better suited for live action films and series than others. Series like dramas or rom-coms that don’t have a ton of crazy special effects required might be better as live action adaptations. I haven’t seen the Nana movie, but it seems like that’s the kind of thing that would do well enough in a film adaptation.
Something I’m dreading tremendously is the Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation. GitS is one of my all-time favorite animes for its action, simple aesthetics, intellectual nature, and great characters. I feel like it is really perfect as-is and don’t want any other adaptation of it. However, we have one coming…starring Natasha Romanoff Scarlett Johansson herself. Why did the casting director choose a white chick to play Motoko Kusanagi? Is the entire movie going to have a white cast, despite the heavy socio-political influences Japan has in the plot? Are all prosthetic bodies white?!?!?! With animation, we just don’t even think about this kind of thing.
Yet another reason I dislike anime film adaptations: animes tend to be quite long, whereas films can’t match anywhere near the length of an anime series and so the plot is often condensed or compressed in some way. This is an entirely different argument because this happens to anime film adaptations that aren’t live action. There are some animes that release movies that are basically just a streamlined format of the series, and sometimes sequel movies are created but can feel unnatural due to the forced constraints of the plot (with the hero’s call to action, struggle, and resolution in such a small timeline, versus whatever the usual format and flow of the series was.)
Let’s talk about other adaptations. I watch a decent amount of Korean drama shows and there are definitely a few manga or animes turned into Korean, Taiwanese, or Chinese dramas. Boys Over Flowers is probably one of the single most popular and successful examples of a manga adapted into a live action series (although they seemed to have skipped over anime entirely in this particular case.) I can’t say Boys Over Flowers is especially good, but it does do a really fantastic job of placing the viewer into one mindset and view of the world, and then dropping them in with the main character into this completely different world, although instead of floating castles or cyborgs or titans, it just starts with blue-collar life as a dry-cleaner’s daughter and then drops you into this crazy world of wealth and beauty.
One that I saw recently that totally fell flat for me was Hayate the Combat Butler. Having watched a fair amount of the anime, I thought the Taiwanese drama adaptation might be amusing. Overall there were a lot of funny and cute touches with random effects, but they were definitely overdone. However, the most jarring thing for sure about the drama was that all of the actors were Taiwanese except for Nagi (the female lead), who is played by a famous and very popular Korean starlet. Since Park Shin-hye doesn’t speak Taiwanese, she spoke in Korean and then had her lines dubbed over (with zero lip matching) in Taiwanese, but only her lines.
To wrap it all up, I guess I do have an inherent problem with taking animation and trying to translate it into a film or live-action series just for the sake of doing it. I think that some plots and characters will translate pretty well, but with others why ruin a perfectly good thing?