So with the release of the new Ghost in the Shell trailer I got to thinking about whether or not a good live action movie based off of an anime can exist. I started doing some research into different live action movies that I haven’t seen yet or ones that are planned to come out in the future to really get the whole spectrum. Now as always with these types of topics everything is subjective and my opinion may vary from someone else’s but what I’m going to try and do is give a general consensus on the topic and share my own opinions on the matter. After that I will give the overall impression on whether or not it’s possible for animes to have a good live action movie. Also as a side note I’ll try and keep this article concise but I can’t guarantee anything. So without further ado let’s get right to it.
So the very first live action adaption based off of a manga/anime was Harenchi Gakuen in 1970. I’m going to be fair and give this movie it’s dues by giving it credit for being the first but as it was in 1970 you can’t really compare it to movies that have come out in recent years. With that being said from this point on I’m going to focus on titles done within the last 10 years so from 2006 until now. I understand it leaves out some classics like Fist of the North Star but with improvements to technology and graphics I just don’t think it’s fair to compare anything earlier than that. With that out of the way and with this comparison the first ever live action film based off of a manga/anime was could Tenshi based off of the manga Angel Nest. The movie recieved mixed reviews from critics but did well enough to earn a Special Jury Prize in the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival. It wasn’t a well known manga so the movie kind of flew under most of the public’s radar. It was a decent start for the modern era manga live action film but at the same time maybe the next one on the list should’ve led off. Shortly after the Tenshi release the hit manga and anime Death Note received not 1 but 2 live action films in 2006. The films were very well received and is still one of the most beloved live action anime adaptations.
Now this might make people think that the case is closed; “since Death Note had a good live action adaptation that proves it can be done”. Well yes and no. Yes you can say it’s possible but to truly answer this question there needs to be consistency. If only one movie turns out to be good that doesn’t really reflect well on the genre itself. Now I’m going to shift focus to another argument often heard when it comes to the topic of live action adaptations. The argument is “well if they keep making them then that means they can’t be bad”. While to some this logic makes sense but in reality it’s not so cut and dry. Think of a movie series that’s gone on for a while….let’s use the Resident Evil series as an example (No offense to fans of the series but it’s the easiest example). Now Resident Evil has been out for a little while with several movies released and some already confirmed to come out in the future. The thing is that ratings as well as box office revenue for the series has been on the decline. So why do they keep making movies? My personal answer to this is THE FANS! The producers understand they’re hitting a specific audience and that they have a very little chance of an expansion market but they make the movie anyway to pump up the fans for the next game or to keep them loving the franchise. The same is true for anime/manga live action adaptations. The studios know they’re going to hit only a specific market but they do it to get fans either back into or even more excited for the anime/manga and in turn will buy merchandise for that series. It’s basic marketing and most of the time it works.
Now the next segment to dissect can get a little touchy so please remember that these are either just opinions or a general consensus on the matter. I wanna talk about whether or not if the country that makes the live action adaptation has anything to do with the quality or perceived quality of the film. Let’s just throw it out there right away; ever since the whole Dragonball Evolution fiasco a lot of anime fans don’t want America to ever touch an anime live action film again. Granted after seeing the Dragonball film for my self a few years ago I was leaning more to that opinion. However! That doesn’t mean Japan is perfect like so many think they are. Both countries have had their share of failures. Most recently Japan’s try at the Attack on Titan series which didn’t meet anywhere near the expectations that it had. Now it may also have to do with the greatest divide within the anime community and that would be subbed over dubbed. I’ve heard plenty of people shoot down an American made live action attempt just because the voices were in English. To me that just isn’t fair to the film. You honestly can’t expect an American film to be made entirely in Japanese. That’s completely unreasonable. The same goes for films in Japanese. Dub only watchers can’t expect a Japanese film to be made all in English. I’ve heard counter arguments to this saying that in that case only Japan should make the movies then people can’t complain. This argument is completely invalid. Americans as well as other countries have tons of anime fans and most of them are the ones that produce, direct, or star in these American adaptations. Giving one country the sole rights to this creates a stagnant genre and will hurt the industry more than help it.
That being said America has 2 shots to prove the world wrong starting early next year with Netflix doing a Death Note live action series and a live action Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlet Johanson. The Death Note series is already receiving tons of flack for various reasons. The most notably is not even trying to make the characters look the same and changing the names to sound more Western. The same can not be said about the Ghost in the Shell movie. The original author of the manga Masamune Shirow is directly involved with the making of the movie to ensure that it is kept mostly to the original material. This has caused a lot less people to hate on it but people will always find something to complain about. I think America has a good chance to hit it big with Ghost in the Shell. I didn’t always think that way but after seeing the work that’s been put into it and hearing that the original author is helping with production put my worries at ease and it has changed my mind on the film.
Now to look at some of Japan’s work. I’m going to start with my favorite adaptation, and it’s generally considered the best to date, Rurouni Kenshin. The film came out in three parts: Origin, Kyoto Inferno, and The Legend Ends. All three films were highly praised by critics and fans a like. These are the poster children for doing an anime live action film right. But as stated earlier Japan has had it’s whiffs as well. As a personal note with Bleach having a live action adaptation being announced I hope that it’s one that Japan gets right!
So we here at UnleashTheAnime put a poll on our Twitter page about whether or not a live action adaptation of a manga/anime can be done. The result was an even 50/50 tie. As I’ve done some research I’ve come to the understanding that this how mostly everyone feels. You’re going to have your elitists but we don’t pay much attention to them anyway. The thing is anime adaptations are like any other movie or movie series; there’s going to be some good and some bad. Sometimes it’s the acting, sometimes the westernization/easternization, and sometimes the movie is just flat out good/bad. I think we should stop separating these types of films and start treating them for what they are and that’s entertainment. I think we get our hopes up thinking a movie is going to be just like the anime/manga when in reality some things just can’t be done with modern graphics or effects. If we stop setting such high standards for these films and just enjoy them as they come out I think that maybe we can start seeing more great anime adaptations being made. I truly hope that someday we will live in an era where studios aren’t afraid to make these live action adaptations and we’ll see more of them with great quality. So I guess to answer the question of whether it can be done? The answer is yes…and no! It’s all up to you!