Anime fans everywhere have been faced with continuous disappointment when it comes to live-action adaptations of their favorite shows. Television and film versions alike have seemed to regularly miss the mark while attempting to fully immerse the targeted audience. Two perfect examples of this arise from Netflix’s Death note and Cowboy Bebop. While both animes were wildly successful and gained a massive audience throughout their years of content, and many fans were both supportive and downright excited at the prospect of seeing these storylines brought to life by real actors, they both failed to gain approval for separate reasons on the same spectrum. so what do anime fans need to fully embrace future attempts at live-action adaptations? Let’s dive into where these two went wrong to speculate what could be learned and improved in the coming years.
death note brought us a short format of an extensive plot line and attempted to only slightly stray from eccentric mannerisms found in the original content, but in turn lost many crucial developments. Along with this, the film changed many aspects of the plot, character personalities, and interpersonal relationships leading many viewers to find the end result lackluster in comparison to the show. death note was arguably one of the most intricately plotted storylines found in anime and manga, every moment crucial to the message it portrayed through its ending. Without the specific personalities and attributes found in the anime/manga, the story lost its weight and ended up with multiple plot holes.
A great example of this is how Light (nat wolff) is able to masquerade as innocent for so long in the anime and manga due to his popularity and intelligence, while in the film adaptation he is written to be a bullied kid with lackluster grades. Those specific traits within the original content also feed directly into the ever-growing God complex he develops as he continues using the book to kill and manipulate those around him. The film deviates from this, portraying him as wanting to rid himself of the book and being used by his female counterpart Mia (Margaret Qualey). Mia was notably desperate for her affection for her in the anime/manga, even stating she has no qualms with him using her to achieve it. This change in both their relationship dynamic and personality traits lead to a complete disarray of the original message that made fans fall in love with the series to begin with.
While changes have proven to be necessary when adapting anime into live-action, this film showed us the wrong changes can be detrimental to the overall message. Had they kept the important attributes found in the characters but created new scenarios for them to tackle, the movie may have been better received, casting criticisms aside.
Animes have historically long run times, even those without filler episodes, allowing them to carefully weave their intricate storylines. A singular film may not be able to conquer displaying everything necessary to drive home the same hard-hitting content, which is why a series of films or television show adaptations would likely be a better fit. However, despite high hopes, the recent Cowboy Bebop series also fell flat.
After seemingly learning from the mistakes of live-action past, Cowboy Bebop attempted to directly translate the characters personalities to its actors but failed to facilitate a more grounded version. This left many fans to find their mannerisms exaggerated, cheesy, and lacking the nuance that was so crucial in the original anime. Additionally, the main group’s driving force of loneliness bringing them together seemed to be lost to a friendship arc. Despite flawless casting, vibrant scenery, and detail-oriented recreation of scenes pulled straight from the source, Cowboy Bebop didn’t manage to capture the intended audience due to subtle mistakes that added up over the course of its episodes, ultimately leading to its demise.
So, what is that happy medium that will leave fans with a good taste in their mouth? Based on the criticisms of these two adaptations, it’s safe to start with the need to walk a fine line between content-accuracy and originality in both plot points and characters. While perfectly posed scenes and directly quoted lines may seem like a safe bet, the nuance behind these moments is far more important, which relies on effective character building and an extensive understanding of the message being delivered through said scene.
Additionally, an entirely accurate and unchanged version of beloved stories that only exchanges anime characters with real people will never translate perfectly. Anime is a format that celebrates the eccentric and uncanny while maintaining the audience’s suspension of disbelief due to their ability to mentally separate how an actual person would behave in these scenarios. A drawn character doesn’t need to abide by social constructs or have realistic interactions, reactions, and expressions to win you over like an actor would. In fact, many find attempts at direct translations to be awkward and corny to watch.
With all of that in mind, a long-running series that truly took its time to slowly divulge into the purpose of whatever anime it attempts to recreate would likely be much better received. Rather than rushing into the excitement and action found in later seasons of the source, a first season that carefully built the structure necessary to convey that purpose would be a great start. Truly focusing on world building within the sets rather than blunt recreations would serve to immerse both long time fans and those unfamiliar with anime. A grounded portrayal of its characters that subtly agreed to their offbeat mannerisms but remained true to the crucial traits that feed directly into the message is clearly much needed, as well. All of these seemingly unrelated things are the moving parts that eventually play together to create the epic stories found in anime, and an understanding of that is sorely lacking in so many attempts in bringing them to life.
Patience is a virtue within the world of anime, and tension is everything. Lengthy seasons and long runtimes allow viewers to truly feel that tension, bond with each character, understand exactly why? their story is being told, and how it plays into the overall story. It also allows for complete immersion into the world each anime creates. the why? is crucial in character, plot, and scenery; but seems to be the one of main ingredients missing in recent adaptations. Yes, it is exhilarating to see realistic versions of animated shows we hold so close to our hearts, but aesthetics and nostalgia just aren’t enough to win the average fan over. We need substance and true understanding of what made each show so brilliant to begin with, converted into a more realistic format.
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