Anime has gone from once guilty pleasure to now mainstream genre. As with anything popular, Hollywood wanted a bite and there are now a whole bunch of live action adaptions – most of them of not great quality.
We are actually super-psyched about the Detective Pikachu movie, which looks fresh and original and a lot of fun. But we’ve been burnt before…
There are some truly terrible anime adaptions out there, but which ones were the worst?
#3: Attack On Titan
When a story starts with giant humanoid creatures suddenly appearing and devouring humans without remorse or reason, you might think you already know what Attack On Titan is all about. You would be wrong.
Based on a hugely popular manga, the Attack On Titan anime series is widely renowned for its unconventional story telling, unexpected plot lines and comprehensively developed characters. Those well developed characters have zero plot-armor however, and they can, and do die with more frequency then the darkest days of Game of Thrones.
Starting 100 years after the first appearances of the man-eating Titans, humanity has been reduced to living in a single tri-walled city, powerless to do anything more than to defend the city from increasing Titan attacks. Initially the anime follows three young recruits in the outer-wall guard, however the story soon twists and turns into a complex exploration of power and corruption, the human spirit and the value of life.
The anime’s production is outstanding with stunning animation and an unsurpassed soundtrack. It will hook you in from the very first episode which is something that very rarely happens with anime. The series only improves in seasons 2 and 3.
And then they went live action.
Where They Went Wrong
One might think that if the both the anime and the manga are so good, what could go wrong with the adaptation?
Apart from the fact that the special effects look like a bad Snapchat filter and the human actors emote like they are the ones wearing the rubber suits, the Attack On Titan film is stripped of all the elements that made the anime so great.
When adapting an established property into a movie it is almost certain that some things will get cut. Minor characters, unnecessary details, and unimportant scenes will end up on the cutting room floor, but Attack On Titan decided to cut Levi, the single most popular character from the manga and the anime.
The narrative contains only a passing resemblance to the source material, peppering it instead with shoehorned-in romance subplots, scenes of melodramatic exposition and a whole lot of blood and guts.
The film explores its themes with the subtlety of a titan crushing heads. While the anime wields character growth and a complex chain of cause and effect to illustrate the corrupting influence of power, the movie instead just makes the Military Police Brigade the freaking S.S. and marches them around town, complete with huge red banners and generally being clichéd.
The world-building that made the anime rich and detailed is lost in the film adaption and audiences are probably lost as to why a lot of things happen. Character motivations are diluted, changed, or just missing from the movie entirely and it is hard to care if any one lives or dies.
Where They Went Right
The film really did embrace its horror elements and the Titans are terrifying. A whole new Titan was cooked up for the film which lead to a payoff that was the stand out moment of the whole film.
In fairness, if you have no concept of what Attack On Titan is before you see the film you might possibly enjoy it. The live-action adaption is big, loud and dumb but not inexpertly produced. The movie is just an aggravatingly poor substitute for what it should have been.
#2: Dragon Ball Evolution
Dragon Ball is probably the most famous anime outside of Japan. Its impact on pop-culture is palpable, spawning several sequel series (including the ultra-popular Dragon Ball Z), multiple movies and an always applicable meme featuring ripped dudes with crazy hair screaming “it’s over 9000!”
Dragon Ball follows the exploits of Goku, a young protagonist who’s primary traits are super-strength, complete naivety and, uniquely, a monkeys tail. Dragon Ball is a fan favorite because of the sense of joy, fun and adventure that drives the plot, along with ingredients of martial arts, fantasy, science fiction and comedy.
And who wouldn’t you want a live action adaption of this cute little monkey kid?
Where they went wrong
The hardest part of adapting any anime to live action is that stylistically it just isn’t going to match up.
Dragon Ball Evolution has a much older Goku then the one we meet in Dragon Ball. Apparently in high school (but played by a then 27 year old Justin Chatwin), Evolution’s Goku is sarcastic, fast talking and kind of insincere. The problem is that we have already seen Goku as an adult in Dragon Ball Z and he retains the innocence and naivety that he had as a kid. The Evolution version is just unlikable.
There were a lot of complaints about the live-action adaption “white-washing” the source material. Considering the source material had a talking pig, a big green baddie and Mr Popo, the white-washing argument hardly seems relevant.
What is relevant is that everyone in the Dragon Ball anime is ripped as shit. Even the little old hermit Master Roshi explodes out of his shirt with muscles bulging when it is time for action. Dragon Ball Evolution’s Goku however looks more like a pre super-serum Captain America.
And ok, maybe the casting call did fail to attract any actual beefcakes, but that doesn’t explain the near total disregard for the most important stylistic element of them all. The hair!
Without the additional three feet of blue hair Marge Simpson is just someones hot mum, the same is true for Dragon Ball characters. In fact, half the way the audience knows how tough a guy is is from the colour and rampant spikiness of said guys hair. I know finding an actor with that kind of natural voluminosity is unlikely, but hey, if there are plans for another live action adaption I’ll give you the number for my wig guy.
Where They Went Right
The martial arts and action scenes of Dragon Ball Evolution are pretty good. While the anime series will often show close quarters combat as a series of blurs, speed lines and repeated frames, the film has fully embraced its kung-fu roots with fight scenes full of the kind of aerobatics normally reserved for better films.
But in the end the Hollywood live action adaption is just missing the heart of Dragon Ball and everyone knows it. With an average rating of only 3.5 out of 10 on Rotten Tomatoes it is clearly a bad film, and as there is plenty of content in the manga and the anime it is best to just stick to that.
#1: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar is a fantastic example of the level of influence that Japanese anime has had on western culture. Avatar: The Last Airbender is in fact actually an entirely American production.
To some purists Avatar might not even be considered an anime, however it definitely has all of the stylistic markings of Japanese animation including artistic approach, character design and thematic influences. Regardless, the series is universally loved and frequently is listed among the greatest anime properties of all time.
Avatar tells the story of Aang, the last Airbender to live on the planet, his companions Katara and Sokka and their struggle against the ruthless Firebenders’ Clan for the fate of the word.
Avatar: The Last Airbender also spawned a sequel series The Legend of Korra, which is often regarded as even better than its predecessor. You can argue about that in the comments.
Where They Went Wrong
The live action “The last Airbender” was helmed by controversial director M. Night Shyamalan and in a twist ending that surprised no one, the resulting movie was not great.
The adaption was the first in a planned trilogy that would encompass and then expand on the story of the anime. Needless to say the two planned sequels are no longer happening, but by that point Nickelodeon and Paramount’s 83 million dollar budget had ballooned out to $150m during production. The film still made something of a profit, but lost the goodwill of fans everywhere for producing what is one of the most derided movies of all time.
Nickelodeon failed to recognize that it was the characters and their emotional growth that made Avatar: The Last Airbender so loved in the first place. Sokka for example is supposed to be funny, instead the wooden acting and emotionless script meant that there were scenes where a shop-front mannequin could have been swapped in and audiences would not have known the difference.
Katara was also served as a pretty bland character when compared with her hopeful, strong willed, animated counterpart. Her primary role seemed to be the excessive, but wholly requisite voice-over narration. At least half of the events of the movie are accompanied by a voice-over and without it the movie would actually fail to make sense.
Also if you are just a casual fan of the anime or went in to see the film without having seen the anime beforehand you would be hard pressed to understand much of what is happening onscreen.
It turns out that the narration and disjointed plot was an after-effect of having to cut over half an hour of footage from the film only three months out from the release date. This was caused by the producers deciding to convert the film to 3D at the last minute (thanks to the recent success of James Cameron’s Avator). In order to be able to convert the film in time, the length was cut down by 30 minutes, resulting in displaced dialogue and some confusing moments when characters refer to scenes that we didn’t get to see.
Oh, and the icing on the cake? The anime was actually supposed to get another season but they canceled that so that the movie franchise could be the first to work with the planned material. Whoops.
Where They Went Right
The visual effects were pretty good. ILM had been working on some new fire effects for Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince and when the Firebending Clan are doing their thing everything onscreen looks very pretty.
The film has a 0.5 out of 10 score on Rotten Tomatoes so the viewing public has really already spoken as much as can be said about this film. But, good news everyone, Netflix is currently developing a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series and the original anime’s creator is optimistic about this one. I’m sure we’ll review it here when it lands.