Why Live Action Anime Films Don’t Work – Discussion

So Alita Battle Angel is coming out and its early reviews are…well, not looking too hot. To be honest, from the debut trailer people knew that this film wasn’t going to do well. While it boasted impressive visuals it was still met with much criticism. This movie was based on a japanese manga of the same name. While we’re on the topic of Japanese manga and live action, let’s talk about live action anime films (Great segway). The term is almost cursed, putting live action and anime together, and such a concept is reviled by the world. Today I want to look into this concept and see why these movies are hated by so many, and whether or not said hate is warranted.


The Formats Don’t Work

Anime and live action are capable of portraying different things, and this often results in poor compatibility between the two format. Case in point, let’s look at one of the most infamous live action anime movies, Dragon Ball Evolution. The movie failed in so many ways, particularly with its inability to faithfully represent the original source material and the vision of the creator. Anime allows for much more abstract and extreme visuals, ideas and concepts, because it’s animation as with animation we are more likely to suspend our disbelief and accept the weirdness of the story. But live action uses real people and as a result we subconsciously expect a certain degree of realism. While things like fantasy, sci-fi and other works of extreme fiction aren’t exactly realistic, they do apply real world logic to a lot of their concepts. Let’s look Iron Man, while his suit would not be feasible in real life, it’s based on real world mechanics and tries to explain its weaponry and abilities through real world logic. This is often very hard when it comes to anime because the animation and settings allow for more abstract and unique ideas to be accepted. Now there are some anime that are more grounded and therefore would probably be more open, but those won’t make well live action adaptations for one reason…

Movie Studios vs. Anime Fans be like


Movie Studio’s and Greed

It’s no secret that the main focus of a company is to make money, and that will always be priority. No matter how much a company claims to love its consumers, the consumer will always be second fiddle to their wallet. There are some forms of media made with tender love, intended to be a good product to sell to consumers, and this is what creates a positive and welcoming attitude towards the company. This leads into people being more inclined to spend money and resources on your products. But then there’s the other side of businesses, the ones obsessed with the concept of getting money no matter the reputation. This is the case with many anime adaptations, and the companies don’t even hide it. Once again, this is shown in Dragon Ball Evolution, where they brought on a director who had absolutely no exposure to the franchise in any way, shape, or form. This was a recipe for disaster and as a result the movies contents was not only a far cry from what it should have been, and as a result we were left with a poor film. The problem with these movies is that the fatal curiosity of some anime fans and general movie goers is what allows these movies to make money. The fact that live action anime movies are such a rare thing and the fact that they are known for being of low quality means people will be intrigued by the next release and as a result get trapped in this vicious cycle.

“MONEYMONEYMONEYMONEY!” The movie studio said.


The Changes to Source Material

With any adaptation comes changes, and in the case of anime adaptations, the yields a lot of alterations and changes that ultimately damage the final product. I know I keep referring back to Dragon Ball Evolution here but it’s just the epitome of poor live action adaptations. The character representation, the story representation, the alterations to base concepts, so many changes were made that it barely felt Dragon Ball except for sharing a name. The reason for this is the studio’s feel the need to try and apply the real world logic I mentioned earlier to their movies and as a result they make changes and alterations to try and make the content more realistic. This diminishes the content quality since it takes away what makes the anime so fun. Case in point, when you remove the Ki attacks and Saiyans from Dragon Ball and replace them with ‘airbending techniques’ and a poor alteration of King Piccolo, your movie will fail to capture fans. When people watch anime, they watch them for their settings and world building and for many this means watching shows like Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach, worlds with abstract and different concepts that we don’t have in the real world. So in conclusion, the changes to the source material that try to give these live action anime movies a more realistic tone ultimately lead to the finished product being disliked.

I mean this looks cool, but it’s apparently and ‘airbending’ technique…okay.


Can it Work?

Now is there a way we can make anime live action work? I think yes, and given the resources we have right now in terms of special effects and presentation ability. To me, the combat in the Superhero movies, particularly the Avengers movies, Thor The Dark World, Man of Steel and to a lesser extend Batman V. Superman, the combat in these films is very tight, energetic and just pulsing with powerful punches. Just imagine the combat in the Guardians and Avengers vs Thanos fight being used in a new live action Dragon Ball film, or a Naruto film, maybe even Bleach for that matter, any high stakes action anime for that matter. I also think that maintaining the source material would in fact add to the presentation since it would help give reason to the insane nature of the combat. I also think that they should stop trying to adapt the more action packed and sci-fi oriented anime like Dragon Ball, Full Metal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell. I think a collection of horror anime could in fact work, things like Corpse Party, Another, Blood C and the like all seem prime material for adaptation. Now I know that Another and Blood C did in fact receive live action movies before, but I think that they should be given the same blockbuster treatment as Evolution and Ghost in the Shell. We’ve gotten so many unique and memorable horror movies in recent years, The Conjuring series, Insidious, A Quiet Place, Birdbox, all of these fit right along side the elements seen in things like Another and Corpse Party, so why can’t they get the same treatment?

This type of combat and effects would be killer in a live action anime film.


Final Words

Now I know a lot of people are going to just flat-out say ‘Live action anime adaptations shouldn’t exist’ and honestly I do agree. I find the concept to be very shill and manipulative, capitalizing on the fatal curiosity of some, and the complete blissful unawareness of others. As anime becomes more and more mainstream and more accessible, the live action adaptations are becoming more of a double-edged sword. On one hand they may be pushed away as more people become privy to their reputation and as a result studios may learn to abandon these projects. But on the other hand, the more anime becomes mainstream, the more likely companies are to pick them up and try to churn a profit out of them. Me personally I’m just going to ignore these kinds of movies, unless they make a damn good movie out of an anime. So until the day a generally good anime live action, I’ll be satisfied with Ricky Oh the Story of Ricky, expect that to be reviewed at some point, it’s wild.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. If you did please consider leaving a like and following my blog for updates on future posts. Also follow me on twitter @joe_reviews for further updates and general nonsense. Till next time.

16 thoughts on “Why Live Action Anime Films Don’t Work – Discussion

  1. I never watched the Dragon Ball movie completely, only snippets here and there when someone else was watching it. But from what I saw from it, I know the movie suck.

    The problem with that movie it the studios decided to freely “adapt” a long running franchise with a large fanbase, a franchise with element that doesn’t translate well into a live-action.

    If Hollywood really want to adapt anime series, they should stick to slice of life.


    1. Yeah, another point I actually forgot to touch on as well is that these are shows that have been spanning years and years with hundreds of episodes, making it impossible to tell that story in like 2 hours.


      1. Exactly, the reason why the Super Hero movie based on comic seemed to work (at least from what I know) it’s cause they didn’t adapt the full series, like Avengers, into one movie.

        They broke it down into several movie.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yep. In fact they planned a sequel for Evolution, and in fact it is confirmed to exist somewhere, so they planned to show more of the world, but since evolution was hated they never made it.


  2. I agree that live adaptations are a waste of time. Maybe they can be good for certain anime, but in the end the way I see it is that I’d rather just watch a high quality anime movie than a live adaptation. Everytime, no question.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Another problem is the pacing I guess. Something like Jormungand could make for a good live adaptation (realistic enough + action), but there’s no way they could cram it into a single movie and make it work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed. Thats why Dragon Ball Evolution failed. There were 3 Dragon Ball series at the time, over 400 episodes and 15 movies, and they tried to condense the history of that series into 2 hours. It just cannot be done.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That we “subconsciously expect a certain degree of realism” is very true. Brightly coloured anime hair and soaring-through-the-sky action scenes just don’t translate well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think they have the same issues that video game movie adaptations have; studios go for what’s popular first instead of thinking about would be suitable for a adaptation. It’s changing into a different form of media so it’s constantly baffling to me why some of them are so overlooked. Something like Monster is easily doable in live action, but instead it’s Dragon Ball Z, Bleach, or what not that get the film treatment instead. Japan does justice to them time to time like the live action Ajin, and Rurouni Kenshin movie, but they’re not frequent enough. As for the US, I would probably go with something simpler like Kaiji since it’s a psychological thriller about gambling, and would be easy to maintain the series stables with changes for a US audience. Of course, this won’t happen since it makes too much sense!

    Liked by 1 person

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