Anime and manga have always had a huge and very specific fanbase. There are so many options and storylines now available which continues to pave the way for more people to be enticed by this medium in pop culture. Several filmmakers have taken advantage of this phenomenon as they attempt to reimagine these animated works of art into a live-action setting. Creating such films however is not an easy feat and can cause polarizing opinions and views from fans. We have skimmed through several live-action anime films and have come up with our list of the best (and worst) adaptions.
The Best Live-Action Anime Films
- Rurouni Kenshin Franchise
- Speed Racer
- Death Note (Japanese version)
- Alita: Battle Angel
- Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
The Worst Live-Action Anime Films
- Dragon Ball: Evolution
- Attack on Titan
- Death Note (English version)
- The Devilman
- The Last Airbender
The Best Live-Action Anime Films
Rurouni Kenshin Franchise
The Rurouni Kenshin live-action films are based on the anime of the same name or also more popularly known as Samurai X in some regions. It follows the story of Himura Kenshin, a former ruthless assassin, who tries to venture into a new life apart from the blade but finds difficulty doing so as his dark past continues to haunt him. There is a total of 5 films that have been released — Origins, Kyoto Inferno, The Legend Ends, The Final, and The Beginning. Each film in the franchise proves to be better than the last in terms of the top-notch acting, the engaging storyline, and most of all the visual experience that they all take us on. The Rurouni Kenshin films are definitive proof of what adaptations could and should really be as it combines both a fresh take on the story while still remaining truthful to the source material.
For more on the Rurouni Kenshin franchise:
- 5 Things You Need To Know Before Watching Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
- ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’ Review: Surprisingly Different
Speed Racer is based on the 1960s manga and anime series and follows the story of a young driver who aspires to be the champion in the racing world with the help of his family and his high-tech Mach 5 automobile. When it was released back in 2008, the film performed poorly at the box office and received mostly negative reviews from critics. Throughout the years, however, it has gained a huge cult following from fans proving that a film shouldn’t be judged merely on initial receptions alone. It is a visual masterpiece with very colorful sceneries and top-notch cinematic effects that create help create an overall immersive experience. When the film is seen as a whole, it definitely delivers and can even be considered to be one of the most underrated films of the 20th century due to the fresh perspective that it provides to the original anime.
Death Note (Japanese version)
Don’t let your eyes deceive you, this is a title that you will be seeing twice on this list and more interestingly on both categories. Death Note is an introspective look at the very definition of morality which is shown to be subjective with lines that can easily be blurred or crossed. It centers on a Tokyo college student who attempts to change the world into a utopian society without crime. How does he plan to achieve all of this? Through a mystical and mysterious notebook that kills off the people whose names are written down in it. The Japanese version rightfully gives justice to the source material with spectacular performances from the cast and a story that is riveting, complex, and enticing enough from start to finish.
Alita: Battle Angel
One of the more recent films in this list is the 2019 visual masterpiece, Alita: Battle Angel, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and produced by James Cameron (Avatar). The film is based on the 1990s Japanese manga by Yukito Kishiro’s, Battle Angel Alita, and the 1993 original video animation adaptation, Battle Angel. In this film, we follow the titular character Alita who is a reactivated cyborg with no recollection of her past. She is thrown into the underbelly of an upbeat yet corrupt city where she must confront figurative demons from both her troubled past and her continuously growing present. This live-action film adaptation of the anime is a culmination of stunning production designs, elaborate and colorful visual effects that all serve as a backdrop for a unique and emotional sci-fi adventure.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
This live-action film is based on the manga which started back in the 1980s. Fans of the manga will not be disappointed with this film as it is a spectacle of a flick that boasts stunning visual effects while simultaneously delivering an incredible and entrancing story. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures follows a teenager gifted with supernatural powers as he embarks on a journey of discovery specifically in regards to the truth behind his cursed and bizarre bloodline. This is a film that retells the original story in a unique way — capturing even the truly bizarre elements found in the source material. It is a film that brilliantly fuses magical elements with a realistic touch as it provides a new level of authenticity and respect for the original content.
The Worst Live-Action Anime Films
Dragon Ball: Evolution
Dragon Ball is one of the most iconic and quintessential anime and manga series from the ‘80s and the ‘90s. The story follows Son Goku from his childhood through adulthood as he trains in martial arts and his quest in search of the seven orbs known as the Dragon Balls, which can summon a wish-granting dragon. There was a lot of trepidation for the live-action film version of the anime even before its release. Even with bigs names attached to the film such as Chow Yun Fat, Dragon Ball: Evolution proved to be a disappointing film altogether. It suffered from a sloppy storyline, some inappropriate casting choices and is overall a far cry from the original anime.
Death Note (English version)
The more recent reiteration of Death Note from Netflix is sadly a far cry from both the aforementioned Japanese version and the original manga series and anime. It is a film that tries to reinvent the story while simultaneously paying respects to the source material. The attempts in doing so however are all in vain as the movie tries to accomplish so many things in terms of its plot. What we are given in turn is a Westernized version hoping to please and reach a wider audience but ultimately shies away from the riveting, complex, and emotional story that Death Note already delivers. This is an example and a lesson on how creativity and innovation still have their limits especially when a great story has already been made in the first place.
Attack on Titan
This film dives into a world where giant humanoid Titans prey on humans, a group of scouts come together in order to get revenge on the monsters who destroyed their town. The live-action film version of this popular anime received a lot of negative feedback especially from fans of the original series due to its deviation from the original material. There are a lot of elements that could have made this film great but overall the visuals and story were not at par with so many other great anime live-action adaptations. Even when it comes down to the Titans featured in this film, there is a level of freight that they portray but admittedly enough the creation of such giants was mediocre at best in terms of its visual appeal.
Devilman is the 2004 Japanese live-action film version based on Gô Nagai’s manga, about a mild-mannered teenager Akira Fudô, who merges with a demon to fight other demons. The plot of the original material had a lot of promise in becoming an interesting story to have its own live-action version. Fans of the manga were left completely disappointed with this movie and the majority just found it to be a complete mess that tore the source material apart. We are given a more underwhelming offering with this movie as it lacked a well-defined and meaningful story It also suffered from underwhelming animations, flat acting styles, and an overall sluggish pace.
The Last Airbender
The film centers on the adventures of the Avatar, Aang, who must master the bending of all four elements to put a stop to the Fire Nation. Despite an amazing production team and director M. Night Shymalan at the helm, The Last Airbender was heavily lambasted by fans of the original animated series. This is a film that for the most part veered away from the excitement and youthful tones of the original as it aimed to provide a more serious and darker tone to the show. These creative decisions, however, were not enough to mask the underwhelming acting and choice of cast members as well as the one-dimensional storyline – to simply put it The Last Airbender lacks the excitement and hoy that the source material gives us.
The list of live-action anime films can go on with more to be released in the next months or even years to come and all of these points to the fact that when it comes to adaptations of our favorite anime or manga it could really go either way. The crucial part in making movies like these is for filmmakers to find the balance of creating a version that is fresh and unique while still remaining true to the original. There will be more live-action anime films that are set to be released in the coming months or years including another version of Avatar: The Last Airbender this time in the form of a series that will be making its way to Netflix. We approve this series’ release with both trepidation and hopeful excitement that it would be a way better offering than the previously released film. Only time will tell how this series and future creations would stand up against this current list of live-action anime films.
For more on anime, out our article on the Netflix Avatar live-action series.