Death Note live-action
Source: Netflix

Live-Action Adaptations of Anime: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By

Oct. 28 2021, Published 7:44 p.m. ET

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that your favorite anime is getting a live-action adaptation. Chances are, you don't even want to picture it. And your feelings aren't exactly unjustified. There have been plenty of live-action adaptations of classic anime that weren't able to hold a candle to the source material. It's a reason to be wary of any new ones that come out, including the upcoming Cowboy Bebop series on Netflix.

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But believe it or not, there are live-action adaptations of anime that are pretty decent in their own right. Whether it's through an appreciation of the source material or experience in filmmaking, there are live-action versions out there that do justice to their anime predecessors.

Whether they come out of Hollywood or their country of origin in Japan, there's plenty of precedence for a live-action version of an anime being good and being bad, all while setting a confusing standard for how future adaptations might fare, including the upcoming Cowboy Bebop series on Netflix (I just really hope it's good!). Here are some of the live-action adaptations of anime over the years and what people thought of them.

The Good: 'Rurouni Kenshin' film series

Live-action Rurouni Kenshin
Source: Funimation

This Japanese series of live-action films brought life to the classic anime tale of Kenshin Himura (portrayed in the films by Takeru Satoh), a wandering samurai who tries to live a peaceful life while escaping his bloody past as an infamous killer.

The long-running franchise received positive reviews for its incredible stunt work and drawing from the best elements of its source material.

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The Good: 'Death Note' film series

Source: Funimation

At the height of its popularity, Death Note received a live-action film series. The film follows Light Yagami (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a brilliant young man who attempts to use the power of the Death Note, a notebook that lets him kill anyone at will, to change the world.

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The first film received a wide release to positive reception around the world. With a 78 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie also won several awards for achievements in Asian filmmaking.

If you thought this was going to talk about the other live-action Death Note, we'll get to that one later.

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The Bad: 'Ghost in the Shell' (2017 film)

Source: Paramount Pictures

Marred by whitewashing controversy right from the start, this Hollywood adaptation of the critically-acclaimed cyberpunk anime film made its own impressions for all the wrong reasons. Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a cybernetically-enhanced soldier built in response to evolving cyberterrorism. But her latest case reveals the dark truth behind her former life, and she now seeks revenge for the life that was taken from her.

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While the visuals for the film received praise, the film was largely criticized as a considerable step down from the original anime film's ambitious storytelling.

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The Bad: 'Attack on Titan' film series

Source: Funimation

An anime sensation as big as Attack on Titan was bound to receive the live-action treatment sooner or later. Like the anime, the film follows Eren Yeager (Haruma Miura) and his friends as they join the fight against man-eating Titans encroaching on humanity's last stronghold. The film also introduced a number of original characters.

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Reviews for this film were mixed, standing at a 47 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While some praised the horror aesthetic and original elements, others criticized its lack of direction and reliance on cliches. The second film didn't fare much better with a 50 percent approval rating.

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The Ugly: 'Dragonball: Evolution' (2009 film)

Source: 20th Century Studios

When most people talk about how awful live-action adaptations of anime are, they're usually referring to Dragonball: Evolution. This 2009 film starring Justin Chatwin as an obnoxiously-coifed Goku was critically panned upon release. The film was commonly criticized for its lazy storytelling and lackluster performances by its predominately white cast.

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Even the original Dragon Ball creator, Akira Toriyama, was frustrated with the final product. Akira stated that Hollywood producers largely ignored his input while filming.

He would even go on to say, "... the result was a movie I cannot call Dragon Ball."

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The Ugly: 'Death Note' (2017 film)

Source: Netflix

Netflix's first attempt in creating a live-action adaptation of an anime wasn't exactly met with praise. The film, which follows Light Turner (Nat Wolff) finding a mysterious killer notebook that he attempts to use to save the world, was criticized for bogging down its ambitious narrative with Hollywood cliches and visual shock value.

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Ironically, the original manga creators, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, praised the film for its originality.

The upcoming sequel will reportedly stick closer to the source material.

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