If you spend a lot of time on the internet, you’ve probably seen memes about Netflix‘s live-action anime adaptations, mocking how wacky they look and how they don’t carry the spirit of the original. It’s no secret that live-action anime adaptations are very hit and miss and tend to miss a lot more than they hit. There are good reasons for this: a lot of anime is over-the-top and unrealistic, and that tone doesn’t translate well into live-action.
But when something becomes popular, everyone wants to take advantage of it. With Japanese animation gaining popularity since the second half of the 20th century, Hollywood has turned many of its stories into live-action over the years. But while we’re happy to capitalize on these changes and have come to expect the worst from them. Between the cheap-looking special effects, the wooden acting, the nonsensical plots, and the general lack of understanding of the source material, there are few good things to say about these adaptations.
‘Dragon Ball Evolution’ (2009)
Dragon Ball Evolution is widely regarded as not only one of the worst anime adaptations, but also one of the worst movies of the entire decade. It was so bad it was made Akira Toriyama come out of retirement to start writing Dragon Ball again. Many even consider it the worst live-action anime adaptation of all time, for good reason.
The film has been widely criticized for its poor CGI and acting, its clichéd plot and dialogue, and for changing the story too much, while also being very difficult to understand for those unfamiliar with the series. So forget about high school student Goku and the cartoonish evil warlord Piccolo as the fever dream they were, and watch the anime instead.
Released in 2014 and adapted from the 1998 OVA of the same name, one can’t help but wonder why kite was even made in the first place, as the original was already poorly received for its gory and excessive violence and graphic sex scenes with underage characters. Both versions of kite Follow Sawa, a young girl who becomes a hit man after her parents are murdered and pretends to be a sex worker to kill criminals.
Their plots are otherwise very different, with the live-action version putting a dystopian sci-fi twist on the more realistic setting of the original. kite has been criticized for being boring, in addition to the same criticisms of the original, and “snapping” an impressive 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
‘Lady Oscar’ (1979)
Contrary to popular belief, Americans aren’t the only ones making bad live-action anime adaptations in the West. Adapted from the manga of the same name, also known as The Rose of Versailles, Lady Oscar was a Franco-Japanese co-production directed by French New Wave director Jacques Demy and starring actors from all over Europe. But here’s the thing: The Rose of Versailles was not released outside Japan at the time, meaning most people had no idea that the film was based on a Japanese property.
Like the manga, the film focuses on Oscar François de Jarjayes, a young woman who was raised as a man and served in the French Royal Guard during the French Revolution. Although the movie wasn’t bad necessarily, it has often been criticized for giving the protagonist less freedom of choice than in the original, despite the latter being widely seen as a pioneer for strong female characters. You can’t blame the fans for forgetting that this movie even exists.
‘Fist of the North Star’ (1995)
Ah, the wonderful world of 90s direct-to-video movies. Starring British martial artist and action star Gary Daniels as main character, Fist of the North Star is loosely adapted from the first arc of the classic manga of the same name, which follows martial artist Kenshiro as he travels through a post-apocalyptic environment to take revenge on his nemesis Lord Shin, battling his various minions along the way.
The film was criticized for its craziness, poor acting, visual effects and disloyalty to the original: it wasn’t even rated by most mainstream critics for being direct-to-video. The use of condoms to make the prosthetics for Kenshiro’s signature Big-Dipper-shaped scars also became infamous. At least the Japanese dub used the same voice acting as the anime, so that’s at least a cool point for an otherwise forgettable movie.
‘The Guyver’ (1991)
Another sloppy 90s action movie loosely based on the manga source material, The Guyveradapted from the manga Bio Booster Armor Guyver, follows a high school student named Sean Barker as he becomes entangled in a plot involving the mysterious company Chronos and the Zoanoids, the evil alien race it controls. Sean is bound to the Guyver Unit, an alien biomechanical armor made by Chronos and uses it to defeat them.
The film makes mind-boggling changes to the story by introducing aliens into the mix, even though they were nothing in the original, and naming them after the name originally used for the armor suits. It has been widely criticized for its overuse of humor, nonsensical plot and poor acting, especially from the lead actor Jack Armstrong. Anyway, the visual effects were decent, and it was successful enough to get a direct-to-video sequel recast David Hayter as Sean, who was surprisingly much better received.
‘Cowboy Bebop’ (2021)
Ah yes, the most recent popular example of a bad live-action anime adaptation, and one that only perpetuates the reputation of Netflix adaptations as soulless money grabs. Adapted from the acclaimed 1998 anime of the same name, Cowboy Bebop follows bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black and Faye Valentine as they pursue criminals across the solar system aboard their starship, the Bebop.
While it did its best to pay tribute to the original, the remake was ultimately poorly received, criticized for its overuse of humor that often doesn’t catch on, the cheap CGI, and the changes to the story that take away much of the depth of the characters. and make the plot more contrived. Give it a few years and most people will probably forget about it altogether.
While Cowboy Bebop is the latest example of bad Netflix anime adaptations, Netflix’s Obituary was the one that started it all, it was the first Netflix live-action adaptation to get a lot of criticism. While there have been many other adaptations of the classic manga, including another live-action version in 2006 that was really well received, Netflix’s version is the one that differs most from the original.
In particular, it drew charges of money laundering for changing the setting in Seattle and changing the characters to American; criticized Dragon Ball Evolution and Ghost in the shell for similar reasons. It also radically changed the characters and tone: it even replaced Misa’s character with an original one, which was criticized for making the characters feel more superficial than in the original. Poor acting from most of the cast was also criticized, though Lakeith Standfieldact as L and Willem Dafoe‘s as Ryuk was actually praised. It is generally a very forgettable adjustment.
‘Ghost in the Shell’2 (2017)
Speaking of money laundering, the 2017 adjustment of: Ghost in the shell was the first movie to bring that issue to the fore in western anime adaptations by casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese Major Motoko Kusanagi. The film then “acknowledges” the controversy in the worst possible way, revealing at the end that her character was originally Japanese, but was turned into a white woman when she was turned into a cyborg.
Putting controversy aside, Ghost in the shell has also been criticized for lacking the philosophical depth of the original and making the setting less unique. It’s generally another forgettable adaptation and one that doesn’t fit the 1995 animated version.
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