The problem with live-action adaptations of anime shows

Max Wagner, Columnist

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Everyone has memories of their favorite shows from when they were a child. As a kid born in the mid-90s, I grew up in a time when cartoons and anime were exquisite pieces of art, at least through a child’s eyes. Shows like “Dragon Ball Z”, “Yugi-Oh”, and “Pokemon” introduced me to a slightly different world from what I was used to.

These are shows that we all know, sort of stepping stones into an entirely new culture. The world of anime can be a daunting one, but as soon as you take a step through those animated gates there’s no turning back.

For many fans an anime can become like a lifestyle, when you watch these wonderfully colorful and diverse shows you connect with the characters, you care about them. You laugh, you cry, you sit and watch for years as your grow with these characters on the screen. Not many things can taint your enjoyment of your favorite shows, until a live-action adaptation comes into the picture.

The live-action adaptation has been a big deal of controversy in the anime community for a long time, but in recent years talks between those who think they are a good idea and those who oppose them have escalated to the mainstream.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s alright, let me explain. A live-action adaptation is when a filmmaker takes a beloved anime and adapts it for film or television with real actors. For example, there was the atrocity that was the 2009 film “Dragonball: Evolution”. One of the most beloved anime of all time, “Dragon Ball Z”, was turned into a poster child for whitewashing in Hollywood.

I’ve tried my hardest to completely erase “Dragonball: Evolution” from my mind, it’s just one of the worst movies of all time. I’d compare watching this film to stepping in dog poop. To see the history of Dragon Ball desecrated by this stinker of a film really hurt my thoughts on any live-action adaptation present or future.

Now we’re in 2018 and as of late two big live-action adaptations have hit Netflix. Netflix is seemingly trying to take over, spending absurd amounts of money and housing anything it can create or get its hands on, on its platform.

First let’s talk about the 2017 film “Death Note”. Based on the critically acclaimed manga and anime series of the same name, the 2017 “Death Note” is once again an example of why not to adapt anime into live action.

The original source material is a methodical, thought provoking piece of greatness. It’s not a traditional shonen like DBZ or Fairy Tail and that is why it is so unique and important. It contains incredible writing and voice acting. Anything that can make eating a chip suspenseful and entertaining can be considered an all time great. And no, I’m not lying, there is a masterful scene where the main character threatens to eat a chip.

In the live-action film, director Adam Wingard turns the main character from an intelligent, world changing idealest, into a groveling, whiny high schooler. Not to mention he turns an entirely Japanese anime into another whitewashed Hollywood pile of cinematic garbage. There are no redeeming qualities for this particular film.

There might be no coming back after “Death Note”. But as a film lover, I have to give anything a chance and that chance was given to the most recent adaptation to hit Netflix “Fullmetal Alchemist”. Just like Death Note, this film is based off of a groundbreaking manga and anime of the same name. The original Fullmetal Alchemist was actually the first real Japanese anime that I watched. There is a second series called “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” that expanded the story and is touted as one of the greatest anime of all time.

This film isn’t nearly as bad as the two I mentioned previously. Firstly this film was made in Japan, by a Japanese director and with an entirely Japanese cast. The whitewashing problem is non-existent in this film. There are beautiful shots of the Japanese countryside, capturing the look of Fullmetal Alchemist very well. Also captured well is the costuming. Each eccentric costume looks like it was ripped right from the anime and Al, who is a young boy trapped in a giant set of armor, looks perfect.

The film seems to capture most of the story but the core problem with live-action adaptations is that it doesn’t capture the emotion. A film-length runtime cannot possible capture the type of emotion that a nearly 70 episode anime can capture. We get only some of the recognisable characters while other favorites have to be left out for logistical reasons. For moments in the anime that brought me to tears, the film has to rush through them, leaving the audience wanting the same feeling they felt during their first watch.

This film is missing very important aspects that I’m unsure it could ever obtain. But if a sequel is in the works, it could sway me to change my thoughts on the idea of the live-action adaptation.

I don’t want to see anymore live-action adaptations but if more Japanese studios and directors try their hand at an adaptation, I’d hope they gave as much respect to theirs as the Fullmetal Alchemist director gave to his.

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