The Struggles of Live-Action Anime
The upcoming release of Alita: Battle Angel brings attention to America’s continuous issues with adapting material from Japan. As anime has evolved over the course of the past decade, it has been more commonly accepted in the United States due to streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation making anime more accessible to western audiences. Even Netflix has acquired exclusive rights for several animated shows from Japan. With an accomplished director and screenwriter behind it, Alita: Battle Angel has the potential to be a great adaptation. Unfortunately, it has to deal with the history of the previous adaptations’ efforts.
Generally, anime and manga tend to deal with outlandish concepts that seem strange to most people who don’t live in Japan. Additionally, the transition from show or manga to film ensures that some elements will be lost due to the difference in mediums. This has made adapting works for American audiences especially difficult. Early efforts such as Fist of the North Star(1995), Speed Racer(2008), Dragon Ball Evolution(2009) and Oldboy(2013) showcased a massive lack of understanding of what made the original works so entertaining. These haven’t improved much with 2017 having two of the famous animes of all time, Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, made into lifeless husks that attempt to appeal more to western audiences and subsequently dumb down the complexity of their source material.
Oddly enough, Japan has its own issues with adapting anime into live-action. Adaptations such as Attack on Titan and Fullmetal Alchemist showcase that even Japanese filmmakers aren’t entirely sure of how to make live-action as captivating as the animations they came from. One of the main factors holding back adaptations like this is anime’s history of exaggerations. Dozens of anime tropes work due to the exaggerated motions and expressions characters make. Several key aspects of anime’s appeal don’t work well with actors. In Japan specifically, the CGI implemented never blends into the scenery and always looks jarring, especially during action sequences.
With all of these factors, it can be easy to dismiss any future efforts of adapting foreign material into films. With acclaimed film director James Cameron serving as executive producer as well as one of the writers and Robert Rodriguez directing it, the movie has a lot of potential to surpass its mediocre brethren. Even a moderate success would allow for studios to give anime adaptations another chance with directors who are familiar with it helping in the adaptive process. These movies may have had a rough few decades but the future holds so much potential we still haven’t uncovered yet for adapting works from other countries.