6 manga and anime that became better in live-action, and 6 that failed miserably
Anime fans are weird: no matter how good their show is, they can’t just leave it at that—a lot of them just have to see it with real people. And even though live-action is sometimes awesome, it’s also sometimes incredibly, laughably, cringingly bad. So, to alternatively make you smile and vomit, here are 6 manga and anime that became really good live-action, and 6 that did not.
1) Greatness—Rurouni Kenshin (2012)
- Directed by Keishi Otomo
- Distributed by Warner Bros.
- Original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki
- Anime directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Let’s get something straight: you will never see anything with the name Rurouni Kenshin that is as good as the original anime—because that was a masterpiece. The perfect mix of beautiful action and heart-wrenching tragedy, Kazuhiro Furuhashi’s adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s manga is animation at its finest, and the movie fails to touch the philosophical and emotional peaks the anime repeatedly scaled. That having been said, Keishi Otomo’s film still delivers exactly the kind of action we expect from the franchise, and does a pretty decent job of emulating the original’s character designs and narrative. It’s not the pinnacle of artistic achievement that its source was, but it’s a well-made product that proves anime on the big screen doesn’t always have to be awful.
2) Atrocity—Death Note (2006)
- Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
- Distributed by VIZ Pictures and Warner Bros.
- Original manga by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
- Anime directed by Tetsuro Araki
The epitome of how not to adapt an anime series. Death Note was lucky; in spite of increasingly questionable logic dulling its merit as a detective story and a major plot twist that stripped the show of its strongest asset, the original anime still went on to become a cult classic that earned the genre fans throughout the world. The film? Not so much. Even if you can get over the laughably bad special effects, the work is impossible to tolerate because the dramatic depth of the source material gets lost due to the questionable casting, bad directorial choices, and poor imitation of the series’ classic scenes. If you’re yearning for some Kira and L, do yourself a favor and re-watch the anime.
3) Legendary—Oldboy (2003)
- Directed by Park-Chan Wook
- Distributed by Show East and Tartan Films
- Original manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi
Perhaps the best manga to never be adapted into an anime, “Old Boy” (original spelling) still became a modern classic with Park-Chan Wook’s film adaptation. Protagonist Oh Dae-Su’s journey into darkness is a flawless combination of brutality and morbid humor, making Oldboy a certified masterpiece of modern filmmaking and easily the most successful transition of manga to the big screen. And while it is technically just one part of a trilogy, it is the only part you need to see.
4) Legendarily Bad—Dragonball Evolution (2009)
- Directed by James Wong
- Distributed by 20th Century Fox
- Original manga by Akira Toriyama
- Anime directed by Daisuke Nishio and Minoru Okazaki
Executive producer Stephen Chow was the man behind countless fantasy martial arts comedies such as Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle—for his name to be attached to something so terrible is painful enough. The real killer, however, is that the same film is also based on one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Justin Chatwin simply shouldn’t have been Goku. Master Roshi simply shouldn’t have been clean. Piccolo simply shouldn’t have looked like a bad Halloween costume. The action simply shouldn’t have been so below mediocre. And, most of all, this movie simply shouldn’t have happened the way it did.
5) Fantastic—City Hunter (2011)
- Directed by Jin Hyuk
- Originally broadcasted on Seoul Broadcasting System
- Original manga by Tsukasa Hojo
- Anime directed by Kenji Kodama
The first series on the list, City Hunter is the rare, mythical creature known as excellent action television. What’s particularly special, however, is that the series also manages to upstage the original anime based on the manga. With a terrific cast, truly well-developed characters, social and political observations applicable to Korean society, and a greater affinity for seriously dark subject matter than many contemporary k-dramas, this is the kind of series even those otherwise uninterested in flying fists should watch.
6) Unappealing—Nana (2005)
- Directed by Kentaro Otani
- Distributed by Toho
- Original manga by Ai Yazawa
- Anime directed by Morio Asaka
The rare occasion when the live-action film comes before the anime, but that doesn’t make it better. Nana is possibly the best manga on the subject of friendship—and a gift that Ai Yazawa has given her fans, even with her health concerns. It was also an amazing anime that emphatically demonstrated how wonderful direction, voice acting and animation can make a manga adaptation to the screen absolutely seamless. The film, unfortunately, tries to fit a complex and methodically paced story into a small time frame, effectively rushing and diluting the tremendous emotional impact of the original. And the relatively decent casting is severely damaged by not maintaining some of the crucial actors in the second installment, effectively burying a film series that never did justice to the original story to begin with.
7) Decent—Honey and Clover (2006)
- Directed by Masaki Tanamura and Hiroaki Matsuyama
- Originally broadcast on Fuji TV
- Original manga by Chica Umino
- Anime directed by Kenichi Kasai
While some fans will inarguably prefer the 2006 film based on the franchise, fans of this shojo manga also have the option of enjoying a proper television series. Although it is missing some of the energy of the original, the college drama still shines through as a touching and serene look at the lives of five friends as they navigate art school and that ever-annoying thing called love. It doesn’t meld over-the-top humor with down-to-earth reality as effectively as its inspiration, but it’s still a fantastic story that is recommended viewing for any j-drama and even k-drama fan.
8) Disappointing—Kaiji (2009)
- Directed by Toya Sato
- Distributed by Nippon Television Network
- Original manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto
- Anime directed by Yuzo Sato
A decent thriller that actually does a good job of presenting some of the philosophical questions and psychological observations that made the original manga great, the live-action Kaiji film still falters in some key moments. Some questionable acting, poor direction, unnecessary changes from the original and irritating plot holes are only part of the problem. The real weakness is that the film, which also serves as a reunion of the Death Note cast, rarely goes into the narrative depth of its source material, meaning all those questions about good, evil, wealth, poverty and the art of gambling the original addressed repeatedly are abandoned. Simply put, the manga and anime are works of genius-level depth, while the film is an interesting but ultimate shallow diversion.
9) Hello Kitty Level Sweet—Usagi Drop (2011)
- Directed by Sabu
- Distributed by Showgate
- Original manga by Yumi Unita
- Anime directed by Kanta Kamei
A movie that immediately deserves an accolade for finally allowing Kenichi Matsuyama a chance to show of his acting skills when he isn’t buried under terrible scripts like Death Note, the indie-circuit film based on the popular manga also stars the absolutely adorable Mana Ashida as the young child who drops into protagonist Daikichi Kawachi’s life like a bunny. As her family debates what to do with a child born out of wedlock, Matsuyama’s character takes responsibility and, as is suited for a role essentially mirroring an older sibling guarding a baby sister, gives one of the sweetest performances in an admittedly predictable but incredibly satisfying film.
10) Unbearable—Speed Racer (2008)
- Directed by The Wachowski Brothers
- Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
- Original manga by Tatsuo Yoshida
- Anime directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa and Peter Fernandez
Perhaps the most emphatic proof that American studios don’t quite “get” anime, the classic racing series was made into this disastrous abomination, courtesy of the guys that brought you The Matrix. Be it the weird and obscure casting, the ridiculously shallow character development, the overreliance on computer generated graphics and stunts, and the complete failure to adapt any meaningful elements of the source, Speed Racer even manages to ruin what was already a fairly generic, although classic, franchise. If anime-based car racing is what you desire, watch the Initial D film adaptation instead; it is so much better.
11) The King of Greatness—Boys Over Flowers (2009)
- Directed by Jeon-Ki Sang
- Originally broadcast on Korean Broadcasting System
- Original manga by Yoko Kamio
- Anime directed by Shigeyasu Yamauchi
An iconic k-drama, the epitome of everything that makes shojo manga awesome, and the rare breed of adaptation that even beats the original source material. There were a lot of story elements in Boys Over Flowers that weren’t present in the original series, and it certainly took some artistic privileges by transforming itself into a story more applicable for Korean society, but this is one time the changes don’t hurt. Boys Over Flowers made stars out of its entire cast, could sell on just soundtrack alone, and is emphatic proof that manga/anime adaptation needn’t end in Japan.
12) The Banes of Filmmaking—City Hunter (1993), Boys Over Flowers (1995), Oldboy (2013)
- Directed by Wong Jing, Yasukyuki Kusuda, Spike Lee (respectively)
- Distributed by Golden Harvest, Fuji Television Network, FilmDistrict (respectively)
- Original manga by Tsukasa Hojo, Yoko Kamio, Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi (respectively)
A triple whammy of awful to end with, all three of these franchises have seen great adaptations in other formats; these are not those. The first two films came before the fantastic k-dramas already on the list, while the third is a remake of the classic it destroyed. It’s difficult to even catalogue all that went wrong in each individual film but in simplest terms, Jackie Chan’s City Hunter lacked any of the memorable action of his other films from the nineties, Boys Over Flowers changed crucial elements that actually made the story much worse, and Oldboy wrecked both tone and psychological understanding of the modern classic it attempted to emulate. Bottom line: do not waste your time with any of these.
So what other movies based on manga or anime did you enjoy? Which did you hate? Be sure to sound off in the comments below! And for all your news needs, be sure to follow DramaFever and myself on Twitter!