Netflix shouldn’t Give Up on Live-Action Anime

Anime adaptations have a mountain to climb when it comes to pleasing an audience. While anime fans are some of the most loyal on the planet, they can also be notoriously difficult to please. When a live-action adaptation flops, it’s easy for fans to be vocal about how it failed and why. It’s no wonder why the genre can have such a bad rap!

The truth is, when a live-action version of a lovable anime fails, it fails hard. There are countless titles that were extremely popular in anime form that, once adapted, became box office busts. Speed Racer and Dragonball: Evolution were very successful titles in anime that were made into live-action movies that did not connect with audiences. Their failures are usually more famous than their successes, though there have admittedly been far fewer successes to count. There just hasn’t been that one big hit that gives the genre that breakout moment onto the Hollywood scene. While a few films, like Alita: Battle Angel, have met with success, for the most part, live-action anime still falls in with the alternative comic book crowd, e.g., Valerian and Scott Pilgrim.

Update September 9, 2023: In honor of the recent live-action One Piece, this article has been updated by Amanda Minchin to include even more details about Netflix’s upcoming slate.

Still, live-action anime adaptations have become popular in recent years, in spite of their inherent risk to produce. Netflix, for example, has become notorious for re-inventing the live-action anime game. Netflix has already tried and failed many times in this regard, from the whitewashing of 2017’s Death Note to the over-stacked storylines of 2021’s Cowboy Bebop. However, if the stats for the latest live-action release of One Piece are to be believed, they may have finally gotten out of their funk. Things seem to be looking up for the streaming giant. Should the jump from animation to live-action continue? We think so. Here’s why Netflix shouldn’t give up on their live-action anime adaptations.

Live Action Anime Is Just Smart Streaming

Straw Hats Cast Off Ceremony - One Piece

The business of live-action animes has picked up over the last few years and shows no sign of stopping. However, that same business model can sometimes get in its own way. From sky-high per-episode budgets to the visual limitations of CGI and practical effects, it can be hard for a production to translate to a successful on-screen adaptation. Crunching hours of video footage into a strictly timed feature or 10-episode order is no easy task… and that’s not including the inclusion of the original Manga for source material!

Companies like Disney have been at the live-action game for much longer, not just because they often own the story, but because the adaptations they choose to pursue come from an already reliable product, such as a beloved film tinged with nostalgia that’s sure to bring people to theaters. Much like video game and book markets, there’s a TON of anime for streamers like Netflix to mine from. Anything pre-published with a solid user base is more justifiable for a studio to put an investment towards, which is important for a newly burgeoning genre. It’s only a matter of time before others fully embrace this pre-existing potential.

Related: Should Hollywood Make Big Budget Anime Adaptations?

That being said, streaming services like Netflix have a better opportunity than movie theaters to cash in on this pre-existing IP because they can offer the original material alongside the new work. Doing so only enhances the viewing experience in a way that is unparalleled in any other market. Netflix has already done this with several of its productions, including One Piece in the American market. In addition to their live-action remake, they’ve added several One Piece seasons and films in the original anime form. The decision to stream the original or the new version first is, of course, entirely up to the consumer.

Live-action Animes Should Use The Source Material

Character from Rurouni Kenshin
Warner Bros. Pictures

Speaking of pre-existing potential. When creating a movie from a source, there is a lot of room for interpretation so long as that interpretation doesn’t throw the original source material right out the window (we’re looking at you, Death Note!). In the world of adaptations, straying too far from the source material means losing your fan base. One would think that since a lot of anime is already an adaptation, this process would be easier. Instead, filmmakers looking to marry two audiences of anime viewers with live-action viewers are stuck between a faithful adaptation with a sub-par viewing experience or pruning a few story threads for the sake of a better story.

Some remakes do this more successfully than others. The Rurouni Kenshin movies, for example, offer some of the best examples of good storytelling that still plays true to the feel of the original. This project succeeded in establishing the feeling of a wanderer trying to escape his past. The structure of the film allowed the writers to build compelling characters that stayed close to their anime counterparts… which might have admittedly been aided by the low-level need for special effects in comparison to other anime titles.

The Artistic Freedom of Live-Action Anime

Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Series First Look Photos Arrive, Release Date Set by Netflix

The world of anime is full of rich, artistic craziness that defies the logic we’ve seen, even in the highest conceptual sci-fi. And the best thing is, there are no rules! Manga and anime artists put in the years to perfect their work. Honoring that sacrifice while embracing the creativity of the medium is, therefore, the key to a successful adaptation.

Related: The Best Live-Action Anime Adaptations, Ranked

Embracing this actually opens up possibilities for filmmakers. It forces them to think like a fan of the medium, picking apart the elements that truly make the stories shine. Live-action anime creators should be allowed to embrace the creativity of the original material so that they can best bring its essence to the small screen.

One Piece is the best example of this. The first ten episodes both serve as an origin story but also allow the creators to take the franchise in new directions while staying true to the spirit of the original material. Audiences get to see these wonderful worlds and powers in live-action but also get a new story that isn’t just a repeat of the original.

Death Note Director Compares Live-Action Movie to Nolan's Batman

Some of the greatest difficulties with adapting anime into live-action come from just how far beyond the scope of reality they tend to go. This includes the superpowers characters might possess, the incredible universes that artists create, and, of course, the intricate action sequences between characters. While this inevitably poses a challenge for those looking to recreate animation in live-action, artists are nothing if not out-of-the-box thinkers with the ability to come up with a million and one workarounds… and then some.

Turning these into special effects matched with live actors is a big deal, but they also provide a bigger chance to surprise the audience. The Bleach adaptation, for example, managed to make its hollows integrate very smoothly with the real world. And Assassination Classroom made its tentacled Koro-sensei seem like tentacles were just another day in the park for an average teacher.

At the end of the day, one thing’s for sure – Netflix has no intention of stopping their live-action anime adaptations anytime soon and if One Piece is anything to go on, the future looks bright and fans can start looking forward, instead of dreading.