Anime Underground

10 Reasons Why Anime Doesn't Translate Well To Live Action  

Anna Lindwasser
1.1k votes 249 voters 4.8k views 10 items

List Rules Vote up the best reasons why anime doesn't easily translate to live action.

Anime can be so well-developed, entertaining, and thought-provoking, it's no wonder some producers have thought they could use it as inspiration for live-action movie versions. Unfortunately, the things that make anime so alluring don't always translate well to live action; in fact, those movies often don't turn out particularly good. Some of them, like Dragonball Evolution and Netflix's Death Note, are so bad, some fans claim their existence is an insult to the original.

Whether it's the writers thinking they don't have to care about the original series to produce something with merit or that the technology to replicate amazing anime fight sequences simply doesn't exist, there are plenty of reasons why anime live-action movies are bad.

It's not that it's impossible to make a great live-action anime movie - there are some worth watching. But until the inherent problems with adapting anime into live-action movies are addressed, it might be wise to pass on a live-action version of Pokémon. Vote up the reasons that make you nod vehemently about why translation from anime to live-action films is so tricky.

The Creators Aren't Always Familiar With The Original Series
The Creators Aren't Always Fam... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 10 Reasons Why Anime Doesn't Translate Well To Live Action
Photo:  Dragonball: Evolution/20th Century Fox

The producers of a live-action version of an anime would ideally be fans of the original - or at least have a working knowledge of it. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Ben Ramsey, the screenwriter behind the publicly belittled Dragonball Evolution, had no particular interest in the Dragon Ball franchise. He said:

I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment. I have learned that when you go into a creative endeavor without passion, you come out with sub-optimal results, and sometimes flat-out garbage. So I'm not blaming anyone for Dragonball but myself. As a fanboy of other series, I know what it's like to have something you love and anticipate be so disappointing.

When the people responsible for the remake have no respect for the original, it shows.

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It's Impossible For A Single Movie To Do Justice To A Full Series
It's Impossible For A Single M... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 10 Reasons Why Anime Doesn't Translate Well To Live Action
Photo:  Death Note/NTV

Even the shortest anime series is often too complicated distill into a single film. In order to fit into the 90 to 120 minutes of typical movies, these adaptations not only have to excise minor characters and subplots, but also remove things that are critical to fully understanding the story. This results in an end product that's just not as interesting as it could have been because it's sacrificed most of the story.

This issue could be solved by adapting multiepisode series into multiepisode series. The Death Note drama series is much better than either the Japanese or American Death Note movie, in part because it has the space to tell its complex story.

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There's Too Much World Building Required
There's Too Much World Buildin... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 10 Reasons Why Anime Doesn't Translate Well To Live Action
Photo:  Bleach/Studio Pierrot

Not only do movie adaptations have no room for all the characters and plot points making up a typical anime, they also don't have room or time for all the world building and language teaching that sets up the story. For Bleach viewers who already know about bankai, Zanpakutō, Shinigami, Arrancar, and Hollows, this is redundant and boring. For the uninitiated, it's too much exposition crammed into a small space.

This especially applies to American versions of live-action anime remakes - these films not only need to world-build for their particular narratives, they also need to make sure viewers understand the cultural context. Most anime, even if it takes place in a fantasy world, includes characters not just eating Japanese food, but also behaving in ways that make sense in Japanese culture, but not so much in a Western context. To translate this, producers must either spend extra time to make sure viewers are up-to-speed, risk confusing viewers, or cut these nuances altogether in the name of Westernization. All of these options have serious drawbacks.

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It's Impossible To Translate The Fight Scenes
It's Impossible To Translate T... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 10 Reasons Why Anime Doesn't Translate Well To Live Action
Photo:  My Hero Academia/Studio Bones

When anime characters fight, they often do so with magical weaponry and powers that can't be replicated in live-action form. The fight choreography in animation is often spectacular, so translating it to live action would require levels of strength physically impossible for the actors involved.

Impressive effects can be accomplished through CGI and other editing techniques, but so far the technology to make incredible fight scenes come to life in a believable way doesn't exist. That's why the battles in live-action anime inspired by shonen series often appear awkward or lackluster.

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