Anime has some…unique aspects to it that make translating it into a live action format difficult. While the specifics of translation are dependant on each series, there are some things that only work in series because of the medium they are given.
But that hasn’t stopped various production studios, both in the US and Japan from trying. And with live action adaptations of Sword Art Online and Your Name (two huge names) slated for production and release, I think it’s worth it to analyze just what high profile or popular anime series out there would translate well into a live action format.
Neither Of The Above
For starters, I would like to rule out the two mentioned in the introduction: Sword Art Online (SAO) and Your Name.
Starting with SAO, I don’t believe a live action adaptation would work because of the “gameyness” of the show. A bulk of it takes place in a video game, and as a result, many fantastical looking things appear. Ranging from environments and weapons to the character designs themselves, a live action version would need to make heavy use of makeup, costumes, props, and CGI. And don’t get me wrong, CGI is capable of incredible things, but is still expensive to be realistic and believable. While studios like Disney are able to do wonders with CGI, a comparatively smaller studio (I.E one that doesn’t have virtually endless money) would struggle. The next alternative would be to rely on the use of props and makeup, which can either go really well or really poorly. I really don’t think there is a feasible way to translate SAO into a live action form of media.
On to Your Name, which I will say would be easier and would translate better than SAO, until I heard the premise currently planned. Sure, keeping strictly to the original, it’s easy to see how you could have a meteor cause catastrophic destruction, as well as getting beautiful wide shots of Tokyo and rural Japan, etc. The one hiccup would probably be the meteor/comet, and while it would still most likely have to be CGI, it wouldn’t have to be as constant as it would in SAO as mentioned above. Seems easy in theory, or at the very least, translatable. That is, until I read the currently proposed premise for the planned live action adaptation.
As it stands, the premise to the live action Your Name film will be highly westernized, as it will center around a Native American girl and “Chicago boy”. And while the film seems to have the blessing of both the director (Makoto Shinkai) and the producer (Genki Kawamura) for Your Name, I honestly say at this point the premise is already changed enough that it should be its own, uniquely named film. I say this because while there is an element of similarity for the character backgrounds, the idea of cultural distance gets murkier. While I won’t go off too hard on this aspect, the long and short of it is that originally Your Name dealt with the cultural distance that occurs between urbanization and rural communities, as well as pertaining to the same culture, and how some of it got lost or pushed out of the way over time. Examining the premise of the live action adaptation, and the evolutionary aspect is absent. And shameless plug, if you’re interested in reading more about the cultural divide actually present in Your Name, you can read my article on it here.
So while Your Name could be a better fit for a live action adaptation, I don’t have high hopes for it, as it currently stands, but who knows, I could be pleasantly surprised.
So, what anime exists out there that would translate well? Surely there must be at least one, right? Well, I believe there is, and it’s called Cowboy Bebop.
Ironically enough, a live action Cowboy Bebop is already in the works, and as it stands, I believe it by far has the best chance to work as a live action adaptation.
If there’s something movie studios know show to do, and do well, it’s futuristic sci-fi. The examples are too many to name, but it’s certainly been done before. This is part of the reason as to why I believe Cowboy Bebop’s adaptation could go really well. Craft various environments that aren’t too far out of the ordinary, add some decent dialogue, get whoever choreographed and shot the fight scenes in John Wick, add a jazzy soundtrack, and I think a real film or series here is born.
The live action Cowboy Bebop will be the first to come out of these, and I really look forward to seeing how it will turn out.
Thank you for reading, let me know your thoughts as to what anime would make a good live action adaptation, either in the comments below or in our community Discord.