Live-action anime adaptations seem to come and go with alarming frequency, with nearly everyone stumbling into an ocean of hate they never emerge from. You could almost start to think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the logic of trying to force a beloved story to run in a completely different medium.
Twenty days after the Netflix premiere cowboy bebop, the series was cancelled. This came in response to the overwhelming fan reaction to the show, and while attacks targeted every aspect of the show, constant derision was piled on the very concept of doing live-action. cowboy bebop.
The gigantic, inescapable, glaring, and obvious fundamental reason why every live-action anime adaptation is fundamentally doomed is that animation is key to anime storytelling. Visual storytelling is crucial to all forms of filmmaking, live action film is certainly full of it, but the methods have to change with the medium. A live production faces limitations, and not just the budget limitations that everything has to contend with, but the very limitations of time, space, and biology. These limitations are not present when every aspect of the production is created by artists. Every detail is under the control of the team, which means the only limits are the imagination, and of course the budget. Ultimately, the awful truth is that there are just some things a designer can do with a drawing that they can’t do with real human beings. Even with CGI.
It is tempting to present this as a purely financial concern. Some numbers put the average anime season in the same price range as a single episode of the average Netflix original series, and this change narrows the possibilities considerably. Without even considering the artistic intent or skillful execution of any particular adaptation, logistically something as simple as the main character using his superpower becomes a matter of resources.
Along with this bad news comes the fact that a huge percentage of adaptations never see the screen, with many being canceled before production or when they begin airing. Dozens of projects were announced, given the requisite mix of hype and dread, and were quickly scuttled, leaving only concept art behind. Those who succeed almost always fail. Probably the most sold of them is Alita: battle angel, a film that may or may not have broken even. So the idea rarely works on a commercial level, but on an artistic level it’s much worse.
cowboy bebop is the perfect example here. In the first episode of each series, an action scene occurs midway through. The scene is comparable to its place in the script, but executed very differently. In the anime, Spike encounters his target, drug dealer Asimov. The pair have a fistfight in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant, and Spike is able to show off his martial arts skills for the first time in the series. The pair use the environment, Asimov chases Spike as he gracefully rolls over the obstacles, Spike holds an arrogant smirk the entire encounter. In one brilliant shot, the camera takes the point of view of a gun in the hand of Asimov’s wife, Katerina, as she struggles to follow the action and get a sharp picture. Spike establishes his confidence and playful nature, but is often distracted by goofing off. Asimov demonstrates his strength and ferocity, but he is clearly incompetent, relying on raw power. Katerina comes across as dangerous, but cautious, a cool head who ends up underreacting. Three characters are established in about a minute, throughout a fast-paced action anime.
The live iteration ditched all of that. Instead, in order to get Faye Valentine on the show earlier, she appears to be challenging Spike for Katerina’s bounty. The pair have a brief standoff, argue over who can claim the money, Spike disarms Faye, the pair struggle long enough for Asimov and Katerina to escape, Spike prepares to shoot them but is stopped by Faye. There is no interesting environment to play, so the struggle is boring. Nothing is established about any of the four characters involved in roughly the same time frame. It’s clearly inferior, but the creators and purse-string holders treat it like an honor, and that’s the real problem.
Animation is often considered a secondary medium by producers. It’s considered a mark of prestige, a kind of upgrade, to get a live adaptation. Although fans are quick to cynicism, the studios are quick to proclaim their respect for the source without understanding its merits. Animation is key to anime and it deserves more respect than it gets. A live-action adaptation of an animated work is rarely anything more than a pale imitation, and to claim that it is a step forward is an insult to the animators who have made these beloved works what they are today.
MORE: Why Live-Action Cowboy Bebop Fans Should Watch The Live-Action Death Note
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