Being a long time fan of anime, it has often come to my notice that Hollywood anime adaptations don’t tend to hit the mark very often. At best they can be described as being dismal, and at worst, well… we’ve got the Dragonball: Evolution, don’t we? Still brings shudders to my spine thinking of that one. So in this article, I discuss what I feel makes these adaptions seem so lackluster.
Length - Anime Adaptations Are Too Long
This is where most of the adaptations tend to fail and is also perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of a successful adaptation. Adapting a long season of anime into a two-hour film is something that rarely does justice to the source. The source material has the time it needs for world-building, character development, and lore. It allows the audience to grasp a fuller understanding of the characters, their motivations and the developments in their characterization. Now imagine, all of this in a film which needs to compress into a shorter time. This, no doubt, lets some of the elements of the anime get sacrificed for shorter screentime.
M.Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, is an excellent example of this. An entire season is taken and transformed into a film which has one exposition dump after another.
Differences In Storytelling
Ghost In The Shell
The western and eastern form of storytelling has some stark differences between them. The western form of storytelling focuses on the external drama and struggle rather than the internal. This isn’t to say that there is no internal struggle at all, the external one is just more in highlight. The reason no live adaptation has succeeded isn’t however because they can’t adopt Japanese style storytelling. It’s just that a lot of the magic gets lost in translation when Hollywood uses a radically different storytelling technique than the source material.
Changes To Source Material
Dragon Ball Evolution
I do not believe that an adaptation needs to be a shot for shot remake of the material. No, that’s what we have anime for. I rather enjoy having a new outlook on the story. This is rather a double-edged sword though, there is the possibility of alienating the original fanbase but also gives the room to reach a new audience. However, something that has rarely right is what should the difference be. The Netflix adaptation of Death Note didn’t fail because of the changes. It failed because it didn’t make enough changes. They created a new character, Light Turner but left enough similarities to draw comparisons to Light Yagami. The same goes for L. This just made it seem as though it was a retelling of the story of Light Yagami and L, albeit dumber versions of them.
To make a successful adaptation, it only makes sense to get a director who is a fan of the source material and respects it. Sadly this isn’t the case in Hollywood where they’re often out to just make a quick buck and slap the name of a popular director and actors and call it a day.
Light Yagami in Death Note (L-R Netflix Adaptation vs Anime)
This is not to say that whitewashing isn’t something very important. However the worlds of anime are so diverse that finding suitable actors that do would the anime characters justice, is next to impossible. It’s kinda ironic that anime set in eastern worlds like Death Note get adapted by western studios while those which are set in western worlds like Attack On Titan get adapted by eastern studios. Something for another article perhaps.
Live-action adaptations try their best to offer exactly what the source material tries to, instead of something new. The problem is, they’re not the same medium. What worked for them there won’t work here. There is something that only a particular medium can offer and it depends on the story being told. The works of Junji Itou work best in the pages of a manga, while the of Dragon Ball Z work best within an anime. The live adaptations that often do succeed are not those with a larger than life reality like Attack On Titan but rather those with more human stories like Nana. Those are the stories which would benefit from the human connection that a live adaptation would offer and perhaps are the ones Hollywood should focus on.