Most of the time, when news about a new live action adaptation of a popular manga or anime franchise surfaces, fans groan collectively. If the studio and creative staff behind said adaptation are credible, fans might give it a chance but on the whole, every single new live-action adaptation makes fans feel that we’ll get another Dragonball: Evolution on our hands.
Below are some of the rare cases where the live action adaptation actually managed to please fans of the source material (and in some cases managed to turn out as films that can be appreciated even by people who are not familiar with the original manga/anime):
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the live action adaptation of Death Note is an excellent film. The special effects looked crappy, for one thing. But the casting was dead perfect – Kenichi Matsuyama did a good job as L, and I’m also willing to admit that I’m being subjective when I say that Tatsuya Fujiwara doesn’t look like Light or that Erika Toda doesn’t look like Misa. The movie was carried by the performances of the actors – Takeshi Kaga (who was Chairman Kaga in Iron Chef) was particularly effective as Light’s father, Souichiro Yagami.
If you’re a fan of the manga and haven’t checked this out yet, it is worth nothing that the movie followed the first parts somewhat truthfully but then made a lot of changes towards the end in order to fit the entire story into a film’s runtime. That means several major characters like Near and Mello won’t even appear in the film.
Higanjima: Escape from Vampire Islands
The live action adaptation of Higanjima, which concerns a group of teenagers traveling to a vampire-infested island in order to rescue a relative, got its fair share of criticism, mostly with regard to how it’s basically all fight scenes with a few scenes of exposition padding out the runtime. However, anybody who will give the Higanjima film demerits for that reason probably hasn’t read the manga – the film does a great job of condensing a large part of the story into a full length film, weeding out or shortening some of the exposition, which means we’re left with the really cool (and sometimes tense) horror and action scenes. Best of all, the special effects were decent and the stunt work workable.
Great Teacher Onizuka
This one is the odd entry, because for one thing – Takashi Sorimachi’s Eikichi Onizuka doesn’t look like the manga/anime version. But Sorimachi’s portrayal of the gruff ex-bōsōzoku-turned middle school teacher simply works. They also changed major parts of the story. For example, the manga has Fuyutsuki supporting manga, while the adaptation’s version has her initially disliking Onizuka and wanting to leave the teaching profession in order to become an Air Hostess. The adaptation originally started as a 12 episode TV drama, but proved to be so successful that it was followed by a TV special and a theatrical film.
The live action adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin is praised for being an accurate live-action adaptation of the series, both in terms of story and visuals. Takeru Satoh does look exactly what you’d expect Himura Kenshin to look like in person, and the rest of the cast do a great job as well. The set pieces are also faithful to the source material and are successful in building the world you’ve seen in the pages of the manga (or the episodes of the anime?)
One thing worth noting is that the film tones down the fight scenes, making them even more grounded in reality. It’s not like the source material had characters who shoot lasers out of their hands, but the fight scenes are still going to look less impressive than the anime versions (although with the next two parts coming up, we never now. We may still end up seeing the amakakeru ryu no hirameki.)
Detroit Metal City
Detroit Metal City is based on Kiminori Wakasugi’s same-titled vulgar comedy manga and anime OVA series of the same name. The story focuses on a shy young musician who dreams of succeeding as a pop artist, but whose lack of success resulted in him ending up as the lead singer and guitarist of the death metal band “Detroit Metal City.” The live-action adaptation tones down much of the offensive comedic content, leaving only profanities and obscene terms meant for context.
Detroit Metal City is one of the rare cases where the live action adaptation is arguably more enjoyable than the anime. Chalk it up to effective performances by the cast, and the fact that pulling off the anime’s slapstick and situational comedy in live action form actually makes it more effective to the viewers.
Kenichi Matsuyama (who plays L in Death Note) captures the dual identities of the protagonist well – whether it’s the bumbling, timid Soichi Negishi or the psychotic OTT Johannes Krauser II. The scenes where his two identities start to overlap are worth the price of admission alone, particularly the part where he has to go on a date as Soichi Negishi while appearing as Krauser-Sama in a nearboy record store. The premise has been around since 80s rom-com films, but switching between your normal persona and that of a faux immortal mass-murdering demon musician leads to some really hilarious dialogue (including accidentally ordering a plate of “chocorape cake.”)
The film also concludes with a cameo from KISS’ Gene Simmons, playing the legendary Black Metal guitarist Jack Il Dark, serving as Negishi’s opponent in the climax of the film. Yes, it’s a death metal battle instead of a physical confrontation – you just have to see the film for yourself.
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