Posted September 17, 2018 by Angelo Delos Trinos in Anime/Manga

Live-Action Anime Movie Review Round-Up

This month will see the release of the live-action adaptation of Bleach on Netflix, which to many (myself included) was one of the definitive anime series they grew up watching in the early 2000s that served as a gateway into the wonderfully insane and money-burning world of anime. But in the years that passed after Naruto redefined running for an entire generation, anime and manga have expanded at a rapid pace, escaping their once niche-status and graduating to the mainstream through – among other things – live-action movies. Movies based on anime and manga have been around for some time, but it’s only now that their popularity exploded. In honor of the Shinigami vs. Hollow spilling onto the big screen, here’s a quick review round-up of live-action adaptations of popular managa and/or anime that I saw over the past few years.


 1. The Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy (2012, 2014)


Credit: Fuji TV/Warner Brothers

Films: Rurouni Kenshin: Origins (2012), Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014), Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)

Based on the most influential historical manga created by a pedophile, the Ruroni Kenshin/Wandering Kenshin/Samurai X trilogy was a condensation of multiple character introductions and two of the story’s most popular chapters, namely the Tokyo Arc (aka the Oni Gang’s debut) and the Kyoto Arc (aka the Juppongatana’s attack).

Despite deviations from the source material, the Ruroni Kenshin trilogy was a respectful and entertaining adaptation of Kenshin Himura’s (Takeru Satoh) mission to abandon his murderous past as the feared Battosai (the Manslayer). Just like its manga and anime counterparts, the Ruroni Kenshin movies successfully fused character drama and political commentary about a post-civil war Japan, where the characters wrestled with nostalgic (but dangerous) sentiments for the country that was, and the uncertain future that lied ahead.

FG Rating: 8/10

Old-school fans who grew up watching Samurai X on AXN or Studio 23 should check out this trilogy for a new take on a familiar tale.


2. Daily Lives of High School Boys (2013)


Credit: Sunrise/Showgate

While it didn’t redefine the genre of school life/coming-of-age shows, Daily Lives of High School Boys was a fun, silly and charmingly nostalgic look at how awkward the early adolescent years were for many now fully-grown men. So when the time for a live-action version came along, it only made sense that the cinematic take on the same story of high school shenanigans would be depressing.

The live-action Daily Lives of High School Boys is notorious for being the antithesis of the jovial anime, recreating famous gags but replacing the punchlines with insults aimed at anyone who wanted to enjoy life. As it turns out, director Daigo Matsui identified with the characters so much that he felt “sad and embarrassed” about his own boyhood years, resulting in a cinematic adaptation that hated its source material with a resentful, Zack Snyder-esque passion.

FG Rating: 1/10

The next entry in this list – a pair of movies where people get eaten by giant naked cannibals – is more enjoyable than this piece of crap.


3. Attack on Titan Parts 1 and 2 (2015)


Credit: Wit Studio/Toho

Films: Attack on Titan (2015), Attack on Titan: End of the World (2015)

There was once a time when Attack on Titan was the number one manga and anime in the world, and this was clearest when a pair of movies based on it were made even before the manga even reached its halfway point. But because the manga’s biggest revelations had yet to be printed, the movies were forced to make drastic changes – the most notable being the characters’ sudden Japanese roots despite the manga being set in a fictional world influenced by European culture, and an entirely new backstory for the setting.

The movies were polarizing, to say the least. Franchise newcomers and those who preferred the darker manga over its tame anime appreciated the first movie, while anime fans cried foul. What everyone agreed on, though, was that part two was inferior to its predecessor. The follow-up was burdened by a rushed and predictable narrative that went against the manga’s notably ambiguous moral code. It also doesn’t help that the movies’ depiction of Eren (Haruma Miura) was even more obnoxious than his anime counterpart, now written as a screaming wreck instead of the bloodthirsty and reckless warrior who anime viewers gravitated to.

FG Rating: 5/10

Attack on Titan can provide some gory popcorn entertainment if viewed as a pair of B-horror movies.


4. Gintama (2017)


Credit: TV Tokyo/Warner Brothers

Gintama is possibly the most definitive comedy manga/anime of its era, with its long life-span and survival of countless “series finales” being a testament to this. Known for its roster of now-iconic, wacky characters and the insane, meta hijinks they often found themselves in, Gintama was defined by its witty humor and relentless visual gags – things that were perfect for animation and comic pages, but not so much the realm of live-action filmmaking.

Based on the famously jarring and mood-shifting Benizakura arc, Gintama did its best to translate this chapter’s most iconic moments with mixed success, since watching actual human actors reenact slapstick and exaggerated facial expressions ranged from appropriately silly to plain damn awkward. At best, Gintama was a decent fan-service laden tribute to fans but at worst, it looked like the most well-funded cosplay skit you’d see at the local anime convention.

FG Rating: 5/10

It’s really just for the fans, and not much else – and this is coming from a fan of the anime.


5. Blade of the Immortal (2017)


Credit: AT-X/Warner Brothers

Blade of the Immortal is based on one of this list’s oldest mangas, and it’s a title that commands respect. Due to its detailed art, expansive lore, narrative depth, and ruminations on life and death, many argued that Blade of the Immortal is impossible to adapt. This claim was given credence by its watered-down anime run and recently, its ambitiously flawed mess of a film adaptation.

Directed by famed film auteur Takashi Miike, Blade of the Immortal crammed as much material from the manga as it could, rushing through dramatic beats and fights while leaving close to no time for certain character arcs and backstories. The end result is an almost three-hour slog of a movie that’s only redeemed by its amazing fight choreography, which shined the most in the 30-minute finale that’s sure to become the stuff of cult legend.

FG Rating: 3/10

You’re only here for that final fight, but the journey going there may not be worth it for some.


 Bonus Round: American Adaptations


Credit: Paramount Pictures/Netflix/20th Century Fox

Japan may be churning out live-action adaptations of its most famous manga and anime more than ever before, yet some would argue that Hollywood beat them to the punch – but not for the reasons one would be proud of. American adaptations of manga and anime have gained worldwide notoriety and ridicule, either because of their complete misunderstanding of the material at hand or the strange but distinctly American choices made for the adaptations.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) simplified the legendarily heady and philosophical manga/anime into a generic Science-Fiction action movie that had more in common with the RoboCop remake than Blade Runner, while Netflix’s Death Note (2017) became the best comedy of 2017. The most infamous American adaptation, by far, is still Dragonball Evolution (2009) – an adaptation so horrible that it convinced original Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama to come out of retirement and make more Dragon Ball just to undo the damage Hollywood did to Son Goku and the Saiyan bloodline.

Dragon Ball once became a thing of the past to me, but after that, I got angry about the live action movie, re-wrote an entire movie script, and now I’m complaining about the quality of the new TV anime, so it seems that DB has grown on me much that I can’t leave it alone. – Akira Toriyama

Our fingers are crossed for next year’s Alita: Battle Angel from Sin City director Robert Rodriguez to be the first, truly great American adaptation of an anime and manga that won’t require ironic wit or alcohol poisoning to enjoy.

FG Ratings:

  • Ghost in the Shell - 5/10: Serviceable at best and forgettable at worst, Ghost in the Shell serves as a good entry point for newcomers but that’s it
  • Death Note: 6/10 - Death Note is hilariously edgy, but its casting of Willem Dafoe as Ryuk was an Oscar-worthy choice
  • Dragonball Evolution: 1/10 - An insult to its namesake, Dragon Ball fans and potential newcomers on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender

Angelo Delos Trinos

Part-time artist and writer, full-time critic/overthinker. He believes that Samuel L.Jackson is the greatest actor on earth and he misses video stores.