Almost all anime series start as manga, the Japanese equivalent of comic books. Successful manga become anime but only the most successful also get live-action renderings. Anime versions of manga are often accepted by fans as they give life, and often color, to comic panels and provide a narrative for the blank areas in between panels. Of course, not all animated renderings of manga are successful.
This is especially true when it comes to live-action remakes of a popular manga or anime series. Although the old saying is, “the book is better than the movie”, in the case of live-action renderings of anime series, the saying usually doesn’t hold up.
The results are often cheesy, cringy, cheaply produced, and somehow “whitewashed”. A prime example is the 2009 film, Dragonball Evolution, a film that received terrible reviews and even worse reception from Dragon Ball fans who cringed as they watched Justin Chatwin execute a kamehameha as Goku.
While live-action versions of a manga or anime series often flop, there are a few exceptions. Further, there are even fewer that were successful as anime and live-action performances based on the original manga.
Not all fans will agree that the anime did the manga justice or more so, that the live-action version was good, but numbers don’t lie.
Let’s take a look at three compositions that excelled in both the anime and live-action worlds, based not only on fan reception but also based on box office earnings in Japan.
1) Death Note
Written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note, which was serialized from 2003-2006, was a serious hit. Following the story of Light Yagami, Death Note was like a supernatural version of CSI, with the main character trying to rid the world of evil through a distorted sense of justice.
Death Note first aired as an anime series in 2006 following the manga’s success. While the anime still focused largely on the psychological battles between the characters as well as within Light’s mind, added action scenes and visual effects made for a very intriguing and suspenseful viewing experience.
The anime version was praised for its top-quality production and similarity to the original manga early on, prompting a live-action version to be made in 2006. Despite having a different ending to the original story, the live-action movie was generally accepted among fans in Japan with the exception of- of course- some rejecting it completely.
The first film directed by Shunsuke Kaneko, Death Note, was followed by Death Note 2: The Last Name, also released in 2006 and directed by Kaneko.
Light was played by a famous Japanese actor, Tatsuya Fujiwara, while L was played by another famous actor, Kenichi Matsuyama.
The two films, combined, earned a total of eight billion yen (73 million USD) at the box office. Regardless of what some fans thought, the films certainly did well, revenue-wise.
2) Nodame Cantabile
Written and illustrated by Tomoko Ninomiya, Nodame Cantabile was a successful manga series that was first released in Kiss Magazine in Japan in 2001, spanning 23 volumes until 2010. Nodame Cantabile follows two aspiring classical musicians namely pianist Megumi Noda- a music school dropout- and the arrogant elite, Shinichi Chiaki, who is an aspiring conductor.
The manga series won an award for the Best Shojo Manga, or girls’ manga, in 2004, and shortly after in 2006, a live-action drama aired in Japan. It was an immediate hit and also won awards. The main character, Megumi, was played by actress, Juri Ueno.
The resemblance between the live-action actors and manga characters was praised; characters were depicted just as they were in the original story.
From 2007 to 2010, Nodame Cantabile was made into an anime series. The series, although not as esteemed as the live-action version, was also quite popular.
Fans loved the realism that the anime portrayed, especially when it came to the musicians’ fingers playing an instrument.
3) Ping Pong
Lastly, Taiyo Matsumoto’s legendary manga called Ping Pong, serialized between 1996 and 1997, is a coming-of-age shonen (boys’ manga) that follows two high schoolers named Peco and Smile who play on their school’s table tennis team. The series brings out the true feelings that high school athletes have as they compete against each other.
Ping Pong was made into a live-action movie in 2002 and was directed by Fumihiko Sori. While it didn’t do too well in the box office, many liked the film for its examination into the unique world of table tennis athletes.
Actor Yosuke Kubozuka, who played Yutaka Hoshino, was lauded for being so confident in his role. In character, he delivered bold, heroic quotes without visible discomfort or cringe-worthy performance.
In 2014, an anime version was released and many fans thought it was the perfect medium to depict the epic effects when players smash the ping pong balls back and forth. It was seen as a fun, quirky, and action-packed portrayal of the original.
Interestingly, original writer Taiyo Matsumoto said that they were able to include parts of the story that never made it into the serialized manga versions, further encouraging fans to watch the anime series.
Many manga and anime fans across the globe may always consider live-action remakes to be failures. Yet, in some cases, they’re even more successful than the anime version. As we saw today, a few notable manga can exceed expectations and achieve a feat that not many can, that is, being successful as both an anime and the hard-to-pull-off live-action version.
Be sure to go and check out these three titles if you haven’t already!
Kevin Murasaki grew up moving back and forth between Chicago and Yokohama, Japan. Known as a "hafu", Kevin is half Japanese, and half American. Now a videographer and drone operator based in Fukuoka, Japan, Kevin enjoys playing basketball, driving on mountain or "touge" roads, and fishing in his free time. Kevin is a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia.