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Lost in translation: graphic novels and anime translated to live-action… November 27, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

It sounds odd in a world awash with the Marvel Cinematic Universe where films which conform largely to the same overall structure are released with remarkably frequency, to complain about the problems of graphic novels and anime rebooted as live-action series. But complain one must. For in the next while, starting last weekend, two examples spring to mind.

First up Cowboy Bebop, beloved anime, was released as a live-action series. So far the reviews are not good, and there’s many possible reasons for this – an engaging lead, but one who is two decades older than the character he plays. Reworked narratives and ones invented for the series. Some other characters apparently missing for no clear reason. All told a bit of a mess.

I’ve watched the first episode and it wasn’t awful by any means. There was some deft set-design, good CGI and the acting was kind of charming and I understand in later episodes the key leads have a genuine chemistry. If this was a property I’d never seen I’d probably find it a lot more entertaining than the unbelievably weighty and increasingly ponderous Foundation.

But the key problem, and one seen before with certain films is that anime is not live-action. They’re two completely different mediums and what works in one is in no way inevitably going to work in another. Cowboy Bebop in its original form, despite being about 22 minutes long had this curious aspect of stillness to itself. It was often quiet, with little or no dialogue. And if suggesting that it had certain Tarkovsky like aspects, well that may be a stretch but not a huge stretch. Expanding that to forty minutes to an hour should – you might suppose, make it easy to include that aspect of stillness, but live-action marches to a different aesthetic drum and panning slowly across a CGI landscape or backdrop is not the equivalent of doing so against a painted landscape or backdrop. Which leads me to the thought that I’m not sure I want to devote more time to another iteration of it – however amiable. The first was about as perfect as television can be. However good the second, it’s not quite good enough.

Similarly with the forthcoming Sandman live-action series which on paper sounds fine, but again seems in the literalism of television to lose something in the translation. Sure, it looks good, but there’s something malleable out illustrations on a page – the need, as it were, to fill in the spaces oneself. I guess I could argue that reading a graphic novel is a more participatory form than watching television. One may lose oneself in the process but it does demand engagement rather than passivity. Thinking of Constantine – for example, one can see the dangers implicit in all this.

None of which will stop graphic novels being mined for television live-action. But difficult not to feel that there are opportunities for new narratives to be explored.


1. EWI - November 27, 2021

Not graphic novels, but the recent adaptations of the Wheel of Time and Foundation novels have also been quite poor. The pity of the latter production is that not even stellar casting, scoring and CGI can save it from the effect of unfortunate screenplay decisions (WoT just looks like a cheap CW show).

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2. Liberius - November 27, 2021

I think some things have a definitive style about that makes reboots, reimagining or remakes a bad idea, Cowboy Bebop is one of those, it’s so bound up with Watanabe’s style of fusing idiosyncratic combinations of music and fiction genres that it’s more of a work of art than an “intellectual property” to be remorselessly exploited, I’m not surprised it hasn’t worked out well.

Not that I’m totally against new versions of comic/graphic novel material though, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the new Diabolik film, it having been delayed by covid from last year, I’ll lap that up more than however many hundreds of over-budgeted MCU films and series are released yearly.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2021

Very true! Anyhthinh other than MCU!


3. NFB - November 29, 2021

I loved the anime and I…like the Netflix version. It’s like fan-fiction in a way, how the writers combine plots from different anime episode, and I appreciate the effort to have a throughline for the whole thing with Vicious. It’s got problems and you’re never able to really divorce it from the feeling that it’s cosplay, but I’m not so in love with the source material that I can’t appreciate it for what it is. I probably won’t re-watch it though.


WorldbyStorm - November 29, 2021

That’s the thing, and it could carve out it’s own niche, but your point about cosplay is something that resonates with me. I liked what I saw, some of it a lot, but… hadn’t I seen it already. I have a feeling it might be an irregular watch that I don’t follow too closely but when I want something light enough it is there and easy to see.


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