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Here’s the unfortunate truth about live-action anime movies—they will never be as good as their source material. Unlike, say, books, where a movie might actually be better than its literary counterpart (I’m looking at you Fight Club), with anime, it just ain’t gonna happen. That’s because anime is just better suited for animation. That said, there are quite a few live-action anime adaptations on Netflix, with some being pretty good, and others being…well, not so good.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list. Now, I’m not saying that you should watch all of these live-action movies. I’m just letting you know that they’re there. But, I’m also going to be talking about some upcoming live-action anime as well, like Cowboy Bebop. And, hey, if you want to watch the genuine article that’s not live-action, I’ve also written about great anime TV shows that have been streaming on Netflix and other great anime on the streamer. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
Now Streaming: Bleach
I used to watch a bit of Bleach back in the early 2000s. It’s the story of a teenager named Ichigo Kurosaki who sees dead people like that kid in the Sixth Sense. Well, it’s caught the attention of one Rukia Kuchiki, who can not only see souls, but can also direct them to the afterlife with a badass sword. One day, while trying to protect Ichigo’s family, she gets hurt and has to lend her powers to Ichigo, who will have to take over for her. Badass action against creepy monsters ensues.
As far as live-action anime goes, Bleach is pretty good. For the uninitiated, it does a good job of filling viewers in on the rich lore, and the action is pretty pulse-pounding and intense. Some of the special effects are a little cheesy, but overall, there are a lot worse live-action anime out there.
Now Streaming: Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
I just mentioned how there are a lot worse live-action anime movies out there than Bleach, but Rurouni Kenshin: The Final isn’t one of them. In fact, it may be the best live-action anime I’ve ever seen. There are actually five Rurouni Kenshin movies, with The Final being the fourth, and the fifth being a prequel called (wait for it) The Beginning. I’ve never read the manga, but I’m told that this film covers the final arc of the story. It’s about a wandering swordsman named Himura Kenshin who used to be an assassin, but he wants to atone for his former life of violence. Unfortunately, like Michael Corleone of The Godfather, he gets pulled back in after his favorite restaurant is destroyed, killing many.
There’s more to it than just that, but Rurouni Kenshin: The Final works because it’s that rare instance where a movie takes itself seriously and it actually works. The action is also mind blowing. I love samurai flicks, and Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is one of the best I’ve ever seen. If you watch only one movie on this list, watch this one.
Now Streaming: FullMetal Alchemist
Fullmetal Alchemist is weird even by anime standards. It’s about a young alchemist named Edward and his younger brother named Alphonse. They try to bring their dead mother back to life through alchemy, but this is a big no-no, and our hero loses a leg and his younger brother unfortunately loses his whole body. But, not his soul, as Edward quickly throws his brother’s soul into a nearby suit of armor, and now, Edward vows to restore Alphonse’s soul to his body. So, yeah. Like I said, weird.
The movie itself is…fine. It’s just fine. It follows the first series closely enough and the action is interesting to say the very least. It doesn’t have the best pacing though, and by the end of it, you’re kind of wondering where a lot of the story went, since it kind of jumps to the homunculi stuff pretty quickly. Overall, I can tolerate Fullmetal Alchemist, but you might just be better off watching the anime, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.
Now Streaming: Death Note
The 2017 version of Death Note, which is directed by Godzilla Vs. Kong’s Adam Wingard and stars Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe and many others, is about a teenager named Light Turner who finds a notebook that can literally kill anybody if he just writes their name in it. But the notebook actually belongs to the god of death, named Ryuk (Dafoe), who encourages Light to start racking up the bodies, which you know, doesn’t end up well.
I hear there’s a 2006 Japanese version that’s actually pretty good, but this Americanized version wasn’t that great. For me, anyway. There’s just too much of a focus on the detective side of this story after the killings occur, and it gets a little boring midway through. The anime itself is actually pretty short, so if the concept sounds interesting to you, maybe just watch that instead.
In The Works: Cowboy Bebop
Here’s what we know about Cowboy Bebop, which is about a crew of space bounty hunters chasing baddies across the galaxy. It will star John Cho as the hero, Spike Spiegel, as well Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, and Alex Hassell as main bad guy, Vicious. Plus, Yoko Kanno, the original series’ composer will be working on the music for the live-action show. So, that’s pretty rad.
I have high hopes for the Cowboy Bebop live-action adaptation. The anime seems perfectly suited for live-action, and the casting so far has been perfect, so really, I guess I just have to wait until fall of this year to see if it can actually deliver. I’m excited.
In The Works: One Piece
Lastly, I would like to talk about the adventures of the Straw Hat Pirates! My brother’s favorite anime of all time, there’s even less known about One Piece than there is about Cowboy Bebop, as there still isn’t even a cast list for this film. Instead, all Netflix says is “a live-action pirate adventure story based on the bestselling manga by Eiichiro Oda.” Okay, well, at least curious viewers will know that the show is about pirates.
I’m not really sure what I want out of a One Piece live-action show. I’ve seen very little of the series, and all I know is that there’s this kid named Monkey D. Luffy who has stretchy limbs since he eats this “Devil Fruit,” and he wants to be the “Pirate King.” Hey, if the live-action version is fun and funny, then I’ll check it out. My brother and my good friend, James, live by the show, so maybe a live-action version could tempt me to watch more of the anime.
And, that's about it. I didn't mention Kakegurai since that's a series and more of a commitment, but that's on Netflix, too. I also didn't mention the potential Sword Art Online live-action show, because we haven't really heard a word about that since 2018. But, if we hear any new news on SAO, we'll let you know. For information on the best shows on Netflix that aren't anime related, or just Netflix TV shows in general, makes sure to stop by often!