There’re certain genres in anime that I feel will work better in live action, and also certain live action shows that are more effective in anime. For instance, magic, epic battles and anything exaggerated should in my opinion stick to animation. There is simply no way a live adaptation of Dragonball or Avatar: The Legend of Aang is going to beat the animated version, or even come close. However, there are 2 genres that I believe would work much better in live action, and they are: mystery and horror.
I’ve been watching Kindaichi Returns recently. It’s pretty okay, nothing spectacular yet, but I often feel a sense of emptiness watching the anime. I suppose it is pretty close to horror, because I remember when I watched murder mysteries (including Trick) I would feel a chill in my spine, wondering what was going on, and how the characters would ever get out of it! In anime, the sense of fear is somehow lost. When watching anime, I fail to get into the reality of the situation. After all, this whole thing is animated. The characters aren’t real. The animator can just draw something out to save everybody.
Another more important point is that in anime, you have a sense of doubt, that everything works because the artists can simply draw it that way. For instance, many murder mysteries like to use science to explain solutions. For instance, an episode of Detective Galileo showed how liquids react and change colour, and it was convincing because it was live action. Whereas if you see it in anime, you might think, “ah, the artists can re-colour it anyway they wish, since it’s all phony”. The miracles of nature fail to be convincing.
Same goes with horror too. I don’t feel that I identify with the characters because the situation seems very made up. This also includes romance. The true feeling of real flesh-and-blood characters isn’t there, so I don’t identify with them. The characters are too perfect, too well-drawn, everything is too ideal, that realism is gone. This is why fantasy works particularly well in anime, though, because every single artistic detail can be pinned down perfectly, and complexity and intricacy show off the artists’ expertise.
It’s not that all realistic stories fall flat in anime though. After all, Kotoha no Niwa, a Shinkai Makoto film, worked because the natural surroundings were drawn with such lifelike detail, the music stirred the emotions so much, that everything felt natural and real. Characters were drawn realistically and painstakingly, without the exaggerated anime eyes or breasts. If the storytelling had been a bit better, the movie would have been perfect. As it stands, the film isn’t particularly good because the plot was executed poorly, not because of the animation.
Of course, we also tend to cast a critical eye on live action adaptations of anime. No real-life person can ever look like their anime counterpart (though Koike Teppei does look like a perfect anime character). We will always feel dissonant when we see, say, a live action version of Sailor Moon, because it’s obvious they’re wearing wigs, and their complexions simply aren’t the same. It probably works the other way around too. I watched Kindaichi as a live action TV drama first, which is quite different from the anime version, and so I felt a bit out of touch with the character too. That said, I still think that live action and anime afford different viewing experiences, and really, some shows still work better in 1 than in another.