“But the BOOK was BETTER!!”: How much does loyalty to the source matter to you when watching an adaptation?

July 25, 2006 at 8:38 am (Theory)

“The book was better,” is one of those phrases that gets tossed around a lot concerning movies adapted from novels, and I’m pretty okay with it. It does bug me, though, when I hear people denigrating anime for not being loyal to the manga it is based on.

Lots of things can change in an adaptation. When a good book is taken and adapted into a crappy movie, I understand the fanbase complaint then. You could have done something good with this, but you didn’t, asshole! But I don’t think “something good” needs to equate to “the same.” A lot of anime seems to follow its manga source really closely, and this leads me to tend away from buying manga for anime I’ve already seen. I don’t need to read the exact same story I just watched.

So, yeah, change of tone and style are big shifts that I think usually don’t deserve the kicks-in-the-balls from the fans that are often delivered. Change of story can be okay, as long as it’s actually a change in story, and not just a story sliced up for the sake of time. An adaptation should be self-consistent. I shouldn’t need to read the source to understand it. And as long as it stands on its own and is enjoyable, I could care less if it’s “loyal” to the source.

Kare Kano is a great debate topic here. I thought the ending was, if very very Gainax, decent enough for tying up the anime, but there’s definitely an argument that it was just hacked on (I don’t care about the *factual* nature of the way it was written, i.e. ran out of manga had to make ending or whatever, but rather how the finished product actually works for a viewer).

Oh, I should point out that it’s a lot easier for anime to be similar to manga, than for a two-hour movie to be similar to a 500-page novel, because there are far fewer differences in the format. But that makes manga->anime adaptations particularly interesting, because here is a case where, most likely, the writers *can* stick to the original if they want to, but could also take it in a different direction. Like I said, I prefer a different direction, but a lot of people seem to want to relive their favorite stuff again, but with moving pictures and sound this time.

Some random examples:
-The Fight Club movie is >>>>>> the book.
-I barely forced myself to read the first volume of xxxHolic manga, but I like the anime a lot.
-From the bits of translation I read, Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi is practically identical to the novel, except for the episode-shuffle. There’s been all kinds of SHOULD HAVE BEEN 26 EPS. Or SHOULD HAVE BEEN ONLY SIX EPS. I, uh, might have been saying that myself. They took some weird measures (the shuffle) to stick a sensible portion of original material into the space they used.
-I didn’t really like Akira movie. The manga I liked, mostly because I liked the latter books not included in the movie. However, I thought it was a decent enough adaptation for the material it did use. It would have been nice if there’d also been a TV adaptation, or a six-ep OAV.
-Kenshin manga is better than the anime TV, though the OAVs (well, I’ve only seen one of them) are totally great. They’re probably actually a good example of something where just taking the original and animating it adds a force multiplier to its quality. Is this what the loyalty-to-source people want? I didn’t think the TV show was *bad* for having a different tone from the manga, I just didn’t like it as much. And I hear the third season TV arc was stupid, but I didn’t watch it, so I can’t say.
-Escaflowne TV and Movie are both good stories that aren’t really the same, but have similar themes and vaguely similar character designs. I liked the TV a little more, but not much.

What do people think though? Would you prefer writers stick to the source of stuff you like, but try to bring it more alive with video? Or take the material and try to create something new? Would you rather a movie made after an OAV or show be an only vaguely similar, but AU story (Escaflowne, Utena)? A new story in the same continuity (Cowboy Bebop, AMG)? A summarized version of the original (uhh, I think the Gundam movies are like this; other examples slip my mind)?

SPEAK.

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8 Comments

  1. cuteproxy said,

    I don’t read manga, so I really don’t care if the anime is faithful to it or not. Some of the noise against anime from manga purists annoy me. Unless, it is really true that the anime is crappy compared to the manga. If the adaptation is decent but not crappy, that should be enough. The noise ruins the experience for non-manga readers like me.

  2. Anga said,

    I have actually bought many manga that I’m already familiar with anime version and this works other way too. Anime and manga are so different kind of media that I don’t see it necessary to only choose one, in anime I tend to focus to sounds more while reading manga the storytelling matters. As for faithful executions, I don’t really care about that as long as they don’t cut the end, that probably disturb me most.

  3. Maestro4k said,

    I think it depends on the title whether or not strictly following the manga would work out best or not. Something like Negima, which started out more as a harem/love comedy but turned into something much more incredibley story-wise would have been better served with a faithful adaption. I know I’d pay good money to see the Kyoto school trip arc animated largely to see the battles in full motion. The same goes for the later martial arts tournament which had some simply incredible stuff going on in the battles. Of course we know how well the anime adaption turned out, and it had more problems than just faithfullness to the manga. I think it’s telling that Akamatsu-sensei wasn’t very happy with it, even going so far as to complain about the animation quality (which was really bad at first, and I don’t normally notice that type of thing).

    Then there are titles that I can’t ever imagine watching the anime of (this goes for nearlly everything in the US Shounen Jump). I enjoy reading them but wouldn’t enjoy watching them. The reverse happens too but I can’t think of a title off the top of my head, probably because most of them are titles that I only thought were so-so to begin with. I sometimes enjoy when the manga and anime diverge too.

    So like I said, I think it depends on the title. Trying to say all titles are better off as direct adaptions that strictly follow the manga/novel doesn’t work. Stories vary a lot and some won’t work properly in an animated medium without (sometimes major) changes.

    I like what they did with the Haruhi anime. The out of order sequence worked quite well for the amount of material they used and allowed them to end on a nice climax. As for length… well I hope they do another season just because there’s so much more good stuff in the novels. ^_^

  4. kuromitsu said,

    I like to view every adaptation as a work on its own, and I never expect it to be the same as the original. One reason for this is that for adapting something into another medium, say, a novel or a manga into an anime, there sacrifices are inevitable. Authors and mangaka can take their sweet time, going into as many detail as they want, making the novel/manga as long as they want – but anime has to accomplish something within strict limits. (Many people rag on Ouran Host Club for leaving out Nekozawa from the beach episode – I’d like to see them try to squeeze him into the given timeframe without rushing the rest of the episode.)

    Another reason is that if I want the original, I’ll just read/watch the original. For me, an adaptation has to contain something on its own, some creativity that makes it a work on its own with its own merits, not just “the adaptation of “. The Honey & Clover anime is a borderline case: I enjoy the anime, I really do, especially the beautiful animation, insert songs and all, but it follows the manga so damn closely that I just can’t be excited by it because I already know what is going to happen, how the characters are going to react, etc. I like it a lot, but sometimes it’s just boring.

    What I DO expect from any adaptation is something I can’t really put into words… Even if it completely differs from the original, it should be true to it in spirit, or something. Say, if the original is a story about a girl looking for her brother and finding her peace of mind, then the adaptation can be from the brother’s P.O.V. for all I care, but they should work the girl’s peace of mind into the story somehow. My main beef with the Juuousei anime wasn’t that it differed from the manga at places but that it missed the entire POINT of the story, ending on a “how did this happen and why should we care” note. Conversely, the end of Gankutsuou didn’t bother me, even though it was completely different from the book (well, mostly), because it retained the mood and the moral message of the original, while adding many things to it, including a very interesting interpretation of the Count’s character.

    Ummm… okay, so anyway, don’t ever expect an adaptation to be the same as the original and you’ll be fine. :D

  5. Naughty Ninja said,

    The only problem I have with a translation from manga to anime is if it was done badly, was untrue to the *heart* of the manga, or if it’s just a moving and colored version of the manga.

    Done badly: Paradise Kiss. While the manga itself seemed to come to a sudden and strange halt in the 5th volume, it still tied up the ends and told a good story, despite it being rushed. The anime on the other hand, couldn’t keep my attention. It was a low budget anime masquerading as a high budget one. Where was the background music when it was needed? Why were things animated so lazily? I was severely disappointed, but I wonder if the anime would have been a good one if I had never read the manga.

    Untrue: X the movie. It reduced CLAMPs beloved baby into a gratuitous blood bath with strings holding the meager plot together. Thankfully, this was mostly undone by the animation series that followed many years after.

    Moving version: GTO. While it did change some plot details in an interesting way, the only thing really pretty about the anime were its opening and ending sequences. Everything in between that wasn’t done so well, considering how well done the manga is. I watched it faithfully on television when it came out, but I’d never pay for the DVD set.

    Of course, there are exceptions to what I just mentioned. NANA, for instance, is almost an entirely faithful translation of the manga (as far as three volumes go). However, it makes use of the animation medium, through its colors, its frame rates, its music.

    *gets off soap box* ;)

  6. sethjohnson said,

    @Naughty Ninja: Well, I liked the ParaKiss anime (haven’t read the manga), though it was definitely missing something. GTO anime I lovvvved; read a volume or so of the manga, but it didn’t seem that different to me; does it diverge more later? Now, I watched a bunch of the GTO dorama, which did some things (Fuyutsuki) better but just wasn’t incapable by nature of making Onizuka quite as off-the-wall as I liked. It’s funny that you mention Nana as being a faithful translation, because I was just chatting with some people the other day who though the reverse.

    @Maestro: Hmm, I guess a desire to see animated versions of big action scenes makes a lot of sense. Actually, one reason I have stopped reading a lot of action manga is that I have trouble following big action sequences in black-and-white manga for some reason (possibly I am mentally retarded).

    In general, sounds like people want a faithful translation of major themes and general character more than anything else.

  7. Naughty Ninja said,

    I suppose it was because ParaKiss was my first Ai Yazawa manga, and I had high hopes for the anime. Only because I thought 5 volumes would be easy enough to translate faithfully, or at least well. One of the problems that comes with reading the manga beforehand :| I’d like to give the show a second chance and try watching it again…as soon as I’m done obsessing over Mushishi, heh.

    GTO as an anime does tweak the original storyline a tad, but nothing that really takes away anything from the original story. A friend has read the entire manga, watched the entire anime, watched the live action movie, AND watched the entire series. Crazy! She says it’s interesting how each medium took its own liberties with the story, but didn’t produce anything bad.

    I see Nana as being faithful, though a friend of mine could never get over how the anime shuffled the manga chapters a tad. I also understand how they had to remove certain side jokes that ai yazawa loves inserting in. So far, I’ve only read 3 volumes of the manga, and I have no complaints. I think it certainly keeps true to the essence, flow, feel, and style of the manga. But it all remains to be seen, really.

  8. Lupus said,

    It’s not so much whether it sticks to the original material word for word or not, but the “feeling” that the show gives off, or more generally, not fucking with the characterisation. NHK fucked with the feel of the story, and a lot of the charm of the manga that originated from the humour vapourised with the anime. It delivers the same message, but personally I find it far less appealing. I don’t know of any example, but if an adaptation turns say, a cool, chivalric knight into a half-assed moron, no one would be happy.

    Otherwise, how I could care less about how closely they stick to the original plot. But of course, a lot of times plot progression and character developement are so closely intertwined as to be one thing, so my beef with adaptations is probably larger than I make it out to be.

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