Guys, remember when Jordanne let me publish the Top 5 + 3 Reasons You Should Watch Voltron: Legendary Defender she wrote? It’s so good. In fact I got a bit worried that my readers would expect that level of excellence from now on… Still am to be honest. Crippling insecurities aside, I’m mentioning this because talking with Jordanne is a treasure trove of inspiration. More specifically, in our exchanges, she mentioned the following:
“…it’s kind of accepted in the book community that on screen adaptations can never live up to their book equivalents and things get cut out of the story but when I heard that can also be the case with Anime recently I was actually so shocked – I mean, they quite literally have a frame by frame guide, how could they possibly go wrong? Feel free to do what you want with the formatting also….”
Now obviously, I am familiar with the literary bias but I hadn’t considered the particular angle of manga and comics as “storyboards”. Some would argue that this level of restrictions in fact makes adaptations harder. I certainly have had plenty of fans tell me to “read the manga” since it’s so much better, or it explains this and that… Honestly, the same prejudices exist in the anime v/s manga world.
I haven’t both seen AND read enough series to have a sample size sufficient to base a reasonable general opinion. What I do have is 5 series that I prefered in anime form for various reasons. So today, I’m going to go against popular opinion, and share 5 series which I believe were improved through adaptation. Feel free to passionately tell me I’m wrong!
5 – Natsume’s Book of Friends
I know what you’re thinking. I just want to mention Natsume in as many posts as possible. You, my friend, are absolutely correct!
This is a bit of an oddity. With only a few very rare exceptions, the Natsume anime is almost a panel for panel reproduction of the manga and yet I like the anime much better. Now you could argue that I was exposed to the anime first so it’s simply nostalgia at play. Also those very few exceptions I mentioned did add a lot to their respective episodes. However, the most significant difference is pacing!
I mention pacing a lot. All the time really. I think it’s one of the most underappreciated aspects of anime and really dynamic storytelling in general. Natsume is a story that often takes place between the lines. The importance of appreciating the moment, of taking a breath, of grounding yourself, resonates throughout the narrative. Even if I carefully examine each panel, having my eye rest for a second or two on a static image of Natsume and Nyanko walking quietly side by side simply doesn’t have the same emotional impact as watching them walk away together over a hill for 30 seconds. The direction in the series is stellar and the timing of those quiet moments where nothing happens is given the importance and time it needs to truly deliver the perfect atmosphere.
Even without considering how the soft colours and music all come into play, just the fact that the viewer has to take in the story as it comes makes a huge difference. And this simply cannot be conveyed in a static medium like manga.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s an excellent manga which I really love. You should read it. Right now. Go!
4- Attack on Titan
You could argue that most action based stories will be better when animated. That rush of adrenaline and excitement is difficult to match with still pictures on a page. However, when you add in the horror element of Attack on Titan and the manga just can’t catch up.
I have mixed feelings about the show but I have to admit those battle scenes are impressive. Even breath taking! Since the manga doesn’t delve too deep into morality, science or politics either and also concentrates on the action aspect of the story, there’s really no reason to opt for the movement free format.
3 – Kare Kano
This is a slightly older show and manga. Moreover, its appearance in this list has a lot more to do with my personal preferences than anything else. I liked the Kare Kano anime. One of the precious few romantic comedies I have enjoyed (Ouran and Nozaki-kun being the others). For that reason, I actually decided to go ahead and read the manga just to get one more taste of the story.
Sure Kare Kano is a love story at its core, but there’s also all this lively, good hearted, schoolyard humour throughout the series that make it a really pleasant watch and a great way to put a smile on your face.
Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the manga was almost entirely dedicated to the romance aspect of the series and had replaced the humour with classic shoujo drama. I eventually found out that the mangaka had even had a rather nasty dispute with the studio because she believed her work was being misrepresented in the anime.
The story was essentially the same but presentation completely changed the impact for me. In this case mind you, the medium of anime v/s manga was inconsequential, rather the script writers deserve credit for creating a new product which I happen to enjoy way more.
One word: Voice Acting! Wait two words…I meant two words…
Some jokes work just as good on paper but some are all in the delivery. Gintama has lots of jokes. Maybe a third of them truly land because of the exceptional work of the actors in the cast. You can imagine deadpan delivery from facial expression, punctuation or font but it’s never going to be the same as actually hearing it.
Vocal rhythm also transforms a ho hum gag into an absolutely brilliant one-liner you constantly try to quote at inappropriate moments.
Sure, if it hadn’t been so well cast. The actors could just as easily have been a huge liability, joke delivery is a double edged sword after all. However, it just so happens that the Gintama cast is not only extremely talented but also have a superb chemistry. You would really be missing out on a lot if you were to favour the manga on this one.
1 – Revolutionary Girl Utena
This is another personal one. Utena made some pretty big waves when it came out over… gulp…20 years ago. And it has cemented its place as a classic since then. It was already considered required viewing by the time I started really exploring anime. Unfortunately, I simply didn’t have access to the series at the time and figured I could just read the manga instead.
It had a few interesting oddities but for the most part it was a romantic drama. A straight one. The world building and the more surreal aspects were very appealing but little else. I stored it away in my brain as one of those series that gets an unexplainable amount of hype for no real reason and promptly forgot all about it.
I knew even back then that Utena was suppose to be yuri mind you. At the time I didn’t know enough about yuri to know that some fans label anything with two *unsupervised* female characters in the same room as potentially yuri, so to me the manga had absolutely no yuri elements at all. This really had me baffled for some time and eventually drove me to watch the anime a few years ago.
I love Utena. It’s one of my favorite animes. The deep rooted themes of identity, sexuallity and conformity it tackles with expressionist glee absolutely mesmerized me. I find myself randomly thinking back to the series on a regular basis. I must say, I was a little mad at the manga for dulling all the edges and downplaying the most interesting parts of the story.
I read a few articles suggesting that the Mangaka was deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and more ambitious non gender normative themes. This may explain the fairly tame (safe) nature of the manga. Mind you, these could have been speculation to begin with so I wouldn’t put too much stock in that theory.
So there you have 5 anime which I think improved on their source material. What do you think? Are there any shows you prefer to the manga. I almost put Berserk there too but the manga is actually pretty great.