Anime adaptations go both ways

We get so defensive. I’m sure it’s not just me. Oh you know what I’m talking about, the second we hear an anime is getting a western adaptation we immediately hate it with the burning passion of a thousand suns! And there may be some good reason behind that… Still, we could stand to be just a smidge more optimistic.

However, have you noticed how little people care about the other way around? Historically, Western and European works have gotten frequent anime treatments and no one seems to mind at all. On a very superficial level, I’ve noticed that Alice in Wonderland seems to be a frequent influence on a huge amount of anime and manga, often quite misrepresented from the original work, yet I’ve never heard a single complaint on the subject. In fact, I’m not complaining about it now either and it’s one of my favourite childhood books.

I personally enjoy seeing very different, sometimes almost nonsense, interpretations of works I’m familiar with. And although I am superficial supportive of anime adaptations I also don’t watch them so you have to take it for what it’s worth.  What I mean is that I’m also way more protective of anime getting adapted to another medium than the other way around. That’s a little odd, wouldn’t you say?

Well, I thought it was, so I did a bit of digging. Ok, I collected the bare minimum data I could base a wild assumption on and rolled with it. Basically, I did a very superficial and informal survey that leads me to believe that Japanese fans are a lot more tolerant of anime adaptations than off-island fans. I’m not quite sure how they feel about western media being adapted into anime though for the purposes of this post, I’m just going to say some Japanese fans are slightly more annoyed by it than non-Japanese ones, and here’s why.

One of the main reasons for the derisions of anime adaptations is that they are “bad” or at least “bad representations”. Most live action adaptations will change and trim down complicated story arcs, bend them to local morality and take out anything too specific to the culture or medium to be easily understood by the general public with no previous experience with anime, rather than explain it. This is considered a more or less necessary step to make a niche entertainment accessible to a wide audience. Marvel and DC movies go through the same process and they come from a better known and more relatable source (for western viewers).

marvel anime

the lines are getting pretty blurry

Also, most adaptations aren’t animated! There I go with the brilliant insights again. But the medium has a bigger impact than you may think. Putting aside fans like myself who are fascinated by the technical workings of anime and simply prefer pictures to photographs, there’s also the fact that stories presented in animation are told differently. You can show things that would be technically or economically not possible otherwise. There’s a dulling and distancing that naturally occurs when you’re watching something you inherently know cannot, has never and will never be real, that forces the narrative to get the audience’s empathy through different means. It allows for more exaggerated events or ridiculous situations to seem acceptable in a world already made up of impossible proportions and magical colours. It also makes what would otherwise be considered boring, pretty enough to be viable on film.

You lose all of that when you move off the medium. Ok, you trade it off for different things. Lighting being a big one. Acting and tiny idiosyncrasies that would be tedious to animate but an actor can simply incorporate to their performance with little effort. I’m not saying one medium is better than the other (well animation is better but that’s another post) but the two are different in an irreconcilable way. Even if every other element was identical. The script was word for word, sound design and voice acting magically the same, costumes and actors all as close as possible to the look of the anime, the end product would still be considerably different.

And that’s a problem. Not for us, anime fans who now have the possibility to enjoy a beloved story in a different format, but for the *others* out there. One of the reasons we happen to be (over)protective of anime, is because it’s still a niche form of entertainment. Although growing wildly in popularity, you can still easily find people that have never seen “one of those shows” or think it’s just One Piece. Because we love the medium and because we want it to be lucrative enough to continue getting widely produced and distributed, we want to attract more fans. But what type of fans…

anime

it’s from D-Frag and her chest is part of her character concept

As such, if an adaptation is bad we dislike it for putting anime in a bad light but if it’s just a bad representation, then it brings up a whole new problem. New people that come to the medium expecting something completely different may be disappointed. There’s even a small risk that they may start influencing our beloved anime and change it to something we don’t like. It’s a very small risk but we’re worriers.

So it’s easy to see why we would be wary of anime getting adapted into western media, but what about the other way around? I don’t feel particularly defensive of the works I grew up with, especially popular ones. I would love a Harry Potter anime. Even if they made some pretty liberal changes and filled it with tropes. Like they could turn it into a magical girl series complete with transformation sequences and an all-girl cast. I just low key sold myself on this concept. Can someone make it happen?

I also really loved catch-22 maybe we can weave it into a second season of the Saga of Tanya the Evil. I really think it would fit the tome and story perfectly. Ok, now I’m just making a wish list of imaginary anime. What I’m saying is that I have a feeling that I’m less inclined to mind adaptations of these works because they are so mainstream they hardly need any protection. Or rather the adaptation doesn’t really risk overshadowing the original.

Tanya the Evil

I might still be thinking about that Tanya Catch-22 mashup

But if I was surrounded by anime and rarely got to see western media that could change my point of view. Well not for Harry Potter of course. That’s just ridiculously popular and would make an amazeballs anime. I’m so enamoured by that idea I lost my English, even more than usual. Of course, all of this could simply be my anime bias.

For instance, would any of you be put off if they adapted Star Wars into a Mech anime? Or what about redoing the Marvel movies in a high school setting, would it bother you? What if they were just bad? I picked two popular franchises but you can imagine it with whatever you happen to prefer. Game of Thrones? Actually, I feel like that could work really well as anime. I would love to see a studio like Bones or Trigger handle those white walker battles. How bishie would the Starks be under KyoAni?!? Ok, I’m wishlisting again. Can anyone greenlight the Game of Thrones anime? I think we need it, right now! We might rework the last season a smidge.

game of thrones anime

oh…um.. thanks! – we need a million dollars right now?

 

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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29 Responses

  1. Kikoman589 says:

    If I didn’t see that edition of Alice in Wonderland at the bookstore a couple of years ago, I might not’ve read those stories at all. And the mere existence of the Gankutsou anime is making me want to read the book first, even though it’s quite big.

    They have an effect on a Western audience too, getting them to try the originals.

  2. David Boone (moonhawk81) says:

    Optimism is strictly contrary to my nature. Just sayin’. (Also, I find myself becoming increasingly defensive of Tanya. Silly, I know, but happening. . .just thought I’d mention that oddity since you used her pic.)

    • Irina says:

      But you have to admit, a reimagining or homage to catch-22 would work so well for Tanya, right!?! I guess, you could argue season 1 was already that.

  3. Claddily says:

    For me, I dislike live action adaptations whether it be western or asian. I hate it when human beings ruin the perfection of anime characters. *insert otaku madness here* Maybe I just hate watching people act out anime quirks even when they’re not suited for it. Lol

  4. I love how technical and logical this post is and you were so good in your points and reasoning. I get asked about why I don’t like adaptations by my IRL friends and I either reply with “Because I just don’t” or “it’s utter rubbish” so now if anyone asks, I can just bring this post up! 😅

  5. Dawnstorm says:

    I can’t say I’m particularly interested in any Hollywood anime adaptions, but I’m not sure this is about anime at all. I felt the same about the feature films based on older TV series a while back (The Persuaders, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky and Hutch…). My disinterest in the recent anime adaption trend isn’t all that different from that.

    Similarly, I notice that I tended to ignore all those Marvel anime, or the Supernatural anime. I did try Radiant, and it wasn’t that bad, but I got bored and dropped it – not without wondering now and then whether I should pick it back up again.

    There are three possible vibes:

    a) Stuff becomes popular, but we don’t make it. The bookkeepers are jealous. Pass.

    b) Franchise expansion, but bypass cultural communication. Not interested.

    c) Someone likes something and wants to make it and the production team isn’t getting in the way. Yes, please.

    The vibes I get can be completely wrong, though, and if I’m not watching it chances are I won’t find out.

  6. “I might still be thinking about that Tanya Catch-22 mashup”

    That could seriously rock.

  7. I think we’re just cynical because we know Hollywood is industry and capitalism dictates what gets produced. A lot of anime adaptation appear to be invading into the niche market and is getting made because it’s popular enough that people will see it.

    I don’t think an anime adaptation is as offensive because of the understanding of time-consuming effort to animate and style that comes with it, it feels like an artistic interpretation of the source material. Alice and Wonderland is very exemplary in what inspires it is to create this fantasy-land and sense of wonderment instead of let’s make money.

    I can’t think of a good anime western adaptation, but it’s not completely hopeless. In the right hands we’ve got adaptations like The Departed, The Magnificent Seven, and even Star Wars was heavily influenced by The Hidden Fortress. If you get the right team of people who genuinely care about what they’re doing and the source material I think you can make a good one (Though it probably isn’t coming from Netflix). Personally I don’t know what series works best but I’d put trust in Guillermo del Toro to make something work.

    • Irina says:

      del Toro! Good choice. This may be cheating but I think Gen Sekiguchi would have a good eye for anime to live action translation or maybe Spike Jones.

  8. Short answer: For anime audiences, Hollywood is perceived as having bad tendencies to butcher things.

    Long answer: For Western audiences, Anime is perceived as having bad tendencies to be so extra.

    Bad jokes aside, I agree on everything you said.

  9. It is a difficult topic. I definitely agree with you on anime being a niche market, but I think there are a lot more factors.

    I think it ranges from animation being the easier media to create atmosphere and impossible shots, to Anime fans being used to flashy works; from animators, directors, anime scriptwriters and manga authors coming from a place of love and respect for Western literature and comics, to a machinery taking advantage of successful franchises to get revenue.

    Adaptations of anime to live-action are difficult. It’s not like all Japanese live-action films are good and it’s not like all anime adaptations from manga are great. This is key to understand that not even the land where Anime came from can get it right sometimes… imagine people who consider it a culture shock, like Hollywood, Korea or Taiwan and how much they have to change the original material…

    It think it makes us protective because, instinctively, we associate this culture-shock with the necessity of the West at adapting Anime through a Western lens to get to a larger audience. But…

    Likewise, is not like all Western literature adaptations are masterpieces and some have been heavily criticized (“The Great Gatsby,” “I, Robot,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “The Shinning,” for example) for their interpretation of characters, changes in events and other elements.

    At the end of the day, this gets more complicated the more you look into it. As for your last questions, I wouldn’t care to see anything coming from Star Wars, Marvel or DC adapted into anime, because they would be yet another take of those comics/stories.

    Definitely is a topic to look into, though! Cheers!

  10. Very interesting article. Honestly I do not get upset when I hear an anime is getting a Western adaptation. That news itself is not upsetting to me. I only get upset when controversial decisions are made, like casting choices etc, and of course if the movie ends up being bad.

    I remember in 2011 they released four Marvel anime, and I remember watching the Blade anime then. I even watched a bit of it two years ago. I thought it was very good. I think that maybe people may not be upset about anime adaptations because all the controversies that Western companies deal with are not transferable to anime companies, if that makes sense.

    Great post as always!

    • Irina says:

      I know the second news went out of a live action Bebop me feed was flooded with unhappy fans. Even before any casting was announced. Some fans are pessimistic about anime remakes but I rarely see the other way around.

  11. The only anime adaption I have a problem with is the power puff girls, but other than that I am also a fan of them playing around with beloved western stories! Also that version of Alice in wonderland looks so gorgeous!

  12. Fred says:

    Western to Eastern crossover – Macbeth to Ran.

    Eastern to Western crossover – 7 Samurai to Magnificent 7.

  13. Lumi says:

    Japan has been adapting western media since Nippon Animation. They love European literature over there. Meanwhile, their comic adaptations have actually been pretty meh in comparison to their adaptations of more classical literature.

    Overall,Japan is great for being so out of the box with their adaptations. Whether it ends up awful or not, it will still have some value as a fun “WHAT IF” because Japanese people have enough respect to source material as to not go full Hollywood.

    • Irina says:

      Spain also does beautiful adaptations. Then again I have liked a lot of american movies as well.

  14. ospreyshire says:

    Good points. I know there have been anime adaptations of Western stories. Just look at Anne of Green Gables, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, or When Marnie Was There to name several others. There are times where some of those adaptations do work in that context. Granted there are embarrassing versions such as that anime take on Ninja Turtles back in the 90s or that anime take on Stitch (as in Lilo and Stitch).

    I’d say there should be some respect to the source material even if not everything is identical to the original story. I will admit that I laughed when someone suggested that Inception should get an anime treatment, and I said “It exists and it’s called Paprika. By the way, it came out first.” Hahaha!

    • Irina says:

      I guess homages can be considered a different cathegory

      • ospreyshire says:

        Possibly. I don’t mind an homage if there’s obvious credit given whether obvious or not.

        Going back to your original thoughts about anime getting Western adaptations, it certainly can be concerning and I get the complaints of so many anime fans. If there’s a good adaptation, then I’d be happy to support it.

  15. Pete Davison says:

    Interesting angle, and one a lot of people don’t consider!

    I think the problem with a lot of live-action adaptations of anime is that they just don’t seem to “get” what made the original special — and often end up looking cheap, cheesy or like cosplayers trying their best to recreate something that, by its very nature, can’t be “real”.

    You pretty much nail it with your description of anime allowing for the depiction of the highly exaggerated, the colourful, the implausible; because the nature of the medium means that it’s divorced from reality and has only a passing resemblance to things we recognise in the real world, we can suspend our disbelief much more easily. The second you start putting “real people” in there, it becomes harder to accept. Not impossible, of course, as the popularity of superhero movies demonstrates, but it loses something from the original — and perhaps gains some things, too, even if those might be things the original fans don’t like. Not everything has to be for everyone!

    Ultimately the thing to remember is that the existence of a remake of something in another medium (whether it’s a Western story being adapted to anime, or an anime being adapted to Western live-action) doesn’t stop the original from existing. If said remake turns out to be hot garbage, it’s easy enough to ignore and just watch the original series for the umpteenth time. If it’s actually good, well, then, no-one’s lost out on anything, have they?

    • Irina says:

      I agree but I also understand the fear of having a beloved medium misunderstood due to shody representation.

  1. June 29, 2019

    […] up with just Irina on her own blog is “Anime adaptations go both ways”. It’s a very interesting look about how fans, including myself tend to overlook various […]

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