How to Ruin an Anime Adaptation

I chose my headers gif as the opposite of ruining an adaptation.

Alarm sound and Fog Horn!!! I don’t know anything about adapting a written work for an audio visual medium. I don’t even know anything about writing fiction in the first place. These are really just my opinions and observations because I thought it might be an interesting subject to discuss with you all.

A more accurate title would probably have been Things That In My Opinion Hamper A Manga Based Anime Production but that’s not very snappy. Besides, if there is one thing I’m sure of it’s that if I had to adapt a manga to anime, I would ruin it!

anime ruins

ruin…ruins… it worked in my head

It should be noted that in general terms I prefer anime to manga. I do really like manga a lot but I just find the art of bringing performance, colour and movement together with the art and story of the manga to be mesmerizing. And there have been several occasions where a manga I didn’t care for that much, became an anime I really enjoyed.

However, even an anime lover such as myself has to admit that sometimes an adaptation misses the mark. And it’s not always simply a question of editing the story too much (although that can certainly be a major issue). There’s a lot of different considerations that go into adapting a manga to anime and I don’t always take the time to really appreciate that.

For quite some time I was under the impression that adapting manga to anime would be the easiest form of adaptation available. I mean you can almost just use your source material for your storyboards. How can you lose track of the spirit of a manga if you just recreate every frame. I don’t actually know, maybe adapting manga to anime is in fact the easiest form of adaptation and it’s just that adapting anything to a different medium is very difficult even in the best of circumstances. But the fact remains that you can screw up an anime adaptation and apparently pretty easily.

mess up

I have no clue where this is from but I knew I had to use this pic

One of the biggest factors for me (and I figure for a lot of folks) is performance. Good voice acting can set the tone and even re-contextualize a narrative. I mentioned this in my Given review but the voice actors did such a better job bringing the characters to life with nuance and complexity than I had done in my head that it’s probably the biggest factor that went into making a manga I found forgettable at best and abandoned twice now, into an anime I adored.

Fact is, sometimes my reading of a character isn’t the best, even for my own tastes. Of course this is a double edged sword. It’s much easier to adjust and modify a performance that’s happening in your head, than one you are watching on screen. Casting is probably one of the most crucial parts of the adaptation process and studio interference or simple lack of attention to that particular aspect of a production can sink the whole thing in an instant.

Obviously, as I mentioned, when editing the story the most common faux pas tends to be cutting out too much for the sake of making an entire story arc fit into a standard season of anime. I find that the victim is usually character development. That’s how I end up seeing characters suddenly acting a little psycho or crazy because we skipped all the emotional turmoil that leads them to have an intense reaction. For me, this really sank the School Days animation. Otherwise complex personalities get boiled down to a few quirks and it gets difficult to care about them. I’m sure you can think of a bunch of examples.

school-days-girls

all these girls have very different personalities

But there is also an editing problem when you don’t take out enough text. And that is over exposition! It is possible to have too much exposition in a manga as well. However, when detailed explanations are relegated to a text box in the corner of the page, most people take it in differently. Some of us don’t even give a voice to that type of exposition. It’s part of the background, like information getting beamed directly into our brain. People tend to be much more forgiving of written expo-dumps.

In most cases, writing out the exposition on the screen simply isn’t a practical option for anime so there are two obvious venues for direct adaptation. One is the voice over but that’s extremely tricky to get right and tends to destroy suspension of disbelief so it’s rarely used and more often in comedies or just to bookend arcs rather than give actual exposition. The second is exposition through character dialogue and this is where it can get tedious.

We’ve all run across anime with just way too much exposition. It weighs everything down, slows the action and cuts into momentum. But what can you do? If you don’t explain things to the audience they won’t know what’s going on. That’s no better. In my opinion, writers should trust their audience just a bit more. A lot of my favourite animes leave things up for interpretation or require a bit of inference and that’s o.k.

Indexlibrorumprohibitorum

A Certain Magical Index had so so much exposition

Weaving exposition through conversations rather than in monologue also helps. Of course, you can also make use of that vast visual audio medium. There is a lot of information that you can confer through movement and sound that would have had to be described in a manga. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are extremely difficult, and I understand that not every production is going to be able to pull it off. But I do think it makes a difference between a great adaptation and a so so one.

Finally, one of the potentially hardest elements to pin down is the visuals. In a way, this is very silly. The visuals are literally in the manga. But here’s the problem. You need to draw dozens of cells to go from one manga frame to the next. More if it’s an action scene. It’s painstaking and sometimes fiscally punishing to keep the same level of detail in your anime design as was present in the manga. On the other hand, fans of the manga may really be put off by an adaptation that doesn’t look as good in still shots.

This is sort of an encouragement to adapt simpler looking manga. But what if that’s not an option. I’m a big fan of faking movement myself. Saving money by adding still shots here and there, maybe just moving the camera to make it seem like something is happening. Another frequent shortcut is to reduce characters to simpler chibi forms in certain situations which can be adorable but would be difficult to fit into a dramatic tense series. I would love to see AoT characters turn all tiny and cute whenever the get into combat! Might undercut the suspense a touch but I figure it’s worth it. Told you I was a master at ruining adaptations!

So what have we learned. In order to ruin even the most promising adaptation, you simply need to hire the producer’s niece who has never acted before, cut out all the pesky character building and replace it with nice juicy exposition, preferable narrate then have the characters repeat the same information, and finally keep the ultra detailed character models but turn everyone into motionless chibis on blank backgrounds as soon as any tense or suspenseful moment happens! TADA! Congratulations! You’ve successfully ruined your adaptation!

Rini 2020 (3)

Irina

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

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23 Responses

  1. Sad OldGuy says:

    Sorry that I am late to the party but apparently there is either quite the skill set required to make a decent anime out of a manga or light novel. My two current obsessions: the Death March light novel series and the Infinite Dendrogram light novels are fun adventures with more under the floor than obvious in the first glance had some of the blandest anime shows that I have ever seen. Was it laziness, lack of budget, or incompetence or a bit of all three?

  2. Some versions are better enjoyed in manga form, and some in anime. If you really want to mess the adaptation, go with bad visuals, a bad direction, remove all the relevant scenes, add lots of filler arcs not even found in the original source and presto! Instant material the otaku community will debate endlessly in the internet.

  3. RisefromAshes says:

    This is unrelated to your blog post but your “Don’t Mess Up My Tempo” image actually isn’t an anime. It’s a fanart of the Kpop group EXO done in the vintage style.

    Back to being related to your blog; I don’t quite have too much to say since I largely agree. But as always it’s great to read your thoughts on the subject!

    • Irina says:

      Thank You!!! That is so awesome. Now I like that image even more but I am a bit bummed I won’t get to see super retro boy idol anime….

      • RisefromAshes says:

        You’re welcome! Glad I could help a bit lol. I mean, I’d be a hundred percent down for a retro boy idol anime now too~

  4. Anonymous says:

    The biggest thing about anime adaptations is what to keep and what to cut out or alter. Chaos Child the anime for example follows the main story route instead of the other routes thats supposed to be using to get the true ending. It was the result of production issues due to the lack of a highgher budget to adapt and script the other routes and the story suffers for it as plot points were like thrown in and out and its really not easy to follow esepcially with 12 episodes and rushed out pacing. Plus the characters felt pretty bare bones in contrast to the original visual novel. The most faithful i would say is that hey the art and animation looks nice and the va’s return to reprise their roles.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)
    I have the blu ray of not only Chaos Child but also i got Chaos Head which i plan on seeing next since i beaten both games while back and damn i can’t wait to see how supposedly rotten it is.

    • Irina says:

      Everyone says that but I’m not sure I agree. It is an important part but not the only one and I don’t know enough about the process to say the most important one. I have seen shows with perfectly good narratives that just completely break down in the production. I have also seen shows that are great in the content but screw up the pacing to an unbearable degree.

  5. Pinkie says:

    I do prefer Anime over Manga myself most of the time. The soundtrack the motion and less obvious the way the pacing is determined. Like do I read Yosha as ..yosha or Yoooooooshaaaaa. How long does it last? I fly trough pages but then I wonder how long a panel would actual linger. A few Youtube Manga do it really well .. where you move from panel to panel and they add in sound effects I kind of like those!

    As for as adapting goes, it’s living up to expectations of the former reader. The more detail you give about a character, the more vividly people will imagine it the more disappointing any deviation will be. Even though you have less time and space to your disposal. I don’t think it’s completely fair to compare two mediums both have different limitations.

    While they are closer, Anime and Manga still are different media. Just as much as an expression dance of One Piece might work less as a medium. Okay it might be a few steps further apart but in essence we convey the same story trough other methods.
    Everything has it limitations. That does mean that some things work better as Manga , like the nuanced details in One Piece for example.. Like putting emphasis on a small dog sitting in a big panel, drawing a metaphor to a similar frame 2 books ago. While animation helps spicing up some of the clunkier fights in the anime. Sometimes things just do not work as an anime. Deep lore or heavy exposition for example work better in writing.

    I always compare it with video games, when you encounter deep exposition or lore, it’s often shapen as a book anime can’t do that sort of thing. A good adapation knows it is Anime and not Manga, it knows how important the things it adds are (the visuals the voice acting the music) it knows where to be different rather than where to be the same. The same thing has already been done before.. if it’s a 1 on 1 we could just read the manga and it offers nothing new. So much like video game remakes it’s about how it differentiates itself for me.

    • Irina says:

      Ohhh video game to movie adaptation are also such a landmine which is fascinating. I guess ludo-narrative has more impact than people give it credit for.

  6. Choosing what to keep and what to cut is definitely a big thing, and in any adaption. It’s one of those things though. Even adapting an already visual thing to another visual thng can necessitate changes. Look at Preacher, for exaple. The live action adaption mixes up the running order of certian things to make it flow better for screen. The Attack on Titan anime too switched up a few things to change how it flows.

    • Irina says:

      It can be really smart to change the flow. I argue that a lot of the changes in Gankutsuou improved on the basic layout of the Count of Monte Cristo

      • Exactly. Soemtimes, things jsut work better a different way in a different medium. Like, if they adapted The Girl WIth The Dragon Tattoo exactly how it was in the bok, the film would have had some real drag moments that worked on page but wouldn’t on screen. Different can be good 🙂

  7. Dawnstorm says:

    **** I would love to see AoT characters turn all tiny and cute whenever the get into combat! ****

    You’re probably not the only one. That’s why there’s “Attack on Titan: Junior High”. Although their all tiny and cute all through the show, and not just during combat. In fact, if you’d ask me about my favourite season of Attack on Titan, I’d say “Junior HIgh”. And I’d not be lying either.

    Seriously, though, I admire people who know how to do adaptions. I mean, when I hear people explain why they prefer manga, one of the things I keep hearing is “I can read at my own pace.” A scene in an anime has a duration. Do you linger on a shot? For how long? How much inbetween animation? Hair? Eyes? What about sound? How much music? How much noise? There’s just so much that can go wrong, even without people being in love with their own reading of the manga, or the game.

    An example: Kotoura san was a 4-koma manga. I couldn’t tell from the adaption. (I also can’t compare, since I’ve only ever seen 4 panels of it, so there’s that.)

    • Irina says:

      Junior High doesn’t have the same atmosphere though, it’s the gap I wanna see!
      I hear the at my own pace argument all the time as well. Maybe it’s because my pace is too quick that I tend to see more when the anime forces me to linger and I appreciate that. I breezed through 24 volumes of Natsume and the manga is a high action adventure to me which really isn’t as charming….

      • Dawnstorm says:

        ***Junior High doesn’t have the same atmosphere though, it’s the gap I wanna see!***

        Heh, yeah. I can see that. Personally, I always thought Attack on Titan is basically hard-core Smurfs, so I’m not sure I’d have seen much of a gap. (I may be a exaggerating just a tad here; you need to point these things out on the internet, I think?)

        I’m a very slow reader when it comes to written fiction, but I’ve read too few comics/manga to have much of an intuition how that relates.

  8. Pete Davison says:

    Yeah, the big challenge with a manga to anime adaptation is choosing what to keep and what to ditch. Miss things out and people will complain. Move too slowly and people will complain — it’s a difficult balancing act that I don’t envy anyone!

    The same applies to visual novel to anime adaptations — perhaps even more so. Visual novels have no hard limit on how long they can be, so that raises a whole other set of challenges. And this isn’t even getting into adaptations of eroge where the sexual content is key to character development and narrative!

    • Irina says:

      I have to say, while playing VNs I can usually see the stuff that can be cut, especially in branching narrative type stories. When you create the threes you can sort of see the overlap and bridging material that’s unnecessary if you unfolded into a singular linear story.

  9. Djm says:

    I think this might be why so many of my all-time favorite anime and so many that I’m really passionate about are usually original material, not adapted from a manga.

    Unless you’ve got a guarantee to have an anime for five years, it just seems too hard.

    • Irina says:

      I don’t know, there are a lot of short manga runs. I don’t think I’ve actually seen that many original anime. Psycho Pass comes to mind and Kon’s works. But for the rest it’s either a direct adaptation or very heavily inspired from…

  1. June 10, 2020

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