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!
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.
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.
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.
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!