Ok, that title is clickbait. I baited you. I’m sorry. I don’t actually think the manga is always better than its adaptation. In fact, I’m one of the few people out there that tends to prefer the anime to the manga by default but that’s really not the norm.
In general, you see manga readers insisting that any given adaptation does not do justice to the source material. In some cases when only the first episode of an anime has aired. And you almost never see the opposite. People aren’t passionately declaring an adaptation far superior to the source. With some exceptions. And I was wondering why.
Is it just an empirical fact? Is manga simply the better medium and we should stop wasting time and huge amounts of resources adapting them to anime? Or is there something else to consider?
Man, that was a dramatic paragraph. I didn’t really feel like myself writing that. And since there are still a few paragraphs left to this post, you can guess that I think there is indeed more to it. These are a few of the reasons I could think of for the vocal support of manga over anime. I’m sure there are more and your mileage may vary on some of these.
I think it’s safe to assume that a manga will come out before its adaptation. That’s just the general nature of linear time. As such, there will always be a part of the audience that is already familiar with the source when the anime comes out and usually, the people who care about it, are the people who really enjoyed the manga.
It is by no means unique to manga fans to be protective of things they love. If someone truly enjoyed a piece of fiction, then any deviation from that property tends to be viewed as a downgrade, sometimes regardless of the actual impact on the whole. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s different from what they loved so there’s an immediate emotional backlash.
And to be clear, that’s human nature. It’s sort of the same impulse that makes us hate remakes of our favourite movies before we’ve seen those remakes. Most people are just like that to various degrees. And in those cases, the original always wins. So for the manga vs anime issue, it means manga will always win on the nostalgia.
That’s probably part of the reason I could never get past episode 2 of the Death Note anime, I was already too attached to the manga. I don’t actually know if the anime is better or worse, but I don’t enjoy watching it because I already have a relationship to that piece of fiction that I like as it is.
The Underappreciation of Non-narrative Storytelling
That’s a bougie sounding title. If you can believe it, that’s the simplest way I could think of to explain it.
Ok, so one huge advantage that anime has over manga is a much wider array of storytelling tools. In anime, you can convey information through colour, sound, camera movement and actual animation. That’s not to say that there isn’t any visual storytelling in manga. Read BLAME and you can see that there is plenty of it. But there are just way more possibilities in anime and a good director and production team will be able to take full advantage of that.
Unfortunately for anime, we are just more used to taking in stories through traditional narratives. It’s about what happens. We have a great tradition of taking in fiction through word narratives (spoken or written) and for most of us, cinematic language hits us on a more subliminal level. Of course, all these elements add to the experience, but we can’t always quite put our finger on why.
It’s very easy to see that an adaptation cut out a character some fans really liked, it’s much more difficult to notice that it added distant sounds of car engines that change with the time of day to add to the sense of passing time and growing loneliness of the protagonist. And so, even if some people might prefer an adaptation over the manga if they can’t explain why they tend to not talk about it as much.
Resources and Time
If the great advantage of anime is the multitude of storytelling tools, the great disadvantage has to be resources and time. Generally speaking, manga are much less restrained in the time or space they can take to tell their stories. They can just go on, chapter after chapter carefully developing characters and letting events flow at their own pace. On the other hand, anime often have predetermined lengths. They have to tell their stories in a set number of episodes.
It’s no coincidence that pacing is usually one of the biggest issues in anime and is hardly ever mentioned when critiquing manga. (It does happen but mostly in single volume or short run mangas that have limitations closer to those of anime). And this is an issue across the board when adapting print media to audiovisual.
And also, anime is expensive to make. At least it’s more expensive than manga and way more expensive than your imagination. Manga artists can afford to create elaborate and detailed character designs that come up now and then and stay all pretty in the panels. But animating those same intricate designs would cost a fortune! An action scene in a manga can be incredible with just two or three well designs panels. My brain can infer the entire scene and fill in the blanks. And that fight will be perfect, with the highest possible frame rate, art consistency and amazing little flares that I have collected in my memory from every previous anime fight scene I have enjoyed. Now try actually putting that on film.
This last point can go both ways. Or maybe just for me. I have occasionally come across performances that were so much better than what I imagined in my head. Natsume comes to mind. But that’s once again a bit less tangible than, this fight looks ugly so the advantage is once more with manga.
Like I said, I’m sure there are many other reasons that would lead an audience to assess manga generally more favourably than anime. But I don’t think that it makes anime generally inferior. At the end of the day, they might be telling the same stories but manga and anime are two very different mediums and it’s not easy to just compare them directly.
What do you think? Is the manga always better? Are there factors the skew general opinion in favour of manga over anime adaptations? Or maybe you’re one of the rare ones that prefer anime?