I’m currently reading Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and boy, it’s a blast. I honestly love this. I don’t understand how it didn’t become a mega-hit. Then again, I did not watch the anime. Maybe the adaptation left something to be desired. This said. CLAMP are probably the only creators where I have consistently read their manga and watched the anime adaptations. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

More specifically, I want to talk about what makes a good adaptation in my eye by comparing the two CLAMP titles I know best. Chobits and xxxHolic. I chose these two particularly because they are not too long which helps me get my thoughts around them better, I do actually know both these works pretty well, and in my opinion, they represent two extremes in how the adaptation was carried out.

then again, I guess they’re not that different!

Let me lay it out for you. As always, these are my views and opinions. Nothing to take as gospel here!

In almost every way but one, Chobits is the more faithful adaptation. xxxHolic, the manga, is a mix of more or less stand-alone slice of life type supernatural adventures, and a more involved overarching coming of age mystical tale for both main characters, Watanuki and Yuko. There are also a few multiverse shenanigans thrown in there as the events of xxxHolics intertwine with those of Tsubasa Reservoir and vice versa. Man, these are great manga! Honestly, read them. Once I finish Tsubasa I might post about it.

The anime xxxHolic, possibly realizing that it was too ambitious to expect all of that to get adapted, opted to leave out the multiverse bits almost entirely and write around the overarching central plot in order to concentrate almost entirely on the isolated adventures. Creating a structure that is much more episodic. In the process, they moved the order of those stories around. Without the connecting thread of the central plot, the dramatic evolution of the short stories wasn’t optimized as is so it made sense to move some things and keep some reveals for later while giving out other information earlier on. They also decided to not adapt quite a few and instead created a bunch of these stories from scratch as anime originals.

the visuals are also fully taken advantage of in the anime

All the main characters are there but a lot of their evolution isn’t and occasionally their personalities get a little tweaked as the events they go through in the manga are different from the ones in the anime and therefore affect and change them differently.

On the other hand, Chobits is a linear narrative that spans the story. There are little side adventures but there’s a main conflict to resolve and mystery to solve. Although the character development does diverge in the latter parts of the story, for the most part, the main characters are essentially the same in the manga and in the anime. They have the same backgrounds, motivations and experiences and so they grow in the same ways. Of course, the anime does streamline a few things but it’s all generally there.

Knowing this, I have to say that in my opinion, xxxHolic is the far superior adaptation. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s an example f a great adaptation while Chobits misses the mark.

wait, it’s not that bad

I don’t think I’m teaching any of you anything by saying that anime is a different medium than manga. there are a lot of things to take into account outside of the written words and character designs. The most obvious being voice acting, which can completely change the demeanour and effect of a character. And some of that was at play here. But I wouldn’t say it was a casting problem. Both Chobits and xxxHolic have very capable and talented actors. It was more of an interpretation issue. and the voice acting was the least of it.

xxxHolic changed a lot around in order to create stories that really take advantage of anime as a medium. It created extra stories that were cinematic and had different settings. It took out stories that relied on extra characters that get developed slowly through the volumes and only work when you look back on the work as a whole and therefore would suffer from the condensed anime story, or stories that were there primarily to give a piece of information relevant to the main plotline, and replaced them by stories that were more dynamic but could be enjoyed by themselves.

However, every single story was perfectly in line with the essence of the series. The new tales had colourful and cheerful veneers that hid uncomfortable truths. Some were brutal or sad, others were goofy. In the end, everyone has to choose their own faith and accept the consequences of those choices. The Watanuki, Yuko, Doumeki and Himawari of the show ended up becoming slightly different versions of the same people, but they were still unmistakable as themselves. Their core morals, beliefs and motivations were carried through perfectly, simply expressed through different events. No matter how different the manga and anime are, both of them are undeniably xxxHolic.

I already have a lot of xxxHolic screencaps in my library

On the other hand, Chobits is a manga and an anime. Both use the same characters and plot but they tell different stories about different people. How can I explain this properly? I watched Chobits when I was young and I liked it. It was this story about a boy named Hideki who found a sexy android smartphone named Chii. Hideki is a nice enough boy and Chii is both very pretty and very innocent and unknowing of the world. Occasionally sexy hijinks ensue. Interwoven is the more serious mystery of how such an advanced robot like Chii, was thrown out and why Hideki found it in the first place.

It wasn’t a perfect anime but I really did enjoy it and I thought Chii was the cutest thing!

I read the manga much later and I had a sort of uncanny experience. I recognized all the characters and the plot seemed to be there but something was off. Somehow, the manga felt unfamiliar despite everything. I chalked it up to not remembering the anime too well and that’s how it stayed for a while. Then I rewatched the anime and no. They aren’t the same on a basic level.

I am finding it awkward to explain

A while ago, I read an interview with the CLAMP members and the author of Chobits explained that she wrote the manga partly in reaction to her own anxiety and unease at being part of the dating world as a single professional woman, in an increasingly digital age. And how that made her feel.

The Chobits manga, in contrast with the anime, is about a naive and innocent Chii who is thrust into this world she knows nothing about. It’s about her discovering that she is more powerful and wiser than anyone ever expected, most of all herself. And it’s about her learning to trust Hideki who despite being flawed, is caring and kind-hearted. It’s about enjoying her own sensuality.

Sure you could argue that the anime was also about that or vice versa. I’m just saying that I saw both works and this is the impact each left on me. Perhaps if I had read the manga first, I would have interpreted the anime in a different way, but I didn’t. And I had a completely different takeaway from it.

i want to get the anniversary versions of Chobits

As I have said many times, I do like the Chobits anime. I don’t think a bad adaptation necessarily means a bad anime. I guess the word bad makes it confusing. I do think that what I got from watching the anime simply didn’t communicate the essence and spirit of the manga to me. Not at all.

The cinematic language consistently skewed away from Chii’s experience. It was also oddly more dramatic compared to the manga. In the anime, Chii’s insecurity and uneasiness at her new surroundings were simply not an issue. Scenes consistently focused on more plot-driven events or on Chii’s impact on the world rather than the world’s impact on her. The music, framing and editing shifted the focus without changing the events themselves. And I don’t know if this was a conscious decision, maybe in an effort to change the more adult demographic of the manga to a slightly broader and potentially younger audience. Or maybe, Morio Asaka had a different interpretation of the manga than I did and that’s how it got translated to the screen.

But I have to say, when I read Chobits, I can see that woman trying to navigate the scary world of romantic relationships in the digital age. I can feel that excitement and fear. I just don’t get that from the anime and that’s where I think the adaptation lacked. For me.

What do you think? Do you have examples of adaptations that were very faithful but still missed the mark? Or maybe, like for me and Given, adaptations that are very faithful yet somehow ended up way better than the original?

18 thoughts

  1. Man, I really appreciate reading your thoughts on this. I’ve made it abundantly clear I’ve tried and failed to finish xxxholic. But I can appreciate when an animation team can take the source material and actually adapt it, to suit an animated form. Those character proportions still get me though.

    As for Chobits, I’m going to have to go back and check this. I remember Chobits being my first CLAMP title, and I know I read the manga and watched the anime in pretty close succession. I was also super young when I did this, maybe 13, and at the time I didn’t notice the perspective change. So I’m wondering how much I’d appreciate the ‘adaptation’ aspect of this if it’s such a significant change. I still have a super soft spot for Chobits the manga, all these years later because it was one of the first titles to get me into Sci-fi in general.

  2. The Tsubasa manga was a real rollercoaster. I remember always wanting to guess which CLAMP character would make their appearance next when the series was ongoing. I can’t wait to see what you’ll say about the “clone” thing. Also, the OVAs were simply *chef’s kiss*.

    My memory of watching and reading xxxHolic is a bit fuzzy but I thoroughly enjoyed it for the same reasons you wrote in your post. Despite the rearranging and cuts made, the story still flowed well and the cast of characters were awesome.

    For other CLAMP adaptations, I can say that the anime for Magic Knight Rayearth deviated from its video game version in terms of the relationships the protagonists developed on their journey and how the video game introduced new OCs to make their own stories. Between the two, I enjoyed the anime more. X)

  3. Side note on the Tsubasa bit, while I think the anime still did a great job, unlike the other adaptions it skipped significant parts of the manga which I think hurt its chances of getting really big. Not sure where you’re up to in the manga currently so I won’t name which ones, but two arcs are completely skipped and two are sped through in about 2 episodes.

    Plus the series ended early so we had to get two OVA sequels a few years later. Because of that the anime experience is a bit more disjointed. I still gave them all 7s and 8s roughly but the manga wins there.

    For a faithful adaption where I preferred the anime, I’d go with Fruits Basket there. I really liked the anime but the manga nearly turned me off from Shojo when I first read it due to the art. I should give it a re read though as that was back when I was really young. I would say Sailor Moon as well, but the anime wasn’t super faithful, I just loved how they handled the fillers.

    For a faithful anime where I preferred the manga, I’d say Naruto, specifically Shippuden. The pacing was just a bit too slow so something I could read in 15 minutes in the manga would be 3 episodes in the anime. It adapted everything panel for panel but would just add way too many flashbacks.

  4. I haven’t seen Chobits but I did watch xxxHolic…at least, I got about two-thirds of the way through before giving up. I quite liked the set up and premise, and the first few episodes held quite an interesting dark edge…but after a while, the story seemed to drag and each ep seemed more like the ones before it. Also, Watanuki was an annoying prat, rather like Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. I got that there was an overarching point the story was moving toward…but, man, it took way too long to get there! Which was a real pity, because I was really enjoying this series for a while there. Oh, well…maybe I might come back to it later and pick up where I left off…

      1. No, I would say that’s overstating things…I think “disappointed” is probably a better term. Which, as I say, is a pity because I was initially very much into this series…

        1. I figure there so much anime out there. No need to watch things you know you don’t like. But that’s just my view

          1. Oh, I agree with that! I just suspect I didn’t dislike xxxHolic so much that I wouldn’t want to at least try and see it through….

  5. “What do you think?”

    I think I need to read the manga!

    I enjoyed Chobits, and as a guy, Hideki’s perspective made sense. But from what you described of the manga, I really want to read it now, too.

  6. I almost never read manga, so I usually don’t know the source. When I do, it’s usually a game.

    I thought the Chobits anime made Hideki the main point-of-view through which you see the show, so if the manga focalises more through Chi, that would make things different. Pretty much the only through-line with Chi as a point-of-view character in the anime is that book. And then, maybe a little, when Freya appears. But the anime makes it mostly Hideki’s story. Now I’m curious about the manga. It seems I might have been missing a very interesting angle.

    1. Comparing the two is a very interesting experiment. There are a few very good essays out there that go into it in much more detail.

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