Your Brain on Toons- What Makes Anime Adaptions Work? (Part II)


When Does An Anime Adaption “Fail”?

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Well we since we established in the previous article that an anime adaption succeeds when it’s a decent standalone product and pays some kind of tribute to its source material, then it’s safe to say that most anime adaptions fail when they don’t feel strong enough on their own and/or misunderstand what made the original material work in the first place. There’s a few ways adaptions can fail at that first one. While I said earlier that most anime adaptions wrapping up without much of an actual conclusion isn’t a negative in and of itself (they are meant to be commercials after all) being too inconclusive can result in the opposite of the desired effect, and turn people off from it. Summer 2015’s Gangsta for instance, ended right smack dab in the middle of a story arc without even attempting to give anime-only viewers a decent entry point to jump into the manga, instead simply coming to an abrupt stop and taking the reputation of the series with it. Pacing can be a big issue as well as going through the available material either too fast or too slow (and potentially resulting in “filler” for either scenario) can really take away from a show in the long run. Most notably however, is the issue of an adaption being plagued with bad production values and you need look no further than the negative reactions to the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal and more recently, Berserk 2016, to see how badly they can hurt even established franchises.

Something that often gets overlooked though, is when adaptions get a little too reliant on their source material, and end up isolating new viewers in the process. Video game adaptions tend to suffer the most from this kind of problem, such as the recent Tales of Zestria anime, making the decision to start off with a prologue that frankly wouldn’t make any kind of sense to those not already familiar with the game, and later pausing the story for a couple of episodes to promote the Tales of Bestria game, both of which felt pretty jarring. Even adaptions that mostly function well on their own can still run into this kind of problem, like the rather divisive ending to Clannad: After Story, which loses most of its impact (and frankly doesn’t make any sense) without the game mechanics from the visual novel that helped to lead up to it. While anime adaptions do primarily exist for the sake of promotion, ideally they should never feel like they’re punishing newcomers for not having already read/played whatever it’s based on, and while some can still manage a decent level of success regardless, it’s really hard to win audiences back once that line has been crossed.

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Worse than all of the above however, is running into an adaption that completely fails to highlight or understand its source material. Taken to its most extreme are things such as the OVA, Rurouni Kenshin: Reflections in which the director Kazuhiro Furuhashi created an epilogue to the original manga that not only negated the manga’s ending for Kenshin’s character arc and its subsequent view on redemption, but ran so thematically opposite of those things in favor of tragedy, that it almost feels like it couldn’t have possibly come from the same source and comes off as an utter betrayal of it. There’s also stuff like Rosario + Vampire and the original Negima anime whose manga counterparts both functioned as battle shonen/harem comedy hybrids while their respective anime adaptions removed nearly all aspects of the battle shonen components in favor of making them pure harem comedies, and thus limited some of their appeal as a result.

Although while it’s easy to point out the extreme examples, it’s just as important to note that even the “faithful” adaptions can sometimes run into this problem. The Toriko anime for example, was a pretty straight adaption of the manga, and paced well enough to avoid filler for most of its run, but in an effort to make it more kid friendly (and easier to air on children’s networks in western markets), Toei Animation censored and removed pretty much all of the 80’s style machismo and ultra-violence that comprised a big chunk of the manga. The result was an incredibly watered down product that failed to be as cool or fun as its manga counterpart, and it subsequently failed to reach the lofty expectations Toei and Shueisha had for it. A more recent and infamous example of this kind of thing though, would be last year’s Ace Attorney anime which also strived to be a fairly straight adaption of its source material but ultimately lacked much of the charm and Saturday morning cartoon style antics that made the games so fun (and the fact that it mostly looked like butt didn’t help things either) to the point where its best episodes were ironically the ones where it deviated the most from the games. No one really wins when it comes to these kinds of adaptions and while they aren’t always damaging enough to take the popularity of their source material down with them, they generally don’t enjoy much in the way of any long-term success, and can be pretty crippling in the long run.


Final Thoughts

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There’s a lot of anime adaptions out there, and a whole lot of good and bad that comes with them. The exact measures by which they can succeed or fail tend to vary depending on the circumstances surrounding them, and while I might have covered the broader aspects of those areas, there’s still a ton of other factors that have to be taken into account in determining how well an adaption will turn out. Still, I think that by taking a little bit of time to understand some of the things that can make these anime work, it’s a whole lot easier to appreciate the ones that actually succeed.

And that’s it for me on this subject. I’m glad I finally got around to writing about it and hopefully someone managed to get a little something out of this. Until next time, stay animated.