As one of those people who always says “Read the book before you watch the movie!!” and actually listens to his own words, the title of this article disgusts me. It makes me so angry that I should really tell people to watch an anime adaptation before they read the franchised manga.
My experience with anime that has been adapted from a manga, is almost always hate-inducing. It makes me want to scream and throw something at my television. I would like to take you through three of the manga-to-anime adaptations I have watched to explain my point.
We’ll start with My Love Story, one of last year’s big hits. The manga was supposed to turn heads and break traditional shoujo stereotypes—and it did. No argument here! If you haven’t read my review of My Love Story, then please do! It’s the first book that inspired me enough to begin a blog containing reviews. It spoke to me so truthfully about the male psyche, our worries and fears, that I immediately ran to my computer and pumped out something that I pray does this fine work some justice.
If you don’t know the story, it’s about Takeo Gouda (that’s “g-OH-da”, if you don’t know how to pronounce Japanese), a not-so-average high school student, leading an average life. What makes him stick out? He’s gigantic! He towers over almost every one else in the series, wrestles judo for fun, and lives by a code of manliness. Like most people, he also has a soft spot for the girls he has a crush on, and unfortunately for him, they usually turn out to be total witches who think he’s an ugly turd. His luck changes when he saves Rinko Yamato from a train pervert. A Densha Otoko for a new generation, he clumsily vies for her attention—attention he’s already won but is to clueless to notice—and the two begin to date. The rest of the series, as I’ve seen, follows this unmatched couple as they go about their lives, jumping any hurdle that dares come across their path. It’s an adorable romantic comedy, and slice-of-life.
So you can see why I was so stoked when an anime adaptation was announced.
I grabbed some snacks and parked on the couch of my Man Cave, surrounded by all of my anime posters, figures, and wall scrolls, waiting for my PS4 to click on so I could view the very first episode… And it was mediocre. I didn’t have too much to be happy about, or to complain about. It was exactly the same as the manga. Scene for scene; similar line for similar line. There was no new content. On the flip side, practically nothing had been cut, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was watching the exact same thing I had been reading for months.
Being the weirdo I am, I will go back one or two volume when I buy a new manga, to make sure I remember everything and that the story flows easily. So I had read each volume of My Love Story at least two—but up to four—times. I remember sitting by the television with my husband, whom I had made (read: threatened) to watch it, and he’s confused.
“What’s wrong?” he asks my twitching, aggravated form.
“I don’t know.” I shake my head, still unsure if there is a problem. “We’ll have to watch again next week, I guess.”
So I tune back in, with popcorn this time, and watch the second episode. And I can’t muster up a single feeling besides one or two “aww”s. It is also exactly the same. And now I am upset.
I am watching the television-version of one of my all-time favorite books, and there is nothing new. It’s exactly how I pictured it—word-for-word—from the manga. Simply put, there’s nothing left for the show to wow me with. Everybody has the exact same depth, design, outfit, and feel as in then manga. While this can be a good thing, and would make any author happy, it leaves me as a discontented viewer. When I watch an adaptation, I’m looking for an adaptation. I want more content, maybe more plot, and—c’mon—you could at least throw me a bone with the outfits! I’ve read the books, cover to cover, several times over; I know that story. And I’m looking for something more.
In conclusion, while the anime for My Love Story is very well done and adheres religiously to the book, that is also its failing. As a faithful reader of the tankouban, I cannot watch this TV show. It’s just too boring.
So what can you do? Start with the anime. If you watch the anime straight through, just once, the books are fun and exciting. I’ve done this with other series, such as Toradora, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Too bad for me, but I started watching Rave Master after reading most of it and had to turn that crap off!
What does an interesting anime adaptation look like to me? Let’s go with another of last year’s bug sellers—Oops. Did I say “bug”? Parasyte. They’re paraites, and they can look like bugs, if you haven’t read it or seen it.
Parasyte is a manga that began its tankouban run in the US when I was in junior high. I picked it up from shelves on a whim; there wasn’t nearly as much to read back then, and whims were the dominating force behind the books I chose. I ended up adoring it, buying up each new installment whenever I saw them in the store. These were the days before I really knew how to check release schedules online, so I would wander in at least once a week to check on things.
This series is an epic, brainy, shonen tale filled with action and suspense. There are aliens taking over the world from inside our ranks! The real killer? They are cannibalistic, feeding on the same species as their host body. Their goal is to dwindle the human race enough to save Earth and its disappearing resources.
Enter Shinichi, a high schooler who is awoken one fateful night by a parasite crawling into his ear! He mistakes it for a snake and hurls it across the room. It makes it back and burrows into his hand—trying to reach his brain. Quick-thinking Shinichi tourniquets his arm with his headphones and the parasite can go no further. The two “meet” each other the following morning, as Shinichi’s right hand is now a talking, thinking parasite! Soon to be saddled with protecting the human race, the two discover the changed world around them.
After loving the series so much, I was ecstatic to hear it would be made into a anime. I had lost all hope because so many years had gone by. Could a manga from the eighties and nineties really be made relevant in today’s market? Nervous, I watched the trailer, looked at stills, and… It looked cool!
Updated to the current day, this retelling of Hitoshi Iwaaki’s masterpiece begged to be watched. I was instantly curious about the changes in the character designs and how modern technology would affect everything.
I was disappointed. Those were the only changes—new technology didn’t change anything and the story was also exactly the same. While this means the story itself can stand the test of time, it also means, one again, that there is no new content. All of the fights, jokes, and plot points went exactly as they had been in the books. I had the books out and flipped through them while watching with my husband—he sat entranced and awed by this show, having come into it during its anime run. Next to him, I would constantly pause the episodes and pester: “Look! This drawing has so much more feeling!” I know, I know—I’m one of those. While the anime was a great show, when you’ve read the books, it pales in comparison.
I personally thought the character designs from the book looked tougher and had better expressions. Satomi came off as so much whinier and needy during the anime, that I was pretty much sick of her by the end. I was screaming at my television, “PLEASE BE WITH KANA! DUMP THIS BUMP!” Even though most everything was the same, she was so much less likeable. That’s a head-scratcher.
Shinichi’s initial appearance was wimpy and almost waif-like. I thought he was just average when I read the manga. Kana seemed too girly. Mitsuo was dumpy instead of cool or tough. Only Mamoru—my favorite character—as well as Tamura seemed the same. And that was weird. Why go to the trouble of changing everyone else, just to leave them as-is?
I did watch to the end. I began to lose interest halfway through (When I knew Kana was going to… You know… No spoilers…), but kept on plugging because my husband was so into it. He would beg me to watch with him, and all I could do to put it off was to say that there were so many cliffhangers, we should just marathon three or four at once. Better for him, and overall less painful for me.
And what was the ending to this show we poured so much time into? The same, exact, half-assed epilogue from the manga. What?! There is so much more to be told! The anime creators could have easily said, “Hmm. This is doing well. Let’s add actual content and make a second season!” But no—They chose the same crappy ending. Though by the end, I was just happy it was over. There wasn’t anything left to be said. I didn’t even cry—and I’m a crier, believe-you-me! You have no idea how many tears were shed during Psycho-Pass, a show I would call comparable in terms of the mix of action, drama, and brainwork.
In conclusion, when you update the setting but not the actual story, I will also pass. It’s no fun to see the same thing regurgitated over and over. It’s like watching the new DBZ— Yes, they fight. Yes, someone will die, but not for reals. After a while, what’s the point? You know how it all goes down, so I feel my time is better spent trying something new. In the future, if I see similar tactics, I will steer clear!
This brings us to the last anime adaptation I wish to discuss. It’s Love Stage!!. Go cry in a corner if you don’t like shonen-ai or yaoi; it’s well done. In fact, it’s the only great manga adaptation in my recent memory, so I am so going to do it!
Love Stage!! is the story of Izumi, an otaku college student who wants to be a manga-ka. He lives with his family of celebrities and their manager. For years, he has been hiding from making his own debut because of his shyness. He is forced into a commercial, however, acting opposite the current heartthrob, Ryoma. Things take a few sour turns and he ends up making a debut, which forces him and Ryoma to confront their feelings for each other. If you want to learn more, check out my review of the first two tankouban.
The anime was created and aired before the manga was finished—usually a recipe for disaster. Abominations of this sort include Fullmetal Alchemist (the original anime), Skip Beat, and Great Teacher Onizuka. While most of these turn out to be flubs or atrocities, there are a few gleaming gems among the turds. Besides Love Stage!!, The Devil is a Part-Timer! is another example of a gem—they knew where to stop the story so it was a story.
Compared to the other anime I’ve talked about, Love Stage!! has no need for character updates—it was created and shipped to the US so recently, that none of it feels stale. And I’d read the manga most recently, too, having started it just last month. When I came across the anime on CrunchyRoll, I was unsure if I should give it a shot right away. But I am so glad I did!
Love Stage!! is a rare breed. It uses the same story, but adds content. There are extra jokes, new scenes and information about characters, and one episode uses omake scenes! I was so excited I screamed! I have never seen an anime use omake content before! That stuff is usually considered “for fun” or “non canon”. Watching the ten episodes of Love Stage!! feels like a truly new experience. Even though I was watching a lot of the same stuff, it didn’t feel regurgitated or boring, but like I was seeing a whole new side of the characters I have grown to love. They even take Lala-Ruru, a character from Izumi’s manga, and give her a role in the show—this was an innovation I never could have guessed. They took a gamble, and won. The series is seriously fantastic!
These are the kinds of things I want to see in an anime adaptation. Better character dynamics and depth, and new uses for old characters mean we get more out of the story we so love. I want to experience the series as it was created—which means reading the manga first, if it came before the anime—and not lose anything by doing this. Reading the book and the watching the show shouldn’t mean I end up snoozing through the show. It should provide a whole new take on the material.
Circling back to the title of this article, there are some franchises where it is necessary for me to experience one part before the other. If I watch a TV show or a movie, reading the book after feels totally different and exciting, even if said book is based off of the film version—like reading the Star Wars novelizations as a kid. Manga is a highly visual media and I have an active imagination. It feels like there is nowhere to go when the adaptation is too literal. We’re changing media, change something! It’s practically the job of the new media to make some modifications—no work is perfect as-is. That’s arrogance.
So please, let there be more adaptations like Love Stage!! and less like My Love Story. In the future I will jump ship (like I did with My Love Story), even when the story is an important one that deserves awesome airtime and a large fan base. If shows keep along this route, I will continue to buy less anime. Why buy crappy adaptations, when you can stream them for much cheaper? I want to support the industry all I can, but on a limited budget, I have to decide where to allocate the money. So let’s make things better. Let’s voice out opinions and get the shows we deserve. “Good enough” is not great, and us loyal fans deserve the time and effort it takes for companies to produce great things. We are the backbone of the market, and we really do deserve the best.
What are your thoughts? Should anime be religious in its adherence to the manga? Or should the plot be expanded upon? What adaptations are good, and which did you dislike?