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The difference between original anime and manga adaptations: soul

FLCL and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both are produced at everyone’s favorite GAINAX, but more importantly, they are original stories (i.e. not based on manga); conceived and animated by the same creative people. Cowboy Bebop‘s the same, Eureka Seven and even Last Exile too. Casting a net over this spring season’s offerings, we turn up arguably the three best shows airing right now – Darker than BLACK, Dennou Coil and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. All three are original creations. If you can’t agree that these are the best, you can’t deny that they are at least the freshest; watching them is an experience, there is a striking color and soul to the work that’s often lacking in the typical franchise cash-in.

I suppose you can’t blame the anime industry, the popular manga adaptation is a surer bet. Why waste money on an unknown quantity when you can just pump more sales into an already famous franchise. Ultimately, there is no risk, because, if nothing else, the fans will lap it up. The issue I’m concerned with is quality; all the original anime I’ve mentioned above is good enough to transcend the immediate community and find an audience beyond the typical Haruhi bed-spread otaku, but the majority of manga adaptations are simply mediocre.

I’m watching and enjoying both “Bokurano” and “Claymore“, and yet beneath their undeniably cool concepts, they feel stifled and artificial. The same can be said of Studio Pierrot‘s Shonen Jump adaptations like Bleach and Naruto Shippuuden; they are “animated” to make money, and so, to milk the cash cow as much as possible, the pace of narrative has slowed down to that of a snail. I used to love Naruto and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into Shippuuden, but the sad truth is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch an episode of it for over a month now. I find it an unbearable waste of time.

You know it’s bad when the director of the Bokurano anime declares his distaste for the original manga. Rather than find someone willing to pour their heart and soul into this adaptation, Gonzo hand it to some mercenary looking for his next pay-check. What a waste. Manga adaptations can work, just look at Black Lagoon, Fullmetal Alchemist and Mushishi, but the key appears to be a passionate staff willing to drive the material onwards and upwards. It’s no surprise then that an original production like Denno Coil feels so unique, given that it’s the beloved child of an animator who has been formulating the story in his mind for nigh on 10 years.

Original anime have a certain style; they feel suited to animation, they emphasize movement, color and adventure; they flow naturally and with purpose. By and large, a manga adaptation is the opposite; dense with plot but let down by an inconsistent pace of story telling. There are bad cases on either side, but with the more anime I watch, the more I’m attracted to imagination, color and above all else, soul.

Comments

psgels says:

It’s indeed true that the overall quality of original series is much better than manga-adaptations, and significantly better than dating-sim games, but I do agree with the other commenter that novel-adaptations stand above the original series, just because of the even greater amount of detail that has been poured in their storylines. Sure, there may be bad examples to both sides (I didn’t really like Haruhi nor Gurren Lagann), but take a look at the novel-adaptations that are currently airing: Seirei no Moribito, Kaze no Shoujo Emily and Les Miserables and Saiunkoku Monogatari. These four turned out really good, in my opinion.

Vallen Chaos Valiant says:

How about NOVEL adaptations?

12 Kingdoms, FMP, Haruhi, Kino’s Travels, Slayers, Scrapped Princess, Legend of Galactic Heroes…

Stories that have great plot and writing because nothing else shows through in text, but give infinite possibilities for the animator to bring to life?

Sure, there are bad novel adaptations, but they are either from bland novels or the animation didn’t bother to stick to the script. (Zero no Tsukaima was especially butchered; the original story was far less about fanservice than about the war.)

Heart says:

I totally agree. *sigh* It’s sad really, and that people just don’t come to terms with it or realize it. Even if they do, it can’t be helped I suppose.

shirokiryuu says:

I agree with you on most points. Original anime have the flexibility of story and can take advantage of the animation medium in general.

While manga to anime adaptation can be great because of the source material, often they are stuck in between sticking close to the source material to please the fans or taking liberties to make it smoother on the screen.

however it will displease one side of the fans.

I often have a problem when watching new animes, whether to read the manga first. but often I find myself comparing myself to the manga, and I feel dissapointed most of the time.

kuromitsu says:

I dunno, really. I guess you’re right that there are good and bad apples on either side, which is why I wouldn’t really declare that manga adaptations are, in general, soulless and inferior. It depends on so many things – enthusiasm and passion are not enough, and as many examples show, they can’t save an original anime series from being mediocre or even downright bad (Innocent Venus, Sisters of Wellber, etc. come to mind). On the other hand, some of the most fresh, most vibrant, most "alive" anime I’ve seen lately were adaptations (Mushishi, Ouran Host Club, etc) – and most of them were, IMO, much better than their originals. Not to mention that there are many manga series that feel like the creators just draw them because they’ve no other source of revenue, so they continue to work on them even though they don’t really have any ideas what to do with them anymore.

By the way, about Bokurano – reading the blog it seems to me that there has been some miscommunication. Even the director admits that he didn’t express himself well, and he doesn’t hate the manga, he hates the fact that he can’t work with it the way he’s expected to. Reading the original entry, it seems to me that he’s simply got fed up with being pressured by fans (and staff) not to go his own way with the adaptation but stick to the original, even though he feels he can’t do that, the manga being the way it is at the moment. (I assume the mangaka has no idea yet as to how to end it.) It wasn’t wise for him to blow up like that in the blog, but at least it resulted in a very interesting entry.

Gabest says:

Well… darker than black and gurren-lagann are the two I’m falling behind by a couple of episodes now, and while I’m up-to-date with dennou coil I don’t really feel it anything special may even be a little childish for me. On the other hand, I watch bokurano and claymore as soon as they get subbed.

Martin says:

I think it’s a case of following the easy route with adaptations – the story’s all there ready-made, which makes it easier to plan the story. Of course, working off incomplete manga series complicates things a bit – that’s a whole different kettle of fish (or can of worms) when you think how many anime series and movies have stumbled or failed because their source material’s ending wasn’t published at the time of production.

I don’t think it’s a problem restricted to the manga->anime transition, either. The problem could be that when a story moves to a different format, whatever it is, a special ‘something’ is lost. The Evangelion manga hasn’t grabbed me as much as the anime did for instance, and the manga series for RahXephon and Escaflowne seem to get more lukewarm reactions compared with the animated versions. A personal disappointment for me was that the FLCL manga bravely tried but ultimately failed to capture the boundless energy of the anime: the art style was interesting but I’d choose the OAV over the manga every time. Some stories simply work better in one format than the other. Lament of the Lamb is a case in point: a gripping manga with a lacklustre animated OAV retelling that was saved from mediocrity by the seiyuu performances.

Aaron says:

I love all the series you’ve mentioned except for Evangelion. OK, kill me. I don’t care. Sorry to say, but I don’t like that series. Also, Gainax is awesome, but I hate them for not finishing Kare Kano.

Putting that aside, I can totally agree that original series are awesome. I can also agree to what everyone else said.

Original series just have the creative freedom to do as they please and they don’t have to worry about keeping consistent with the manga. Also, I believe that whatever the series may be, its best will be from it’s original format. If it was a manga first, the anime won’t be up to par; and vice versa.

tj han says:

Well, the best ongoing anime in terms of quality and creativity and excluding budget.. would be Gintama. Seriously. The writing is so bloody good after episode 20++. And it’s based on a manga yet has lots of anime original parts.

And yes the three you mentioned are great too. Dennou Coil is probably 2nd best.

Owen S says:

>>I’m watching and enjoying both "Bokurano" and "Claymore", and yet beneath their undeniably cool concepts, they feel stifled and artificial.

This is too fluffy a statement for my liking. Could this be a placebo effect, by any chance? An anime adaptation will always build on its manga source in the sense that the voice acting lends an extra dimension to it, animation notwithstanding.

As an example, the kiss that Clare shares wit Raki in Claymore 12 has been noted by fans in comments I read on some blog, to have a lover-like slant to it, as opposed to the manga, where it’s been purported to have been a kiss to make Raki shut up.

Now there’s the possibility that the anime producers might have wanted to take liberties with this and develop the hinted-at Clare x Raki romance further, but what if it just brought out a dimension to their relationship that wasn’t there in the manga? I don’t buy that an adaptation, by virtue of what it is, is lesser than an original work by default — intent (money-making aspirations) is not the same as implementation. Maybe you could compare and contrast in detail an anime adapted from a manga, and the manga itself to do that statement more justice.

bateszi says:

@Vallen Chaos Valiant: I was thinking about novel adaptations and generally, I think they tend to work more often than not because the animators are able to come up with their own "visual language" (i.e. Gankutsuou). Manga adaptations are much less creative in that sense.

@shirokiryuu: I guess it depends on who animates the manga in the end. A fan of the work is always going to try harder than some random guy.

@psgels: While I agree that novel adaptations offer more in terms of story, often I find they don’t capture that spirit of animation. The original anime are often animated with a higher budget, brimming with colour and imagination. That’s what I’m looking for really, not some period drama or soap opera – something that looks and feels exciting and vibrant. Honey & Clover is a rare example of a slice of life anime that wasn’t damn boring, mainly because the animation and soundtrack is whimsical and fluid.

@kuromitsu: No doubt, there are examples on both sides to be held up. I just think that something designed first and foremost for animation feels so much exciting than a typical manga adaptation. Ultimately though, it depends on the staff involved and the intentions behind the project. Something like Mushishi has clearly been produced with care and passion, especially so compared with the typical "quick buck" approach.

@Gabest: I’d be interested to know how long you’ve been regularly watching anime for because after a few years I’m getting sick of sub-par action stills and choppy movement. Maybe it’s just me. Incidentally, I’m also enjoying Bokurano and Claymore, but something about them strikes me as cold and manipulated compared with say, Dennou Coil, which has a beautiful narrative flow.

@Martin: Very true, I can’t even bring myself to face the anime to manga conversions. They are one step above TokyoPop’s abhorrent "cine-manga".

@Aaron: It’s okay, I don’t think you’re the only one to dislike Evangelion. Let me guess, your distate has something to do with a certain Shinji Ikari, am I right?

@tj han: I’ve hardly ever heard of Gintama, for some reason it’s just been completely off my radar, but your hard pimping of it over this weekend (I read your review) has me wondering whether or not I’m missing out on something good. I may well download a few episodes, I’m looking for a new big series to start up after Eureka Seven anyway!

@Owen S: I think that comment comes from what I find is a pacing issue with manga adaptations. So let’s consider Bokurano and Claymore – the staff have all this material to work through in an alloted amount of TV episodes, and as a result, they must either slow down or accelerate the story to meet those requirements. Hit point A, then point B and then point C, finally, end. Seems a bit contrived to me.

Compare this with the original anime, where the story is conceived for TV, for an amount of episodes, and is developed from the ground up with those foundations. The end result is a natural flow, rather than just a map of plot progression.

Also, I’m good friends with a yuri fanatic and she assures me that Claymore is supposed to be rife with shojo-ai. I suppose a lot of the manga fans are baffled by this kiss because their hero Clare ain’t supposed to be interested in men!

*phew! Keep the comments coming*

Ivy says:

I understand what you’re saying, but I think Claymore has been adapted nicely. (Bokurano too but it seems like the shock factor isn’t there as people keep on saying, I think its damn good.) Claymore’s music, animation(if there is any!!), voice acting and art are excellent. Madhouse seems very dedicated in this respect as they usually are. (Dr.Grayman is horrendous) I’ll have to agree Gurren Lagan and Darker than Black are top tier shows. Haven’t watched Denno yet though, I hear a lot of good things so it’ll come around in time hee :P. I’d like to note Sola, great little show. Lovely writing and the art and animation are ok, you should check it out as its a harem disguised in a dark brooding story ala Elfen Lied (just not as bloody and phallic).

kauldron26 says:

i absolutely agree with you. So many if not all of the shows on my top 10 arent based of a manga and are all originally executed except for berserk. Oh and Planet ES and Black Lagoon (the dub sucks, revy sounds like a girl and not a woman). Adaptations can be good but i think the biggest difference is that when it is original, the creators have a much better idea about where they want to go and how they plan on gettting there.

Look at Bebop, Champlooo and Eureka seven. Especially if u look at eureka seven look at how much time was spent developing the characters to the point were we the audience felt we were part of Gekko go. However i cant really knock on adaptations because they give us some pretty phenomenal material like NHK, H&C, and the masterpiece Black Lagoon. But then we have amazing shows like Wolf’s Rain, Paranoia Agent and Rahxephon. All masterpieces.

Glad to see you’ve been watchin Darker than Black which is probably the best thing airing right now, second only to Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is so good that i decided to stop watching and torture myself till its over so i can marathon through it. Some shows are just better watched that way. I remember i marathoned through Gankutsuo and i was blown away. And even Loved it more if thats even possible a second time. I think that people are getting the wrong impression of Darker than Black, the show has used this past 10 episodes to develop characters and give insight on the mysteries, yet people keep bitching because we are not getting answers.

Take the show LOST for example. people (including me) were bitching for answers and even started rebelling and hating the show not knowing that everything was going to blow our minds away this third season. They fucking answered 50% of all the major questions and now everyone is still in awe and we all love the show again.

DTB reminds me of bebop because all these guys are working together not because they want to but because they all have their own personal agenda. I cant wait to see where their journey takes them. My biggest problem with the show is actually the OP. can u imagin if the OP was and instrumental that was as dark and brooding as the atmosphere of the show?? i think what i actually love most about the show is the atmosphere…. u just have this feeling that something is really fucked up in this world that these guys are inhabiting….

As for claymore, the earlier eps put me off because to be honest i was expecting something like berserk, when in all reality that wasnt fair because the berserk anime is a godly (pun intended) masterpiece. However after the flashback arc, i take everything back the show is pretty amazing. tho the last ep i saw was 9 i think.

Im also really loving lovely complex. It is almost as great as Midori no Hibi which is still bar-none the funniest romance anime i have ever seen, shit probably the funniest anime ever. seto no hayane is pretty hilarious too, but the thing is that i dont care about the characters.

ugh… this is random but im reallly just dreading the arrival of sequels that i loathe with a passion: Zero, Shana and Haruhi. Sad thing is, i didnt hate these shows originally but then the fanboys and the anime community overrated the shows so much that i now abhore them. ugh… I still dont understand how people can love characters that are 1 dimensional, and supreme bitches with delusions of grandeur… lol… later man

Veggies says:

Interesting post; at least worth thinking about anyway.

In a way I agree with the Claymore analysis, because I have read the manga up to it’s current point and as a result some of episodes were just tired, because it seems to take longer for things to happen in the anime. This is especially true when you consider how breakneck the pace was for the manga volumes through the first 6 episodes or so.

I think my biggest issue is I like the anime right until they start pulling cut-away shots 5-6 times in the same fight. It’s like, hi, you can actually animate the fights now with fluid motion. It’s not like manga where everything is a still shot and only a rare few manga artists can really give the illusion of flow.

The only thing I dread is if they hit the Winter arc too soon. Knowing that’s where they’ll basically HAVE to end the show at it’s current pace it could be stretched out to a huge extent just to kill time.

"ugh… this is random but im reallly just dreading the arrival of sequels that i loathe with a passion: Zero, Shana and Haruhi. Sad thing is, i didnt hate these shows originally but then the fanboys and the anime community overrated the shows so much that i now abhore them. ugh…"

Hating something because somebody else likes it is kind of… well self-defeating to say the least.

Aaron says:

You might be right about Shinji.

bateszi says:

@Ivy: I do think the Claymore adaptation is fairly decent, albeit fairly slow. My main point is that with shows like Gurren Laggan, Dennou Coil and even Darker Than Black, there is a strong spirit and passion behind the animation. As ever, Madhouse are doing a fine job with Claymore, but it definitely feels like another one out of the factory rather than something that I absolutely need to see. As for your recommendation of sola, well, it’s not usually my kind of thing but I may give it a go based on your words of praise.

@kauldron26: It took me a while to get into Darker Than Black, actually, I’ve only started to enjoy it since episodes 9 and 10 (the mafia arc with the freaky blood guy). Better than all the others, that one arc managed to blend humor, action and dark drama and for once it used some proper Yoko Kanno music! Up until those episodes the soundtrack was a massive disappointment considering Yoko Kanno is basically a god.

Also, on the issue of hype. I haven’t seen any of those series! I tried to watch Haruhi, but the truth is that at that time, there’s no way I could have enjoyed it considering all the bull-shit praise that was surrounding the series. I’m saving it for a time when the fanboys have something else to cry about.

@Veggies: I’m looking forward to seeing where Claymore goes in the future. It has got epic medieval adventure written all over it, I just hope, like you, the animation gets a little better and perhaps the pace of the story is ramped up a notch or two. I absolutely love the look of "The Awakened" and the "Yoma" in general; fearsome monsters, not some cute crap.

jahanna says:

Sure, agree man. I always wondered why i prefer manga to anime, and it always came down to the quality of work.

To be honest, I think some of the worst adaptation came from brilliant manga. That’s coz the producer wants to capture all the grandiose of the manga but couldn’t. Classical examples? Clamp works. The producer seriously messed up.

Owen S says:

Got it. Again, though, have you ever considered how much of that might have been placebo, e.g. a mental issue, for you? I’ve got no issues with the pacing of Claymore or Bokurano as it is, and it seems like your perception of adaptations, even solid ones, are skewed.

bateszi says:

@Owen S: I’d describe both Bokurano and Claymore as mediocre adaptations due to their fairly lackluster animation, unremarkable soundtracks and languid pace. I know this may be sounding harsh since there is nothing outright wrong with either series, but then, there is nothing outright great about them either – which is my main concern, and this is especially the case when you compare them with such an energetic and lively original anime like Dennou Coil.

Despite what I’ve said above, I’m enjoying both of these adaptations, but neither appear to carry that visceral appeal shared by the greatest anime. I guess I’m trying to say there is no spark. Even you describe them as "solid". Same thing happened with BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad; it was fun to watch, but a few years later, it’s forgotten. Not the case with Monster or Planetes, which are both superior adaptations, especially compared with Claymore and Bokurano.

It’s not really a placebo, I’m just separating exciting creativity from what amounts to ‘solid’ entertainment.

Hige says:

Hmm my passion for Bokurano has rapidly waned with recent episodes, but it isn’t specifically because it isn’t a showy (technically speaking) anime. It just lacks the emotional punch that makes the manga so involving. There’s too much whimsy without being genuinely disturbing to offset it. I’ve had maybe two or three moments of going ‘oh god’ while watching — in comparison to the countless while reading the manga.

Still, I get your points. A lot of manga adaptations are as much marketing as they are ‘art’ (case in point: most Jump manga anime), and original anime often has a deeper understanding of the medium. But personally I think it’s ineptitude on the part of the anime production companies when making piss-poor manga adaptations rather than them being inherently inferior.

Often it seems they completely miss the point of what makes the manga so good, and I mean in a fundamental (often purely emotional) sense. Aesthetically I’m completely open to changes the directors want to make for the sake of making a good visual story, assuming they honour/understand the underlying ‘sense’ of the original work. Mushishi and Honey & Clover are good examples of this, I think. The tone of their anime counter-parts is quite different from the manga, but the humanity that makes the originals so compelling is nailed spectacularly.

Which is why I sympathise with the director of Bakurano’s comments. Judging by the general aesthetical tweeness of the finished product he may well have made it horrendous given a completely free-reign, but honouring the differences between anime and manga is where I think you’ll find a successful adaptation.

Xerox says:

When I was reading through the first half of you post, I was think "Hagaren is a total exception." Glad you mentioned it as one of the better adaptations. I’m still all for the manga though.

I’m a bit late to the party, but here’s my two cents: I started watching D.Gray Man recently. When I ran out of episodes, I went to read the manga. Boy, what a difference there. I enjoyed the anime because I thought it was quite original, but it paled in comparison to the manga. Was it really lacking soul? Yeah, I’d have to say so.

Original anime does have it’s perks. Darker Than Black and Gurren Lagann are two of my favorite series right now. What I truly enjoyed about both of these two series is that feeling, that immense feeling you get. Perhaps I’ve lost too many of my marbles, but Gurren Lagann makes me feel like I’m on top of the world. Darker Than Black has almost the same affect, albeit with a darker undertone. They pull my emotions all over the place and it’s just beautiful.

Manga usually has this affect on me too. One of the manga-anime series that disappointed me so much was Fruits Basket. I got in the manga, read everything that came out and then came the anime. God, it was slightly painful to watch.

Dennou Coil I’ve seen a few episodes off. It’s not that I’m not interested, in fact I thought it was pretty impressive. Something’s just rubbing me the wrong way about that series. I’m persistent though, against my own will, I’m going to keep watching it.

I’ve yet to read the Claymore manga because they say the story is identical to the manga. It’s already 73 chapters and I’m far too lazy to read it. The thing about Claymore is, I wasn’t that interested until I saw a screenshot of episode 12 and decided that a kiss was worth my time. And Claymore was pretty good for what it’s worth, more than I expected. Now that you bring to my attention that Clare isn’t supposed to be romantically interested in men, it kinda drove me off ever really reading the manga. I’m all for heterosexual…ness…in things…

So, to stop my late ramblings on the subject, I have to agree, agree, agree, agree. There is something about originality and taking a risk of putting it out there that’s remarkable about anime (and the original mangas) that a lot of the spin offs lack.

[…] favourites in the transition between very different mediums. From the other angle (as covered by bateszi) the anime viewer may wish that more stuff was actually designed for the screen, not transferred […]

Maria says:

With Claymore, yeah it’s a little slow and sometimes very monochrome but when I think of the world of Claymore it seems appropriate what with it’s undertones of ‘grey misery. :p I’ve read most of the manga and still enjoying it, because there’s so much going on, and I just tend to like stories with subplots, provided they’re all linked to the main one. Monster was another slow one many sublplots but with both once the action started it really kicked off; moments of stillness and the sudden rush of blood and violence. LOL at Clare’s interests being elsewhere. Don’t tell the Galatea fanboys, I don’t think they could bear it if her interests were also ‘elsewhere’. XD With the manga the fight scenes were good but the fight between Teresa, Irene, Priscilla, Noel and Sophia I loved. Irene’s fighting style really comes to life on screen. There’s only so much you can do with a pen.

I’m of the opinion that if I love the manga and there’s a anime adaptation out there I’ll give it a go. I know there’ll be sometimes little changes here and there; certain things said by characters omitted – the Claymore ep The Slashers being an example. But on the whole if it’s not turning away TOO much from the manga then I can live with it. If I find that despite my best wishes that the anime has disappointed me then I say oh well, pity, the manga may have inspired a kind of expectation and excitement for the anime that may be crushed I was prepared for that to happen. There’s no ‘perfect’ adaptation of manga to anime.

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