There’s a precedent as old as time that the original work is the better one. I remember being in school and there was this playground assumption that if you hadn’t read the Harry Potter books, but had watched the movies, that you were apparently dumber or weren’t experiencing the story the correct way.
Part of this is the whole fallacy that books are a higher narrative artform than film, but also that the image on the screen doesn’t fit the image readers have in their mind. Because instead of our own imagination being projected into a new medium, it’s the directors, writers, producers and the rest of the staff whose imagination we’re experiencing.
Taking that away from Harry Potter and back to good old anime, adaptations are even more common. With shows being funded by the publishers of the original source material, popular manga and light novels are being turned into anime every year. But now, in the case of manga, it’s not our imagination that’s being interpreted, it’s the images that we can see on the page. It’s Hiromu Arakawa’s imagination or Yasuhiro Nightow’s imagination. But readers of the original source can get incredibly defensive of these products.
I spend far too much time on anime forums and one of the things I’m constantly seeing is a certain vocabulary when it comes to adaptation and a general praise of what is regarded to be “honest” or “faithful” adaptations. A better term for this is a “literal” adaptation, where viewers expect everything that’s in the book to be on the screen. Some users may even use the term “Bad adaptation” in regards to something that isn’t a literal adaptation, leading to very odd “What is a Good Anime that is a Bad Adaptation” threads and that vocabulary is creatively damning.
When a brand new creative team takes on a project, it becomes their work. This isn’t Yasuhiro Nightow’s Kekkai Sensen, this is Rie Matsumoto’s Kekkai Sensen and once they’ve given over their manga to an anime staff, to force them into adapting accurately isn’t the job of the fans, it’s the job of producers who need it sell volumes.
Most anime are Reconstructions, but some vary more towards a Reimagination, involving anime original episodes, OVAs or original characters. Reconstruction regards the attempt to translate the original material in the most literal way possible, whilst changing things within the narrative or structure to fit the medium, with Reimagination being the process of changing of narrative whilst keeping the core elements alive and well.
You can kind of put them on a spectrum. Harry Potter would be closer to a Reconstruction, but with some things changed or removed to fit the medium, whilst Marvel films would nearer to a Reimagination. For example, Peter Quill’s mum wasn’t killed by aliens in the Guardians of the Galaxy film, but much of the themes and core elements involved in these retellings remain the same.
However, most anime are rarely allowed to get close to Reimagination and whilst many attempts to stylistically change products, such as Monogatari and Ouran High School Host Club are often appreciated, there are all too many cases where fans of the source material will complain that the adaptation either changes the pacing or the emotional tone of the narrative. Complaints are obviously fine, but we need to recognize and respect that a new show is in new hands.
There’s still controversy today over which is better, Fullmetal Alchemist or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and whilst Brotherhood is more of a Reconstruction with changes only being stylistic and structural and much of the 2003 rendition being a Reimagination, both are highly regarded for their own separate reasons and I’ll leave the arguments of which is better to MyAnimeList users.
Adaptation is something to really be appreciated, because it’s not nearly as simple as we like to think and although some shows like Shokugeki no Soma can be effective without much in the way of creative directing at all, other shows like last season’s Ace Attorney can be so creatively bland and overly literal that it’s just disappointing to see. Even the anime character designs are counter-intuitive, restricting animation, even when good animators approach the project.
Of course, as we saw with Kuma Miko, the original author should never be kept out of the process and it’s the anime staff’s responsibility to consult with them regarding the script. They’re the ones that understand the core narrative and characters the most and whilst an overprotective author can be an issue, so can an absent one. The most ideal cases are ones like Chunibyo, where the author appreciated the addition of the anime original characters that they even added one of them to the light novel.
Manga panels aren’t storyboards and if we’re going to be anime fans, we’ve got to respect anime staff and hold back our anger whenever they take advantage of the right to make the product their own. There’s far more examples of authors appreciating the work staff do to expand their narratives than those that damn them for daring to veer from their perfect story and often, it ends in a far more confident product with its own unique spirit. If there’s one thing we can do at home, across various seas, it’s to change our vocabulary and regard anime as a separate product.
As One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 mangaka One states:
“I’d rather an adaptation have some character to it than be a slave to the source.”