If you watch pretty much anything on a regular basis you have probably seen an adaptation. From The Walking Dead to Harry Potter to One Piece no matter if you watch more stuff on the big screen or binge watching the series on Hulu a lot of TV and movies are adaptations. I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about adaptations after skimming the surface of the topic in Blazekick’s April Podcast (available for our Patrons) and what my full thoughts are. Since I have a lot more experience with anime than western TV shows and movies (especially since I’m going to want to talk about source material) I will be focusing on anime a lot more but what I say should apply even if you love the Marvel movies over One Punch Man.
Why do adaptations happen? Basically, as obvious as it might sound, to make money. The owners of the original IP agree to or seek out someone able to bring their product to more eyes and hopefully get fans who enjoyed the adaptation to check out the source material. This is usually from written format (novel, comic, etc) to visual (a movie or TV series) but can be reversed. The hope is you can’t wait to know what happens next in Game of Thrones so you run out and buy the books. So why do you often see a new visual novel or manga adaptation announcement received with worry? Shouldn’t fans be glad more people will enjoy the same thing as them? For every CLANNAD and Steins;Gate there will be a Grisaia or Air, as in for every amazing adaptation there will be poor adaptations (ignoring the quality or the show itself).
Take the Divergent series for example. My sister, father and I all read the books (my father after seeing the first movie so mission accomplished?) and enjoyed them. While watching the first movie my sister and I ended up having to explain a lot of things to my family because they were explained poorly or not at all in the movie. My sister walked out of the theatre for Insurgent and asked “Did I read the wrong book?” and is waiting to rent the 3rd and 4th (because of course the last book is getting two movies despite not being all that much longer than the other two) and clearly she wasn’t the only one. Technically they did their job of sending more readers towards the books as my dad ended up reading them (my sister’s copies so I guess they didn’t make any extra money) after the movie but was it worth it for the studio? They’re facing finical issues now due to screwing up a popular franchise.
So does that mean adaptations should just copy + paste the script from whatever they adapted from? NO. NO. NO. Some things can get away with this such as Madhouse’s 2011 Hunter x Hunter remake but the root of “adaptation” is “adapt” which oxford describes as
Make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify
you are modifying or changing something. Take a look at the complaints for the currently airing Ace Attorney anime. From what I’ve seen reception is fairly mixed with the main complaint being it sticks too close to the game which works for a visual novel but not an anime. So sticking too close is bad but so is straying too far. You’d think this seems obvious but clearly the fact both my examples are less than a year old (at the time of writing) shows clearly writers don’t think so.
So how do those in charge of adapting make sure they drive sales or the original as well as their adaptation? I decided to look at the manga I’m actively buying which include Akame ga Kill, School-Live!, Your Lie in April, and Haven’t you Heard? I’m Sakamoto. We’ll ignore the last since it’s not relevant to this topic but the former 3 I started buying after watching their anime. What was my purpose? Well all had a different reason. For Akame ga Kill I started buying because I enjoyed the manga and while paying attention to online discussions I noticed suddenly it started skipping the “best parts” and altering events pretty majorly. I also noticed these were the parts I found the least enjoyable. Since I liked the story that was taken from the manga I decided to start buying it so I could continue. School-Live! is a terrible adaptation. It barely follows the manga and constantly changes events around but it is still well written. I loved the anime a lot so I wanted to see how it differentiated itself. Your Lie in April I love the story, the manga’s art and want to support it. Not much more than that honestly.
All 3 are for different reasons but notice how all somewhat broke a rule I listed above? Your Lie in April is really close and School-Live! and Akame ga Kill are quite different so why do these work? Well they work as good anime. My rules don’t work. Why did I list them? The thing is, don’t go in the extreme either way. Make a good product. Even if it doesn’t follow the source if the product ends up being great but clearly missing some features from the original, fans will go seek it out. If the source was top tier and works well as whatever its being adapted to people who fall in love with the story being told can still seek the source.
It’s a tough balance as one one hand you have fans of the source wanting a “perfect adaptation” but on the other you need to cater to people who will experience this property for the first time, making sure they understand what is going on and trying to direct them to the source at the same time. Personally I prefer things like School-Live! where the two products are different yet the same.