Understanding the Medium: Anime vs its Source Material

You know what makes me sad?  Well a lot of things, so let’s just limit it to anime related stuff.  I hate seeing good action scenes wasted, like seeing what should be an epic dragon on dragon fight end up mediocre due a drastic downgrade in visual quality with regards to both dragons’ designs and having the dragons fight like humans instead of dragons.  I hate seeing potential newcomers to the community get turned off by some overly crude fanservice that mistakes sexiness with cup size.  And most of all I hate seeing people treat the anime version of any story like it can’t live up to its original source material, be it VN, Light Novel or Manga.  Because frankly that’s bullshit.  Granted there are some famously terrible examples of anime shows that tried to stray too far from their source material flopping, hello Fate Stay Night, but that doesn’t mean that the anime version is always going to be inferior and god is it frustrating to have to deal with people who can’t seem to accept that.  There will be scattered spoilers from here on out, you have been warned.

Before I really start digging myself into this let’s lay out a few of my golden rules out on the table.  Rule 1: The anime must be able to stand on its own, it should not only survive by the goodwill earned by its source material.  For example I think the Blazblue games are really fun, but the Blazblue anime was painfully mediocre and I would never defend it just because I like the games.  But you see people do this sort of thing all the time.  You can criticize almost anything and someone, somewhere will correct you by arguing that the manga/light novel/game did it differently or was better as though this makes the anime, which is its own separate thing, more acceptable somehow.  And it’s bullshit.  Rule 2:  The source material is just as fallible as the anime.  I admit I don’t see this brought up often but it really pisses me off when I do see it.  There are some people who seem to believe that the source material is sacrosanct and that any criticisms of the anime do not affect the source material.  And sure that’s true when the anime and the source material diverge but when the source material becomes a mess in arc 3 and the anime becomes a mess by adapting arc 3 faithfully, I hate to say it but the source material is just as flawed as its anime adaptation in this regard.  Rule 3: Just because something in the anime followed the source material faithfully does not make it automatically good.  Take for example Gray vs Rufus from Fairy Tail 2014.  It was one of the worst fights in the entire series, but when I and others criticized it, some people lept to it’s defense and said “well the fight happened that way in the manga so it’s ok”, even though the fight lacks good pacing, dialogue, dramatic timing or even a proper build up to a climax.  Sorry chumps shit is shit no matter how you spin it, who the fuck cares how it happened in the manga.  Rule 4:  Anime-only material in a non-original anime is not terrible by default.  A lot of people treat anime only stuff as bad or at least worse than the source material’s stuff regardless of the actual quality of either stuff.  Granted there have been a lot of shitty filler in many of the biggest and most popular anime shows so anime-only arcs have garnered a very negative reputation.  But that doesn’t mean that they are inherently of inferior quality.  Of the rules I mentioned this one is the one I’m going to spend most of my time on in this post because the others are either self-explanatory or I have touched on them before in various other posts.

There’s a guy on Youtube called Arkada and as far anime Youtubers go he’s a pretty well known one, must be the Canadian uniform jacket.  Anyway he recently did a video where he explored what he called “The Brotherhood Problem”, wherein the original Fullmetal Alchemist gets overlooked or scorned by fans of the manga who then go onto recommend FMAB to everyone and skip the original.  Now I have watched both and I do agree with the community in that FMAB is objectively better and I enjoyed it more.  However I also agree with Arkada in that some of the ideas the original series brought to the table in order to make their own story are both cool and have serious merit.  For those who don’t know, the original Fullmetal Alchemist aired before the manga was finished so it had to basically make up its own story part way through the show, FMAB meanwhile was made after the manga was done and it adapted the manga very faithfully save for a few chapters that had been adapted in original like Yoki’s introductory episode.  And given what FMA had to work with, I thought their original take on the story with the Homunculi actually being born during human transmutation, was both more interesting and more ambitious than the way the Homunculi where handled in FMAB.  It’s only during the final few episodes that I thought the original FMA just fell apart, aside from that it had an engaging story in an internally consistent (to the best of my memory) world.  Unfortunately FMA vs FMAB makes for a mixed example because in this case FMAB, which is closer to the source material is definitely the better of the two, however FMA also showcases that anime-only work can be quiet good, it’s not just limited to the boring filler and trainwrecks like Fate Stay Night that so many people seem to equate it with.  Next up, examples that I think are even better.

It’s hard to say which of these two examples is more controversial so let’s just take this alphabetically.  Example 1: Akame ga Kill.  I’ve already reviewed Akame ga Kill, the post is here for those who want to read it, and during that review I said was mostly happy with anime-only part because it meant the anime fans could have a real ending to the story instead of a “read the manga” ending where the show just stops because the manga isn’t done.  But in retrospect it’s more than just that.  Now to be fair I have not actually read the Akame ga Kill manga so I may not be entirely accurate in saying this but, based on what I’ve heard I’m glad the anime ended the way it did.  Back when the anime first split from the manga, episode 19 or so, a couple people I knew were all riled up that they didn’t adapt the next arc where Night Raid fought a group called the Wild Hunt.  They also told me that Lubbock was supposed to die in that arc in some very brutal torture scene.  At the time I didn’t really care one way or the other but now my thoughts have changed.  Based on what I was told the Wild Hunt arc just sounded like more of the same edgy bullshit that turned off a large section of the anime community to Akame ga Kill in the first place.  Also I just want to say that I really liked the way Lubbock goes out in the anime, it feels much more fitting and, god this will make me sound so nerdy, more respectful to the character himself.  It was better to see him go toe to toe with a crazy bad guy and take the bastard with him than it would have been to see him get tortured to death.  Likewise I thought how they handled almost everyone’s deaths in the anime-only conclusion to Akame ga Kill was good and fitting.  Kurome vs Akame, well done.  Mine using the stupid loves triumphs cliché to beat Budo and actually making it work without seeming corny, well done.  Akame vs Esdeath, very well done.  Even Tatsumi’s death before the final episode which a bunch of fans complained about was well done because the final episode was just sort of an epilogue, Tatsumi had already achieved his goal of bringing down the corrupt empire when he broke the huge mecha, his part in the story was done and for him to go out saving civilians like he did was just so in character for him that I was pretty impressed by how it all came together.  For the record I do not have all the information and I might be wrong, but I think based in what I’ve heard, the anime’s story towards the end is better than the Akame ga Kill manga and I will stand by that, because the end of Akame ga Kill is what really made me rate the show as highly as I do.  Anyway onto example 2.

Example 2: Naruto.  First a bit of context.  I actually like Naruto, or at least I liked it before we got to the 4th Ninja War.  The Akatsuki and Five Kage Summit arcs were both quite enjoyable.  But as the 4th Ninja War has dragged on and on with the broken mess that is Madara just flaunting all the serious flaws of the show in my face, I’ve come to hate where the show is at now, mind you that was before we started the fucking Infinite Tsukiyomi dream filler bullshit.  So prior to the Infinite Tsukiyomi filler the show took a break from the main story to pursue another filler arc.  The groans of “not more fillers” were many, but then something strange happened.  I watched the filler arc and found myself enjoying it way more than the main storyline.  That was because this particular filler arc was the Second Chunin Exam, and it reminded me of what really drew me into Naruto in the first place.  Now I know what some of you must be thinking, “good Naruto filler, what’s that?”  Or maybe it’s, “filler that’s better than the main story, yeah right.”  But bear with me here.  The Second Chunin Exam had everything I wanted from Naruto, the Akatsuki and Kages made cameos, Rock Lee had a good Taijutsu battle and people other than Naruto and Sasuke got the fucking limelight for the first time in forever.  I mean freaking Tenten got development, I don’t even like Tenten but goddamn was it nice to see her character and jutsu actually being given attention and exposition.  We also got to see Ino learn the mental communication jutsu, saw a visualization of how Sakura learned Tsunade’s chakra storage.  And best of all we saw other jutsu’s from other villages that were just as good as anything Konoha had.  One of the things that bothered me more and more as the Naruto story went on was how virtually every important jutsu or bloodline limit came from Konoha, it made the rest of world much more bland by comparison.  But in the Second Chunin Exam everyone’s on more equal footing, plus it was just nice to see some new kinds of jutsu’s or how other villages used justus we had seen before, like how one chick used Water style to heal.  Now to be clear this filler arc was not perfect, it had its low spots too, but by and large it was just so refreshing to see the return of things like battles decided by tactics instead of meteors, to see battles between a bunch of people all at roughly the same level instead of a few who were all stupidly overpowered compared to everyone else.  It was better than the part of anime that was following the manga because that part was trapped in the utterly ridiculous and unwieldy story that the Naruto manga had become by that point.  It was something that proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that people with good ideas could make the anime better than the anime could be by just following the source material.  It’s something that I wish more people would recognize and that I would love to encourage more anime directors to do, to not be afraid to use their artistic license and talent to make their anime come to life the way they want to instead of how someone else would have done it.  Anyway, this is a long enough post already and I don’t wish to belabor the point any further.  Hopefully you all enjoyed this post and I’ll see you in the next one.


One thought on “Understanding the Medium: Anime vs its Source Material

  1. Very insightful post. I agree! You’re right. As for the first FMA anime, the manga artist actually requested for the first anime to veeraway from her story. I think that fans should know this beforehand before criticizing the first anime. Why should they complain and criticize the anime for not following the manga plot when the manga author herself authorized and even requested the change, right? I think that fans should just enjoy the anime as is and not constantly complain it for not loyally following the exact scenes from the manga.


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