The Art of Adaptations in Anime Pt. 2: Story Changes
For the second part on manga adaptations, I will be comparing how changes in the story can sometimes help or hurt an adaptation. When adapting something to an anime, the ending is almost always changed, usually due to the source material not being done yet. This is inevitable, and not worth talking about. What I wish to discuss is when the writer makes major changes to the story. On one hand, if done correctly, could make the viewing experience feel fresh again to those who have read the source material. On the other hand, if there are too many changes, they risk alienating this core fanbase. So here are an example of a well done, and poorly done adaptation from earlier this year.
Dance in the Vampire Bund: Bad Adaptation
Vampire Bund is an example of a show that tried to deviate from its source material and made the story worse. I was very excited when I saw the first episode as it presented the setting in a unique manner, by parodying Japanese television. I was not expecting this, and I feel it did a better job of introducing the main characters than the manga did. The problem with the rest of the show is that the deviations from the manga were minor and contrived. Was there any reason for Akira to have amnesia? Was there any reason to replace a character from the manga with a new character, when they just ended up killing her off in the end? Was there any point to the Mina clones flashback besided a hook for a second season? Part of the problem is that the story of Vampire Bund needed more time to develop so they could show more of vampire society and deepen the relationship between Akira and Mina. While it had all the visual zazz that SHAFT is famous for, the weak story made this show quickly fade from attention.
To Aru Kagaku no Railgun: Good Adaptation
While the plot was not significantly changed from the manga for the first half of Railgun, it was the extra stories that improved the series as a whole. This was done by doing a better job of characterizing the friendship between the 4 leads. In the manga version, I always felt like there was a split between the pair of Misaka and Kuroko, and Saten and Uiharu. Each pair had good synergy, but I never felt a group dynamic. All that was needed to improve this some simple, silly episodes in the beginning. In doing so, the writer made Railgun into a slice of life comedy about 4 cute girls doing cute things, one of the most common and profitable genres in anime in the past decade. However, thanks to the series’ unique setting none of this felt forced or mundane. When Saten went into a coma due to Level Upper, in the manga this felt like just Uiharu’s problem. However, by putting a strong emphasis on the group’s friendship, and upgrading Saten to main character status, this felt like a bigger problem, making this scene was more poignant in the anime. The solid Level Upper plot was made even stronger by having small hints of it, even in earlier episodes such as the invisible girl who drew eyebrows on people. Even though I knew what was going to happen in the end, I was still interested in how they were going to present the puzzle. It’s a shame that the original story written for the second half of the series was not very good, but the fluid animation during the action scenes, and the multiple nods to the rest of the Raildex universe made this show a pleasure to watch.
From these two examples, we can see that the original story structure has a lot to do with the quality of the adaptation, especially when changes are involved. On one hand, Dance in the Vampire Bund has a complex world with many crucial characters, so it was difficult to bring this world to life in 13 episodes. On the other hand, the character in To Aru Kagaku no Railgun are much simpler, and the anime had the added benefit of Index to help introduce the world to viewers. The writer at SHAFT took a big gamble with the major changes he made in Vampire Bund, and it didn’t pay off in the end. For Railgun though, the changes were small, but powerful and profitable, showing that sometimes it’s not a good idea to change too much as the manga was probably popular for a reason. That’s it for part 2. Let me know what you think, and look forward to the third and final part tomorrow.