The Art of Adaptations in Anime Pt. 3: The 4 Koma Manga
For my last part on my piece about manga adaptations, I will be discussing one of the most popular kinds of anime in recent years, the 4 koma slice of life about a group of cute girls doing cute things. There are many examples, some of which I really enjoyed, like Lucky Star. There are others that were never really my cup of tea, like Hidamari Sketch. However, the two I picked to compare for this post are K-ON and Azumanga Daioh. The first should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, but the latter may come as a surprise, especially since I’m going to be critical of it. I assure you that my criticisms are not without good reason though.
Azumanga Daioh: Bad Adaptation
Before I incite any hate filled responses, I want it on the record that I really like the Azumanga Daioh franchise. I love all the characters, and the comedic timing is always spot on. I remember buying the manga back in high school and rereading it to the point that I practically had the jokes memorized. When the anime finally got licensed, I bought all the DVDs one by one and still have them to this day. However, Azumanga Daioh is a bad adaptation as it adds very little to the manga. This is a problem because your guaranteed viewers are people like me who are already familiar with the manga. This can be a problem for fans, as they will see the jokes coming and get bored. It didn’t help that the animation wasn’t very dynamic, with many scenes taken frame for frame from the manga. JC Staff has not managed to shake off this problem to this day as evidenced by shows like Bakuman. So while I liked the Azumanga Daioh anime, it didn’t add very much to the experience I had gotten from the manga.
K-ON!: Great Adaptation
Part of the reason I was a huge fan of the first season of K-ON! was that it is probably the best adaptation of a 4-koma manga I have seen. Unlike most 4-koma adaptations, it does not just simply string together gags and call it a day, but includes some characterization and development. The best example is in the episode where they are recruiting new members, which has a parallel story about Azusa having a difficult time overcoming her shyness until she decides to join the club. In the manga, she was simply so inspired by their live concert that she decided to join without any previous introduction. It’s these additional scenes that makes the characters more empathetic. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the characters were multifaceted or complex, but there was just that fraction of a degree of depth to them that made them stand out. Additionally, every episode in the first season tied back to music in the end in some way or another. Whether it was something simple like Azusa teaching Yui the opening riff for “Fude Pen Ball Pen” or referencing the Budokan goal in their live concert, the theme of finding your voice through music really stands out throughout the entire series. One of my problems with the second season was that this theme wasn’t revisited. On the other hand, it was wrapped up so well in the first season that any attempt to reopen it would probably backfire. In short, it’s the details that made K-ON! so good. It’s that little bit of effort that pushed people from liking K-ON to loving it.
So there are some of the examples of what I look for in an adaptation. Compared to a manga adaptation, I feel that a light novel adaptation is much easier, as there is more creative freedom from a visual point of view, since scenes aren’t quite as well defined in the readers’ minds. But on the other hand there is always the problem of expository dialogue, as in To Aru Majutsu no Index, which I consider to be one of the worst forms of storytelling. Visual novels are a much more difficult task, as it usually ends up being a balancing act between the different protagonists, and appeasing all the fan bases. Certain stories such as Clannad make it very clear who the main character it, and rub it in that if you preferred any other route, you are doing it wrong in the form of After Story. Probably the best solution I have seen is the summer’s Amagami SS, where the stories are handled individually as in completely different universes. So there’s my take on manga adaptations. They’re not easy to do well, but if done right, can make the studio an obscene amount of money.