Can anime surpass its source material? Part One: manga-based series

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have a habit of unfavourably comparing anime series to the original manga- it’s not something I do to be provocative or controversial, merely a statement of my opinion. As my manga experience has increased, I have continually found that the majority of manga-based anime series simply do not live up to the original, regardless of which version I was exposed to first.

From some viewpoints, this may seem a little strange- surely black and white pictures squeezed onto an A5 page cannot compared to something that has colour, movement and sound? Admittedly, this is often case for action series; trying to follow a battle via static images is often a futile cause, but most other genres seem to lose something in the transition from page to screen. Not only is manga a medium in which the audience can easily set their own pace, but a story designed to fill a certain number of pages may simply not adapt well to being squeezed into a set amount of 25 minute episodes- all too often, the pace of the anime becomes too slow at the start and too rushed towards the end. Whilst this is a general complaint, however, there are many other causes which affect specific series, some of which I will try to cover below.

  • Catching up with the manga. For long running series, this may mean the inclusion of the dreaded filler arc, anime-original material which rarely lives up to the manga and often drags on forever, but which ultimately keeps the franchise warm.
  • Anime original endings. If the manga is still ongoing, or the anime simply doesn’t have enough episodes to cover the whole story, it has no choice but to create its own ending, which all too often is inconclusive and unsatisfying finale that seems destined to make frustrated viewers turn to the manga.
  • Sticking too close to the original. There are a number of series which are very successful examples of remaining faithful to the manga, but it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. For a series like Death Note, familiarity with the story adds a degree of impatience to the viewing experience, since there is always a sense of just wanting to get on with it. Viewers may equally not want to waste time and money on experiencing the same story twice over.
  • Alternatively, diverging too much is not always wise, as Gonzo’s adaptations often seem to demonstrate. Whenever an element is changed, you run the risk of damaging the very qualities that made the series enjoyable in the first place; arguably it is a risk worth taking to see what new qualities can be brought to the franchise, but it is all too often a gamble that does not pay off.

Contradictory as these points are, they are all factors that must be considered when bringing a manga series to life, and all too often they prove to be stumbling blocks that damage the respective anime.

All that being said, I thought it would be interesting to point out the series that have broken the trend and improved on the foundations of their respective franchises.

Angelic Layer
As I pointed out in my recent review, the Angelic Layer manga isn’t bad, but it does suffer from being very fast paced. In contrast, the anime does perhaps drag on a bit, but it has more time to devote to character and story development. Since each version of the story has its own strengths and weaknesses, I find it hard to pick out which one I prefer, but both are good for some low-demand light entertainment.

Aria
As with several of the other titles to come, Aria is not so much a case of improving on the manga as simply maintaining the standard; whether brought to life by an animation studio or Kozue Amano’s beautiful artwork, the sweet and simple tale of the undines of Neo-Venezia is a touching story that will always have a special place in my heart.

Hikaru no Go
The HnG manga was a good story that could only have been improved by not ending so abruptly, and the fact that the anime was so faithful to the manga (bar some of the later material) means both are worthy of note.

Honey and Clover
Since I haven’t read far enough in the manga to compare it to the original, I won’t comment on Honey and Clover II, but both the first season and the corresponding manga chapters weave an absorbing story of a group of people making the transition (or not) from college life to the real world.

Hunter X Hunter
Whilst HxH is a worthy concept in any form, the manga suffered from rough artwork and an overly fast pace in certain arcs. The anime cleaned things up, added some filler material that was actually good, and generally created a superior product overall.

Kokoro Library
The Kokoro Library manga suffered from its very short chapters; each instalment was more like a brief snapshot of life at the library than something that told any kind of story. In animated form, we were finally able to get to know the characters and setting a lot better, and thus properly enjoy this appealing story.

La Corda d’Oro
It’s still early days for the English manga release, but so far the story hasn’t quite lived up to the animated version- with its sparse page content and less aesthetically pleasing character designs, the manga does not exert the same draw as the anime. There is still plenty of time for it to improve, however, and hopefully it will find its feet soon.

Le Chevalier d’Eon
The first chapter of the Chevalier manga was not at all what I was expecting; where the anime is a historical fantasy that manages to excel despite stepping close to the realms of cheese, the manga seems to be more of a straightforward action series featuring a magical transvestite who switches between laid back bishounen and evil-fighting Otome wannabe.

Mushishi
Be it anime or manga, Mushishi is excellent whatever form it comes in. The anime adds colour and music to the manga stories, but whilst it has superior presentation, the manga has more chapters and thus a wider selection of stories to choose from.

Ouran High School Host Club
Like many comedy series, Ouran is simply that much better in animated form- what can be static and confusing on the page becomes vibrant and enjoyable onscreen. In particular, the manga version suffered from the fact that it was not always possible to tell certain characters apart- a factor which was never a problem in the anime- whilst their respective VAs really brought some additional vitality to the lively characters of the Ouran Host Club.

Pretear
I would hardly call Pretear an especially good story under any circumstances, but the anime and manga complemented each other nicely by offering a slightly different perspective on the same events. Together, they make a mediocre story rather than two poor stories.

Read or Die
Flame me if you like, but I read the first volume of the ROD manga (Die, not Dream), and I didn’t really like it. Much as I liked the idea of seeing Nenene and Yomiko’s past, I couldn’t follow the action, and the dialogue was so heavy that it gave me a headache. I really enjoyed the OVA, but this manga did little for me.

Rozen Maiden
Despite the lack of those little inconsistencies that plagued the anime, the Rozen Maiden manga simply lacks the impact of the animated version. Where the manga has somewhat scrappy and simplistic artwork (and reputedly increased harem leanings as the series progresses), the anime has high quality visuals and music- perfect for establishing the goth-loli atmosphere. Nonetheless, I must read the later volumes to see what the story was meant to be, as opposed to what it was in Traumend.

Tactics
Most Tactics fans prefer the manga and slate the anime, but even if I stand virtually alone in this, I really enjoyed the Tactics anime- despite Kantarou’s hideous personality, it was a worthy fantasy series that filled my need for such an anime. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough- I could do with a second season.

Tokyo Mew Mew
It can’t be denied that the TMM anime is mostly filler, and while that in itself is somewhat tedious, it did give the supporting characters a chance to do something. The manga was so highly focused on Ichigo and her boyfriend that hardly anyone else got a look in, but the anime finally brought the more interesting characters to the fore, even if it was via a monster of the week format.

Final Thoughts
Adapting a story that was conceived with one medium in mind is never an easy task, and whilst most studios are up to producing an anime that is at least reasonably entertaining, more often than not, they simply cannot live up to the original. With that in mind, it isn’t likely that I’ll stop saying ‘the manga is better’ any time soon.

Coming soon: Part Two- anime based on games.


EXTRA ADDITIONS

Koi Kaze
As already mentioned in comments, the Koi Kaze does indeed improve on the manga, taking a story which is solid and turning into something where the viewer becomes completely absorbed by the characters and their situation. A quietly powerful series, Koi Kaze demonstrates just how much colour and sound can enhance a story as opposed to detracting from it.

Pani Poni Dash!
PPD and its original manga share the common trait of being completely and utterly random, but what works onscreen is not always as successful on the page. Watching a colourful and crazy anime can be entertaining, but trying to follow similar events on the page just leads to confusion and an inability to get into the series at all. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with Pani Poni, which carries the viewer along in anime form, but leaves the reader cold as a manga.

REC
The REC anime may have been a little too short, but at least it was also a reasonably enjoyable mix of drama and romance. In principle, the manga should be better since it takes the story further, but unfortunately, it is not as desirable as it would first seem. Not only do the characters continually get stuck in endless ruts of angst, but the content verges on the uncomfortably adult at times, with everything from an attempted rape to one of the female characters spilling her drink all over her exposed crotch.

12 thoughts on “Can anime surpass its source material? Part One: manga-based series

  1. Indeed i can see your point on this subject, even now, the d gray man anime does not seem to live up to its manga material at all, and it has nothing to do with them changing things either though, as it is almost the same right down to the letter except a few edits in some places. But even so, i still belive the manga is better and many others agree with me, why? Presentation? Who knows really, just that flair. The same goes with Chrono crusade as well now that i think about it..t

  2. -here have not been any cases where i’ve liked an anime version of a manga series better then the manga version other then the SCRYED series, and even then, the anime was nothing special at all..this is a very intresting subject indeed.

  3. Initial D is an easy choice for me. The manga was decent enough, but the anime really captivated me. Must be the night settings, the Eurobeat music, and the crazy race animation.

  4. If you want the greatest improvement of Anime series over original Manga material, I say Koi Kaze is the best example. The original manga was C class stuff, with the story plot not being cohere at the beginning and we do not get much depth of passion and despair that is inside Koshiro and later, within Nanoka. With slight change of pacing and good voice acting, the anime series changed the whole thing into calm at surface yet torrent within type drama. This happens immediately at the episode 1 which is the manga’s 1st chapter as well. In end, when Nanoka says ‘Onichan’, in manga, her expression, mood, and following events made it ‘sound’ as if she was excited and fascinated. In the Anime, it was much more bewilderment with a hint of disappointment. This little change in ‘tone’, followed by introducing Koshiro’s anguish in dark manner accentuated the dillema in anime, while the manga made the whole thing like a brother being caught doing something embarassing. While manga puts much humor into the situation, the humor is kept minimal at 2nd episode, thus establishing the air of disappointment, dread, and frustrations. I may be overexaggerating about the anime series while looking down on the manga for this series, but this is a series definitely worth studying for many reasons.

  5. When I read manga more than often I have already seen the anime version, that way I can experience same story again with little different medium. There is mainly two reasons for this, I know it’s good and I also notice smaller details within characters. Though it doesn’t work other way around, from manga to anime manga always feels better.

  6. wontaek, I’ve read about nine chapters of Koi Kaze and I can see your point- I feel like I’m still waiting for the story to properly get started. I should be getting the anime boxset for Christmas, though, so I’ll be able to compare them.

  7. Mai-Hime is a pretty good example of an anime outclassing it’s Manga counterpart.

    Another one I can think of this year was Black Lagoon. It’s nearly scene for scene with the manga, but the fluid animation and extra attention paid to making the gunfights exciting make it far more entertaining than the manga.

    Of course, then there’s about 10-15 failures for every success, depending on who you ask, of course.

  8. I agree with Inuhanyou about D. Gray-man. I think the anime isn’t as interesting and it has a lot to do with the art and the inevitable toning down of the violence. The art in the manga is very Edward Gory meets Loligoth, and it makes it interesting to look at. The anime just seems to have been homogenized rather than trying to keep the distinct art style.

    As for D’eon, I’d like to know what the novel the guy wrote is like. The manga and the anime are both adaptations off of that, overseen by the author. So it’s like he wrote 3 different versions of the same story in different styles, which is pretty cool in of itself.

  9. veggies, I agree with you on HiME but because the manga didn’t come first, it wasn’t eligible for this piece.

    Sonicbug, I would love to read the original Chevalier novel too, it would definitely be interesting.

  10. Escaflowne is another example of the anime being better than the two mangas it spawned. One version of the manga had Hitomi doing nothing but whining and losing her clothes, and the other had an underdeveloped plot.

  11. Kare Kano is a great story no matter what you do to it, but I felt a little divorced from the anime because the low budget animation always made it hard to get into when I’d sit down and start watching (by the end of a disc, I’d have gotten used to it, but there was always that transition phase), and of course, the anime just ended without covering the whole story. For those reasons I have to cast my vote for the manga.

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