Those with the ability to recall trivial and largely useless information may recall that some time ago, I wrote an article about second seasons that directly followed on from the first, and whether they were always destined to be inferior to their predecessors. The conclusion seemed to be that, actually, despite the stigma attached to them, there was a fairly even distribution of both good and bad second seasons. Nonetheless, at the time, I promised to cover spin-offs and remakes in a separate article to see how they compared, and now, at long last, that time has come.
Unlike the direct continuations covered before, remakes have a dubious advantage in that there is no need to come up with fresh storyline- the writers merely need to retool the original, presumably improving upon it in the process. Conversely, spin-offs need not be anything like the original; all they need is one or two familiar faces to draw in fans of the franchise, and from there the creative staff are left to their own devices. Despite these key differences, both types of continuation have an air of moneymaking about them, but is it really fair to tar them all with the same brush? Are there some continuations out there which are genuine improvements on the original, or are all they all simply sub par attempts to squeeze the last few drops of money out of a flagging franchise? Naturally, the only way to find out is to look at some examples.
Were these continuations a good thing?
Series in red did not fare so well compared to their respective first seasons; those in black were able to maintain quality or even improve upon it. I’m not going to include the massive headaches that are the Gundam and Macross franchises; not only do they deserve articles of their own, but my incomplete experience of each franchise hardly puts me in a position to be able to write a definitive piece about them. I’ll also be neglecting film and manga spin-offs and remakes for the most part.
.hack second generation
The “first generation” of .hack was already something of a multi-platform moneymaking scheme, but back in those days, the series actually had worth. SIGN was an atmospheric tale with excellent music, the games were oddly addictive, LOT had bright colours, Ouka and a giant grunty and Liminality was…forgivable, at least. Unfortunately, the much anticipated second trip to the well could not live up to the originals- Roots was a slow and dull tales that meandered around insipid characters without even exhibiting signs of a plot, whilst Online Jack was amusing only in its awfulness.
A.D. Police OVA
I haven’t watched the AD Police TV series (completion decrees I must, but enthusiasm puts it off indefinitely), however, the less said about this three episode OVA, the better. Instead of being an interesting alternate perspective on the BGC universe, AD Police is a generic cyberpunk series that might as well have been set in any dystopian future. Unless you have a hankering for naked androids, blood, and generic characters, there isn’t much incentive to watch this.
Ah! My Goddess TV
Given the length of the AMG manga, a five episode OVA didn’t really seem enough, but unfortunately, the TV series remake took things to the other extreme by choosing to continue for too long. With a premise that is basically nothing more than light harem entertainment, short and sweet is far more desirable than long and drawn out, and thus the TV series was doomed to get old eventually- especially when it ran into its second season.
Adventures of Mini-Goddess
A spin-off of five minute episodes featuring the adventures of the chibi goddesses and rat Gan-chan, Mini-Goddess had some cute character designs but little else going for it. Over the course of its forty eight episodes, Mini-Goddess occasionally managed to breach the realms of light entertainment, only to quickly sink back down into the domain of the pointless and bizarre (or, in the case of the mould monster Gabira, the sickeningly disgusting).
Having thoroughly enjoyed the drama of KgNE, it seemed only right to try this OVA spin-off featuring supporting character Akane. Unfortunately, the OVA also featured a new character in the form of mecha and baseball fanatic Gouda, a personality so irritating that he seemed to be the ultimate fusion of all the brash and moronic testosterone-addled males that had come before him. Although there were some vaguely touching moments in the third and final episode, the vast majority of this OVA was something of a chore to get through.
A spin-off series set in the Outlaw Star universe, Angel Links shifts the action away from Gene Starwind and his band of outlaws, instead choosing to focus on teen prodigy Meifon Li, captain of the starship Angel Links. To its credit, Angel Links tried to include an interesting plot that slowly unfolded over the course of the series, but without the likable cast and vibrant energy of Outlaw Star, it could only manage a generic and clichéd space story.
Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
A remake of the original Bubblegum Crisis OVA, Tokyo 2040 is often criticised by hardcore BGC fans for altering the characters’ personalities, but whilst this TV series is the kind of thing you can only really enjoy when you’re just getting into anime, I have to say I find it an improvement on the original. The story may have lost momentum and even coherence towards the end, but the 26 episode length provided valuable opportunities for character development, whilst the basic character designs were cleaner and more refined.
Erementar Gerad: Flag of Blue Sky
I freely admit that I have only read a single chapter of this spin-off manga, but even at this early stage it lacks the appeal of the original. The artwork is still as excellent as ever, but action scenes are confusing to the point of making it entirely unclear what is going on, whilst a promo video I watched paints this series as a somewhat generic cross between Burst Angel and The Third.
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
This alternate universe comedic take on the FMP universe is my personal favourite from all three series; as FMP proved in the first series, it simply isn’t very good at tackling serious storylines, so what better step to take than to remove them entirely? Admittedly, I had my qualms before viewing it, but Fumoffu actually turned out to be a light-hearted and consistently amusing experience that entertained without ever outstaying its welcome.
Where Futakoi was a standard harem story with the twist that all the love interests were twins, Alternative kept the twins and threw everything else out in its attempt to make a sequel that only bore the vaguest of resemblances to the original. Each series is enjoyable, but for its own reasons- Futakoi is light, harmless entertainment, whilst Alternative is a strangely addictive combination of likable characters and completely bizarre situations. Admittedly, it could be argued that they don’t even need to be considered part of the same franchise, but it is actually interesting to pick up on their few common threads without having enjoyment of one series overshadowed by memories of the other.
Future Hero Retro Story
Another Outlaw Star spin-off, this prequel manga features a boy from Earth who inherits his grandfather’s spaceship; as potentially entertaining as it might sound, however, the mangaka has packed so much action and craziness into each page that it is very difficult to even follow the story.
Ginga Densetsu Weed
Weed and Gin are held in such regard by their devoted following that I always feel guilty about critiquing them, but that’s never stopped me before, so I’m not going to hold back now. Weed was something I could actually watch- it was an odd mix of shounen clichés, bloody violence and brown dogs, but it was perfect for parodying. Unfortunately, at fourteen years its senior, the original Gin series had not weathered well enough to entertain me as much as Weed did; the screencaps reveal an amusing HARD GAY trend, but the actual story does not enthral.
Personally, I’m not all that enthused by the Hellsing franchise as a whole, but the OVA remake at least has the crowd-pleaser of not being animated by Gonzo sticking closer to the original material.
My feelings on Kanon should already be well known, but in the interests of completion, I’ll summarise them here. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of either version of Kanon, the Toei version had the advantage of pacing, whereas KyoAni can only go so far in its attempts to balance treacle-slow development and an overly sarcastic lead with top quality animation. Admittedly, Kanon 2006 has some way to go, but right now it is struggling even to be parody worthy.
Ah, Mai-Otome, what haven’t I already said about the disappointment that you brought? Suffice to say that whilst HiME was hardly perfect, it did at least contain action scenes and a plot, elements that Otome did not seem to feel it was necessary to include. Perhaps Otome could have gone somewhere if it had had 26 more episodes, but as it stands, it just strung us along for the seventeen weeks it took to realise that it was never going to deliver.
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha
Although Nanoha went on to eclipse its predecessor Triangle Heart in terms of popularity, I have to admit that I would rather have seen a Triangle Heart TV series. Where Nanoha was always something of an on the rails magical girl show which traded on its production values and loli appeal, Triangle Heart offered a more interesting premise by casting Nanoha’s siblings as a pair of sword wielding bodyguards.
Both ParaKiss and its prequel Gokinjo Monogatari are similar stories about a group of students at the Yazawa School of Arts, but where Gokinjo was a slow starter that sometimes felt like a bit of a struggle to get through, ParaKiss is a sharper, faster-paced experience. The animated version also benefits from actually looking as stylish as a fashion series needs to be- a far cry from the ugliness of the Gokinjo anime.
Yet another Bubblegum Crisis spin-off, this three episode OVA collects together a trio of stories about a secret branch of the AD Police- unfortunately, it suffers from the exact same problems as the previous AD Police OVA. The characters are insipid, the stories are standard, and there really is no reason to care about anything that happens. It’s a shame, as this could have actually been a decent spin-off if it had been a full TV series.
Even Tenchi had a spin at magical girls with this OVA (which later spawned a TV series of its own). Unfortunately, despite its apparent attempts to be a tongue-in-cheek parody of a standard magical girl series, it ended up as nothing more than a clichéd example of the very genre it was trying to mock. Aside from some decent character designs and the novelty of seeing familiar Tenchi characters cast in different roles, there isn’t much to recommend this.
The first Tenchi TV series retells the Kagato story from the first OVA, and whilst purists always insist on putting it in second place, I have a confession to make- I saw Tenchi Universe before I even touched the OVAs, and it is actually my favourite incarnation of this story arc. Despite the inevitable filler that crept in, the series was able to explore the characters a lot more over the course of 26 episodes, and can also lay claim to having one of the most well-resolved endings of any anime series (I still feel a pang of emotion when “Dimension of Love” begins to play).
Tenchi in Tokyo
Conversely, the second TV series chose to tell a completely original story, and marked the beginning of the franchise’s downward spiral. A monster of the week series with generic enemies, reused jokes and awful animation, Tenchi in Tokyo has a few entertaining moments, but even hardcore fans are disinclined to praise it.
The third Tenchi TV series, GXP is actually set in the same universe as the original OVAs, but introduces an entirely new cast of characters. Unfortunately, what could be an interesting story about life as a Galaxy Police officer turns out to be nothing more than an over-the-top and fanservice laden harem series that makes the original Tenchi look tame. The gimmick of making the lead a young man with incredibly bad luck is also one that gets old fast, and is only the first in a long line of jokes that the series runs into the ground.
Sakura Wars TV
A retelling of the first Sakura Wars OVA, Sakura Wars TV encapsulates both the good and bad aspects of a typical OVA to TV series transition. The plot may err on the side of the monster of the week formula, but the added episode count offers the opportunity to fully explore the characters, even if Reni and Orihime are unable to get in on the act.
Neither a two hour movie nor a 24 episode series can really do justice to an 18 volume manga series, but clearly the latter has a better chance of at least conveying the essence of the story. Where the movie made so little sense that it was hard to even remember the characters’ names afterwards, the anime was a lot more coherent. It may have diverged from the manga in the latter half and been in sore need of a second season, but for now, it is the best animated adaptation of X that we have.
Based on the number of titles in red, it seems that remakes and spin-offs are even worse at living up to their predecessors than direct continuations. Whether retelling a story or creating an entirely new one in the same universe, perhaps it is just too much work to completely step out of the shadow of the original.