“Original” Series

[from Newtype USA interview, Nov 2004]

"While [Satoshi] Kon has built a career out of pushing beyond the boundaries of anime, he worries about the industry overall, suggesting that anime is currently caught in a vicious circle. One limiting factor is the fact that many creators are anime fans themselves, so they tend to make new works along the lines of something they've seen and liked. 'That's part of the problem,' Kon says. 'The other half of it is the fans. It's probably an overstatement to say that all they want is stuff they've seen before, but it certainly seems to be the case. I don't necessarily think they're to blame for feeling that way, but I also don't think it's asking too much for people on the production side to start working toward getting the fans to watch other things. There are other stories out there to tell.' Kon also believes that the tradition of adapting popular manga into anime is unhealthy for the industry; he feels that animation ultimately ends up as less of a creative force than manga. 'We need to start demanding shows that were conceived as animation from the start. It sounds kind of overblown to say it like this, but this needs to start with the animation industry.'"

When I read the above comments that Kon made about the anime industry, I thought that he made some good points. However, the same complaints he has on the state of the anime industry could be made about the American film industry recently. Many blockbuster movies are based on books. Obvious examples are the "Harry Potter" series, the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and "The Da Vinci Code". Others are sequels or remakes of previous movies: "Poseidon", "The Bad News Bears", "Big Momma's House 2", etc. At most times, these rehashings are unnecessary. One of the latest trends in Hollywood is to take a TV show into a movie. Results of this method include "The Dukes of Hazzard", "Bewitched", "Miami Vice", and "Starsky and Hutch".
This glut of mediocre movies, along with the willingness of people to wait for them to reach cable or DVD, has caused box office revenues to drop for the past two years. Despite that, there were many original hits such as "March of the Penguins", "Wedding Crashers", and "Napoleon Dynamite".

Back to anime, a majority of series are adapted from manga, novels, or video games. Manga derivations are the most likely to become mainstream hits; "Naruto", "One Piece", "Yu Yu Hakusho", "Bleach", and "Dragon Ball Z" are examples from Shonen Jump but there are also many shoujo, seinen, and josei titles that become animated and popular such as "Fruits Basket", "Kare Kano", "Monster" and "Honey & Clover".

There are many pros and cons about adapting from manga. One plus is that the readers of the manga become the first potential base of fans; a relative positive is that if the show does hit it big, viewers who didn't read the manga will want to see the story in its original form and the entire story, since most adaptations run either 13 or 24-26 episodes and are made while the manga is still being made. Sometimes this is because of a conciousness choice to deviate from the manga's storyline as in the case with Full Metal Alchemist[1], other times it's just due to time restrictions. Those works which do choose to faithfully follow the manga are usually last for 100+ episodes, most notably the Shonen Jump series (Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, etc.)

However those shounen shows begin after the manga and must try to catch up, but when they do, they must wait for more substantive material to be written by the manga-ka. Thus filler arcs and episodes are required, a necessary "evil" that most fans dislike. Additionally, a number of series copy their premises from other shows; see many romantic comedy/ecchi shows. In the case of game-based anime, most are from visual novels or H-games. The .hack series is a notable exception although those works are meant to promote the games, especially .hack//Roots to .hack//GU.

In the January 2006 issue of Newtype USA, Hiromu Arakawa said that requested asked the anime staff to make a different ending from what she planned for the manga. She said that "manga and anime are different modes of expression, and different artists are involved. There's little point in having a cross-media story if everything is exactly the same in all versions". She was pleased with the result and found the homunculi's stories particularly interesting.

Kon and Arakawa both made the point that manga and anime are different methods of conveying stories to the masses. There are many "original" series that have been successes, including Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, Lain and Witch Hunter Robin. I happen to like trying out those kinds of shows because all plot meant to be conveyed must be in the show itself and not in other forms (novels, OVAs). I also like the surprises seeing as I can't cheat and read ahead on future plotlines. Then again, the only series I read ahead of is Bleach and that anime currently in the filler Bount Arc, which I'm not really watching with as much enthusiasm as the previous manga-based arcs.

That isn't to say there aren't awesome manga-based shows. Many of my favorite anime are adapted from manga, such as Beck, Honey & Clover, Mahoraba, and Detective Conan. I don't really care that much where an anime comes from as long as it entertains and intrigues me, because anime – like manga, games, and film – are meant to entertain. The source material shouldn't matter than much.

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