29 November 2004

Anime and Manga-ization, Manga and Anime-ization

Also, Movies and Novelization, Novels and Movie-ization

I've been meaning to write this post for ages, but never quite got to it. Anyway, I noticed one day that when I bought manga, I avoided anything that was based on an anime, but happily watched anime that was based on manga. Why? I wondered. The answer is actually both simple and complex. Simply, it's for the same reason I usually avoid novelizations of movies, but watch movie based on novels. Generally, novelizations are shallow retellings of the movie, while a movie based on a book has the potential to be something different, something . . . I don't know. Not every movie based on a book is good, of course, and many of them are quite dismal, but there is always the possibility that the director has made something good from the book (even if it is not the same thing that the book was). Novelizations are almost always a waste of time (can anyone think of any exceptions to this? I can't, but there must be some.)

But, as I said, there's a more complex thing going on. Why is it that novelizations (and manga-izations) are almost never as good as the movie (or anime) they were adapted from? And why is it that movies made from books have so much potential to be good (even if they don't always succeed)? I think it has to do with the relative amount of stuff that is in each medium. A novel is full of stuff. It has careful characterizations, intricate plot, all kinds of description. A movie, being visual, has much less of those things, and has to rely on less stuff to do the job (the amount of stuff not being related to how good the thing is, mind you--I'm not saying novels are better than movies, nor the other way around. They're just different).

When a book gets made into a movie, there is simply too much stuff to use. Things always get added in to movies, of course, which may seem to contradict what I'm saying, but usually the only things added are things that are necessary for the change of medium. The process, then, of making a movie out of a book is one of distillation. The creative team works to take the book and extract its most essential elements, and those are the things that go into the movie. On order to include everything from a written work in a movie, one would have to start with something much shorter than a novel--the novella is probably about the right length. At any rate, a good creative team working with a visionary director can make something quite remarkable in the process of making a novel into a movie. The result isn't always exactly the same as the book--it can't be, really--but it may be just as good.

Turning a movie into a novel, on the other hand, is a process of transcription. The writer attempts to take the movie and put every detail into the book, resulting in a simple retelling. Because it is rarely possible for the writer to add to the movie while novelizing it, the result also tends to be shallow. It's like listening to someone describe a movie to you, play-by-play, without you being able to see or hear the original. Theoretically, if it were permissible to add to the movie, a good writer might be able to create a novelization as good as the movie. I don't know if it's ever been done.

So what about anime and manga? The processes are similar, though manga is also visual. It's possible to take a manga series and turn it into an anime series through a process of almost direct translation--InuYasha makes a decent example, though some of the events happen in a different order (the ones I'm thinking of are all ones that don't really need to happen in any particular order for the story to make sense). Theoretically, it should be possible to turn an anime into a manga by a reverse process, and maybe it's been done, but I have yet to encouter an example (to be fair, I have been avoiding manga I know is based on anime).

A lot of anime--movies, especially--are created from anime by distillation, much the same as making a movie from a novel. Akira, for example, is a single two-hour movie created from a manga of six thick volumes. A lot was left out, but the movie was still really, really good. The few manga-izations of anime that I have read, on the other hand, were lacking in depth, characterization, etc. Just like novelizations. Cowboy Bebop (blogged somewhere back there) is one example. I'd probably like the show, but I found the manga skimmed too quickly over just about everything. I wanted more substance. More recently, I read the three-volume (three rather thin volumes) Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The Gundam franchise is really big, and I wanted to check it out. I'd watched a bit of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed on YTV, and it was okay, but not really gripping (didn't make me a regular watcher like InuYasha, Cardcaptors and Witch Hunter Robin did). I almost didn't bother to read the last volume of the manga. Probably a fan of the show would have liked it; they could use it to remind them of the show when they weren't actually watching. I don't think the book would gain Gundam any new fans, though. There is almost no characterization. There is too much left out of background events (and even events happening to the main characters) for the plot to make much sense, or for the reader to really care about anything. I could say more, but my intent isn't to rip the book apart, only to use it as an example of why I avoid manga based on anime. I don't know why this series was done this way, though. There's no reason why a longer series couldn't have been done, with the missing things added in. There must be lots of material from the anime that was skipped over. It doesn't make sense--when you have less stuff to work with in the first place, why leave out even more? Anyway, I hadn't even finished book three when I listed the series on eBay. Tomorrow I'll be mailing them off to someone who will hopefully enjoy them more than I did.

The one manga-based-on-anime that I did really enjoy (and I didn't realize the anime came first when I started reading it) was Neon Genesis Evangelion (I've only read the first four volumes as they're all the library has). The thing about this series though, as I discovered when I read the notes at the back, is that the writer/artist was deliberately fleshing out the story as he went along, adding all kinds of characterization and other detail. It shows that it is possible to make good manga adapted from anime, but it's necessary to add more stuff (as I hypothesized might be possible with novelizations).

Phew. That was a longer post than I was going to write. I hope it made sense. And I didn't even get to blathering about how Witch Hunter Robin is one of my favourite anime series now (if you're watching on Friday nights on YTV, be prepared for the story to take a somewhat different direction from here on. It gets really intense.)


Rowena said...

Can you imagine a novelization of the Lord of the Rings movies? //shudder//

Niko said...

Believe it or not, I have actually seen a novelization of a movie that was based on a novel (it wasn't just the novel with a movie cover, either). I wish I could remember which movie it was. Might have been Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (how's that for an awkward film title?).