About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anime Should Chart Its Own Course

Follow the example of Lelouch!
Chart your own course, anime!!

In recent years, the movie industry has primarily been an adaptation industry. It takes the most popular book, cartoon, comic book, and video game properties that are out there, and adapts them into live-action (and/or CGI animation) movies for the big screen. I don't have solid numbers for this, but I at least get the impression that a very solid majority of modern live-action feature-length movies are adaptations rather than "Hollywood originals" or "film originals".

In other words, Hollywood scriptwriters tend to now spend much more time adapting the most popular works of other entertainment or narrative forms than they do creating their own original works. Lately, we've seen them race through virtually every prominent Marvel comics property there is, even with such niche titles as Ghost Rider and Blade achieving star-studded splendor as Hollywood blockbusters. The days of Star Wars, Aliens, Rambo, Rocky, Robocop, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, the Matrix, and the Terminator appears to be fading into the background.

... Remind you of anything, anime fans? ;)

Anime in Japan is very much analogous to Hollywood movies in America, only with two big exceptions.

1) When a popular franchise makes it to the big screen, that in and of itself is considered a huge deal for the popular franchise. The movie itself is everything; it doesn't exist purely to increase the success of the popular franchise, but rather it is considered the pinnacle of success in and of itself. With anime, the animes that are adaptations of other works are generally considered the lesser cousin in its relation to that non-anime source material.

2) The ratio of adaptations to original works is probably even higher for anime than it is for movies.

This is, in some ways, a cause for concern, I think. Especially when you consider that anime is coming close to exhausting the full store of good Japanese light novels, visual novels, and mangas that are or were available for adaptations. Anime truly is running through light novels like Hollywood is running through Marvel comics titles. Eventually, you start to scrape the bottom of the barrell, at least as far as sheer popularity of the original work itself is concerned.

This, of course, leaves anime in a position of dependence. It makes it impossible for anime to fully chart its own course, as it must await the creations of artists and writers in other fields before it can bring much new material to the fore. In some cases, this means mind-numbing filler material, which is often little more than extremely limited and restricted fanfics.

Another negative of this dependence is one that frequent blog commenter tigermoon brought to my attention in his response to my "The Evolution of Anime" blog entry. And that negative is that it means that anime is left working with whatever narrative genres and settings and character types that happen to be popular at the moment (or a year or two ago) in other entertainment and narrative mediums. In recent years, that has meant a disproportionately high number of school-based anime, and a disproportionately low number of animes with epic stories.

Don't believe me?

Well, then lets consider five of the most prominent anime original animes of all time...

These are five of the most beloved and popular anime original animes of all time... and they all had epic stories...

Neon Genesis Evangelion - Story Premise: To try to save the world from "angels" that threaten the entire human race! Later on, a devious plot that would forever change almost every person on the planet is set into motion.

El Hazard: The Magnificent World - Story Premise: An alien world is at war! A battle of wits between two Japanese teenagers explodes into a conflict that will determine the fate of an entire alien planet.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha - Story Premise: Capture the Jewel Seeds to prevent a potentially cosmic disaster! Later on, deal with threats of similar magnitudes.

Gurren Lagann - Story Premise: In a dystopian future, humanity fights back against Beastmen oppressors! Later on, the Earth itself is threatened by beings of great cosmic power.

Code Geass - Story Premise: The world is at war! Japan seeks to rise out from under the bloodthirsty thumb of Britannia, and like El Hazard, two former friends chart the course of the conflict.

Considering that there's not all that many anime original animes to begin with, the fact that five of the most prominent all contain very epic stories, speaks to how the minds behind anime original works may tend to favor such stories.

I would say that a reason for this is that anime naturally lends itself to such stories.

One of the strengths of the animation medium is that it can portray certain scenes that would require very lengthy descriptions in a purely textual format (as the old saying goes: a picture says a thousand words), and that it can portray magnificently imaginative conflicts of a grand scale that would cost countless millions in special effects budgeting to do in a live-action format.

This is, in fact, a big part of the reason why I'm a huge fan of animation in general... both of the anime variety, and of the western cartoon variety. This particular entertainment medium simply lends itself to certain types of stories much moreso than any other entertainment medium (except, perhaps, video games) does.

Effectively conveying action scenes that are on an epic scale, and purely in words, is generally not easy. It is thus quite understandable why most light novel and novel writers tend to stay away from such scenes. Furthermore, visual novels and games involving romantic routes, tend to be very dialogue-based by nature. They certainly can have epic moments, but generally not an epic narrative or story.

There is another key factor here that I think bears looking at.

A common complaint that I've heard of many of the more popular anime that have come out since the start of 2009 is that the pacing of these animes is off. I've very recently heard this complaint applied to otherwise very well-recieved titles like Okakami Kakushi and Durarara!!

There' s a very important reason for why such animes may lack desirable degrees of pacing.

And that reason is this:

The sort of slow and methodical plot pacing that can work splendidly in a light novel, a novel, or a visual novel can seem extremely slow and tedious when cut up into 24 minute anime adaptated chunks. Because there's only so much written material that can fit comfortably within such 24 minute animated chunks.

Now, the anime can, of course, slash and burn vast quantities of source material in order to attempt to trim the story down to where it has good (or at least palatable) pacing for these 24 minute animated chunks. But that tends to result in this...

Beatrice is the Umineko Anime in this pic
Battler is the typical fan of the Umineko source material. ;)

The Umineko anime has been absolutely ravaged with harsh criticism for cutting out so much of the visual novel source material. And, having recently read though most of the first Umineko visual novel, I can certainly see why! I'd estimate that at least two thirds of all of the material within the first visual novel was murdered as though coming in contact with the Stakes of Purgatory... ;)

This is quite possibly the main reason why the first volume Umineko DVD bombed in sales. There are other possible reasons for such an incredible sales failure that I may bring up in a future blog entry, but for now, I'm focusing on the impact of enormous content chops made when adapting Umineko from visual novel to anime.

However... I also know why the producers of the Umineko anime sliced off so much of the source material content. The reason why is because there would be no other way for the Umineko anime to have an even sane level of pacing for an anime.

I think that most anime fans want to see something of plot importance happen each and every episode. This is a big part of the reason for why Endless Eight was not more well-recieved. For Umineko to keep even three quarters of its original source material would have resulted in an anime so plodding, and so uneventful in the first few episodes, that virtually every anime only watcher of Umineko would have dropped it like a rock.

Again... what feels like good pacing in a novel isn't necessarily good pacing in weekly 24 minute animated chunks.

Sadly, Umineko was caught between a Beatrice and a Virgilia, when it came to how much of the source material content should be carried over to the anime adaptation. ;)

To paraphrase Giovanni from the Pokemon musical... "It just can't win!"

Now, all of this being said, I largely liked the Umineko anime, and so I'm glad that it was adapted into anime form.

Still, just imagine how good an Umineko-like story could be if it was an anime original anime! Such a story would be made, in advance, to fit with the ideal pacing of an anime. The plot would be quicker and faster, but character development could still be maintained.

So... what does this all mean?

Well, what it means is that I hope that we see more anime original animes in the future. For that will lead to more animes like the five anime original animes featured in pictures in this post. It will also allow the animation medium to more readily control its own destiny; to shape its own future. And the animes themselves will have better pacing becaue of it.

Just as I hope to see Hollywood one day try to make another Star Wars , I hope to see anime one day try to make another Evangelion. :)

This blog entry and the previous one has been largely critical of the modern anime world, I will admit.

So, in my next blog entry, I will speak on what I think anime has done right, and continues to do right. My next blog entry will be a tribute to anime to balance out with these more critical blog entires.

And after that blog entry... I will finally get back to my Top 10 Countdown list, lol. ^_^;;

In the interim, though, any and all feedback is welcome. I eagerly look forward to your comments. :)


  1. You know, given Hollywood's recent trend of adapting popular anime, I don't think they're going to be much better off in the near future. Here's to Live Action Haruhi in three years! :p

    But in all seriousness, as I feel I'm somewhat responsible for this blog post, I should probably comment. Not that I wouldn't anyway, but that's beside the point.

    When it comes to the comparison of anime to Hollywood in terms of adaptations, it's all a sense of scale, really. When it comes to Hollywood, each studio will probably put out one, MAYBE two movies in a given year, and some even do less than that(and you can probably count the number of major movie studios on two hands). Anime studios, on the other hand, aren't exactly unheard of to move directly from one project to the next. Some even work on multiple projects simultaneously. As a result of this, anime tends to burn through source material at a much faster rate than movies do, and it isn't always as flattering to fans of said source material as a result.

    When it comes to your selection of the five most prominent original anime, I've noticed three of them have something in common, with a fourth being similar. Three of the screenshots feature someone with his teeth showing, while the fourth just has someone with an open mouth... just kidding. ;)

    But seriously, three of the shows you've selected are mecha anime and one of the other two(Nanoha) I've seen compared to the genre. This pretty much leaves El Hazard alone on the list if you think about it. This isn't a problem in and of itself, but if the top five slots are comprised of things from or similar to a single genre, with the other being from the mid '90s, this could show a bit of a reason why more original works aren't produced.

    Now, I might still be thinking in a video game mindset here(where this sort of thing has been rather apparent for about a decade), but I can believe that would lead to companies only wanting to either try and duplicate that genre(mecha) or fall back on a "safety net" of sorts(adaptations). As most studios simply don't want to work with mecha for whatever reason, this could show a possible reason for this behavior.

    Now, I may be over-thinking things here, but this might be the cause of it. Of course, it's also worth mentioning that it might be the other way around, but that's a little too much speculation for one reply.

    Anyway... I mentioned earlier, and you touched upon it yourself with Umineko, that in a lot of cases, anime adaptations aren't very favorable to the initial audience. Honestly, that's understandable. Even Hollywood has a similar problem: Just look at poor Hulk, who's undergone his origin story twice within half a decade. :P

    At any rate, I agree with you. I really wish anime would try and branch off into more original works. It's been quite a while since there's been an original epic fantasy series, and I'd like to see one of those before I lose interest because of all these school stories. ^^;;

  2. but then rn't the plots of the top 5 somehow the same? O3O i didn't find any of them very opriginal(maybe NGE)
    i find haruhi, higurahi and seto no hanayome more original

    umineko is pretty good, specially if u haven't read the game(play?)

  3. Hmmm… as someone who likes a lot of very dialogue driven shows, I have mixed feelings about this post. I agree that anime epics tend to be originals and that we need more such shows, but I don’t think I’m nearly as enthusiastic about the cause as you.

    I also think that the trend towards adaptations is probably driven in part by the financial structure of the industry. In many cases, the company funding the production of an adaptation is the publisher of the source material. For smaller studios that can’t finance their own productions, doing adaptations may be their only option. And such productions are often quite profitable for the publishers – I’ve heard of manga selling a few hundred thousand copies in the weeks leading up to an anime version airing..

    I get the impression that quite a few Umineko fanboys are like the Lord of the Rings fans who thought the movies sucked because of the changes made. Differences is, such fanboys only make up a small portion of potential viewers for the LotR films. I don’t think that’s the case for Umineko.

    (I’m sometimes tempted to try the Umineko games, especially since I’ve heard them ranked with Ever 17 as among the best VNs ever made – and as you probably guessed from how much I talk about it, I absolutely loved Ever 17. Only problem being that have a number of VNs that have never been adapted that I still need to play, and to me those kind of comes first. Also, I’m kind of split on whether I want to see Ever 17 adapted into anime form. I love the storyline, but even a good writer would have trouble writing an adaptation because the game relies on the first person perspective to hide some things from you until late in the story. And of course there aren’t a lot of VN adaptations that are recognized as being really good. Kyoto’s are (although I thought the anime version of Air made no sense), and Shaft’s EF: A Tale of Memories is considered by many to be a great adaptation because the storytelling methods Shaft employed very closely mimic the strengths of the VN format – although its sequel, EF: A Tale of Melodies isn’t as well regarded because just like Umineko, it cuts some pretty major scenes.)

    As for pacing… the first season of Spice and Wolf is pretty much a poster child for poor pacing in adaptations. The show managed to be popular through the strength of its characters and unique plot, but much of season 1 was very, very slow paced. This may be because it was adapted at a one chapter = one episode basis. The second season is far better about this though, and I can’t recall disliking the pacing of a few of the show you mentioned like Durarara and Ookami Kakushi And while I think pacing problems are probably more promenient in adaptations, it’s not like originals can’t have this issue too. I would actually argue the first season of Nanoha suffered from some pacing issues.

    (Also, Nanoha isn’t actually an original production, although it’s very different from its source material. I like to imagine that the staff on the show were really smashed when they got the idea to start throwing beam spamming into an otherwise unremarkable magical girl show framework.)

    As a final note, I forgot to mention it last time, but I absolutely love that Bakemonogatari pick you used in the post prior to this one – I’ve always thought Araragi has pretty much the best harem in anime. Also, I sometimes have to remind myself that Bakemonogatari and Nanoha season one share a director.