Adapting a source material into a new material into a new medium is one of the most deceptively difficult things for a writer to do, just read my previous posts on how this can go either work well or poorly. This is because things that work in one medium may not work in another, and each medium caters to its specific audience differently. The most common example of this and one of the best from an analytical standpoint is the adaptation of Japanese manga into Japanese anime. This is what we’ll therefore be discussing today.
first of all we need to understand why an adaptation is done. Well, they are done for many reasons. Sometimes a studio wants to capitalize on the success of a series or knows that the series will create money for them. Other times a series is requested to be made by fans, which then leads to the studio making it.
If you ask any anime fan what their favorite anime of all time is, over half of them will say one of these two things: an original series or Full Metal Alchemist. heck, if you look up best anime on google half the results are original works. This is because original works are made with them working in the anime medium and Full metal alchemist was written in a way that lent itself better to being adapted (more on that later on).
Manga in japan is released in chapters, usually one a week depending on the success, length or how new the series is. when a series is read like this, an author cannot expect the reader to remember everything, so exposition is repeated more frequently. But the series has to stay engaging so something has to happen in each chapter whatever that be, while still leaving things untold for the next chapter. Manga authors also have to cater to the people who only read the graphic novels, a longer book that consists of around 8 to 10 chapters, therefore they have to wrap up an important story beat(s) every ten or so chapters.
When this is translated to anime things are lost, a typical episode is usually 2 chapters; one on either side of a commercial break.However those two chapters may not be that interesting, while the next three are, and when there is an odd number of chapters in a graphic novel, the anime has to add in extra or take stuff out to have it fit in the space of a few episodes.
Full Metal Alchemist
Himoru Arakawa’s full metal alchemist is considered by most one of the best mangas ever but also a great anime. which is very uncommon, usually one is viewed as good but the other not, see Naruto as an example. the reasoning behind this is, firstly the source material has a great story, characters and narrative, but Arakawa was working with double length 40 page chapters compared to the regular 20 page ones. This meant that each chapter could be its own episode, but also each chapter was then structured as an episode of a show would be; it required its own B plot. B plots are more common in western shows such as Rick and Morty, and can often be more interesting than the main plot, they are used to move the story forwards through individual, self contained, mini stories. This is more interesting than having a main plot for the entirety at least in this medium.
The other reasoning for this is that, Studio Bones, the creators of the Full Metal Alchemist series have adaptations down to a science; having been responsible for some of the most popular series’ regardless of whether they were an adaptation or not.
I stated previously that things must be changed in order for an adaptation to work, I do believe there is a happy medium. For example ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is too different form the original to even call it an adaptation. Where as ‘Scott Pilgrim’ stayed too true to the original to the point of damaging the film. This alongside every other thing required to make an adaptation makes them, in my opinion, one of the most impressive creative things when done well.