I have never seen the source material for some of my favorite anime, and that is a-OK.
Something that tends to crop up when an intellectual property breaks out into multimedia territory is the matter of where one “starts” with it, or otherwise the concern of what order to view and consume the materials in. That is an entirely reasonable situation to be in, and one I have had to navigate my way through many times over the years. With anime, this can be particularly tricky, given the avalanches of visual novels, manga, random OVA’s, light novels, and so on. Knowing where to go if one wants to get into the franchise is a really helpful thing!
At levels beyond this, something that becomes particularly fascinating and pseudo terrifying is the idea held by a small but vocal group of folks that a potential fan can not judge a property unless they have devoured all of the supporting materials. Much internet bickering is had in random corners and such anger and alarm can be generated when things are to the contrary. This has always been something I’ve felt is at least a little intriguing.
Kino’s Journey is one of my all time favorite anime television shows. Released in 2003, it was first a light novel series, began a few years earlier in 2000 and has continued to generate fresh volumes into the present more than a decade later. Currently, there are seventeen books in the main line, not counting the side stories, several of which have even been released in English domestically on my own shores.
Digging back further, I find the classic anime versions of the Dirty Pair franchise to be rather enjoyable even today, in all of its blue and pink neon infused explosion hijinks. The light novels began in 1980, with Dark Horse seeing fit to begin bringing them overseas in 2007, the same year the series had finally concluded.
Catapulting myself back into the presently airing shows I am watching week to week, Monogatari Series: Second Season, Coppelion, Non Non Biyori, and Gingitsune: Messenger of the Fox Gods are all adapted parts of various preexisting materials.
In all of these cases, I have never read a single one of them.
While I can not remark on differences between their original sources and anime counterparts, I do know that I can speak as to how they work as pieces of living room screen media with motion and sound.
I would be disappointed were someone to say I could not speak to what I thought of the anime because I had not read the books or manga, because the anime was still a piece of media I consumed and can compare to others like it.
One of the greatest strengths of adapting something for a different media format, I have always felt, is in the idea of what can be done with the adaptation process. I think it is the job of an adaptation to take the source and use its defined strengths, and should the opportunity arise, provide new avenues of presentation and formatting for making it shine in a different media experience.
Indeed, even in anime itself this is at times the case.
Take something like Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki, originally a six episode OVA series that many folks in the anime community likely saw years later on Cartoon Network during its run on their Toonami broadcasting block. It proved popular enough back in the early 1990’s though to generate a seventh episode special in the form of The Night Before the Carnival, a random standalone Mihoshi Special, and then a second OVA series with the eighth through thirteenth episodes. Then the franchise made the jump to television in the form of Tenchi Universe. At which time, it rebooted itself and needed to approach things in new ways for a twenty six episode television format over its previous direct to video series. It is, essentially, an expanded adaptation occurring in a different continuity.
In this example, I have seen both works, so in an analysis I could remark on differences between them in their approaches while also considering how they independently function as pieces of entertainment. Indeed there is a place for that, and it can even be rather fun.
But I do also think it would be rather unfair of me or anyone else to say someone could not hold an opinion on the television production before seeing the OVA adventures.
Part of what makes media analysis or anime commentary flavorful is seeing what folks of different perspectives and backgrounds have to say about something. Those with different consumption histories give insight that may not have been as readily available otherwise, because none of us experience things in the same order. I find that it helps me a lot in processing how and why I hold my own opinions on things.
Entertainment should be something I allow to be a part of my life, rather than making my life a part of it.
None of this even really begins to break into the idea some hold that somebody would need to play through dozens of hours of visual novel paths before they are ever allowed to watch the adapted television show or movie for instance. That many have not played Clannad before watching the associated anime series is a kind of fandom heresy to some, and that is a rather zealous way to be looking at something that many people are merely doing to achieve a more maximum time input benefit in their free time from busy schedules. This is to say nothing of the fact that original materials such as visual novels or other media are often never brought overseas officially, which is a whole other can of worms when it comes to partaking in them and the divergences that exist in that area.
Ideally, in the event of an anime not being the original source material and it turns out terrible, something in the work still hopefully catches my eye enough that I become interested in seeing how the source material differed even if that production was an overall wreck. From there, I can pick up that spark, and it takes me to new and interesting places. That is the most disappointing of cases, those times when an adaptation has a complete lack of any passion that would at least show it had a star it was aiming for.
Now, sometimes adaptations are rather bad, either because they strayed too far out and reached for bars they could not catch or otherwise were such a direct mechanical adaptation that none of the benefits of presenting it in a different format were used. Of that there is no question: most media produced is rather dreadful almost by its very nature, and that applies to adaptations and original material just the same. On both ends that is to be expected and finding ways to roll with it is essential.
A show may be a extremely accurate recreation of its source material, and I just may not find it to be enjoyable. But there is a value that can at least be taken away from that still, an ability to discuss what may have made it a less than enthralling piece of audio-visual media for me that is entirely separate from the discussion that can take place over which minutiae it did or not not manage to capture.
On the one hand, there is a sad or chilling feeling that I could have: I will never be able to read all of the great works of world literature out there, view all of the contributions to the history of cinema, play all the video games I would want to, and so on. I don’t really view anime any differently. I can not “win” per se, as my plan to watch list alone on that front will likely never ever hit zero.
But that’s OK.
What I can do is appreciate the time I get to spend with what does, in the end, get to make up the fabric of the entertainment and art I do get to experience in life.
Even if there is a lot of drek and some of it may at times be in strange orders.
Pendant Light is a weekly opinion and editorial space concerning various anime questions and subjects, be it topical or otherwise. Much like its namesake, it might swing around or fizzle out at times.