Anime Adaptations That Aren’t As Good As They Should Be – This Week in Anime

This week, Nick and Steve talk about sub-par anime adaptations of great books and manga—and end up dunking on The Witch and the Beast, Berserk, and Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer (just to name a few).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

The Witch and the Beast, I’m in Love with the Villainess, Otherside Picnic, The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious, Ganbare Dōki-chan, Berserk 2016/2017, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You, Spice & Wolf, and Spice & Wolf: Merchant Meets Wise Wolf are streaming at Crunchyroll. 7SEEDS is streaming at Netflix.


Steve

Nick, as we’re the two most senior contributors to “This Week in Anime,” we’ve shared a lot of crazy adventures over the years. Given that pedigree, I’ve found the perfect topic to sink our teeth into.

I, of course, am talking about when the anime adaptation isn’t as good as it should be. A unique pain we are all too familiar with.

Nick

Everyone understands the thrills of a great adaptation and the pains of a terrible one. But I think we need to spare a thought for the Stealers Wheel category of works where you’re stuck in the middle of those extremities—left to contend with a show that isn’t terrible enough to be a disappointment but not good enough to be worth recommending. Let’s be loud for those mids.

It’s a more interesting space than most people give it credit for. And a larger one too. As much as we bemoan the ever-rising volume of anime being produced, it doesn’t all fall off the assembly line like a heap of pink slime. If anything, more anime than ever now wear their charms alongside their bruises.

I guess that’s a more positive way of saying that a lot more stuff being produced means it’s a lot more common to get bare-bones adaptations that mostly exist to promote source material as quickly as possible without being an outright embarrassment. Good on you for staying optimistic.

I’m trying! The alternative is utter despair—and there’s already plenty of that going around elsewhere. Moreover, this topic sprang to mind because I was thinking about this season’s The Witch and the Beast, an adaptation I’ve been enjoying quite a bit despite its shortcomings.

I’m behind on that one, but even just going by the first episode, I get what you mean about it wearing its faults as clearly as its strengths. A lot of that premiere was defined by strong character and environmental designs having to compensate for some wonky action editing.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear me say the action editing doesn’t get any less wonky as it goes on. And direct comparisons to the manga don’t do the anime many favors either. Like many adaptations of this ilk, the storyboards tend to follow the manga panels pretty closely and doing so tends to highlight the lack of dynamism in anime. You can’t beat the giant shark breaking through the panel divider in the manga.

I also distinctly remember a moment where a character gets absorbed into a magically summoned tree entirely off-screen—which was confusing even if it made that bit a lot easier to animate.

There’s a big climactic fight later in the season that is unintelligible aside from the postcard memories that I can guarantee are lifted from the manga.

This happens when you dedicate all your animation resources to making the cast look hot.

Bless the ear perverts on the animation staff for doing their thing.


That’s not to say the character art is always on point. There’s one episode with egregiously off-model Guideaus—but I find them cute, so I forgive this trespass.

Everyone still appears to be pierced and smoking so I think they pass muster.

The concept’s core is strong enough that a reasonable facsimile of the manga still gets those strengths across. Ashaf and Guideau are a fun duo with a lot of personalities—and they’re sexy for no reason deeper than the joy of having sexy protagonists in your story. I love them. They’re also portrayed perfectly by their seiyuu, Toshiyuki Morikawa, and Yō Taichi. That’s another point that tends to work in the favor of these middling adaptations. It’s easier to deal with potato-quality animation if you can get the right cast.

“Reasonable facsimile” is a great way to describe it. While there’s always the faint hope for a “dream” adaptation that lavishes your favorite manga or light novel with high-quality animation and direction, most of the time the reasonable ask is that you get something functional that largely translates the charm of the source material without embarrassing itself. It is a bit disconcerting to think that the primary reaction to anime announcements these days is “Please don’t screw this up.”

You’ve got that right. I can recall a time when I held genuine excitement for such announcements. Now, that time may as well be as distant as the fall of Rome. And I hadn’t read any of The Witch and the Beast before watching the anime, so who knows if that would have colored my perspective. Sometimes, ignorance is indeed bliss.

At the same time, I don’t want to fall into the weirdly superficial competition that big-name shonen action titles get roped into on Twitter, where everything is PEAK and GOATED, or else it doesn’t matter. There is a place for modestly produced media that’s still charming and memorable. Nobody will write home about the animation for I’m in Love with the Villainess but I had a lot more fun with it than Demon Slayer‘s last season.
Context matters too. Those enormously popular Jump titles are more likely to be fitted with blockbuster production values than a Yuri anime riffing on otome game tropes. Any Yuri anime is going to be fighting for its life out there, so I know I can be biased in their favor. I’m sure that’s part of why I stuck with the Otherside Picnic anime despite it being ugly as a sin.

To be fair that’s ugly as a lesser sin. Like wearing mixed fabrics or saying the F word.
But there’s also the realities of the market to keep in mind. There are only so many resources to go around in an already overburdened animation industry—and the nature of the beast means that smaller, more “niche” titles are almost always going to get quick and bare-bones productions for the primary purpose of selling more light novels.

And those advertisements do work. Occasionally. In Otherside Picnic‘s case, it got me to pick up a couple of the light novels. They weren’t amazing, but I liked them well enough. That’s the power of creating an anime in which two women share both booze and assault rifles.

At the same time, sometimes a mid-production can genuinely screw things up without actively failing at anything. Anime and manga may primarily be storytelling mediums, but they’re visual mediums nonetheless, and a downgrade in optics—or even just missing the mark a bit—can sap the appeal out of something real quick.

There are two sides to every coin. There’s good mid and bad mid. And I think the delineation between bad mid and straight-up bad can be fuzzy, for me anyway. But one bad-mid show that comes to mind is the Netflix 7SEEDS adaptation we got several years back. I’d hesitate to call it bad because I could tell there was some neat, thoughtful stuff in there. However, the pacing and visuals were uniformly atrocious and sapped any enthusiasm I had by the end of the first cour.
I’d just call that bad. Whatever interesting ideas are there come from the source, and they are buried underneath all of the adaptation’s many problems. To me, “mid” is something that technically recreates the source without actually capitalizing or fully translating what made it special. Like The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious, a show that looks fine:

But demonstrably fails to capture the particular style and intent of the source material’s art:

Ah, and I believe I may be picking up on what that original intent was.

Listen, we have to wait until they make a Maid Skater adaptation before we can do a column on anime maids. Chill.

Speaking of shameless fetish material, the Ganbare Dōki-chan is another good example of mid. The anime can’t hold a candle to the fidelity of fabric as drawn by yom on the original pin-ups. Yet it was fun to see the series get animated in the first place.

Lord help the underpaid artists tasked with trying to animate a consistent denier value.

Some anime, visually, are lost causes from the beginning. Nobody is going to draw tights better than the tights pervert. But is it not enough to watch Douki hoist her own petard while voice-acted and in 24 frames per second?
There are some places where it’s a fool’s errand to try and replicate the level of detail and intricacy that an artist can dedicate to a single illustration. Yet there are still ways to approximate that appeal in animation. Sometimes simplifying character designs or making stylistic choices can allow for high-quality animation that can evoke the same feeling as a lovingly rendered manga spread. Other times you get Berserk 2016.

Oof, true. I only just read Berserk in the past couple of years but I can’t imagine being a fan of as powerful and intricately illustrated a manga as that one, and tuning into that jerky CG monstrosity. That’s one kind of monstrosity you don’t want to see in a Berserk adaptation.

What’s fun is that the multiple Berserk anime covers a wide range of adaptational strengths and weaknesses. The 90’s anime sells the atmosphere and drama of the story but struggles to fully convey the scope of the Golden Age Arc battles. The film trilogy excels at giving those battles life and scope but has inconsistent art and animation that leaves the story feeling weaker than it should. And the 2016 series falls on its ass so hard at every turn that it makes both previous versions look way better by comparison.

You also have to consider how adaptations affect the perception of the series as a whole. In Berserk‘s case, I had only ever heard about the Golden Age Arc, possibly because it’s the only part that ever got a decent adaptation. But in reading the manga, I found almost all of my favorite material and character beats happened well past that point.

That’s the real rub. A lot of fans view adaptations as like, ambassadors for the source material. They’re more likely to draw in new fans, and often you only get one chance at that. So even if the attempt isn’t terrible, it can feel like watching your friend show up for a date in a t-shirt and cargo shorts. Like, come on man. You’re a charming, funny guy, but nobody will notice that if you look like this:
Glad we were on the same page when pulling our images for this column.

I will carry the burden of the Lucifer & the Biscuit Hammer adaptation to my grave—cursed just like that goddamn horse.

I trust Satoshi Mizukami enough to know that one day I will read Biscuit Hammer and enjoy it but I could not stick with the anime past whenever we did our TWIA article on it. I felt bad for it.

This is another one where “mid” feels like a stretch. While not the absolute nadir of TV animation, Biscuit Hammer was bad at just about everything it did. Whatever appeal made its way to the surface like a sprig of grass through a sidewalk was thanks to the strength of the original material. Everything else was a wreck and anyone who’s ever dreamed of a Mizukami adaptation screamed in agony as this (seemingly) only chance whiffed it.

As previously argued, I’m a guy who thinks a good source can go a long way in salvaging a spotty adaptation. But I’d agree that Biscuit Hammer stretches that leniency to its breaking point. They shouldn’t be making a product that draws all those different animals. There should be labor laws against that.

It ultimately comes down to whether or not an adaptation can at least capture the strengths of its source, whatever those are. The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You doesn’t have much in the way of standout animation, but its anime works to elevate every joke in a way that perfectly captures the spirit and heart of the manga’s incredibly cursed jokes. It even adds new ones!

That’s the ideal. Resources aside, you want an adaptation that engages with the material and puts its informed spin on it. That’s why I think one of The Witch and the Beast‘s more inspired decisions was taking an incidental panel with Guideau gnawing on a steak and making it into a front-and-center scene stealer. That’s how I know the showrunners get that character.

That’s how you know they get it, even if the restrictive animation production prevents them from showing it. Do you remember how we talked about comparing the various Berserk anime? Well now that we get a new anime remake/reboot every year, we get to do that even more! I sure hope the next one doesn’t have any problems with hor-

Aww crabapples.
Anime is like jazz. It’s about the horses you don’t draw. And in that regard, you can call the old Spice & Wolf adaptation Miles Davis. At least, I’m looking through my screencap folder, and I see a lot of cart scenes that strategically avoid showing the whole horse-drawn part.

We’ve got a new Spice & Wolf adaptation 15 years after the last one, and it looks…well, you saw what the rest of this column was about. It looks mediocre at best, which is surprising considering they got the same director as the previous two seasons. Yet every shot I’ve seen of the trailers and opening looks way flatter and blander than anything from the first.

Looks-wise, the original is hardly anything to write home about either. It got most of its mileage out of Jun Fukuyama and Ami Koshimizu‘s impeccable chemistry. Comparing the two versions now, you can see the old show took a lot of care lighting characters and objects like they were illuminated by candlelight in dingy inns and taverns. The more “modern” sheen doesn’t behoove that aesthetic.

It speaks to how much lighting and shadow can do, even for footage eternally trapped in 480p. There’s a sense of place and intimacy that comes from it, and it works to enhance the chemistry Holo and Lawrence share that makes the show what it is.


Maybe that will still come through in this reboot. We’re technically doing this before it airs so if we’re lucky this part of the discussion will be obsolete by publishing time. I don’t feel too confident about that given the previews though.

Me neither, but I know I will watch it. I enjoy looking at Holo enough that I will sit through an inferior adaptation so long as it’s barely competent at portraying my wolf wife. It can be as mid as it likes.

I’m just saying, whenever even the coins look worse 15 years later maybe that’s our sign to stop and reassess what we’re doing—as an industry.

They will look worse AND are worth less now due to inflation. Thanks, Biden.

If you were a real Holo-lover you’d want your wife to look her best.

I can’t trust contemporary anime with that level of responsibility. That’s what the scale figures in my Detolf are for.

With any luck, the best parts of Spice & Wolf will prevail regardless. I’m always happy to be proven wrong about this stuff when it happens. I think I’d be more keen if this new series were adapting more of the light novels, rather than reduxxing two full seasons of television.

Oh I agree 100% there. You wouldn’t even catch me complaining about the visual aesthetic if they were adapting new stuff. But with the industry the way it is, it feels like we have to settle for less and less with each year. As this column has shown, that’s not inherently a bad thing. Sparks of creativity can still shine through the most middling of anime. I’m sure everyone has their examples (sound off in the comments). But when mid turns bad, it isn’t pretty. Sometimes, you have to look a gift horse in the…eyes…?