Life’s Great Mysteries: The Weight of Knowing the Story

So the question for today is pretty simple. When it comes to watching anime, how much does knowing the story affect how you perceive the show? Most specifically, I want to look at first impressions of a show. For example, you’ve read the manga or played the visual novel and you’re finally seeing your favorite manga/visual novel in anime form. The general consensus I seem to see is “the manga was better.” But let’s take a look into why that is the case and what we can conclude from that.

The simplest explanation is disappointment when it comes to personal expectations regarding the anime. I’ve read some blog posts about Medaka Box and I often see people who have read the manga saying something to the effect of “the characters didn’t sound the way I expected.” Stuff like that. While I don’t often have the opportunity to watch an anime after already completing the manga, I feel like I don’t run into this sort of idea when it does happen (like with Bakuman). Is my perception just different? Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough when I’m reading the manga. I wonder if I just accept the anime as the true adaptation, regardless of my own perception of the story.

While this explanation works pretty well with manga, how well does it hold up with games or visual novels? They have the benefit of voicing (and the characters even have color). Video games even have moving characters. I guess it’s just that the animation isn’t as good for when the anime comes out? I don’t usually notice those things, so how could I really comment on it? I thought that Persona 4’s anime adaptation was great. Even if you take out the RPG in the story, it was still fun to watch. However, game adaptations usually run into problems when they become anime. Taking out the battles or the level-up system seems to lower the effect of the show. But it seems weird to me if an RPG’s main selling point is the story.

In fact, I might argue that this perception of original into anime happens in reverse. Take Code Geass as an example. It’s no secret that I loved that show. But reading the manga was just a disappointment. Possibly because of all the things they changed or skipped. Is that just how things are? Is it that we will always be disappointed by what we see second? Or is it just that any adaptation that a company makes for a franchise will never be able to live up to what was originally created?

So maybe the problem just boils down to the difference between creating a story and already having the story. I guess just having the content already there and being forced to work with it is so restrictive that it naturally decreases quality. Maybe adaptations are just doomed to failure from the beginning and some truly talented people will be able to manage a good adaptation.

The question that comes from all of this is what does this all say about how we approach anime? Should we constantly avoid the manga until we finish the anime so that we have a “pleasant surprise” after we watch the anime? Or should we cut anime altogether and just read manga all the time if there is one available? My personal approach is that I avoid manga while a show is airing (that’s why I haven’t continued reading Tasogare or Sankarea now that I’m following them). When the show finishes, I will start reading (like I’m about to do with Mirai Nikki).

20 thoughts on “Life’s Great Mysteries: The Weight of Knowing the Story”

  1. I think some people are under a ridiculous notion that they are entitled to having things their way when it comes to an adaptation. Whenever someone doesn’t sound as someone expected them to, it leaves disappointment because they are familiar to a whole other voice that they imagined. People tend to forget that adaptations are just that. Adaptations. People can’t expect everything to be included from the manga as that would be extremely time-consuming and pointless. As long as the central ideas are included in the anime, I see no reason to easily disregard it. Not to mention there are a lot more man-hours pressed into anime adaptation. Voice actors, animators, storyboard writers, all of these take up much more time than a mangaka spends on a chapter. There are cases as well, though few, where an adaptation can surpass its original content. I’ve heard people prefer Elfen Lied’s adaptation over its manga, and as for me, I prefer Baka To Test’s anime over the manga.


    1. That’s true…Honestly, I’d never condemn an adaptation for being an adaptation (I actually like game adaptations most of the time). But I’ve been seeing a lot of the people who do.


  2. It depends to be honest on the situation. If we’re talking about plot-driven series, the shock from knowing the story is hard and the enjoyment is affected by it. I generally don’t watch multiple times plot-driven series for the same reason.
    On comedy series on the other side, it just don’t feel this way. (I watched Seitokai Yakuindomo 5 or 6 times after reading the manga…)


  3. For me I think it’s really a case of it being the other way around – it’s all about execution. Once I’ve seen it my expectations are set in stone, so I know that I’m re-watching it to have a good time, watching on a more meta-level to see what makes it tick. Things like “spoilers” don’t matter to me in the slightest.. if the show executes it “well”, I’m happy, even if I know what it’s going to do. There are other things to appreciate, and that’s why I’m watching it again.

    So if a show veers off my (already very low) expectations, I’ll only get angry when it goes the lazy route of mass-market appeal. Because I crave entertainment, and seeing the same thing over and over just inspires apathy. I’m happy enough with a show that did something I didn’t like, but “could theoretically be fixed” than a show that didn’t even try, or tried too hard to be like everything else. That’s just boring, and doesn’t deserve a first chance, let alone a second.

    Stories that evoke emotion are simply better than ones that don’t, in my reckoning. Even if that emotion is revulsion or hatred, at least it was something different and hopefully “new”.


    1. I feel like I’m the same way with having expectations set in stone…that probably explains a lot. I really should read more manga before shows air to get my opinion straight, though.


  4. Adaptations are usually worse because of the differences between the mediums. As a simple example, anime episodes last 24 minutes and manga chapters have anywhere from 15-25 pages. In both cases, you want natural stopping points (or cliffhangers), but how much content you can fit into a single “unit” changes. Furthermore, in manga people are more forgiving of talking and explanations because the story moves at the pace of your understanding (ie: how fast you can read). In anime, you become more impatient listening to people drone on and on.

    Following from this, things are almost always best suited for their original medium simply because they were written like that. It’s pretty simple.


    1. makes sense…if it was designed for that medium to begin with, it would only be natural that it would seem incompatible with a different one


  5. I don’t think adaptations are inherently a bad thing, nor are they always worse than the original product. It’s just a matter of being able to step back and recognize that an anime and a manga are two very different things. Or an anime and a videogame. You mentioned the Persona 4 anime: I absolutely adore the game, and I was never disappointed by the anime adaptation in the least, but they did have the same voice cast come back and reprise their roles. There wasn’t a huge change there in that regard. At the same time, I vastly prefer the Kuroshitsuji manga to the anime — I just feel that there’s so much more to offer in the manga that the anime becomes an inferior (but still worthwhile) product.

    But I actually react the same way to most manga to anime adaptions that you do: they very rarely bother me because I very rarely have a set “voice” or tone in my head when I read. But if I know the story beforehand, then the adaptation can lose some of its appeal. Usually not enough to turn me away, but it does become more of a diversion than an obsession.


    1. True…but I would expect that other game adaptations are similar in trying to have the same cast…yet they generally aren’t viewed so highly


  6. I’ve only heard stories about the Code Geass manga until now. I can’t believe some of the stuff they changed in that. Is it true they got rid of the mechs?

    With a lot of things, the version you start with will always feel like the proper version. I especially have this problem with different voice casts, since even if both are good, I’ll always find the second one very strange. Adaptations can be like that sometimes. You tend to notice the little changes.


    1. yeah…the mechs are all gone. They shoot missile launchers and guns at each other, basically.

      hmm…you think it’s because we’re looking for the changes? That’s an interesting point…


  7. There are some failed anime adaptations such as mirai nikki. The ending was a total fail. It was diffrent from the one in the manga (which also sucked). But anyway the Mirai Nikki manga is pretty nice. Alot better than the anime anyway.


  8. There’s a manga for Code Geass?? I must have overlooked that on mal lol Yeah, when it comes to anime, I rarely read the manga before the anime(if there is any) in order to prevent spoilers. However, there are still people out there who just never read manga because they don’t like to read or find it troublesome…I know a few. -_- Which is why I think these anime, no matter how horrible, will always have an audience that will appreciate it and support it. What scares me though is not knowing how big this particular audience is…


    1. There are actually like 4 manga stories for Code Geass lol…All of them are alternate stories.

      To be fair, there are so many different manga series…so hard to find them all O.o


  9. With manga I can take as long as I want to read it, but with anime, I’m forced to see it through the director’s eyes. Most of the time they do a good job, but it’s always going to be an adaptation.

    I will always be excited for manga becoming anime, but I wouldn’t stop reading. Maybe it’s because I have 2 separate mindsets for anime and manga.


  10. Some people are against adaptations precisely because they are adaptations. There’s a very common preconception that all adaptations suck because, let’s be honest, there’s a good share of them that do suck.

    I’ve always considered myself someone who doesn’t judge things beforehand, and I strive to stay true to that mindset, and while it is in fact impossible to rid myself of any expectations, I try to maintain them as neutral as possible. I’m not even against changes in adapted material, as long as the changes make sense, and aren’t simply pointless.

    I do think that, in most cases, the source material is better, but that doesn’t automatically make the adaptation bad. Anime is a very limited way to tell a story when compared to manga or novels. There’s a lot more time and space constraints, introspection will in most cases be outright boring if present in the same quantity in a animated product, etc… That often means the source material is more rich in terms of story exposition and character development, which usually makes it better. If one accepts the limits of Anime as a means to tell a story, though, one will come to realize it does has its advantages too: more potential to make fighting scenes epic, the presence of music as a emotional trigger, etc..

    That said, I had never been able to prove myself in that theory as I’d only read manga after watching the anime. But I’m now having my first experience when it comes to anime adaptation of which I’ve read the entire source material, and I’m quite pleased with the result. That is Fate/Zero. Of course there are little things that disappoint me, such as the skipping of some important character development, or the animation of the Gilgamesh vs. Berseker air battle. Still, overall I’m loving the result. While this is a very faithful adaptation, it does has its share of changes. I can see things I wish were there in the anime and sometimes I get a bit angry at it, but I can also admit that I enjoyed some of the scenes more in the anime than in the novel, so it’s all good.

    People who bash adaptations indiscriminately just have a lack of objectiveness.

    For me, adaptations will not always be worse than the original nor will they always be better or equal. Therefore, I don’t think the problem is with adaptations themselves, since it’s not a restraint, as much as it is an advantage to have the story already laid out. You can integrate more foreshadowing, which all viewers love, you can safeguard any possible contradictions or flaws you yourself noticed while going through the source material… I’d say it’s a pretty good advantage.


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