As the anime business model adjusts to a digital entertainment age, 1-cour (12-episode) adaptations with possibility of renewal have become increasingly common, as opposed to the past, when longer adaptations were often guaranteed from the start. This profit driven approach to adaptations is a blatant reminder of the fact that art cannot exist without patrons, and that anime studios are in it for profit as much the artistry.
For example, “Tokyo Ghoul Root A” drops to follow up a successful first season and keep the profit coming, but the decline in animation quality and scrambled story line angers fans (just look at the MyAnimeList reviews). Is fan outrage justified? In many cases of commercially successful adaptations, probably not. By the time “Tokyo Ghoul Root A” dropped, the anime adaptation had done its job, and that’s something fans should celebrate.
The “Tokyo Ghoul” anime elevated the source material’s popularity to an entirely new level. It secured a North American publishing deal and increased first week manga volume sales in Japan by fourfold by the airing of the final episode of “Tokyo Ghoul Root A.” It was a resounding commercial victory.
“Akame ga Kill” suffered a similar fate to “Tokyo Ghoul.” The TV adaptation’s second half was a deal breaker to many viewers because White Fox’s decision to finish the anime before the manga concluded led to a final arc filled with melodrama and excessive character death. For its efforts, White Fox’s anime original ending earned mediocre to poor scores from critical communities, including MyAnimeList.
But “Akame ga Kill” proved to be a greater promotional success than “Tokyo Ghoul”’s anime adaptation. First week manga volume sales saw more than a sixfold increase. Even with the anime’s decline, it ramped up sales for a manga that is still ongoing.
Or what about “Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works” (2014-15)? Its oddly paced second season and predecessor-reliant character arcs divided the fan base into different factions. The most dominant factions were made of those who were familiar with “Fate,” and those who weren’t. MyAnimeList demonstrates a clear divide.
Then the “Unlimited Blade Works” Blu-rays sold a total of 30,000 per cour in a market where 2,000 Blu-rays per cour is the average. Ufotable and Type Moon successfully converted one of the world’s most iconic visual novels into a beautifully presented and fairly faithful to the source TV adaptation. Unfortunately, being faithful to the source meant it was best viewed after reading part one of the visual novel, and that storytelling styles that worked well in the visual novel might not have translated well to television.
In these three cases, a disconnect surfaces between the success of the adaptation and Western fan response. But the poor adaptations become more bearable in light of source material that either rectified the problems or told different stories entirely.
A Japanese fan disappointed by the second season of “Tokyo Ghoul” or “Unlimited Blade Works” is more likely to pick up the source (or already be reading it) than an American fan, who has very limited access to even the most popular manga and visual novels. Due to translation difficulties, text-based mediums have been historically neglected in the West in favor of subtitling anime releases. Only a handful of Western fans read source material regularly, since sources for new/upcoming anime are usually only available via digitally-based scanlation groups.
If a Western watcher gets excited for an upcoming anime, but the nature of Western anime markets makes reading the source first difficult or unappealing, then the fan should watch the anime and enjoy as he/she sees fit. But when doing so, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of anime are created as promotional materials, and are dependent on the fan reading the source material for the “full experience.” And if one wants that full experience, he/she should seek out the source material. This model isn’t optimal for the West, but it’s reality.
And the other group of Western fans, those who read the source via scanlation or licensed volumes before viewing the anime adaptation, should ask this of a disappointing adaptation: has the anime successfully brought more sales and popularity to the light novel or manga? If yes, then rejoice! There’s now a reason to be excited about the continued success of an enjoyable work of art, and a convenient method to convince “anime secondaries” to pick up the original work.
So a less than ideal but still successful anime adaptation isn’t the end of the world, and should be celebrated by followers of the source material and accepted by anime watchers. This doesn’t mean one has to like the adaptation itself, just that it should be appreciated. If you, the consumer, keep an open mind about the difference between commercial and critical success, you might find the western fan base for a manga prospering and your media-consumption horizons broadening.
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Storyteller, student, and in the eyes of my cat, a legend, I’ve wondered through many an exotic land and treaded countless unbeaten paths to find myself in a swivel chair at my keyboard, spinning my own tales or engaging with and responding to anime and manga with my own words and thoughts. Someday, I hope to turn my love of writing into my profession.