FLCL and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both are produced at everyone’s favorite GAINAX, but more importantly, they are original stories (i.e. not based on manga); conceived and animated by the same creative people. Cowboy Bebop‘s the same, Eureka Seven and even Last Exile too. Casting a net over this spring season’s offerings, we turn up arguably the three best shows airing right now – Darker than BLACK, Dennou Coil and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann. All three are original creations. If you can’t agree that these are the best, you can’t deny that they are at least the freshest; watching them is an experience, there is a striking color and soul to the work that’s often lacking in the typical franchise cash-in.
I suppose you can’t blame the anime industry, the popular manga adaptation is a surer bet. Why waste money on an unknown quantity when you can just pump more sales into an already famous franchise. Ultimately, there is no risk, because, if nothing else, the fans will lap it up. The issue I’m concerned with is quality; all the original anime I’ve mentioned above is good enough to transcend the immediate community and find an audience beyond the typical Haruhi bed-spread otaku, but the majority of manga adaptations are simply mediocre.
I’m watching and enjoying both “Bokurano” and “Claymore“, and yet beneath their undeniably cool concepts, they feel stifled and artificial. The same can be said of Studio Pierrot‘s Shonen Jump adaptations like Bleach and Naruto Shippuuden; they are “animated” to make money, and so, to milk the cash cow as much as possible, the pace of narrative has slowed down to that of a snail. I used to love Naruto and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into Shippuuden, but the sad truth is that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch an episode of it for over a month now. I find it an unbearable waste of time.
You know it’s bad when the director of the Bokurano anime declares his distaste for the original manga. Rather than find someone willing to pour their heart and soul into this adaptation, Gonzo hand it to some mercenary looking for his next pay-check. What a waste. Manga adaptations can work, just look at Black Lagoon, Fullmetal Alchemist and Mushishi, but the key appears to be a passionate staff willing to drive the material onwards and upwards. It’s no surprise then that an original production like Denno Coil feels so unique, given that it’s the beloved child of an animator who has been formulating the story in his mind for nigh on 10 years.
Original anime have a certain style; they feel suited to animation, they emphasize movement, color and adventure; they flow naturally and with purpose. By and large, a manga adaptation is the opposite; dense with plot but let down by an inconsistent pace of story telling. There are bad cases on either side, but with the more anime I watch, the more I’m attracted to imagination, color and above all else, soul.