We’re living in a golden age of anime remakes. They’ve been a staple for decades, but for people in my generation (the just about or just over 30 crowd), suddenly shows we grew up with are being made again with reckless abandon. And, despite feeling old because of it, it’s sort of awesome to talk about.
Last week on OTAKU COMING HOME, we defined the different types of anime remakes out there. For review (and this will be on the test) we categorized them as:
- The “Reimagined” Remake
- The “Manga” Remake
- The “We Don’t Know Yet” Remake (as in, not enough information out there yet)
We went on to chat at length about the pros of the “Reimagined” Remake, finding few, if any, faults with them. Actually, if we’re being honest it was a full-on lovefest. It’s pretty obvious that, had I to pick, I’d watch a “Reimagined” remake over any other type. Are they the best kind of remake? I might argue that. But there are plenty of others that might vote for this week’s focus - - the “Manga” Remake.
To define, these are current shows or films based on a manga that have, at least once before, been adapted to animation without following the source (or deviating drastically at a certain point). The current iteration is now being released with the specific purpose of adhering to the manga.
There are a ton of these to choose from (HELLSING: ULTIMATE is topical on Anime Vice at the moment, and the new BERSERK films may stick closer to the manga - - just to name a couple), which makes it difficult to decide which to focus on. With a limited word count available to me and the infinite expanse of the comments section, I’ve decided to stick with two shows that I’m a) familiar with in their previous iterations and b) approached the idea of adaptation very differently from one another.
Got an opinion on it? Want to chat about the pros and cons of other “manga” remakes? Let’s keep it going down in the comments. For now, let’s take a look at “Exhibit A.”
Title: DRAGON BALL KAI (DRAGON BALL Z KAI here in the states)
Mission Statement: Remaster, re-edit, and streamline DRAGON BALL Z to follow the manga as closely as possible with (mostly) existing footage.
Release Type: Broadcast TV (Japan/America) followed by DVD/Blu-ray release
Oh, my beloved DRAGON BALL. As a kid I sat through, eventually, all 508 episodes (from DB through DBGT), every movie, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Actually, I lost something like $300 when I fell for a fansubber/trader scam when trying to collect the entire set of original DB eps. We didn’t have nice things like FUNimation at the time, kids. It was a dark era.
That said, despite my love for the entire series, I will never, ever, sit through the 291 episodes of DRAGON BALL Z again. It was rife with filler, escalating insanity, and what I just saw as wasted time. Even at 14, DRAGON BALL Z was an exercise in affectionate patience. It was probably good practice for parenthood.
I was immediately intrigued when I heard about DRAGON BALL KAI. Not because I wanted to watch the series again necessarily, but by how they were planning to execute it. It was meant to follow the manga, yeah, but with minimal bits of new animation. How the hell were they going to pull that off?
Unfortunately, not very well if you ask me.
In its own way, DRAGON BALL KAI is an exercise in patience, too. To my critical eye it smacks of equal parts cash grab and fan project. In celebration of the show’s 20th anniversary we’re going to slightly update a beloved series and recut it to less than half its original length, but look we’re re-recording the audio and adding a few seconds of new animation! Isn’t that worth your money?
Nope, not mine. Short of the beautiful new openings and the handful of new scenes - - stylized to blend with the old ones - - it didn’t do anything special beyond the admittedly great remastering (which could have been applied to the whole series to greater effect). The series, filler aside, had a pretty decent track record for sticking with the manga. Was it scene-for-scene perfect? No. But it was closer than most were at a time when that sort of thing wasn’t important. You know what I could do if I wanted to watch the old series and make it more like the manga? Skip the filler myself and not spend more money.
Maybe it’s a good way for a new audience to get into the show, but arguing that this is the “Toriyama Cut” as a way to entice old fans doesn’t bring out my wallet. It seems lazy, and I don’t reward laziness with my money.
If they had gone another route, maybe reanimated from scratch to follow the manga, that I would’ve been interested in. Maybe something like...
Mission Statement: Five years after the original animation adaptation ended, recreate the series to follow the manga from (near) beginning to end.
Release Type: Broadcast TV (Japan/America) followed by DVD/Blu-ray release
I don’t need to tell you how I feel about this one, do I? I’m pretty sure I’ve already covered that somewhere... What we can talk about though is why I find this series far more successful than something like DRAGON BALL KAI.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the original FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST anime. I loved it, beginning to end, and thought CONQUEROR OF SHAMBALLA was a great way to wrap that story up. In fact, Hiromu Arakawa, the mangaka behind FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST enjoyed the series, too. She gave the team behind it free reign to tell their version of the story because hers wasn’t entirely mapped out at the time and, more importantly, she actually wanted them to be different. I have to respect that, as a creator myself and as a fan. She had her version, they could have theirs, and both could be awesome.
When FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST: BROTHERHOOD came along, I did scratch my head a little. So soon? Really? Why?
Then I watched it.
Beautiful, crisp new animation - - the result, I’d guess, of a larger budget this time around - - complemented by a story that I’d read but hadn’t seen in motion yet. I t’s a world I love in all its forms, and this was no exception. Where a show like DBZ KAI tried to pull a switcheroo and call it the “manga” edition, BROTHERHOOD really did the deed. They put a ton of work into making a 28-volume manga fit into a 64-episode series and they did it in style. Was it scene-for-scene? No, but BONES clearly did their homework when plotting it out, down to recreating panels in some cases.
That last part is a nice touch, too. Last week we talked about the dangers of adaptations/remakes falling prey to reverence of the source material. In the “Manga” Remake, it’s almost mandatory that some of that slavish adoration be in place, but BONES made it their own while still sticking to the manga every step of the way. Pulling panels directly from the comic was a nod to the source, a wink at the fan, and respect for the creator who did a damn fine job in the first place.
Now, I not only hear but also support the argument that in many cases the slavish conversion of a story from one medium to another is unnecessary. If you have the source, and you’re not going to do anything differently to it when you present it in its new form, what’s the point? In most cases I’d rather read a book than see a panel-by-panel remake (ala SIN CITY, which I honestly didn’t even like reading). Not every good manga, comic, or old movie needs to be converted and represented perfectly intact in the tele-visual medium. This is especially true if you’re just planning to cut and paste rather than go all in and actually remake it.
However, there are some stories that transcend format and, rather than being held back or even detrimentally handicapped by the source material, are enhanced by it in adaptations. Those are the shows that deserve our attention in all of their available formats. They may not be as unique as my preferred “Reimagined” Remakes, but there’s something special about them that demands my attention. And those are the “Manga” Remakes I can get behind.
What do you guys think about “manga” remakes? Do you prefer adaptations to stick close to the original or would you rather see it reinterpreted, like me? Any favorites? Keep the conversation going until next week’s article!
Next week on OTAKU COMING HOME: Part 3 - The “Mystery” Remake: Should we be excited or skeptical?
Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.