Adapting manga as a Performer, not an Artist
July 22, 2009
Manga to anime adaptations usually are more vulnerable to criticisms than novel to anime adaptations when it comes to respecting source material, mostly because the animated representations are inferior to what the readers imagined in the manga (which are usually of much higher quality drawings). Although I believe that anime should be treated separately from its manga counterpart, there are some merits to their criticisms. An animator once said,
When adapting manga into anime, mangaka is the artist and animators are just performers.
I don’t deny that the considerable level of creativity is needed to create a good adaptation, but I can also relate to the above sentiment as someone who plays piano for leisure. Imagine a pianist performing his interpretation of one of Beethoven’s pieces. No doubt he would want to infuse the music with his own unique expressions, but a considerable level of skills is needed to preserve the spirit and intention of the composer. Sometimes there are musical elements (which work in harmony with other elements embedded in the piece) he must not forget to express, just as anime has to, if we are to view manga more or less as a storyboard for anime, express things that make its source material special.
Take the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique for example. A very simple and slow piece that most players can hit all the notes with some practice, but not so easy to play a great performance of it. Although sluggish in tempo (Adagio), your right hand needs to consistently play two parts in perfect control pretty much throughout the entire piece and it can prove very demanding to highlight the melody notes apart from its accompaniment, let alone with pathetique (sorrowful) expression. Some of you may also notice that from the fourth bar in the above picture, left hand too operate in the same fashion. This becomes really difficult from the 6th bar, as each hand must connect their respective melody notes smoothly (due to the presence of tie assembling them together), and the fingering order needed to achieve this makes it very challenging to highlight melody notes while each accompaniment flows gently like a river. What you would notice from amateurs is that the melody feels disconnected, while the inconsistent tone of accompaniment ruins the overall harmony of the piece. Needless to say this is only a tip of the iceberg and there are other endeavours in the piece that make it difficult, for me personally anyway, to perform with desired expression.
I don’t need to mention that performing a musical piece isn’t exactly same as animating a manga, but sometimes anime studios need to be more skilled performers than an artist. Monster is a text-book example of a great faithful performance of its manga source, as is Shigurui. Where Berserk and Blade of the Immortal failed to fully materialise drawings of such high calibre on silver screen, Shigurui does with excellent control of pacing, phasing in and out of normal/skeletal/muscle representations, attention to lighting and details in drawings, ultimately infusing the spirit of original material with its own uniquely intense expression.
There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to adapting manga to anime adaptations, as is evident from the discussion that took place from bateszi’s previous post on FMA: Brotherhood. How much freedom are animators allowed to enjoy? How loyal must the animators be to the source material? The obvious answer is finding the right balance. Having the creative ability to freely express as an artist, but also to perform the original spirit and intention alive for us to indulge in with skilled execution.