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This Week in Anime
Are Some Manga Truly "Unadaptable"?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

With the release of Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction, Nick and Steve take a look at it and some other manga that were thought to be "unadaptable"—and see if that was truly the case.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction, Berserk (2016), Mob Psycho 100, and Chainsaw Man are currently streaming on Crunchyroll, while Dorohedoro and The Way of the Househusband are available on Netflix. Flowers of Evil and Scum's Wish are currently streaming on HIDIVE, while Pupa does not seem to be streamed anywhere anymore.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Nick, I spend a decent portion of my words in this column complaining about anime overproduction, so in the interest of fairness, let's take the opposite tack. Why isn't more anime being made? Specifically, why isn't more good anime being made from all of the good manga out there? And if we have time at the end, I guess we can tackle the age-old question of why we can't have nice things.
For the answer to that question, I think we need to turn to the wizened words of DJ Khaled. Simply put, sometimes manga are just too good to be made into anime. An artist might be too great at rendering their artistic vision for anyone to dare translate it to a medium that has to move. Or else their predilections might be too niche to feel worth the effort by the slimy suits who choose what gets funded. However, as the production bubble continues to expand, that border is getting ever hazier. Why, just this week they released a Space Invaders anime!
I believe you meant to say the Dead Dead Demon's Dededededestruction anime, but I can see where you got confused. Very similar plots.

And that is indeed the genesis of this column. Somehow, this is the first anime adaptation we've gotten out of the two-plus decades' worth of critically acclaimed manga from the twisted mind of Inio Asano.
Asano is among a few popular creators who, despite having made tons of acclaimed and successful series, has never gotten a full animated adaptation to his name. There are many potential reasons for that, but chief among them in fans' minds has been that, well, how the hell would you? What studio would be crazy enough to try and bring this to the screen?
It's worth keeping in mind that when people talk about "unadaptable" manga, they're talking about a complex intersection of many possible reasons. But a recurring one is certainly the quality of the art itself. Drawing a manga is an entirely different beast from animating an anime. It's a different medium with a slew of different tools and different advantages/disadvantages. It means you can do a huge two-page spread full of intricate detail that you need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate—which you can do because the image is static. It also means you can do silly and extremely potent stuff like this with a single page turn.

One of my favorite title pages in anything ever.
It's a conundrum that has haunted anime and manga fans for ages. The fact is that anime adaptations help spread the word better than just about anything else, so if you find a manga you love, you always secretly hope for one to happen so your fav can get the recognition it deserves. Yet it can be the very things you love about it that make an adaptation practically impossible. So if one ever does come around, well, then you have to worry about getting something so infamously botched that just the word/number combo of Berserk (2016) can make people grimace.
To that point, I guess it's also worth keeping in mind that "unadaptable" is usually shorthand for "unable to be adapted well given the current state of the industry, outside of some unforeseeable moonshot project." You can adapt anything if you put your mind to it! And if you lower your standards to ankle height.
True, things that once seemed impossible are now at least marginally more imaginable with the advancement of technology. Berserk's full-CG entry is infamous in part thanks to its terrible pre-production issues, but the idea to utilize a different kind of animation to approximate Kentarō Miura's heavily detailed and stylized illustrations was a good one! Even just the trailers for Dededede show how vital 3DCG is for this adaptation.
Asano almost certainly uses 3D rendering software to assist in the creation of his manga, too. It's just the nature of art to incorporate and adapt to the tools available. The 2016 Berserk might have gotten it wrong, but that's no reason to write off the technique once and for all. Heck, I thought Dorohedoro would never get an anime for similar reasons, and I was similarly skeptical when the adaptation relied heavily on 3DCG. And lo and behold, in the end, I thought the show did great!
I have my nits to pick with the actual animation, but the overall look of Dorohedoro is dead on there. Everyone looks like they smell like roadkill in a peat bog.
And that's very important. But as much as I enjoyed it, I think it's also a great example of the weaknesses that often arise when translating manga into anime. Just like translating text, there's no such thing as a 1:1 replacement. My go-to example is the very first panel of Dorohedoro, in which Q Hayashida immediately lets the audience know exactly the kind of manga they're in for: grody, violent, and always tactile.

The analogous shot from the anime just doesn't have anywhere near the same impact.
Yeah, that just ain't got the same uncomfortably viscous juice. I imagine part of the problem is just having to translate something made for a vertically oriented page into a wide screenshot. Fans like to compare still shots in anime and two-page spreads in manga, but the vast majority of any comic's content comes in deliberately sectioned-off panels. That's just not possible in a traditional TV production, and also not something you want replicated anyway. Remember Way of the Househusband?
I'd rather not. However, I do like to think about anime adaptations as an act of trade—an equivalent exchange, if you like. While you might inevitably lose some of the artistry and fidelity of the mangaka's work, you can get voice acting, color, and cool cuts of animation in return. Maybe the adaptation even takes a wholly unexpected route and allows you to see the manga in an entirely new light. Under ideal circumstances, those added dimensions make up for whatever is lost.
Oh sure, a strong adaptation can make additions and subtractions while maintaining the core of the original's soul. Though it sometimes feels like modern fandom is hostile to that approach. Another unenviable part of adapting manga is it's a lot easier for bozos on Twitter to make anal side-by-side comparisons between manga and frame to show how those lazy, worthless animators missed the three important hairs on a character's right temple. People adapting novels don't have to deal with that particular level of pedantry.
That's why, in almost all circumstances, I prefer a creative adaptation to a faithful one. Just go hogwild with it. That's how you get the psychedelic eye candy of Mob Pyscho 100. Nobody on that team cared about meticulously redrawing manga panels. They cared about giving us sick shit like this.

To be fair, for all of ONE's strengths as a creator, I don't think most fans were clamoring for a one-to-one approach to his illustration style. Letting the adaptation play fast and loose was the obvious choice there.

Meanwhile something like A Bride's Story doesn't lend itself to that approach because the details are a vital part of the atmosphere. The complex patterns and designs that Kaoru Mori illustrates make her world and characters vibrant and lived in. Losing that texture would be disastrous for a hypothetical adaptation.

I see similar attitudes pop up around Shinichi Sakamoto's work, like Innocent or #DRCL. And yeah, with that dizzying level of detail on the page informing the texture and tone of the work, why would you want to waste the effort on an adaptation that would inevitably fall short of that quintessence?
Sakamoto can make the image of a smashed pomegranate feel profane and stomach-churning, which I don't think is a skill set most animation schools focus on.
Jumping back to Asano's case, I think it's not just the level of detail, but also the deliberate ways he plays with form that have made his previous works bereft of anime. While Goodnight Punpun's collage of minimalism, realism, and surrealism could theoretically work in anime form, they're already assembled so powerfully in the manga. You'd need the perfect team adapting it to even come close.
That's presumably why Dedededededededededede was the first of his works to get an adaptation. While it still has surrealist elements in its tone and dialog, it's relatively normal compared to Punpun. Though if I had my druthers we'd eventually get a series of shorts fully adapting What a wonderful world!

Come to think of it, form factor is also an issue. Not all manga fit neatly into a feature-length or TV season package, at least not in a way that would be satisfying to most viewers. Sometimes a story being long as hell or short and sweet is enough to make it "unadaptable."
Definitely. I was looking through my bookcase for manga that hadn't been made into anime yet, and my Kyoko Okazaki section jumped out at me. She's one of my favorite mangaka, but I don't think there's a lot of demand to animate single-volume josei stories from the '90s about flawed, complex women. Though they did make Helter Skelter into a live-action film, so there is that.
That's the frustrating kind. Tons of works are feasible to translate to animation but lack the perceived wide appeal or modern relevancy to get funded. So unless a rogue producer gets wild hair across their ass, all you can do is dream.
And as I racked my brain for other examples of "unadaptable" manga, that's the situation I kept coming back to. It usually had nothing to do with art or length or some other untranslatable quality of the manga form. They were, by and large, stories that were too obscure, weird, or salacious to hope for enough attention to warrant an anime.
The world just isn't ready for a full-length Nana & Kaoru adaptation. This many dildos at once is Too Hot For TV.
I'm happy whenever we get something transgressive to the screen, like a Flowers of Evil or a Scum's Wish, but there's just so much else out there that I can't imagine ever being palatable for a general TV audience. For example, I'm not holding my breath to see Himegoto: Juukyuusai no Seifuku animated, which is stuffed to the gills with gender, sexuality, toxicity, and all other manners of spiciness. I love it, but its very first chapter also ends with one of the protagonists indulging in a rape fantasy. Not exactly a Saturday morning cartoon either.
I'd like to think that the small surge in overtly sexual TV productions of the last couple of years would suggest the market is broadening in that respect, but all of those entries have been porn-first endeavors rather than anything with more of a bite to it. There's an ironic dead zone where something can be too sexually charged for TV yet simultaneously not sexualized enough.
True, it's an interesting and developing space. Another example I'd throw out there is Yuureitou, which riffs on Edogawa Ranpo-esque horror mysteries with a lot of fun camp and narrative dexterity. It also stars a trans man as one of the protagonists, and while the manga isn't always the best at handling that (it indulges in both exploitation and empowerment), he's a great character. I honestly think the story could be a natural fit for an anime—in manga form it's a definite page-turner—but we haven't even gotten an official stateside licensing of it. Couldn't tell you why, except for the aforementioned general lack of nice things.
Hell, even stuff that does get announced is starting to feel like a pipe dream. We've been waiting how a long since that Uzumaki anime was announced.
Kinda feels like every new update keeps giving us the runaround. Like we've been going in circles. Wish there was some other shape I could use to describe that.
Seriously though, "Good Junji Ito anime" has been on so many wish lists for so long, let alone one handled by one of my favorite directors in the industry. Yet we're almost 5 years into waiting for so much as a release date. It's starting to feel like the world's meanest April Fool's prank.
Those snippets we have gotten are pretty damn good, though. Looking back to our earlier points, Hiroshi Nagashima seems to have at last found the right balance between preserving the intrinsic creepiness of Ito's art and granting it motion. I guess the tradeoff is that it takes at least half a decade of constant work to accomplish that. This begs the question of whether that's worth pursuing in the first place.
It's not even the only "unadaptable" manga I love that's gotten an announcement only to wallow in limbo. Like, I get that it probably takes a lot of time and careful planning to adapt Kamome Shirahama's beautifully delicate linework and evocative paneling:

but also it's been 2 years and all we know about the Witch Hat Atelier anime is that it purportedly exists.
Another fun angle to think about is "unadaptable" manga from immensely popular creators with proven hits. No matter how big Chainsaw Man gets, for some reason, I just can't imagine anybody gracing Fire Punch with an anime.

Probably because of all the cannibalism and incest in the first chapter.
Even if those episodes were shorts, you and I both witnessed that glass ceiling break with the Pupa anime.
You know, you do have a point there. If Pupa can get an anime, anything is possible. Maybe the world is a little bigger and a little brighter than I thought.
The only reason we're talking about this at all is because at least one of those long shots finally hit their mark. Hope for the best, expect the worst, and all that. In the end, all we can do is put our support behind whatever works manage to make it and keep the fire alive for the ones that don't.
You can also think about it mathematically: the number of manga out there will always be greater than the number of anime. Instead of a call for despair, I think that's a great call to read more manga! If you're sick of sifting through isekai every season, there's plenty more variety and experimentation to be found on the printed page. Take a chance. Broaden your horizons. Just don't forget to temper your expectations with the most important lesson of all:

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