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Why You Should Give Anime Reboots a Chance

by Christopher Farris, Jacki Jing, & The Cartoon Cipher,

Video editing by Ahbi of Cartoon Cipher

It's still fresh in our memory: A mega-popular Shonen Jump franchise rolling out the second season of its anime adaptation, only to end up a crushing disappointment that killed most of the interest in the series and left its future prospects in serious doubt. But enough about One-Punch Man Season 2! The second season of CloverWorks's anime version of The Promised Neverland was a huge let-down for many, from the writers working on it who opted to have their names stricken from the credits for the last couple episodes, to the fans of the original manga who had been looking forward to their favorite stories being done justice. It leaves a bad taste for everyone, with the story the anime was telling feeling unfinished even though it technically ended, and a worry that the anime-viewing populace at large will just forget about and move on from the franchise now, for all the previous good it had done.

But fans of series like The Promised Neverland are nothing if not predisposed to internalizing its messages of hope—the idea that there's always another chance to make things right. And that's why, even partway through the second season of the show's doomed run, the idea of a remake was already being floated by the franchise's followers. To some, it might at first feel like floundering desperation, the Bargaining step of the stages of grief. But it's actually a comparatively common path for anime in recent years, with several series scoring a new lease on life, and a shot at redemption via a remake.

The first example that comes to mind is Hellsing. The initial anime adaptation of Kouta Hirano's vampiric ultraviolence extravaganza started airing in October of 2001, at a time when only three volumes of the manga had been completed. As such, Gonzo's anime covered only the first twelve chapters of the manga, supplemented by original material, including a wholly-new final arc. The anime did well enough to make Hellsing into a fixture of early-2000's anime fandom, but its short length and incomplete style turned even more attention on the manga, with fans coming around to realizing what they had really been missing. It wasn't just the characters and moments from later in the source comic that would go on to become iconic. The more of Hirano's outlandish artistic excess readers absorbed, the more they realized how Gonzo's anime had ultimately failed to capture it. And it was into this environment of increasingly hungry Hellsing fans that, barely four years later, the anime world was rocked with the announcement of Hellsing Ultimate.

It was a situation that at first seemed too good to be true: A popular series getting a new lease on life just a few years later, with the budget and craftsmanship afforded an OVA dedicated to truly doing justice to the source material. This was while Hirano's manga was still running, by the way, meaning the Hellsing hype train was still fully in motion for this new anime to capitalize on. So not only was Ultimate able to recreate scenes already legendary to both anime and manga fans – such as the fight between Alucard and Alexander – in all the glory afforded by being unencumbered by the restrictions of a TV broadcast, but the more slowly dedicated release schedule meant that the manga had concluded and its ending could be adapted by the time of the OVA's final release. It took over six years for all of Hellsing Ultimate to be released, but it meant that at the end of that, fans of the franchise had a definitive anime adaptation of the manga, with no compromising What-Ifs lingering the way the original anime had left them with.

Hellsing is a well-known instance of this sort of thing happening, but it is far from the most famous example. That honor goes to Fullmetal Alchemist as probably the case most cited when fans bring up the possibility of redemptively remaking anime adaptations. Bones' initial 2003 adaptation of Hiromu Arakawa's manga was another formative fixture of anime fandom of the time. Its mega-popularity was barely tempered by the understanding that its back half took the story in a completely original direction from the still-unfinished manga, as this was a comparatively common way of doing things back then. The show's mainstay status makes the case that the decision to tackle the series again five years later, with Studio Bones once more on animation duties, may have been motivated more by the fact that there was plenty of life still seen in the property, as opposed to any specific desire to set things right.

That said, being a dedicated adaptation of Arakawa's work in full meant that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was pretty much always destined to be seen as the real version of the story. Realigning characters who'd had their roles shifted or identities outright changed for the 2003 version made apparent to a lot of viewers how many distinct choices were made for that initial anime taking less than half the story and trying to spin its own conclusive narrative out of all the threads it had been given. While the original show still arguably succeeds as a narrative in its own right, the urge to compare and contrast with the long-term authorial intent of Brotherhood ironically made the first adaptation more contentious in hindsight than it had been at its inception. It's further ironic in the point that the rebooted anime likely wouldn't exist without the popularity of that 2003 series, tacitly admitted in the way Brotherhood opts to skip over and speed through a lot of the material at the start that had been previously covered by its forebear.

Remember Yozakura Quartet? Of course you don't! Suzuhito Yasuda's fantasy-action story of an alliance of humans and youkai protecting their town started in 2006 and continues running to this day, but the english release of that manga has been digital-only for years now with barely any promotion, with none of its anime beyond the original TV series seeing an official western release. And that's a pity, because for the purposes of this discussion of second-chance adaptations, Yozakura Quartet is one of the best examples. The original anime version by studio Nomad aired in October 2008, when only five volumes of manga, out of an eventual 27 and counting, had been released. Like the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime, this version of Yozakura Quartet reshuffled story beats and reinvented the roles of several characters, and like this past season of The Promised Neverland, came across as a dull, poorly-paced mess that misrepresented the appeal of the source material. It was a disappointment to those familiar with the charms of the original manga, and because of its more cult status compared to juggernauts like Hellsing and Fullmetal Alchemist, it was an even more welcome shock to see the series given a second shot only two years later.

Starting in 2010, a three-episode OVA entitled Yozakura Quartet ~Hoshi no Umi~ began release bundled with volumes of the series, adapting a story arc directly from the manga. Animated this time by Tatsunoko Production, this take on the series proved successful enough to spawn a new TV series, Hana no Uta, which would then be followed up by another three-episode OVA, Tsuki ni Naku. The success of this version of the series wasn't simply a case of hewing closer to the manga's story, as even this version took at least a few liberties with the order in which things were told. Rather, it was the way the crew behind it reinvented the presentation of the show from the ground up, helmed by new director Ryousuke Sawa bringing in a small army of his web-gen era animation pals to lend Yozakura Quartet the fresh, free-flowing energy the series had always deserved. The rebooted Yozakura Quartet all but completely washed away the memory of the original anime to redefine the franchise as an enjoyable sakuga-community darling. We bring it up here not just to get attention for it from more western fans and hopefully licensors, but as proof that a series need not be a massively popular franchise to get a successful second lease on life after a misfired first attempt.

However, popularity and fame can often allow a series to bounce back and move forward after a middling adaptation. While not as wholly disowned by its fans as the anime version of TYPE-MOON's other major visual novel, Studio DEEN's 2006 take on Fate/stay night is commonly seen as a decent introduction to the franchise and not much else at this point. Apart from its modest direction and decidedly dated visual elements, the anime is saddled with adapting the first and arguably least interesting route of the original game. It wasn't until Deen's equally mediocre movie treatment of the visual novel's Unlimited Blade Works route in 2010 that it seems it was decided to go a different direction with further anime versions of the franchise. And coming off their take on the Fate/Zero prequel story, the reins were handed to studio ufotable to give Unlimited Blade Works another whack, this time as a full television series. So successful was their Fate TV series, as well as the recent string of films based on the Heaven's Feel route, that ufotable themselves have wound up inexorably associated with Fate/stay night as a franchise. It's created an odd situation where despite consistently-expressed fan desire to see them do so, no indication has been made by ufotable regarding rebooting an anime for the original Fate route storyline. Indeed, despite its uneven critical status, the Deen anime still seems to be regarded as the canon anime entry for the franchise; ufotable even shouted out its opening theme partway through their Unlimited Blade Works anime.

The case of Fate/stay night shows that in some cases, a second chance or a shot at redemption for an anime adaptation can come not in the form of starting over, but simply in moving on. That's an approach seen in this year's second season of the World Trigger anime, where four years on from a series that was mostly known for being mired in mediocrity, Toei have given the series a production and presentational overhaul bringing it hopefully up to more of a quality expected by the fans who previously stuck it out for 73 episodes. You could see a similar tactic taken in a shorter term by the Terra Formars anime, which attempted to stylistically course-correct after its infamously drab first season, though your mileage may vary on how successful they actually were. These are unique cases though, especially compared to the more recent ongoing trend of major formative hits returning for completely rebooted adaptations. This is apparent in the likes of the new Fruits Basket anime, which as with others, aims to bring the style more in line with the original manga as well as tell the whole story with comparative faithfulness to that source material this go-around.

As well, there continues to be precedent to this day of Shonen Jump juggernauts like The Promised Neverland seeing second shots at adaptation even decades after their initial passes at anime. Both Hunter x Hunter and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure received new, long-running television series in the early 2010s that reinvigorated their fanbases and drew whole new generations of viewers into their stories. And just this year we're getting a rebooted anime for Shaman King, a series with its own tumultuous history not just in anime adaptation form, but with regards to reboots, redraws, and reinterpreted endings just in terms of the source manga. Any piece of pop culture deemed popular enough will never truly be gone. For as let down as we were by the only anime version of The Promised Neverland that currently exists, all this should make clear that a series like that can never truly be counted out. As long as there's some remaining interest in the franchise, there will always be the possibility of it receiving a shot at remade redemption.

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