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Bringing The Manga To Life

Bringing The Manga To Life

-Written by: Lisa Marie Cooper

It happens constantly. You’re reading your favorite manga (or maybe just one you binged this week, whatever) and you think "Wow, I wish I could see this animated. I wonder what it would take to get this made into an anime?" That’s a great question, you! Assuming you don’t have some persuasive agents and gobs of cash to get the license and fund production yourself, making a manga into an anime is mostly a series of decisions made by people hoping to generate cash. (Well, and very hard work by the production studio, but that goes for all anime so we’re going to neatly gloss over things like spending two weeks drawing 20 minutes of animation.)

It’s a ruthless business powered by passion, practicality, and poorly paid animators. Let’s dive in, shall we? And as we go, think about what your answers would be.

Which manga should be animated?

The first decision, of course, is which manga should be animated? The people making this decision aren’t who you might guess, especially if you’re familiar with the typical American animation process. In Japan, almost all anime are made under the umbrella of production companies. A production company is made up of everyone with a financial stake in the resulting anime.

For a manga-based anime, the production company will almost always include the manga publisher, perhaps the TV channel it will air on, the record company pushing the theme song, an advertising agency, and so on. American studios are sometimes involved, like Sentai Filmworks or Funimation, in exchange for overseas distribution licenses. In recent years, Crunchyroll has become an increasingly common committee member for livestreaming.

To make a simple analogy, think of these companies as a crossover superhero group that gets together to make an anime. Whoever assembled the group ("Producers, assemble"?) usually already has an idea of what they want to produce in mind. "Hey Sony, this is Kadokawa. We want to make Bloom Into You an anime since the manga is doing well. AT-X is handling broadcast; you want to help us out with the music? Great, the lawyers will work out your portion of the profits." Well, something like that anyway.

The company "assembler" might call up friends they’ve worked with before - in fact, Japanese companies almost always prefer people they’ve worked with before given a choice, which is one reason the industry is so hard to break into - but sometimes wacky team-ups happen due to circumstances and money. You can get a pretty good sense of the industry just by checking out the production companies for each anime season.

So circling back to the main question: which manga gets animated is up to these companies, and it mostly comes down to what everyone thinks they can make money off of. How they make that money could be from the anime itself, merchandise tie-ins, or simply increased manga sales. The latest Shonen Jump hit? You bet Shueisha is going to form a production committee right away and their buddies will jump at the chance to join. A one-off josei story published five years ago? Odds are extremely low. But sometimes there are surprises, like Banana Fish getting an anime to celebrate Akimi Yoshida’s 40-year career.

Fun fact: the first TV anime to be made under the production committee system was Right Stuf fan-favorite The Irresponsible Captain Tylor.

Okay, great! The production company has been assembled, an animation studio has been selected, and it’s smooth sailing from here on out, right? Not so fast. Before any work can start, a host of decisions have to be made. There are obvious decisions, like casting voice actors, but many are more subtle to viewers. Nearly all of these choices will be heavily influenced by budget and format.

How long should the anime be?

Of all manga-to-anime questions, by necessity this one is usually answered first. The production company already knows if they want to make a movie, a 13-episode TV series, an OVA, or whatever. Movies and OVAs have flexibility in their runtimes, budget allowing. For a TV series, the broadcaster will let the production company know how long each episode will be along with exactly how many episodes they can schedule.

With that answer, however, comes a trickier question. How many chapters should be adapted? If there are only 13 episodes and it’s not certain if another series will be made (especially if the anime is only serving as a promotion for the manga), is it worth skipping some of the plot to end on a better finale? On the other hand, if the series is expected to be a long runner, when is a good time to add filler? Is the property strong enough to take off the air in-between seasons, knowing viewers will come back? (My Hero Academia)

If it’s a TV series, is it important to spend precious time reminding viewers of what’s gone before? Or can you count on them being engaged throughout, with no need for recaps? Or are recaps a convenient way to stretch out material while you wait for more to be written? (One Piece is notorious for using recaps as "filler.")

How much time should be devoted to openings and endings? If a record company is on the production company, they want to make sure their artists are showcased as well as possible. But what if you can slip in just a little more story if you skip the ending? Yuri!! on Ice was only able to include Yuri’s infamous banquet "dance" by fitting it in with the credits.

What should the characters look like?

Wait, what? Isn’t that already decided? Just make them look like the manga! Geez, anyone could be an anime director.

Not so fast. If the author’s style changed over the course of the series (like Fruits Basket), what style should be used for the character designs? Should the character designer use the beginning designs, which readers who only read volume 1 will be familiar with? Or the latest designs, which might be more polished but might disappoint fans? Does that style even work in an animated setting? (Compare xxxHolic’s manga to the infamous "noodle people" in the anime.)

Does the budget allow for as many clothing changes as the manga does? A manga panel might just show the front of an outfit; what should that outfit look like when it’s moving? Does it have a hood, perhaps? How does that hood hang in the back? Does that feather trim at the bottom go all the way around? It becomes obvious why production might opt for as few outfits as possible unless they’re important to the plot (or will sell more merchandise), like in Cardcaptor Sakura.

What colors will be used? Manga is usually in black and white, with only a few color pages. Exactly what shade of blonde should be used for the yankee character’s hair? Is there a general color palette being used that should be followed? (Think of all the purple paint Tegami Bachi would have used in the era of hand-inking.) What about patterns, and I don’t mean like Gankutsuou. When everything was colored by hand, any pattern like a stripe or polka dots meant extra work for the animators in every frame - and anime is notoriously produced on tight schedules with cheap budgets. Better to just use solids where possible.

Digital coloring and CGI have changed up the calculus of some of these questions, of course. For instance, now that paint is digital, there’s no need to limit the colors used, though a show will usually still have a "preferred" palette. It’s also much easier to use patterns in clothing now – think how crisp Tanjiro’s signature coat looks in Kimetsu no Yaiba.

How faithful to the manga will the anime be?

Most fans ask for anime to be as faithful as possible to the source material, but sometimes "as possible" is not very much. If you’re condensing seven volumes of manga into one movie, for instance (A Silent Voice), there’s no choice but to start removing scenes and characters while streamlining story arcs. On the other hand, it can be the case that a work is being expanded and new characters, arcs, and "monsters of the week" are needed. Examples: Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Shugo Chara.

Sometimes directors will deliberately choose a different ending to mix things up. After all, what’s the point of seeing on screen exactly what you’ve already read? This happened particularly often with early CLAMP works like the X movie, Angelic Layer, and most pointedly, Chobits. Sometimes the anime will catch up to the source material and, rather than wait for more manga to be written or create short filler arcs, it goes in another direction entirely (Fullmetal Alchemist).

What about the rating? Perhaps you saw the recent news about Fuji TV’s Blue Lynx label unusually choosing to keep the sexual scenes in its titles and therefore going with R-18 ratings. It’s big news because anime usually goes the other way for TV, toning down sexual themes, violence, and other things that make parents anxious. Sometimes there’s an easy way to stay faithful while avoiding controversial topics: just stop the series before you get to the controversial part. (Bunny Drop, anyone?) Of course, this gets trickier if the manga being adapted is a work in progress, but those are the chances production companies take.

What about...?

And so the questions and decisions continue, becoming more and more specific to the property being adapted. Sometimes no research is involved (does any anime studio not know what a Japanese high school looks like at this point?), and sometimes lots of research is involved (we previously wrote an article about the Aria staff going to Venice).

Some of the questions we’ve looked at need only one or two people to agree, but the majority will face the scrutiny of the entire production committee. Just one "no" can scuttle a design and cause major delays (and/or more work for tired animators), but that’s what happens when you form a group to spread out costs. Everyone wants to have their say. Whose opinion is more important is directly tied to who put more money into the production.

These days, it’s easy to see the different results that can come from the same material thanks to remakes. Compare Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Fruits Basket (2019), Hunter x Hunter (2011), and Dragon Ball Z Kai with their predecessors and see the differences things like budget and increased author involvement can make. Fullmetal Alchemist becomes a little more lighthearted while Fruits Basket becomes more serious. Hunter x Hunter becomes more polished with its bigger budget and adapts more of the manga that has since come out but otherwise feels largely the same, while Dragon Ball Z Kai does away with filler and literally brightens the show up.

What do you think? What manga would you most like to see get a manga version, and what choices would you make to adapt it? Is there an anime you’d remake now that the manga is concluded? Are you shocked I waited until this last paragraph to mention Bakuman, the real-life manga-to-anime series that explicitly contains multiple storylines about this very topic? Sound off on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Who knows? Maybe one day you will have those agents and gobs of cash and you can get yourself an anime production committee of your very own.

-Lisa Marie Cooper

Lisa wavers between demanding faithful adaptations and seeing something new, usually coming down in favor of "plausibly expanded." Long-time Right Stuf fans may recognize Lisa as Marie from the Anime Today podcast or as the OG RightStufSpecialsMinion on the Anime News Network and Fandom Post forums. Her non-anime articles can be found at PositivelyEditorial.com.