Anime-to-manga adaptations worth reading

This is the fourth blog post of a series on the occasion of ‘100 Years of Anime’. Read the other posts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Today we come full circle and return to comics. While most anime are adapted from manga, many original anime have been adapted into manga. Although I haven’t read that many manga based on anime, I’d like to recommend some that I found particularly interesting. As always in my comic reviews, “volumes reviewed” indicates volumes I’ve recently re-read specifically for this blog post and which the review text refers to, i.e. not counting those I’ve read only once.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン / Shinseiki Evangelion)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto / Studio Gainax
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Kadokawa Shoten)
Years: 1999-2015 (originally 1994-2013)
Number of volumes: 14
Volumes reviewed: 1

Pages per volume: ~165
Price per volume: € 6,00
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/serie/neon-genesis-evangelion/18147 (German)
ISBN: 978-3-551-74131-X

I’ve never quite got my head around why Evangelion has become such a cult anime series. Its popularity might be due to having done a lot of things right at the right time. (For more on this aspect, see Sean O’Mara’s blog post on the early years of Studio Gainax.) Looking at the manga (drawn by Gainax character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto), there are two actual assets that Evangelion has going for it:

  1. Shinji the emo kid: in the distant future of the year 2015, this troubled teenage protagonist has some issues that quite a few readers of today can probably relate to. On the very first page, Shinji thinks, “I don’t have any dreams, hopes or anything like that. […] That’s why I thought, I didn’t care if I had an accident or died.”
    But then he gets to pilot a mecha…
  2. Mecha design: at its core, Evangelion is still a story about giant robots, and as such, it has to feature mechas that look cool. And they do. The biomorphic or humanoid shape of the EVAs sets them apart from more angular designs in e.g. Mobile Suit Gundam or Transformers.

That being said, there are also many silly ideas in this manga, both in story and design, and a plot that verges on a tedious ‘monster of the week’ pattern. Things get more interesting from around vol. 5 on, when a conspiracy within NERV (the organisation operating the EVAs) is gradually revealed.

Ame & Yuki / Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪 / Ōkami kodomo no Ame to Yuki)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Mamoru Hosoda / Yū / Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Kōdansha)
Years: 2013-2014 (originally 2000)
Number of volumes: 3
Volumes reviewed: 1

Pages per volume: 155 (vol. 1-2) / 210 (vol. 3)
Price per volume: € 6,95 (box set: € 16,95)
Website: http://tokyopop.de/programm-winter-2013-2014/ame-und-yuki-die-wolfskinder/ (German)
ISBN: 978-3-8420-0905-9

For some years, thanks to a string of successful all-ages theatrical anime films (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars), it looked as if director Mamoru Hosoda was going to be ‘the next Miyazaki’, although recently his popularity seems to have been eclipsed by Makoto Shinkai’s. The 117 minutes of Hosoda’s 2012 film Wolf Children (original script by Hosoda himself, character design by the aforementioned Yoshiyuki Sadamoto) have been adapted into a >500 page manga drawn by a newcomer artist who calls herself Yū (優).

In the beginning, the narration seems very fast-paced, as we witness in quick succession how university student Hana falls in love with a fellow student who turns out to be a werewolf, the birth of their two children, and the death of the werewolf guy. But this isn’t the story of Hana, it’s the story of her two children who grow up with the secret of being werewolves too, and who ultimately (in later volumes) have to decide whether they want to spend their lives as humans or as wolves. The supernatural element of the werewolf transformations are neither satisfactorily explained nor excitingly depicted, but as an emotional drama manga, Ame & Yuki works really well.

FLCL (フリクリ / Furi Kuri)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Studio Gainax / Hajime Ueda
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Kadokawa Shoten)
Year: 2003 (originally 2002)
Number of volumes: 3
Volumes reviewed: 1

Pages per volume: 192
Price per volume: € 6,00
Website: https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=1532 (Baka-Updates)
ISBN: 978-3-551-75951-1

The OVA series FLCL (Gainax / Production I.G 2000-2001) has a reputation of being one of the weirdest anime ever, and the manga adaptation lives up to that. It’s hard even to give a plot summary, because sometimes you just don’t get what’s going on, and it’s difficult to tell events that are important to the plot apart from those that are not (grandpa’s gateball match?!), and there’s a fair amount of non-linear storytelling and perhaps even unreliable narration involved. What we all can agree on, though, is that the story starts with teenager Naota getting hit in the head with a guitar by a woman on a scooter. To his surprise, he later finds this woman has moved in with his family as a housekeeper. Things become weirder and weirder for Naota as he is confronted with giant-robot attacks, an arson series, and romantic advances from two girls from his school.

All this is depicted in an art style that is really a multitude of art styles between which Ueda continually switches, often leaning to a seemingly crude look with broad, uneven outlines. A lot of the humour in FLCL operates on the verbal level – which works surprisingly well in translation -, for instance when the woman riding a Vespa scooter gets nicknamed “the wasp woman”.

Honourable mention: Some years ago I read the one-volume adaptation of Makoto Shinkai’s Hoshi no koe / Voices of a Distant Star (art by Mizu Sahara) and liked it, but I don’t have a copy at hand to read it again.

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Seiyū: when voice actors become idols

This is the third blog post of a series on the occasion of ‘100 Years of Anime’. Read the first post here and the second one here.

A major difference between anime and manga is the representation of dialogue: in manga it’s written in speech bubbles, whereas in anime it’s human speech recorded and played back as part of the audio track. It’s important to bear in mind that dialogue in anime is still only a representation of a fictional dialogue – we can’t actually hear an anime character’s voice; what we hear is merely an actor speaking lines in a recording studio.

That being said, individual voice actors contribute a great deal towards our perception of a character through his or her voice, in addition to scriptwriters and directors on the one hand and the dialogue director (a.k.a. Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) director) on the other hand. And just as with theatre actors and film actors, the distinction between voice actors and the characters they portray gets blurred in the imagination of some viewers, which is probably why the latter develop an interest in voice actors as the ‘actual people’ behind the characters.

In contrast to voice actors in other countries, Japanese seiyū cater to this public interest and, in addition to their voice acting, often become pop singers, TV actors, radio show hosts, or generally ‘media personalities’, and some even become idols. If you’d like to get a more complete picture of a seiyū and his or her media appearances, try the following procedure: look up the voice actor you’re interested in on MyAnimeList (via the entry for the anime in which you’ve come across him or her), then enter his or her name in YouTube. Search for both the romanised and the kanji form of the name, as they will often lead to different results. Here are some examples of what you might discover (some of which might have been uploaded illegally, mind you):

  • Yumi Uchiyama is a prolific seiyū in her late twenties who is currently perhaps most famous for having voiced the cat spirit, Puck, in Re:Zero, although personally I found her performance as Top Speed, a cackling witch in Magical Girl Raising Project, more memorable. She also performed many anime theme songs – here’s a live performance of “Next Legend” (written by ZAQ) from the Saki Achiga-hen anime:
  • Hiroshi Kamiya is a veteran voice actor who has performed in a staggering number of famous anime such as One Piece and Attack on Titan, but also in less well-known anime like Fune wo Amu in which his mischievous supporting character provides a striking contrast to the earnest protagonist. Together with his colleague Daisuke Ono, Kamiya hosts a radio show called Dear Girl Stories of which there are episodes with English subtitles:
  • Konomi Kohara is the youngest of the three and has starred in her second main role (in Tsuki ga Kirei) only this year, so there’s not much on YouTube except for this one talk show appearance that was uploaded multiple times. It’s hard to figure out what they’re talking about if you’re not fluent in Japanese (no subtitles here), but at least you can hear how similar Kohara’s way of speaking is to her very natural-sounding, sometimes ‘breathless’ voice acting performance in Tsuki ga Kirei:

Marcel H., anime killer?

This is the second blog post of a series on the occasion of ‘100 Years of Anime’. Read the first post here.

On this day three months ago, the memorial service for Jaden F. was held in Herne, Germany. Jaden had been the first of two victims stabbed to death by Marcel H., whom the media has linked to anime. One German news magazine in particular, Stern (No. 12, March 16), has emphasised the ostensible connections of the murders to anime.

The events were also covered by international media (e.g. Daily Mail, Telegraph, Independent), but none of them even mentioned anime. Therefore, the (thankfully limited and short-lived) ‘moral panic’ regarding anime doesn’t seem to have reached the Anglophone anime blogosphere either, which is why I’ll sum up the story here.

These are the facts: Marcel H. is a 19-year old NEET who had unsuccessfully applied to join the Army in February. On March 6, he lured the nine-year old neighbours’ son into his house and killed him with a knife. Then he went to an acquaintance’s, 22-year old Christopher W., and killed him early in the morning on March 7. Marcel H. stayed at Christopher W.’s apartment until March 9, when he set it on fire, went to a Greek diner, told the owner to call the police, and let himself be arrested.

So far, these events have nothing to do with anime. But Barbara Opitz and Lisa McMinn, the authors of the Stern article, point out the following details: when Marcel H. was arrested at the diner, he carried an umbrella and a bag of onions with him. These items are mentioned in other news articles too, but only Stern offers an explanation, according to which the umbrella and the onions refer to two cards from the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game, “Rain of Mercy” and “Glow-Up Bulb” (“Aufblühende Blumenzwiebel” in German; “Zwiebel” can also mean “onion”), respectively. Furthermore, on one of the pictures Marcel posted online on which he poses with a knife, a poster of the anime series Yu-Gi-Oh! GX can be seen in the background. (Interestingly, in the Daily Mail article, the image – pictured below on the right hand side – was altered so that the poster doesn’t refer to Yu-Gi-Oh! anymore.)

Another connection to Yu-Gi-Oh! is Christopher W., Marcel H.’s second victim, who ran a Yu-Gi-Oh! site on Facebook; apparently they got to know each other through the game and used to play Yu-Gi-Oh! video games together. Finally, Stern points out that there are two characters in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime with the same first names as Marcel H. and Jaden F.: Yu-Gi-Oh! GX protagonist Jaden Yuki and his antagonist Marcel Bonaparte. Stern implies that Marcel H. identified with the villain and acted out the Yu-Gi-Oh! story by attacking Jaden. The only detail that doesn’t quite fit is that the Stern article also says that Marcel H. had been learning Japanese in order to be able to read manga and watch anime in their original language; in the Japanese original version of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, however, Jaden is called “Jūdai” and Marcel “Marutan” or “Martin”.

Apart from the Yu-Gi-Oh! connection, there’s not much that links Marcel H. to anime. Some chat messages have surfaced in which Marcel H. talks to another person about the murders at the time when he committed them, and in one message he says, “See you space cowboy”, which indeed is a quote from the anime Cowboy Bebop.

The other things mentioned in the Stern article are rather vague connections to Japan than to anime specifically: at the time of committing the murders, Marcel H. posted a picture of a handwritten note on which he had signed his name in Japanese, and he owned “bamboo swords which he kept under his bed like a treasure. Furthermore a wooden bow and five Japanese ceremonial knives” (all translations mine).

The sad and disturbing thing (apart from the murders themselves, of course) is how Stern chose to focus on Marcel H.’s anime fandom, instead of e.g. his obsession with martial arts, computer games, or 4chan (as other news outlets did, sometimes inaccurately calling it “darknet”). For instance, the entire Stern article is titled, “‘Viel Spaß in der Anime-Welt” (“‘Have Fun in the Anime World'”), which isn’t even a quote by Marcel H. but by his unnamed chat partner. The way in which the Stern authors desperately try to link the content of anime to the murderer is simply journalistically unethical: “‘Space Cowboy’ refers to a character from the anime series, ‘Cowboy Bebob’ [sic], in which a hero says sentences like this one: ‘I don’t go to die, but to find out if I’m still alive.’ Marcel H. is obsessed with the world of anime, Japanese animated films, often dark dystopias, the protagonists have spiky hair and shiny, big eyes. […] the heroes […] are often outsiders, but with hidden powers. Quirky, awkward and at the same time infallible. Outsiders like Marcel H.”

Luckily, the Stern article has failed to start a witch hunt on anime fans like the ones that e.g. video gamers and heavy metal fans have had to endure in past decades. But the article shows that anime has still a long way to go before it can be said to be part of the mainstream.


Sakuga in Re:Zero

This is the first part of a series of blog posts celebrating 100 Years of Anime. (There is evidence of animated films produced in Japan before 1917, but 1917 the ‘official’ year of birth of anime.) Instead of emphasising that anime and manga are completely different media and whining about how fandom (and sometimes even scholarly discourse) around Japanese popular culture is dominated by anime at the expense of manga, The 650-Cent Plague is going to join in on the celebration and run a couple of posts on anime.

Granted, there are many similarities between anime and manga, but today we’ll look at an aspect that is specific to animation: sakuga. I haven’t seen this term in scholarly literature yet, but there are various fan/journalistic resources online (see e.g. this collection of links) that explain sakuga. These definitions are fuzzy and somewhat contradictory – for instance, some stress the importance of the authorship of individual outstanding key animators while others are based on the number of animated frames per second – but all agree that ‘sakuga’ basically means ‘scenes of extraordinary animation quality’ (as opposed to the overall animation quality of an anime series). ‘Animation quality’ is, of course, another fuzzy term (is it about the amount of labour, ingenuity, or aesthetic effect?), but let’s for once not overtheorise things and instead turn to some examples of what I feel might pass as sakuga.

For many people, Re:ゼロから始める異世界生活 / Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World (White Fox, dir. Masaharu Watanabe) was the best anime series of 2016. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but it’s definitely an anime series that exemplifies the state of the art of contemporary animation quality, and as such should be a rich source of sakuga. For the following list I’ve picked one sakuga scene from each episode:

Episode 1A, 24:46-25:14 – Emilia summons the ‘lesser spirits’ which are essentially semitransparent blue spheres hovering in different directions, but they also illuminate both background and characters in blue light. Also notice how some of the spheres move in front of the characters and others behind them, so it’s not just one layer placed on top of the image.

Episode 1B, 18:25-18:47 – Rom swings his club against Elsa, accidentally destroying his own furniture along the way. Collapsing structures are a popular motif of sakuga (see the ‘debris’ tag at Sakugabooru).

Episode 2, 16:01-16:05 – The hut into which Subaru crashes is another beautifully collapsing item.

Episode 3, 16:28-17:03 – Reinhard’s impressive sword attack move starts with an effect similar to the ‘lesser spirits’ in Episode 1A followed by a quick succession of various other effects.

Episode 4, 23:04-23:12 – Beatrice’s hair contracts and expands like a coil spring.

Episode 5, 1:03-1:08 – Smooth animation of the shadows cast by the lattice windows.

Episode 6, 5:22-5:31 – Puck conjures a jet of water which acts as a semi-transparent layer that twists the background and characters behind it.

Episode 7, 18:54-19:36 – Another nice animation of Betty’s hair; this time her locks are being moved by the wind.

Episode 8, 19:43-20:38 – Not so much a matter of animation per se, but the subtle colouring of this scene beautifully evokes the lighting situation at sunset.

Episode 9, 10:09-11:16 – The fire of the torch and the braziers is both a moving semi-transparent layer and a source of lighting.

Episode 10, 19:37-19:43 – Rem’s chain moves like a chain should.

Episode 11, 0:46-0:50 – There are lots of magical special effects in this episode, the most impressive one right at the beginning while the credits still roll: rays of magical light followed by a kind of supernatural whirlwind.

Episode 12, 0:36-0:45 – This one might be hard to see on the still because it’s such a subtle effect: sunlight falls through the trees and creates a pattern of patches of light and shadow on the characters which moves as they walk.

Episode 13, 20:47-20:48 – In close-ups such as this one, Emilia’s forelock (and also Rem’s) turns into an opaque layer.

Episode 14, 22:11-22:13 – As the dragon cart brakes sharply, the ‘camera’ revolves slightly around it.

Episode 15, 21:28-23:16 – Many cool things happen in this episode, but it’s particularly famous for its long ending credits scene in which Subaru and Rem are slowly engulfed in an ever-intensifying snowstorm.

Episode 16, 3:57-3:59 – Subaru’s moving image is reflected in the steaming tea cup.

Episode 17, 3:05-3:12 – The rope Subaru holds on to splinters.

Episode 18, 4:12-4:15 – This episode has become legendary in itself due to the long and emotional dialogue between Subaru and Rem. Before that dialogue, however, there is a brief shot of a bowl of apples falling to the ground, in which the objects move not only downward but also ricochet off the floor in different directions, and they even rotate too.

Episode 19, 23:36-23:55 – The White Whale’s halo tilts along with it.

Episode 20, 5:16-5:19 – Another nicely animated shot of the White Whale turning in flight.

Episode 21, 19:42-19:52 – A backlighting effect employed three times in this episode: the rays of the sun seamlessly connect background to foreground.

Episode 22, 3:50-3:55 – The spatial arrangement of the characters requires them to be moved in three layers as the ‘camera’ revolves around their circle.

Episode 23, 13:28-13:33 – Explosions are a sakuga staple, and this one is a short but impressive combination of fire and smoke.

Episode 24, 8:03-8:07 – While the wagon moves diagonally to the left and away from the viewer, the lantern that is attached to it swings sideways.

Episode 25, 8:02-8:13 – Otto’s wagon is drawn by both a two-legged and a four-legged creature.

So these are the sakuga scenes I found most impressive in each episode. Did I miss one? Tell me in the comments. Check out the Re:Zero sakuga at Sakugabooru too.