The many trials of trying to make an anime adaptation of a video game
I’m slowly sneaking in more and more video game related content onto Metanorn, moving up from just game reviews to making it a major topic for an editorial. Combining anime and games into one topic is pretty easy thanks to the plethora of anime adaptations of video games; Persona 4 being the most recent example. These adaptations tend to…er…vary in quality. They’re usually better than Hollywood’s attempts to turn video games into live action feature length films, but there’s often a lot of key points that are still ignored in the transition form game to anime. Making an anime out of a video game – an entirely different media with a completely different level of interaction – is a grand feat.
The glaring difference between anime and video games is that anime is more of a passive thing that you simply watch and enjoy. You have no control over how an anime unfolds, aside from pausing and fast forwarding. In video games, you are granted agency over the main character. The player feels more involved with the whole experience and becomes emotionally attached with what is going on due to this added dimension of interactivity. Boss battles in video games are stressful and frustrating, completing a quest provides a real sense of reward, and emotional attachment to other characters becomes a natural event. Everything is that much more gratifying because all of these wonderful or terrifying things are actually happening to someone you more strongly identify as YOU as opposed to some other character that you have no power over. Anime can still achieve these emotions, but it requires more effort to get same instant involvement considering that an entire dimension is lost in the process.
Anime’s loss of interaction creates a huge hurdle. In games like Dragon Age and Persona, the main character is a blank slate for you to write on. The anime version will only get to pick one possible personality and set of choices, and that’s going to feel off to people who formed a different connection with the main character. It’s like an adaptation of a manga changing the personality of one of the characters – well of course fans are going to take a while to get used to it (or even straight out reject it). If you played Infamous as a Cole who shocks everything in sight with lightning bolts and he anime version features a super nice Cole, then you’re not going to associate as strongly with this new character. He’s not YOUR Cole, he’s someone ELSE’S Cole. Over a course of the game, a player tends to bond with their character and see them in their own, unique light. Anime takes that subjectivity away, and that can be a heavy blow if the main character isn’t given a complex and interesting character to make up for this.
Lastly, there are some things a game can do or get away with that an anime can’t. For one, the story can be garbage or simply NOT BE THERE. Does anyone even know what Katamari Damacy is about? I sure as hell don’t, but it’s fun as hell to play. The gameplay element often makes up for the lack of story. With the option to skip cutscenes, a lot of gamers don’t even pay attention to what’s happening to the protagonist except if they’re winning or losing. Anime doesn’t have that to fall back on. It’s good because it means less crappy storylines, and it’s the reason why I almost always prefer an anime plot to a half-baked “fetch these 7 magic gems to save the world” sort of affair that plagues most video games. Just…don’t screw up with the story.
Gameplay is really hard to translate into an anime as well, because so much could possibly happen between the cutscenes and when the player is let loose to wreck havoc. How long will they spend grinding? How many bad guys will they kill along the way? When will they start doing side quests? Will they just ignore side quests? How well or poorly will they do in boss battles? Whoever is doing an anime adaptation is going to have to make allll of this up, especially action scenes. This creates room to be awesome or the potential to RUIN EVERYTHING.
Adaptations Done Right
Professor Layton is my first example. Are you surprised? It’s a game where you solve puzzles, such as finding out the age of siblings, sliding blocks around, or figuring out which way a gear turns. These very dry puzzles are accompanied by a charming plot that almost always ends in oversized robots. There are some Professor Layton movies that throw out the boring puzzles (fun to play, boring to watch someone else solve them) and fully embrace the overarching mysteries that Layton has to solve. The only puzzles in the movies are ones of innovation – building contraptions or finding a way to escape. By cutting out gameplay elements that would poorly translate to an anime and focusing on the cinematic portions, Professor Layton pulls off a successful adaptation. If you haven’t seen the movies already, I highly recommend them. They’re sweet, engaging, and have surprisingly good action sequences. Layton is a BOSS.
Some games are really suited for an anime, so adapting them is pretty simple. Sengoku Basara is one of these. I’ve played Sengoku Basara 3 extensively, and it’s an insanely-paced game where you buttonmash through throngs of enemies with your overpowered character. It’s all about flashy moves, hot-bloodedness, and a ridiculous story. The anime embraces all of that, paying a lot of attention on choreographing some freaking badass fights that carry on the over-the-top spirit found in the games. It’s an action-based game, and the anime didn’t try to dress it up as some sort of deep, dramatic storyline.
Adaptations Done…Not so Right
Devil May Cry. What a nightmare. It followed an episodic “mission of the week” vibe for most of the show in order to send Dante on mundane tasks that were accomplished with one strike from his sword. The problem is that Dante is such an easy character to screw up. He’s an overpowered demon with a near endless amount of weapons and abilities, and he’s prone to spouting cheesey lines that further emphasize how incredibly powerful and suave he is. This means he is almost immune to character development, since he’s already perfect. He does this in the game cutscenes, so losing his cool would be out of character. It’s the actual gameplay where he (i.e. YOU) have to grit your teeth and struggle though tense battles, but they can’t put that in the anime or they’ll ruin his badass reputation. That’s where the balance lies. Of course, if they want to keep him super strong and constantly smirking, they could always go the self-aware “we know he’s not as cool as he thinks he is, which makes him cooler” route like in Devil May Cry 4 and have him recite a monologue about thrusting and penetrating things. Instead, you get Dante eating sundaes with a loli.
Persona 4 I still going, so I can’t cast any final judgements just yet. For now, I do have one complaint that emphasizes what I mean about trying to take a character that’s tabula rasa and trying to make an anime starring them. Yu is blank slate for the player to write on in the game, and this void is filled when the player steps into that role. That doesn’t happen in anime. We cannot control this character, so we watch him and expect him to be his own person. He’s restrained to only in-game responses which are one liners that are few and far between. He doesn’t even change expressions. Luckily, there are some promising signs of that “Self-aware” attitude where they poke fun at their own character. Yu is so emotionless that it’s a running joke for the series, and this could be a very reasonable way to tackle the problem of main characters like him. I would have preferred an actual personality, but it’s not a bad solution by a long shot.
A New Challenger Approaches!
Even if you don’t play games, I’m sure some of you have tried to watch a game adaptation at least once, so I’ll be curious to hear what you think. What are your thoughts on anime that are based off of games? Good experiences or bad experiences? Are there any games that you would love to see an anime adaptation of? Personally, I’d kill for an Odin Sphere or Blazblue anime. As always, the comment section is yours~
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