In the medium of Anime, and it’s fandom, the term “source material” is a fairly big deal, and rightfully so. The vast majority of Anime series are adaptations from another source, such as Manga, Light Novels, video games and even 4 panel comic strips.
And every time a new Anime adaptation gets announced, the fans of the source material often get excited. They can’t wait to see their beloved series or franchise on the big screen, fully adapted and witness the story they’re familiar with all over again in all its animated glory.
Only, that doesn’t happen all that often, because much of the reason Anime adaptations exist in the first place is to promote serialised material that has yet to end, and drum up consumer interest in purchasing the original story. As a result, nine out of ten times, an Anime adaptation of an external source either remains unfinished, or diverges from the original storyline, often wrapping things up with an original ending that would never be anywhere near close to something you’d see from the source material.
I’m not going to defend incomplete adaptations that don’t get any kind of continuation. They’re annoying, frustrating and in the end I often feel like I’ve wasted my time because I just watched 12-24 episodes of something only for it to have no resolution to any of the plot points or character arcs. I could wait for a second season, but that may never happen. I could read the source material, but I shouldn’t have to.
That being said, I am going to defend adaptations that end up creating a new storyline that diverges from the source material and races towards an original ending, because I feel that these are often subjected to a large amount of undeserved hate.
It seems that nowadays everyone is obsessed with this idea of canonicity. If something doesn’t follow the source material and the original creator has no say in the direction of the original story, then that somehow makes it a “lesser version” of the story because “it’s not canon”.
This is something I’ve always found a little weird.
As usual, this is probably just another one of my weird opinions, but I don’t give a damn whether something is canon or not. I simply want to witness a good story, and if I get a good story that manages to connect with me, regardless if it follows the source material or not, I couldn’t care less if it’s considered official.
The “definitive experience” created by the original author isn’t necessarily the “best” version of a story, and there are plenty of shows with original endings or a ton of Anime original content that I’ve found myself having an absolutely amazing time with.
The 2003 Anime adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist is always my go to example of an original storyline being more enjoyable for me. Yes, Brotherhood is much more epic in its scope. Yes, the ending of the original series is a convoluted mess that makes no sense. But the villains of the show, the Homonculi, were infinitely more interesting in the original series than in Brotherhood, and actually served as an evil parallel to Edward and Alphonse. Just like our two protagonists, all they wanted to do was find a means to become human, but unlike the Elric bothers, they went about doing so at the cost of many innocent lives. That is infinitely more interesting than some morally black evil doer wanting to achieve god-like status.
And that’s just one example off the top of my head. I have dozens more I could refer to.
Whenever an Anime adaptation is announced, I always try to think of it as it’s own thing. I approach it with the mindset of it being a separate piece of work from the original source. Because it no longer is the source. It’s no longer Yoshihiro Togashi’s Yu Yu Hakusho, it’s Noriyuki Abe’s adaptation of Yu Yu Hakusho animated by Studio Pierrot, and they can take the series in whatever direction they damn well please, for better or worse.
Heck, a ton of my favourite Manga have been adapted into Anime that deviated from the source material, and while at times I’ve expressed my disappointment at how I wished they’d stuck to the original story, there have been plenty of times I’ve wound up being really satisfied with how it turned out. “That’s different” or “that was an interesting direction” are things I find myself saying more often than not, because I’m always interested in seeing where this unique story route will go. And if it fails? Well, I’ve always got the source material that I’ve already read to give me the “better” story.
I’m not saying that no Anime should adapt it’s original source material faithfully. Several of my favourite series do precisely that, and they likely wouldn’t be among my favourites if they diverged from the original storyline. What I am saying is that if an Anime adaptation deviates from the source material, don’t outright dismiss it as something lesser because it’s not the story you’re familiar with or used to.
Give it a chance, approach it with an open mind and, most importantly, view it as it’s own thing. Because it is it’s own thing, and sometimes it can wind up being a great thing that’s actually really entertaining and enjoyable.
When it comes to Anime adaptations, the source material means nothing. A good story that is entertaining means everything.