Video game

Why are Anime Adaptations of Video Games So Bad? – CBR – Comic Book Resources

There have been a lot of anime adaptations based on video games in the past few decades. Sometimes they’re made to promote a new game, while at other times, they’re made due to the sheer popularity of the game itself. There are many that are still being produced every year as direct adaptations, tie-ins, prequels, spin-offs or even side stories. This year alone saw the release of the second Sonic film, the announcement of anime adaptations of Nier Automata and Twisted Wonderland, and the release of the Petite Sekai shorts based on the characters from Hatsune Miku: Colorful Stage.

However, while there are a lot of these adaptations being made, very few of them are considered to be legitimately good despite the fact that the games that these anime are being adapted from aren’t inherently bad. In fact, many of them are praised for containing excellent writing — so what is it about video games that make them so difficult to adapt to an anime format?

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Good AnimationAce Attorney Miles and Phoenix and kids

For whatever reason, a lot of anime adaptations of video games have only passable to not-so-passable animation. Despite its massive popularity, both Persona 4 and Persona 5‘s anime adaptations were known for having sub-par animation that often had the characters looking off-model. Persona 4 the Animation in particular has become somewhat notorious for using real-life photos for the backgrounds. Persona 4 The Golden Animation was also notorious for having laughably bad animation, with only the first episode and the opening and ending sequences featuring relatively good animation.

Only the Persona 3 movies seem to have avoided this problem, but that was largely due to it being a film project instead of an anime series. This is because movies typically have a larger budget and more time to produce, allowing for more time to check and re-check to make sure there aren’t any off-model frames. Neither are the anime adaptations for the Persona games are not the only ones to suffer from this blight. The Ace Attorney anime often had characters moving very stiffly and wearing flat expressions. One would be hard-pressed to find a screencap of an episode that actually looks decent.

The character designs for Atelier Escha and Logy were simplified and don’t do character designer Hidari’s original artwork justice at all. They come off as looking very generic by comparison, with flat colors and more plain-looking costume designs. With the exception of its opening sequence, the animation for this adaptation looks incredibly sub-par, with characters often looking not just off-model, but unrealistic with proportions that don’t match their body types, especially for the female characters. As for The Caligula Effect, well, it would be easier to list the moments in that adaptation that didn’t look bad.

Bad animation can be attributed to a lot of factors, from scheduling issues and poor budgets to the series itself simply being treated like a very long and expensive commercial for the game it’s based on. With that said, having good animation doesn’t always guarantee a good adaptation. Tales of Zestiria the X has absolutely stunning animation courtesy of ufotable, but the writing and pacing are positively abysmal. It usually isn’t enough to have nice-looking animation — the writing needs to be just as good.

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Living Up to the Game’s Story

Most video games are very long. Even when one doesn’t take optional side quests into account, most games can take up to 80 hours to complete. Anime these days typically run for 12-26 episodes, and that’s often not nearly enough time to go through all of the game’s story. As a result, anime adaptations often cut out parts of their stories in order to fit the show’s runtime, leaving behind only those parts that are deemed to be the most important to the plot.

This often leads to a lot of important details being left out, whether that involves backstory, additional lore information, or something central to a character’s developmental arc. Cutting some of these crucial parts out tend to lead to not-so-faithful adaptations, or at times, even a completely different product. Some adaptations even go so far as to completely rewrite the story, so much so that the characters appear to be completely different people from their game counterparts. Others may completely remove important characters, locations and plot points.

Tales of Zestiria the X is one of the best examples of this trend in recent years, doing just about everything mentioned above. Much of the show’s run time focused on fleshing out just two characters, Alisha and Rose, instead of the actual protagonist and most of the supporting cast. As a result, only Alisha and Rose felt like fully rounded characters by the time the show ended, with the rest of the cast remaining mostly the same. Additionally, much of the anime’s story went against the original game’s lore in order to accommodate the many changes, including elevating Alisha to main character status when she was only very briefly playable in the original game.

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In fact, many of the anime-original characters ultimately had more screen time than the existing characters from the game. This would have been forgivable if these new characters managed to add anything necessary to the story. Instead, it led to a very different story and setting compared to what was presented in the game after which it was named.

Are There Any Good Adaptations?

While rare, there are quite a few good anime adaptations of video games that exist. Tales of the Abyss managed to include all of the major story elements from the source material within 26 episodes without it ever feeling too rushed. It was even able to include some additional story details not present in the game, and unlike with Tales of Zestiria the X, this new material did not contradict existing lore. While the animation produced by Sunrise wasn’t anything spectacular, it wasn’t inherently bad either. Overall, it was a very serviceable adaptation that did a great job bringing the characters and their stories to life.

The World Ends With You the Animation is a more recent example of a decent adaptation. The game that the anime is based on is on the shorter side, so despite only having 13 episodes, the anime still managed to cover most of the important elements in the story. This adaptation in particular was considered to be a treat for existing fans since the original video game had very little voice acting, so it was a completely new experience to hear the characters speaking fully voiced lines for the first time. This is why it’s such a shame that Funimation did not recast the original voice actors for the English dub.

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The Pokemon anime is an interesting case in that it became successful because it wasn’t a direct adaptation of the games. By acting as a standalone series that includes elements of the games, it doesn’t feel pressured to include all the necessary story elements present in the games, and fans don’t expect it to. As a series geared toward kids, it also isn’t expected to have outstanding animation, although it’s had its fair share of sakuga moments. As an anime that’s tied to not just one game but the entire franchise, it also allows the anime to periodically introduce new characters and locations so that the story never feels stale despite following the same eternally ten-year-old protagonist.

Animation and story go hand in hand, and that’s what will ultimately lead to a good adaptation — not deviating from the storyline, not favoring certain characters over the others and certainly not focusing more on the animation over the story. However, as Pokemon has proven, there are ways to make an adaptation work without it being entirely faithful to the source material. It all boils down to how the series is marketed and produced — whether it’s marketed as a faithful adaptation or a series that adds more life to the world introduced by its source material.

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