Good lord, this was supposed to be a short rant, and just LOOK at it. I’m hopeless. Anyway...
There are a lot of animes that have been born from popular Role Playing Games. Tales of the Abyss, Final Fantasy 7, Star Ocean 2, and many other games have had animated series and/or movies created based upon them. And generally, I’m all for this idea, because 1, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing many of the games I play and enjoy continued in some way (as long as it’s done well, of course), and 2, because to create a new form of art based on a different medium is a sign that the original medium is taken seriously as a potential artform itself (yes, I’m one of the advocates for the consideration of video games as art (or at least, for having the capacity to be art; I’m sure as hell not going to pretend even 10% of them actually do qualify as such)). But what I DON’T like about this phenomenon is the fact that most of these derivative animes and movies wind up being adaptations that retell the game’s events.
Now, let me clarify something--I don’t necessarily dislike adaptations. You take something like the Nolan trilogy of Batman movies. Sure, they’re essentially just adaptations and retellings of ideas from the Batman comic books, but they’re significantly altered and adjusted, becoming different (and remarkable) stories in their own right. They share much similarity to the original source material, but the director takes the stories and characters and uses them in significantly different ways, to tell new stories and explore ideas in unique ways. That kind of adaptation, which significantly departs from the original while staying acceptably true to its ideas, aspects, and direction, that I like. But I also approve of something like the old Fox Kids X-Men cartoon, or the Hunger Games movie, because even though they’re far more literally true to the original works, the mediums are significantly different from the originals. There’s a lot of difference between a comic book or book and a cartoon or movie. You’re reliving the stories in a whole new way, through the vision of the creators of the new adaptation. It’s a significantly new experience.
But that’s not the case with RPG anime adaptations. When an anime retells an RPG’s story, you’re not really creating anything new. RPGs (the Japanese ones, at least, but those are the only ones that this so far applies to) typically have storytelling methods that are already pretty similar to those of anime as it is, and most of the RPGs whose stories have been retold in anime form have been visually advanced enough that the animated version is not really showing you anything different. It’s not like you get anime versions of old 16-bit RPGs, or at least, I’ve yet to find one. The mediums are too similar for the adaptations to be considered a new experience.
So what’s the point? Some animation studio is going to blow thousands and thousands of dollars and hours producing a story that’s already been told? Why? I don’t get it. I already played Tales of the Abyss. I already beat Xenosaga 1. I already completed Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, AND analyzed the hell out of it in my head. Why would I want to just see the same thing all over again? And if that impulse DOES strike me, couldn’t I just, y’know, play the game again?
It’s not like the anime version of a game is going to garner all that much of a new audience to generate new revenue, either. I mean, a movie adaptation of a book, well, I can certainly see the reasoning there--there are a LOT of people who just don’t generally read books, so releasing, say, the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings in movie form is going to garner a huge new audience who didn’t want to read through the original works.* But there’s not a huge divide between anime-watchers and game-players in Japan, and I imagine most of the people who are going to recognize and show significant interest in an anime based on a video game are the people who are already fans of the video game. I guess there must be SOME new people in an audience for an anime version who aren’t gamers, but given how closely the industries are culturally tied over there, I just can’t imagine it being all that many. And if a large portion of your audience are fans of the source material, why show them the same damn thing all over again?
Why not something new? That’s what I want to know. Why not something new. Look, most RPGs last a good 40 to 60 hours, and involve the creation of a whole different world full of unique individuals and histories of varied complexity. If you were a creator, and you had spent so long making the world of your RPG--even a very basic RPG world still takes a lot of time and effort to think up--wouldn’t you WANT to use it more than once? Instead of telling us the same story all over again, animes could detail momentous historical events of the RPG world they’re based on. They could focus on the back stories of the game’s characters. They could show us other perspectives of the events of the game, scenes and side-stories that occur during the game but that we didn’t get a chance to see in the original. Or, most obviously, they could create new adventures for the game’s cast to engage in, taking place some time after the game’s conclusion.**
The Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children movie and the Sakura Wars 5 anime may not have been very good (although if you already liked the silly and somewhat stupid nature of Sakura Wars 5, you probably will actually enjoy its anime sequel), but in my mind, they’re way, way better products than the anime retellings of Disgaea 1 or Tales of the Abyss, even if those had far superior stories and characters. Sure, FF7AC may be a nonsensical load of special effects and gratuitous fight scenes competing with the emo fumblings of a protagonist whose character has actually regressed to where it was partway through the game instead of basing itself on how Cloud had developed by the game’s end, but at least it was (ineptly) trying to tell us a NEW story about the characters and world that we loved, not just rehashing everything we already knew for 2 hours. Sure, Sakura Wars 5 doesn’t make good use of its cast and focuses on the stupid machinations of a reborn Egyptian Pharaoh whose only vaguely interesting quality is that he’s pretty hot for protagonist Shinjiro when Shinjiro’s in drag (and man does Shinjiro seem to dig him back), but it gave us a new adventure for the characters of the game, tried to please its fans with a new story about the characters they enjoyed. I’d still count watching each of them as having been more worthwhile experiences than viewing a single episode of the Xenosaga 1 anime, even though I liked Xenosaga 1’s story.
I also have a couple of minor pet peeves with these anime retellings of RPGs, beyond the principle of it being a waste of time to tell the same story over again in a generally similar format. First of all, the small changes. Even though an anime may just be retelling the story of a game, there are almost inevitably going to be some changes made to events and characters here and there. Not big enough that the events and characters are significantly altered, but still, there will be some slight difference between the original version’s telling and the anime’s, even though the story’s major aspects will be the same. Why do this? It’s not enough to change the anime enough to be a new story, but now I, as an obsessive fan (and don’t kid yourself, there are a LOT of people as obsessive as or more than I am, so I’m not the only one), am never going to know which version of the story’s events is real. If I want to write a fanfic about Xenosaga 1, do I consider Virgil as having died on the Woglinde star ship, as happened in the game, or later on, as happened in the anime? The animation’s change has no significant effect on the overall events of the plot, as Virgil will still die in basically the exact same way, but I’ll never know how the hell this detail was actually supposed to play out, and it’s going to bug me any time I happen to think of it. And you probably know by now just how often and much I think about RPGs.***
And don’t even get me started on the Final Fantasy 7: Last Order anime. The way they changed the scene where Cloud gets stabbed by Sephiroth...it makes me shake with fanboy rage just thinking about it. They just have Sephiroth decide to jump off the reactor platform on his own. They RUINED one of the greatest moments in Final Fantasy 7. Cloud was supposed to get stabbed, then, through sheer strength of will and heroic quality and all that awesome inspiring jazz, he was supposed to grab the sword in him, use it to lift Sephiroth (who’s too surprised to actually let go of the hilt) up into the air, and then throw his ass over the side of the reactor to what they both clearly thought would be Sephiroth’s death (and it did at least knock him off his ass for a few years, forcing him into hiding in the North Crater’s Lifestream center to heal). It was heroic, it was awesome, it was inspiring. It was a victorious turn-around on the villain who had seemed to have clearly won, then suddenly found himself utterly defeated by one of the supposedly helpless victims he’d just run through. But no, now, thanks to this goddamn anime retelling, Cloud’s amazing act of strength and will is diminished, and Sephiroth gets to give a smug little smile and hightail it outta there, which was what he wanted to do to begin with. Yeah, Cloud spooked him a little still, but ultimately Sephiroth is now the one who comes out ahead. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since SquareEnix is has a George Lucas-like talent for destroying its own best work, but still.
And what about when one of those small changes is just adding something in that wasn’t there in the original game? Like the Realian girl that was just added out of the blue to the Xenosaga anime. Her role changes more or less nothing important, so again, it still qualifies as us being expected to sit through the same damn story all over again, but the small alterations her presence and character provide are not in the original game, and I have to wonder--why not? Was this addition something that the creator of Xenosaga wanted in her work, in her vision of her story? Is the game that I spent 50+ hours playing NOT all that it was supposed to be? Because that really doesn’t make me very happy to consider.
And as a last little gripe, I admit to feeling childishly resentful about the time difference. I mean, look, a full season of an anime is more or less 26 episodes, right? Some animes go longer and some are shorter, but the standard is 26. If you get a video game turned into an anime, then you’re providing the same story to any newcomer who may not already know it in 13 hours’ time--26 if you get full-hour episodes, but I don’t think I’ve heard of a game anime that has episodes that long. I spent 40+ experiencing that story, as one of the original fans that made the game’s commercial success possible (I assume it wouldn’t get an anime if it weren’t successful). So now any jerk can have the experience in half that time? Less, even? I feel like an idiot for investing so much time into the original product when all I apparently had to do was wait a year or 2, and I could have more or less the same experience without the repetitive random encounters adding an extra few dozen hours on. Like I said, kind of a petty feeling, but I don’t deny it.
Pet peeves aside, though, I seriously dislike the idea that an anime made about an RPG would just be a retelling of the game’s story, and I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here. I am not a baby penguin. I do not enjoy my meals regurgitated to me. Whoever makes the decisions on these matters, take the stuff I like, the stuff enough fans liked to warrant further focus, and go forward with it.
* A sentiment which, in that particular case, I can sympathize with. Tolkien had some awesome ideas and creativity, but sweet heavens, he had a ponderous and dry writing style.
** As a note, I would like to say that a new story such as I mention should, of course, still be related to and based on the video game in some way. I’m not looking for something like the Wild Arms: Twilight Venom anime, which, as far as I could tell, had no actual connection to any Wild Arms game and only had any relation to the series through using certain basic concepts like the ARMS weapons and Crimson Noble species (and even then, many of these things seemed only loosely based on the original concepts found in the games). The anime should have some strong, solid relationship to the original games, because otherwise, why the heck name it after the game series to begin with? If you took the words “Wild Arms” out of the title of that anime, you’d sooner think of it as its own show than anything related to the game series.
*** For new readers: It’s a lot. I think about them a lot.