Throughout the years, anime has managed to charm its way to an innumerable number of people’s hearts. Its vastness of scope and its unique approach to the art of storytelling is something that is, simply said, frequently imitated and never surpassed. There really is just something about anime; something endearing, that it has managed to create dedicated fans of the art form for decades.
I myself am one of these dedicated fans. I’ve had a pretty good history with anime, starting from the time when I was very young and anime was so rare due to the previous dictatorship in my country’s government deeming its themes subversive. Thus, I personally consider anime as something that I grew up with, and something that I can always relate to.
Thus, I must admit that I am very passionate about the shows that I have loved throughout the years. I consider many to be classics; classics just like the masterpieces of music created by the talents of Bach and Tchaikovsky. And just like classical music, there is just something off-putting about having them tampered with and changed as the years go by.
Remakes are a touchy subject for fans of anime. Just like Hollywood movies, popular anime series are remade all the time. However, due to the tendency of fans to have such passion for the originals, or classics if you may, the remakes usually end up falling through the cracks, unappreciated and unloved. This editorial addresses anime reboots and the reactions that they trigger. Hence, we shall discuss the proverbial dilemma of anime fans – should a remake be embraced, or thrown away.
What is a Remake?
A remake by definition pertains to releasing the same title, with relatively the same plot and characters, after a certain period of time. In recent years, the entire world’s entertainment industry has been rife with remakes. Hollywood, for one, has been doing this for a while now, and so far, receptions have been mixed. Anime has also shown a tendency to follow this worldwide trend, releasing remakes of popular series that have been produced before. Just like their Hollywood counterparts, receptions have so far been mixed as well.
Remakes that are warmly received enjoy a Renaissance of appreciation and fandom. A perfect example of this would be possibly the most well-received anime remake of all time – Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is technically a reimagining of the classic, live-action series, Giant Robo (Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot for international audiences). The OVA is considered a classic on its own, an anime that was able to bring in the charm of the original while enhancing most, if not all, aspects of its storytelling. Some remakes, however, do not fare as well. Before we discuss that however, let us first see why remakes are done in the first place.
The Logic Behind a Remake
Remakes happen mainly for the purpose of introducing a new generation to an older title, with the main trick being to update the story to a more modern era without losing much of the factors that made the original title great. A great example of this is the father of all anime series itself, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. While the original is heralded as the forerunner of anime, the 1960’s series was in black and white and notoriously low-budget.
Thus, despite its inherent value and charm, the show itself is lacking production-wise. This was why the series was remade in the 1980’s with color, and remade later again in 2003, this time production values that made it one of the most expensive anime to ever be produced. Apart from this, the anime also touched on issues and themes that were quite left out in the original series. While the original was targeted for young audiences and involved themes which were light and very kid-friendly, the 1980’s and the 2003 retelling of the story was able to stick very close to the manga storyline and thus, was able to present much of the story in a more serious, thought-provoking manner.
An anime’s faithfulness to its source material is something that usually warrants a remake. For the most part, remakes are usually done in order for an anime to accomplish something that the original series was not able to do. This is because of a number of popular anime titles have been produced as full-fledged series while their manga counterparts were still unfinished. Thus, production companies and their respective directors are forced to create and write their own endings to the anime.
A notorious example of this would be the recent anime, Claymore, which ended the story in such an abrupt manner that fans were left wanting more. Some production companies however, end up going the long way, literally. Anime such as Naruto are notorious for being rife with fillers, and this was mostly due to the fact that the series was waiting for the manga to develop further. As a result, the anime becomes bloated with weak storylines that seem out of place in the anime’s canon.
Thus, remakes such as Hellsing: Ultimate are able to accomplish what the series initially set to do, which is to create a reimagining of the story that far exceeds the original. A more recent example of this would be the wildly successful remake of the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was warmly received by critics and audiences alike. In fact, the series was so successful that very few anime fans these days would even remember that the title has been released in the early 2000’s, quite successfully in its own right.
Sticking extremely close to the source material, Brotherhood was able to tell a more cohesive story that was even more thought-provoking than its initial release. It was also able to address several things that were considered lacking in the original release; one of these being the anime’s ending.
However, not all remakes are blessed with warm reception. As mentioned earlier, just as people would probably not appreciate a dubstep version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, there are some anime classics whose remakes are not as warmly received as the first. In fact, there are some that were received extremely coldly by older fans and target audiences.
A perfect example of this would be last year’s retelling of everyone’s favorite shoujo-action anime of the 90’s – the wildly popular Sailor Moon, an anime that was one of the major players in Japanese animation that was responsible for bringing it to the world. I remember Sailor Moon being so popular in the 90’s, to the point where kids from all over the world scrambled to watch it. Dubbed in the native tongue of more than a dozen countries, it captured the world’s attention and brought anime into the limelight. In fact, one of the first editorials I read about when I was young was an editorial on Sailor Moon, written by one of the top journalists in the international magazine, Newsweek.
Last year, Sailor Moon: Crystal was released. Following the source material to very closely, it was predicted to be the next Fullmetal Alchelmist: Brotherhood. However, just a few weeks into its release, it garnered a significant number of critics and naysayers. Online forums were ripe with criticisms of the show, some of it logical, while others bordered on good old-fashioned trolling. A question then emerges. Why did this happen? Production-wise, it was obviously more high-budget than the 90’s series that it drew its material from. Plot-wise, it was closer to the manga. Despite these however, it seems to have fallen flat. Why is this so?
Stuck in the Divide: Why Remakes Get Received Coldly
If one looks at the reviews that Sailor Moon: Crystal has garnered in internet forums, both from professional critics and audiences alike, one would see a pattern emerge. Some notable remakes, such as Crystal, end up falling into a crevice that lies between the expectations of its old fans and its target audience. Take note that remakes usually are geared towards the updating of a story in order to make it more appropriate for the time it was being released in. However, by doing so, anime risks alienating fans of the original series, who may have the tendency to be wildly protective of the original release.
This seems to be the very case behind the fate of Crystal. If one looks at the plot of Sailor Moon from a literary perspective, the story follows the traditional formula of the start-crossed lovers theme. The love story between the Moon Princess and the Earth Prince lies at its core. However, the original 90’s anime was so long and rife with fillers that it took so long before the actual plot of the manga was addressed. What is interesting here is the fact that the fillers themselves, as well as the deviation of the characterization and the plot from the manga, actually ended up endearing fans to the series even more.
A good case in point here is the characterization of the story’s main character, the reincarnation of the Moon Princes, Usagi Tsukino. What turned off a lot of the old fans of the series about her portrayal in Crystal is the fact that she matured so much. If the Usagi in the 90’s series was a clumsy, adorable girl from the beginning to the end, the Usagi in Crystal matured into a deep-thinking young woman by the middle of the first arc.
Literature-wise, the progression of the character does make sense. If one takes the gravity of the events unfolding in the anime to mind, the development o Usagi’s character would seem very logical, especially after she is made aware of the fate-defining events that transpired at the end of her past life as the Moon Princess.
However, many viewers simply thought of this as something that was unnecessary, something that took away some of the more charming aspects of a well-loved character. Despite the development following the manga, it was not warmly received at all. What is even more interesting is that, after losing the gambit with fans of the original series, Crystal also seems to have failed in capturing the interest of newer fans.
Anime has evolved immensely through the years, and together with this evolution lies the changes that have been evident in the nature of the shows that have been released. Just like the trend in international cinema, anime has continued to be a lot grittier than before. Thus, the story of Crystal, with its focus on the start-crossed lovers story between a princess and a prince, as well as its integration of supernatural elements that involve girls with superpowers dressed in sailor uniforms, fell a little short in grasping the attention and heart of the newer generation, who are used to stories that are a lot more mature. Hence, the anime has ended up stuck in the proverbial middle – too different for the older generation and too similar to the new.
Ad Senatus Consultum Ultimum: The Bottom Line
As the older, wiser generation, we veterans of the anime world must be a lot more open-minded. After all, we did grow up with and within this subculture. Somewhere down the line, we decided to dedicate a part of who we are to our love for Japanese animation, and as the years go by, we must never forget that. Embracing change and appreciating the little nuances that develop along the way in anime is something that we are all capable to do. For us anime fans, who have already viewed the anime from the classics to the most recent, we do have the capability to initiate and influence its direction and growth.
I’ve seen this firsthand, especially when the live-action retelling of the opus, Rurouni Kenshin, was released in the theaters. There was just something about seeing older anime fans, who are professional doctors, engineers, teachers, and bank managers now, leading their young children into the theaters to enjoy an anime that became a huge part of their childhood.
I’d like to think of teaching the young how to appreciate anime as a means of passing the baton in a relay. After all, who is better equipped to carry on the legacy that anime than the people we raise by our own hands? We must remember that if we ourselves become incapable of embracing change, we might influence the younger generations to do the same. Granted, being able to appreciate remakes for what they are and what they stand for is just the tip of the iceberg; however, it is nonetheless a great way to ensure that the legacy of anime remains alive.
In literary criticism, two of the most prominent theories are called the Objective and Mimetic Theories. In a nutshell, the Objective Theory states that the appreciation of a work of art is something that must be determined by values inherent in the work itself, while Mimetic Theory states that a work of art must also be appreciated by looking into the universe unto which it was created. This means that we, as the men and women who have been partially molded by Japanese animation, have a responsibility, and that is for us to be open-minded enough so that we can usher in this new generation to be anime fans that are both well-versed, and well-rounded.