The Problem With Adapting Fights From Manga/Novels Into Anime

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This might be one of those weird nitpicks that seems to bother me more than it does anyone else. I wouldn’t say that this issue is a deal-breaker, except in the case of long-running shounen anime adaptations, but it definitely has to do with why I typically find it harder to get into action anime which are adapted from manga and novels, as opposed to original works.

Action scenes in manga are all about each individual panel looking really intense. Great artists can create a sense of flow between panels in their fights, but it’s mostly more about the big moments which stand out being drawn to look especially cool. Series like Soul Eater, Vagabond, and Berserk excel at creating these big, intense-looking moments of action.

However, when action manga is adapted into anime, the images can no longer remain static while characters do things like describe their attacks, or analyze what’s going on in the battle, or banter between one-another. In manga form, when you see a page where, in one panel, a character is using an attack, while in another panel, some other character is explaining what that attack does, you have the sensation that both of these things are happening at the same time–and because you read the dialog in a split-second, the action still seems to be happening really fast, as it should be.

However, once you adapt this into anime, the scene of the attack and the scene of characters analyzing the attack suddenly come one after the other, and it takes much longer for the dialog to be spoken then it would take for you to read it. Now you have the sensation that the characters are constantly stopping in the middle of a battle to exchange dialog, which can wear on the viewer’s immersion and on the intensity of the fighting.

This tends to get even worse when we talk about action scenes adapted from novels. Novels have a tendency to rely heavily on internal monologue, dialog, and explanations in order to convey action, since it’s difficult to write about a series of complex movements occurring in quick succession without losing the reader. These kind of scenes work just fine in text form because you’re creating the scenario in your head gradually as you read, so even more so than with manga, you have the sensation that all of these events are happening really quickly, even if you’re taking longer to piece them together in your mind.

However, when this is adapted into animation, it almost always leads to scenes of characters awkwardly standing around. The perfect example of this is the first few battles in Fate/Zero, where there would be quick little bouts of characters attacking one-another, punctuated by long periods of them standing around either talking or thinking. As a result, a fight scene which we would’ve imagined taking place in a matter of moments while we’re reading about it, takes up fifteen minutes of screen time, which we actually live through and see, making it harder to mentally condense the events into the proper timeframe.

Original animations don’t have to deal with any of these problems, because they’re built from the ground up to be visualized. Storyboard artists and key animators can craft dense pockets of high-intensity scripted movement without needing to explain what’s going on or interrupt the action, because the audience can clearly understand what’s happening. Unlike manga, there’s less concern for each individual image looking impressive, and more concern for the whole of the scene being enjoyable to watch.

None of this is to say that it’s impossible for adaptations to have great action scenes. Some studios know how to take liberties with the source material and transform those scenes into something that looks right in animation. Studio Bones are the masters of this, with shows like Soul Eater and the Fullmetal Alchemist adaptations showcasing breathtaking action sequences–though in those cases the original manga were also pretty cinematic in their fights, which probably has to do with appearing in a Square-Enix owned magazine. Bones have also created some of the best fight scenes in original anime, though, so their pedigree is altogether indisputable.

My point here isn’t so much to draw clear lines between the quality of fight scenes between original anime and different types of adaptations. I’m simply pointing out that when the pacing in an anime fight scene feels off, it’s commonly due to the nature of adapting something from a source material that has very different priorities. It’s not a hard and fast rule, just something I noticed while being bothered by fight scenes in various anime over the years. I’m curious to know if these kind of pacing issues ever bother you as well, or if you’ve ever noticed any difference.

One thought on “The Problem With Adapting Fights From Manga/Novels Into Anime

  1. I think it’s better to err on the side of standing around and talking than on the side of, say, Glass Lip.

    I for one, however, share your sentiment. Masterful adaptations can get around these issues. Now that being said, a lot of light novels have characters stand around and just talk too, so the source material is partly to blame.

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