Now there’s a term that’s often used to describe an anime adaptation. A word that demonstrates how closely an anime series follows the narrative or depicts events compared to how the story unfolds or how occurrences are presented in the original source material.
“The anime series was faithful to the manga as seen in how ______________”
We hear this train of thought often enough. We also hear about how some anime series are “unfaithful” to, or stray away from, the original source material. Said statement is usually uttered with disdain, like diverging from the original canon is a sin to be condemned.
Here’s my hot take.
Not strictly following the original material can sometimes be a good thing. And sometimes blindly adhering to what happened in the original material can be a bad thing.
As for the downsides of an anime series following the source material too closely, just take a look at Centaur no Nayami. As Zeria deftly points out in this post, the anime adaptation is lazy. The comedic timing is completely off. The animation is not lively. Basically, everything feels stilted. You might as well just read the manga with the voices in the background since the anime copies the manga, “panel-for-panel,” without utilizing the different medium’s advantages.
What advantages am I speaking of?
The obvious ones are actual voice acting (if you can hear actual voices when reading manga or reading light novels, color me surprised. I, too, wish for such a robust imagination) and animation (panels showing someone walking versus seeing someone actually shown walking on-screen – it’s similar yet different).
However, the benefit that I think is often misrepresented is that the anime adaptation, by default, comes out after the source material. Which means there’s an opportunity for the studio to add additional anime-original scenes, or even episodes, to flesh out the series as a whole. And yet such content is often considered to be less important simply because it’s just “filler.”
TheSubtleDoctor had a poignant editorial about this particular subject matter. You should really check out his post, but in a nutshell he claims that anime-original content shouldn’t be dismissed as only filler. He then points out how episode 16 of Dragon Ball Z, which is completely anime-original, enriches the viewing experience by showing exactly how Gohan stopped being a sniveling child and started becoming a devoted warrior. As such, the anime series is fleshed out compared to the original source material, which merely opted for a timeskip, a before-and-after-comparison.
See? Being “unfaithful” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to anime adaptations, at least.
Saki (the first season that aired back in 2009) features some (technically) anime-original content, as well. Even though the series ran for 2 cour, there was just too little content for 25 episodes considering that the anime series was basically caught up to the original source material at the time. As a compromise, the anime featured the Nagano individuals tournament where mahjong players faced off against each other, even if they were forced to play against teammates and friends.
This was a smart move considering that Saki places a greater focus on team battles in mahjong, which theoretically limits the significance of the individuals tournament. Yet the results of this individuals tournament have been recognized as canon in later chapters (and in spin-offs like in Saki Achiga-hen) despite, as stated earlier, not being depicted in the manga. Furthermore, the protagonist realizes an important lesson and comes to her senses during said individuals tournament. For a scene that was “only” anime-original, it sure was executed well and in a way that enhances the story.
As for more modern series, well, UQ Holder! is pulling off this stunt already. The opening scene, where we get to see Negi interact with his middle school students while Evangeline sits off to the side, doesn’t happen until chapter 128 (and continues onto chapter 129). Since the series originally started as a weekly series (UQ Holder! became a monthly series starting from chapter 129 following a 3 month hiatus), the anime series is effectively starting in media res by featuring the aforementioned scene as the opener.
This begs the question why, I’m sure. To answer that, one must know the history of Mahou Sensei Negima!
Said series, written by Akamatsu Ken, followed Love Hina, which was a popular romcom series that basically established the romantic conventions and tropes seen in modern anime. Despite expressing interest in writing a battle series, Ken’s editor(s) pushed for him to go for another harem series after seeing the success of Love Hina. In response, Mahou Sensei Negima! started getting published and it seemed like it’ll be another romcom harem series featuring a young boy and his older love interests. But then Ken revealed his true colors and Mahou Sensei Negima! became a shounen battle series that has yet to be matched in terms of personality and humor (I’ll stand by those words until I die).
Unfortunately, Mahou Sensei Negima! was given a rushed ending. The reason is because he was on the verge of losing his rights to the series as an intellectual property (and that he was having problems with his health). Therefore many loose ends were left untied and everyone was unhappy.
Now, about chapter 128 of UQ Holder! – it’s memorable, yes, because the opening scene gives us another glimpse into the daily lives of Negi and his students after many years (the manga series ended in 2012, UQ Holder started being published in 2013, and it took the series almost 2 and a half years to reach chapter 128). But it’s also important because the following chapter, 129, features a brand new title – UQ Holder!: Mahou Sensei Negima! 2 (which happens to be the name of the anime adaptation). In other words, this was when UQ Holder! officially became the sequel to Mahou Sensei Negima! since Ken seems to have kept his editors in the dark once again.
What does this mean for the series?
Well, it’s essentially a way for UQ Holder! to emphasize its relationship to Mahou Sensei Negima!. Remember: the opening scene in the anime adaptation didn’t show in the original source material until ~2.5 years (in real time) had passed. By making said scene the opener, the series is reminding the viewers that this is the sequel and is allowing Evangeline to discuss the drawbacks to immortality with even more impact compared to the original source material where she goes on a rant without the short, happy instance of Negi and his students to accentuate that the times spent with her classmates and teacher were happy ones.
The fact that Touta is seeing phantom images of Negi, who tells Touta that he’s waiting for him at the top of the tower, further proves my little pet theory. Said scenes were definitely absent in the original source material and only seems to provide the smallest sense of urgency to Touta’s quest – at first glance. While such instances are anime-original, I can see how they tie into the current crisis in the series and are most definitely urgent. But I’ve already blabbed enough about UQ Holder! and Mahou Sensei Negima! so I’m sure you’re all sick of my rose-tinted lenses.
In short, I’m saying that the anime adaptation of UQ Holder! added some anime-original scenes, which in turn have already established a slightly different tone compared to the original source material by emphasizing the show’s status as a sequel. Whether this is a good or bad thing remains to be determined. But that’s the case with all simulcast series, isn’t it? And that’s what makes following said shows so exciting.