Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Transition from print to animation
(above, a page from the original "Umeboshi Denka" comics, published in 1968)
My last post on Umeboshi Denka promoted a comment from Disney animator Will Finn saying that animated adaptations of Japanese comics tend to lose something when transitioning to small screen. As an example he cited "Lupin III", noting that the animated series tightened the loose artwork present in Monkey Punch's original comics.
This led me to think about other comics-to-animation adaptations over the years in regards to Japanese shows. In the beginning most Japanese cartoon shows were adapted from pre-existing comics; very few shows at the time were created specifically for television (and even then the networks preferred that a comic version is published first just to see how the public reacts).
Specifically, how much liberties should studios have when it comes to making what the character was originally created to be seen in print to work in animation? Obviously this depends entirely on how the character were drawn in the first place.
Some shows they try really hard to retain the look of the source material. Will mentioned Shunji Sonoyama's Gon (original title Hajime Ningen Gyators, lit. "First Human Gyators"). The original comics were drawn in very shaky style. A Japanese version of "B.C.", stylistically.
(a page from Gyators)
Tokyo Movie later turned it into a series as a replacement for Dokonjo Gaeru ("Frog with Guts", itself based on a comic, but that's for another time)
There were some necessary streamlining in order to make the designs work in animation, but they still managed to retain some of the shakiness from the source material. This article from AniPages Daily writes that this is what the studio was apparently going for. To prove the point further they reproduced studio notes that instructed animators how to draw the characters.
So sometimes studios are successful at retaining the loose style in original comics. In the case of "Umeboshi Denka" and other Fujiko Fujio manga, despite the cartoony designs and exaggerated facial features the characters are drawn rather conservatively compared to the works of Monkey Punch and Shunji Sonoyama. As a result not too many are lost in transition...usually.
The first Fujio-duo comic to be animated was their break-out hit, Obake no Q-Taro (Q-Taro the Ghost). While Japanese shows that aired before it featured comic reliefs and in some cases cartoony character designs, "Q Taro" was the first show that was specifically gag-comedy oriented.
Even though the show was a big hit back in the day it was barely shown after its run (1965-67 for 97 episodes) ended. It's cited that the reason for that is because it was shot in black and white. However from the little I've seen of the series the quality may have affected the rerun issue. Tokyo Movie Shinsha is often regarded as the best of the Japanese studios and I theorize they may be embarrassed by this show, which is quite frankly shoddy even by 1960s standards.
(a page from Q-Taro comic)
In 1971 TMS produced a revival called "Shin Obake no Q-Taro" (New Q-Taro the Ghost), this time in color. From the little of what I've seen they were much more loose than the 1960s series. TMS by then had gotten the hang of doing shows and improved. Many fans feel that this was the most faithful adaptation of the three "Q-Taro" shows (one more was made in 1985-87 by another studio, and the only one of the three that's available in home video).
Sometimes the transition from print to animation can be done right. This rests entirely on how the source material is presented. I have to agree with Will, in regards to Lupin, that the comic's looseness could have been transitioned to animation, even if the low budget meant that certain liberties had to be taken. The pilot film, embedded below, is much more faithful to the source material than any subsequent cartoons featuring the character.
So what do you think? If anyone's interested in me going over American comic-to-animation adaptations, write in the comments.