Let’s say one day Sunrise calls you up out of the blue and says: “Your rich otaku uncle who you never knew you had just left us his entire fortune to make a new anime and manga franchise. As his heir, you get to choose which story we produce with his money. What would you like us to do?” What narratives would you choose to see adapted to anime or manga that you think would likely be at least as good as, if not better than, the original?
The adaptation could be a relatively straightforward transference of the original story into the new medium, such as the excellent Manga Classics adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; or it could be a very, ahem, creative interpretation of the original, as with Kohei Horikoshi’s Barrage, which was clearly but… flexibly… based on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.
Except, the adaptation hasn’t been made yet.
Not all stories seem well-disposed to such a treatment. Some manga adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays have not been reviewed well, because they stuck too closely to the original and end up coming off as stilted in manga form. Then there was the attempt at mangaficating Dante’s Divine Comedy which, again, suffered from pretty much just being an illustrated version of the poem. One could argue that it’s not because of the stories themselves but because the adaptions were poorly made; however, I do think some narratives are better suited to moving across genres than others.
Take, for example, Homer’s Illiad: I think this would make a superb anime! It’s got combat, superpowers, romance, a tight plot, emotional tension, and more—and a solid anime could bring out the visuals the poem describes in ways that a simple translation of the poem, or even a live-action film, cannot. Want to see a Trojan or Greek hero “power up” when the gods decide it’s his day to shine, as Homer describes it? No genre has this trope nailed down better than anime—just look at the Dragonball franchise.*
There’s a scene towards the end of the Illiad in which old King Priam of Troy comes to the Greek warrior par excellence Achilles to—spoilers!—beg for the body of his son Hector, whom Achilles cut down in combat. Not only that, Achilles then took to dragging Hector’s body behind a chariot, all the way around Troy, on a daily basis—before the horrified watching of Hector’s countrymen, soldiers, father, mother, wife, and little child. One could make the case that Hector was asking for it by slaying Achilles’ male lover, Patroklos, and sure, that played a part in upsetting Achilles. (Just a bit.) But Priam had a lot of sons—this sort of activity apparently being expected of a king back then—and Achilles slaughtered quite a few of them: Hector was simply the latest and, literally, greatest. All of which is to say that Achilles wasn’t known for being soft-hearted, and Priam wasn’t at all sure he wouldn’t be the next body behind the chariot.
Still, Priam goes to Achilles and humiliates himself to make his plea for Hector’s corpse. He reminds Achilles that the warrior, too, has a father back home who will never see him again. (There was a prophecy that Achilles would not return home from the Trojan War.) And then… Achilles begins to cry. The two men weep together, and Priam grips Achilles’ hands—the hands, Homer reminds us, that were stained with the blood of so many of Priam’s sons.
It’s a powerful line. When I read it in English, I tended to just skim past it. One day I had to read it in the original Greek, however, and that forced me to go through it more slowly. When I reached that line, I cried, too. It’s absolutely beautiful, in a way that’s hard to pull off in a direct translation.
An anime, however, could do it! A visual medium allows for such nuances to be portrayed in ways other than simple language; an anime would be able to bring across the fantastical elements in a way live-action special effects would have a hard time emulating; and a seinen anime could communicate the grandeur of the story, which western animation tends to Disneyfy into oblivion. (Please, no silly song routines or comic relief pets! Not in this story, at least!)
Homer’s Odyssey, however, I have a hard time envisioning as an anime. There are elements in it that work in an epic Greek poem—from the wandering feel to the dea ex machina ending—that would feel unsatisfying in an anime portrayal, I suspect.
So which stories would you like to see done this way?
Oh yeah, Sunrise is still on the phone. Better make a decision quick before they get impatient and hang up! 😉
* Dragonball, of course, began as an animated version of Journey to the West.
** Homer’s Illiad, first draft.