In defense of those annoying “fans of the source material”

It’s one of those issues that can be applied to pretty much any media fandom, but I saw it a lot among anime fans recently, and hey, I have an anime blog, so for the time being, let’s discuss it in this context.

When was the last time you heard this rant?

I’m an anime fan, so I don’t care about what happened in your LN/manga/VN! This is an anime, so it should be judged as one. It’s obvious that due to the differences of the mediums, the adaptation is going to be a bit different, so shut up about how “inaccurate” it is.

Strangely, as much as I see them, I didn’t ever see a  defense against them. No one ever comes up and explains why some people keep talking about the source material. They just keep sagely nodding at the universal wisdom that was just uttered. Apparently, the entire Internet believes that such rants accurately describe fandom etiquette.

Except, of course, the people who proceed to talk about the source material anyways. Including some of those who were just sagely nodding, right until the arrival of another series, that’s source material they are the fan of, in which case, they proceed to do the same. I guess I could write it off as people being hypocrites, and intentionally offensive rabid fanboys,  but following Hanlon’s razor, it’s much more likely that the source of the conflict is poor communication between two different groups with different interests, than that one group of fan is being malicious.

For example, one of the major misunderstandings is a result of making a blanket statement about what anime “ought to be”, that is more of a personal wish, than a general rule: “all anime should stand on it’s own”.

Of course, no one likes to hear that the show that they  just planned to watch, makes the most sense if they first go through some other material too. But they still wouldn’t feel entitled to demanding instant accessibility in every situation. You wouldn’t jump into a series at the second season, and expect everyone to shut up about that “other show” that you didn’t watch. You wouldn’t watch a genre parody, and demand that all the jokes must be funny without being familiar genre. You wouldn’t watch a historical series, from a time period that you know nothing about, and expect to understand it without occasionaly being helped out by wikipedia links.

Yet many of us say that an anime that is treated with the assumption that we all read the LN/manga/VN , is asking for too much, so we draw the line there. And that’s all right. It certainly makes sense, that you would refuse reading a story in a medium that you don’t even like. But be aware, that this is not grand universal “rule” of what all anime shall be like, but an arbitarily drawn line based on your personal history with the source mediums. It might be at odds with other fans’ expectations, and most importantly, with how anime is being made.

The truth is, that most anime is really nothing more than a supplementary material to the  original story. That’s just a result of the otaku industry’s business logic: Manga, Light novels, and Visual novels, can all reach higher sales, than anime discs. It’s mostly because anyone who wants to read them, needs to buy a copy, while anime is first airing on TV for free and only the biggest fans pay for it. So we have a large potential audience, that is willing to pay for written stories, but most of them only  see anime as a free option. It’s a logical conclusion, that with every new anime, publishers have two main goals: First, draw anime viewers into the franchise, so they will eventually buy the novels. Second, convince  the core of the existing novel fandom, to buy the anime discs out of loyalty to the franchise.

As a result, most anime is designed with these two audiences in mind: The old source material fandom, and the potential readers who will want to read it after watching the anime. Characterizations, genres, messages, plot conclusions, can’t be too heavily modified, not to piss off the fandom, but enough minor details must be left out to make the newcomers curious about them.

The “anime fandom” doesn’t figure into this at all, because the anime fandom as we know it is a western concept. It’s all a big coincidence that such a large amount of western otaku started to define themselves exclusively as “anime fans”,  and treat every other Japanese medium as an irrelevant niche inside their fandom.

But technically, when that irrelevant niche treats an anime as a side-project, that’s only purpose is to faithfully  retell the “real” story but with more colors and animation, they might be closer to the truth than the anime fan who wants to interpret it without it’s context.

In a certain sense, both sides are understandable in their expectations. I’m not a manga fan myself either,  so I know how annoying it is, when the manga’s fans keep complainig  about how incorrect the anime is. They are annoying me, in the same way as people on a crowded subway car are annoying each other. Not because either of them did something wrong, but because they are being pushed together into a situation where they can do nothing but annoy each other.

We have fans with the perfectly reasonable expectation that they shouldn’t have to deal with constant discussions of a medium that they don’t care about, and fans with the perfectly reasonable expectation to enjoy and discuss the franchise in the order as it was intended to be, are going to annoy each other.

But hey, we are locked into the same community, so we might as well tolerate each other.

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8 responses to “In defense of those annoying “fans of the source material”

  1. I am part of those sagely nodding group though. It personally irks me when someone would say the manga is better. ofcourse it is but is it so wrong to enjoy an anime without it being compared to the manga?

    you do have point of fans disregarding other mediums. i personally only watch anime but it is an interesting fact though that no matter how many times you read the original source, you still want to watch the anime version. reasons of hearing the characters or watching the characters than enhances the experience.
    so i will b*tch on about those original source fans because without the anime adaptation, the source’s reception and popularity wouldn’t be so grand.

  2. I must be the loner who doesn’t care since I don’t enjoy anime and manga having their stories too close or the same. I want them to be in different points in time or an alternative story of some sort.

  3. I just want an adaptation to be that – an adaptation. It should take advantage of the medium, not lamely cling to the source material. Use the animation to improve the story, don’t overshadow it or just lamely transfer manga images to the screen. In other words. So in a sense I agree with Jura – but if they’re going to be a spinoff, I prefer them to be honest about it. And if they’re going to change it entirely, then why not just be an anime original of its own?

    • That’s entirely true, that here is a golden mean between serviantly copying everything, and an “in name only” adaptation.

      Even the original’s fans only tend to be vocally complaining when it’s getting dangerously close to the latter, but everyone understands new scenes, or new ethods to present the original’s ideas.

  4. I know you read my post about knowing an anime’s source material beforehand, so what I said there can also be said as a comment to this post 😉 But to add a little more, I don’t think I’ve watched many anime that require you to have knowledge of the source material in order to understand what’s going on. If most anime did that, I think we’d see very few “anime-only” fans. But there’s certainly a point to what you’re saying in how anime is marketed in Japan as supplements to already established VNs, light novels, manga, games, etc,. while it’s marketed as a more separate industry in the West. But BD/DVD sales can be a crucial part to a franchise’s profit, so in order to bring in a larger crowd that just fans of the source material, I’d imagine companies wouldn’t want to make their anime too hard for people not familiar with the source material to get into. Like you said, they have to try and please both sides.

    • Of course an anime that is ENTIRELY nonsensical without the original is rare (though there are examples), but there are several instances where a deeper understanding, or an alternative character interpretation, is possible for the readers, and it causes conflicts whether or not that should apply to the original.

      For example I have seen multiple forum debates about whether or not Haruhi is an insufferable bitch, with someone (not me :P) bringing up that no because she became a lot nicer in the later novels, and others flipping out that later novels don’t matter because they are not anime.

      It’s basically the same confrontation here: Should the anime-only fans suck it up and admit that they are unwilling to read the real main story to get the full picture, or should the novel fans shut up and accept that the anime is an entirely different story that just borrows elements from the novels at it’s own pleasure, but shouldn’t be talked about as canonically the same worlds.

      (my answer: neither)

      • Well, it’s not an ENTIRELY different story – if you’d only read the first four light novels you’d get the same impression (largely). The retort from fans of the novels should be “Yeah, the anime portrayal is kind of a crappy/limited one. It’d be better if they adapted the material that shows the other side of this.”

  5. What I hate the most about a bad anime adaptation is not the anime itself, but the fans! Even if the anime is a complete bastardization of the original work, even if it completely misses the point and ruins the characters, it will have fans as long as it’s entertaining and can “stand on its own”.

    You HAVE to deal with those fans, because they outnumber the fans of the original manga/visual novel. And it pisses me off.

    Have you ever read a visual novel/manga and then discussed the subject with fans of the anime adaptation?

    Anime-only fans are people who don’t know what the work is about but think they do because they read or saw some distillation of it. If you ask the average “fan”, Higurashi is about ‘killer lolis’ and Okabe Rintarou is just a funny dude who says random stuff to be funny and drinks a lot of Dr. Pepper.

    Higurashi is the biggest offender of them all. The original sound novel is a beautiful and inspiring story with great characters and an amazing plot . It’s the best thing I’ve ever read, even if the author is an amateur writer.

    The anime adaptation is just evil. Bad enough to make my blood boil BUT good enough to make people think that it is somehow representative of the original work. It’s not. Other shitty adaptations don’t do that. But this fucking piece of shit comes off as a good adaptation just because it’s enjoyable. If only people bothered to read the original sound novel, they would realize how much better it is. It’s something else.

    There is just something inherently offensive with someone discussing something you love as something it isn’t.

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