Adaptation is a tough ordeal. I’m sure we all have our sweet and sour experiences when it comes to the adaptations of our favorite story. Reading is a very private and personal form of engagement, not just the interpretation of the meaning of the text but almost everything else is up to our imagination and personal experience/way of seeing. Colors, smell, sounds, faces; even though these aspects are described by the author, the image that appears before the eye of our minds is still shaped through our experience, culture and environment1. However movies/tv shows/anime that comes out differently than what we imagined can be often frustrating and displeasing; or, if we are lucky enough, it can be an eye opening moment of “Wow, I never thought of it like that, so cool!”.
Recently, I became aware of that some of my favorite series were actually adapted from novels — not the light novels that we are more familiar of, but literary novels. I was also pleasantly surprised when I discovered some had the same author! I wanted to talk about authors whose novels have made it on screen, in animated style. I will focus on 3 of them for the first part.
PAPRIKA / Toki o Kakeru Shōjo / FugŌ keıjı
Tsutsui Yasutaka is a renowned science fiction (SF from here on) author whose works have been translated into many languages. Acclaiming important awards such as Nihon SF Taisho and Tanizaki Prize, his novels have been adapted into movies, animated pieces, tv shows, manga and anime. The Girl who Leapt Through Time (1967) and Paprika (1993) are quite different from Fugou Keiji (1978) in terms of the surrealist and psychological elements, and a look at Tsutsui’s educational and publishing history tells us that he was one of the major pioneers in forming the grounds of postmodernist SF in Japan. Some of the literary styles he used are found similar to Waugh, Borges or Barth and he not only wrote the literary novels as we know of; but also released a series where collected readers’ opinions and changed the plot accordingly, published an e-book in 1994 for early PC systems in Japan or wrote a novel so experimental that the publisher sold it with “money back guarantee” 2. Tsutsui is also known for his war against political correctness and were often in trouble due to his remarks online or depictions in certain novels. His biography was quite interesting to read; seeing the variety of written forms he explored and considering he witnessed the analog-to-digital era as a SF author, he experimented not only with words but different forms of text and media as well.
My thoughts on the shows themselves are; The Girl Who Leapt Through Time wasn’t to my taste. Makes sense since the book itself is a young adult novel, although it had a nice animation style. One can never go wrong with Satoshi Kon, much like his other works, Paprika is a masterpiece as well. As for Fugou Keiji, I was one of those people who anticipated the show with 200% excitement and was devastated when it went on hold due to virus outbreak, but! Better late than never! I am in love with many things about the show already, but more so with Oonuki Yuusuke’s brilliant voicing of Daisuke Kambe. (〃￣ω￣〃) ♥
His works published in English:
» Hell, Alma Books, 2009
» Paprika, Vintage, 2013
» Salmonella Men on Planet Porno, Vintage, 2009
» The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Alma Books, 2017
» What the Maid Saw: Eight Psychic Tales, Kodansha USA, 1990
yojōhan shınwa taıkeı / uchŌten kazoKU / PENGUIN HIGHWAY
Another great SF author that delves into postmodernist themes, in a different manner than Tsutsui Yasutaka. Morimi Tomihiko is also a winner of Nihon SF Taisho Prize (often compared to Nebula Awards) for his Penguin Highway, which was also adapted into an animated movie. Style-wise, Morimi’s work could be considered as ‘urban fantasy’, in line of Neil Gaiman, he uses his hometown Kyoto both as the background and draws inspiration from its myths and history surrounding the old capital. As far as my reading experience goes, I’d say I’m not too well-versed in SF genre and its terminology. While doing research, I came across a term “wainscot”, which refers to societies or groups that live on the edges of a dominant culture or civilization; which was the main concept of Uchouten Kazoku. In this particular story, he mixes in the mythical creatures of Japan such as tanuki or tengu with fantastic abilities such as shapeshifting, all the while not completely severing the ties with the human world and modern day conveniences. Or in The Tatami Galaxy, he uses time travel and characters that tiptoe on the thin line separating the human and the fantastic.
What I enjoy the most in these stories is the common ground they share: the blurred line between the reality and fiction. We see people going on about their daily lives; waiting for the light to turn green so they can cross the street, on the phone with their family or a friend and amidst the bustling street, there happens to be a flying room that takes wine as fuel with two tanukis inside and a flying tengu accompanying them. Or we get to see a university student, just trying to find his way to a rose-colored 4 years through a social club, ending up with a friend that has shark-like teeth and a skin color changing according to the aesthetics of the episode. Definitely not ominous! My personal opinion on what makes the absurd and surreal so powerful is this blurred line, a thin thread that still connects us to this world and the other end of the thread runs wild. I highly recommend you give these stories a shot if you haven’t had the chance!
His works published in English:
» Penguin Highway, Yen On, 2019
» The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Yen On, 2019
FUNE WO AMU / KAZE GA TSUYOKU FUITEIRU
Saved my personal best to last! Shion Miura is known for her fiction novels and essays. She was awarded with both Naoki Sanjugo and Oda Sakunosuke Prizes and has been active ever since she graduated from university and published her first novel. The common ground of these two seemingly different stories, one about running the relay race called Hakone Ekiden and the other about publishing a dictionary, is the tenacity and dedication a challenging task takes, how a person’s passion and unique talent can envelope others, like a gentle tide can sweep them off their feet and encourage them to work towards a common goal. Shion works around these very specific crafts or ambitions to introduce highly interesting, sparkling characters that you can’t take your eyes off of, whom you want to cheer on.
The great appeal in these stories, which is somewhat similar to sports anime, is the protagonist with utmos, unbreakable devotion to their task. In our postmodern lives we are often lost in what we want to do or what we should be doing although it is always dictated that ‘we should have a dream and work towards that goal’, less than a handful of people know this about themselves and are lucky and/or persistent enough to follow through no matter the obstacle. How can you risk your future to ‘follow your dreams’ when you don’t even know if that dream is the sole thing you want in your life? How can you work towards an end result that you know won’t be perfect, yet you’ll still work yourself to the bone to achieve that? When one’s daily life is so far away from those grand ideals, watching them in anime or reading about them in books satisfy our desire for an ideal.
I talked about Shion’s fiction only, however she is apparently a great fan of BL/yaoi manga and wrote many essays on the genre, one of them being “Shumi ja nainda (This is not a hobby)”, the 3rd photograph above. Sadly, it’s not translated into English. It’s always an intriguing task to read academic work on BL, I hope it will be translated some day.
Her works published in English:
» The Great Passage, Amazon Crossing, 2017
This was a lengthy piece, and it’s just the first part! Being a fan of Japanese literature, this post was so fun for me to write and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as me (or at least I was able to make you go “Wait, this was a literary novel?”). Light novel-to-anime adaptations are very common in the industry but digging out stories/series that I haven’t seen before worth the research. Of course, I found myself lamenting once again; why won’t I wake up one morning and find out that I’m magically fluent in Japanese??? Please, I need this to happen…. (๑•﹏•)
Any novel adaptations you enjoyed? Or any of the series I mentioned above that you fancy? Please leave a comment!! Until then, I hope you all stay healthy!
1 To read more on this topic: Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Deutscher, G., 2010.
2 The source and further reading on Tsutsui Yasuda’s biography, click here.
3 The header is from the 2018 anime Koi wa Ameagari no You ni.