Visual Novels and anime are fairly different media, something that comes across whenever a work originally created in one format is adapted into another. And certainly whenever fans of the original inevitably comment about the adaptation not living up to its potential. With VNs, creators have as much time as they need to tell a story, and can use branching paths to allow the player to choose their own story (to an extent). With anime, the amount of time allotted to tell a story is limited by the production budget, but the number of different visual techniques available to the staff is vastly superior. In both cases, the work makes use of voice acting, music, and visuals, but these two media are obviously quite different. Still, visual novels occupy this interesting space in the realm of adaptations because they do feature voices and color and the main changes from the adaptation process involve more motion and camerawork; examining aspects of how they’re adapted can be a good way of attacking the question of just what’s appealing about each medium.
Character designs compete with plot summaries to be the first thing most people notice about a visually-oriented story, and they serve discrete roles in both VNs and anime. I figure a decent tack to start on is to look at a work that got adapted multiple times, so you can look at different choices different designers make in the adaptations process. So what follows is a cursory examination of one aspect highlighting this difference, the character designs, for 3 major versions of Kanon (the original game, the 2002 Toei anime, and the 2006 Kyoto Animation anime). There are a decent number of series that got the double-adaptation treatment (Kakyuusei, Fate/stay Night, Air, etc.), but I’m picking Kanon because a) the designs for all 3 versions are readily available in easily-processed formats and b) the general reception is markedly in favor of the 2006 adaptation over the 2002 one. Images used for comparison are taken from the game data (from the armpits up, as found here) and the official websites for both the 2002 and 2006 anime. These base images don’t always reflect the way characters appear – anime can scale up or down on details in dramatic/motion-heavy scenes, and VNs can highlight different features from different angles during event CGs – but they provide a useful baseline.
Full disclosure: I have not played or watched any version of Kanon, so I lack understanding of anything more than the basic context regarding the plot. This post is mainly the results of my playing around with the character designs for fun and seeing what I can get out of with them. Not that I haven’t read up a bit for some general context.