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 upa bit for some general context.
Among other things, this Fall season features a pair of intriguing visual novel adaptations, Grisaia no Kajitsu and Daitoshokan no Hitsujikai. The two are somewhat dissimilar titles, but have quite a bit in common on paper; both series are quite popular (the franchises took the #4 and #1 spots in they getchu 2013 rankings, respectively), and have already won their share of hardware (Grisaia at the 2011 moe game awards, Daitoshokan in the 2013 getchu user awards). Perhaps even more interestingly, both series ostensibly swapped their original PC voice casts for new ones in advance of the anime. I say ostensibly because they didn’t actually swap their casts out at all; the same people who have been doing the voices for the franchise from the beginning will be doing the voices for the anime adaptations. This is also the case for the third non-Fate VN adaptation of the season, Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete. In practice, the reasons for these name swaps are fairly straightforward – voice actresses tend to avoid using their real names when voicing works that contain adult content.
Looking into recent history, I found a number of such cases where the original VN cast dropped pseudonyms to work on the anime version, with such titles making up a plurality of non-sequel VN adaptations over the BD era. That same history suggests that some combination of factors contributes to higher odds against them making it big as anime.
An article on US views of visual novel adaptations. It contains at least one factual inaccuracy, and should thus be read with extreme caution,* but is somewhat interesting as a perspective piece/not-so-veiled plug for Higurashi’s R1 release 2 months later.
*Kanon was released as a game in 1999, and not animated until 2002. To Heart was released on PC in 1997, and then on Playstation in 1999 (a week before the anime adaptation began airing). The article states both were broadcast in 1999.
The investigation into video game source popularity (started with 2011 data here) continues into 2012, where, despite an increase in the total number of shows aired, the number of game adaptations remained almost constant (rose from 9 to 10) and the total number of 10k+ shows actually went down (from 4 to 1).
To recap the meaning of these numbers; in order to get some idea of how existent and/or strong the video game franchise popularity -> anime popularity -> added video game franchise popularity chain is, I pulled a pair of stats for each of the 10 video game adaptation anime made in 2012 that I have data for. The 2 stats I chose to measure video game popularity were maximum yearly rank of the franchise on popular VN retailer getchu (mildly NSFW) and total console game sales for games released within one year of the anime’s initial airdate, via vgchartz. Data is archived here, and summarized on the chart below.
I may have mentioned this before, but nailing down the impact of anime on video games (released on irregular timetables and with less baseline-dependent variance in stats) is much harder than ballparking the same effect for manga or light novels (where volumes are released at regular intervals and can generally be seen to follow a pattern in the absence of strong outside stimuli). Too, while sales tools exist for measuring the success of console video games in Japan, those tools are much less viable when it comes to measuring the effects of typically PC-based visual novels. Still, roughly 10 anime are adapted from games every year, and it’s a very important part of the market to understand.
In order to get some idea of how existent and/or strong the video game franchise popularity -> anime popularity -> added video game franchise popularity chain is, I pulled a pair of stats for each of the 9 video game adaptation anime made in 2011 that I have data for. The 2 stats I chose to measure video game popularity were maximum yearly rank of the franchise on popular VN retailer getchu (mildly NSFW) and total console game sales for games released within one year of the anime’s initial airdate, via vgchartz. While it should be noted that this was a small sample taken in a year with slightly fewer new shows, the results are potent fuel for speculation. Data is archived here, and summarized on the chart below.