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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Steve, I must’ve blacked out harder than I thought at the ANN New Year’s Eve party. When I woke up, it turned out the One Piece anime had ended. And it had been long enough that they were rebooting it?
Remind me next time to lay off the bug juice.
Wake up, samurai, it’s the year 2077, and this is the sixth time they’ve rebooted One Piece. They’ve grown quite efficient at it. It’s also the only anime being produced anymore, but I’ll catch you up on those details later.
I guess that theoretically makes our jobs easier, not needing to worry about choosing different shows to talk about each week. Assuming the new, rebooted version of This Week In Anime still talks about anime.
Due to the undeniable international success and acclaim of the original “This Week in Anime,” corporate decided to greenlight a brand new column called “The Week in Anime.” It’s the same, but instead of finding new topics, we dig into the archives and rehash the same shows and subjects we already covered years ago. But somewhat different! Maybe. These are exciting and creatively fulfilling times.
At least in that case, the production powers that be have made that task a little more investment-worthy by doing this same sort of thing for ages! It’s the tried-and-true entertainment adage: If something’s worth selling, it’s worth selling more than once.
As you may have guessed, readers, the topic du jour is anime reboots. This was spurred by the recent announcement of The One Piece, a forthcoming retelling of the East Blue Saga whose details are still, admittedly, up in the air. However, its existence alongside the ongoing anime adaptation of the manga makes it the latest benchmark for this, and one ripe for discussion. Anime reboots aren’t anything new (quite literally so), but are they necessary? Better? Worse? Cash grabs? That’s what we’re here to investigate. And mock.
There’s a lot of incredulity about the unprecedentedness of the One Piece reboot. What, exactly, is the purpose of it when the beginning of the original anime is still very widely available? Hell, just in terms of onboarding newcomers, Netflix already had a wildly successful retelling of the East Blue Saga last year in their celebrated live-action adaptation.
This is where that air of the cash grab might come from.
It just seems so absurdly superfluous. I cannot imagine who was asking for this outside of a bunch of guys in a dark boardroom chomping at the bit for more One Piece bucks. It doesn’t matter whether the final product will be good or not. It’s the principle of the thing. Surely, we have to draw a line somewhere?
This isn’t a Dragon Ball Kai case where they’re just editing and streamlining the original series (and even Kai waited until the original Dragon Ball Z had been over for quite a while). It’s also not even close to the first time they’ve had a go at rehashing the East Blue storyline. The new Wit Studio show will be at least the fourth version of that story that you can watch on Netflix alone!
Beloved as One Piece is, you wonder if they might start hitting diminishing returns like with superhero movie viewers who get sick of seeing Batman’s parents die over and over.
At least the recent decline of the big Marvel/DC cinematic universes gives me hope that corporations can’t completely game how people digest art. It is still possible for the suits to dig too greedily and too deep. But as for the reboot topic, we can look back at past reboots of other franchises and find a checkered history there. Even a “safe” exercise, like remaking a top-rated series, can go awry. And it can go well! There are lots of variables and variations at play.
Sometimes it seems like they settle in and do just fine with a dedicated group of fans, rather than igniting a fresh new viewership. I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone on my timeline talking about the Urusei Yatsura reboot since it premiered, for instance. And that’s a franchise that’s arguably comparable to One Piece regarding generational icons.
The original Urusei Yatsura anime was foundational. But you also have to consider that the old show had people like Mamoru Oshii working on it and infusing their voices into it. Every anime is the product of the specific confluence of people who were around at that time to contribute. That’s the main bit of friction every reboot project is working against. You can’t ever replicate the circumstances of a prior hit. For instance, I watched a few episodes of the new Urusei Yatsura, but it also drifted away from me. While I had a decent enough time, I didn’t think I’d find anything of Beautiful Dreamer‘s caliber.
After over forty years, it could be ostensibly seen as a milestone celebration of household names like Lum and her creator, Rumiko Takahashi. Regardless of how talked-about it is, Urusei Yatsura 2022 doesn’t feel so cynical; lord knows you can see plenty of love poured into the production. But I can also see it leaving newcomers wondering what the big deal was, especially with the impactful original not as easily reachable through streaming.
Is it better to get something like this versus a misfired sequel like Yashahime? Either way, at least the original is still out there.
However, originality can be harder to find, which is true of much older anime. There are plenty that aren’t available for streaming, and even a landmark show like Urusei Yatsura only got a nice Blu-ray release last year (thanks, Discotek!). Rights-holders might also be more hesitant to license an older show if a newer reboot is easier for them to profit from. I certainly don’t know what kind of calculus goes on behind the scenes, but more often than not, I find myself wishing it were more consumer-friendly.
That’s why I’m eternally grateful when catching each version of a rebooted classic is possible. Even if I’ve got to flip between two streaming services to do it, as in the case of Legend of the Galactic Heroes having its old version on HIDIVE while the Die Neue These reboot releases through Crunchyroll.
The original LoGH is a huge 110-episode weight on my backlog, so I had some temptation to skip ahead and dip into Die Neue These. Ultimately, I like the original’s aesthetic more, so I’m still waiting for some major surgery to open enough free time for me to do so. Would you say Die Neue These was a worthwhile reiteration, though?
The funny thing about Die Neue These is that it’s now up to nearly fifty episodes itself! As an easy-to-hop-on alternative to the beefy original, I could understand the appeal of DNT when it kicked off, but now it’s more of a split choice.
And while I still prefer the classic LoGH OVAs, DNT has been a solid enough re-adaptation of Yoshiki Tanaka‘s classic novels from a time when all Japanese pop culture was nice and free of politics. Indeed, one of the selling points of DNT is that it hews closer to the source material where the 80’s OVA saw fit to do its own thing in places (even if I liked many of that one’s adaptational choices).
Die Neue These also still have 100% less Dusty Attenborough dressed as a pirate, a major mark against it.
Ah, that brings up a salient point: fidelity to the original work. Some reboots are justified on those grounds; this time, they’ll “get it right” and follow the author’s vision more closely. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable rationale, but I think it ignores that, fundamentally, a translation from a book or manga into anime requires some degree of transformation. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just the nature of the beast, and I think adaptations that are aware of that tend to do better than adaptations that strive for accuracy. Case in point, I like the ’90s Sailor Moon a lot more than Sailor Moon Crystal. The character designs in the first season especially don’t translate as well into motion, even if they are more true to Naoko Takeuchi‘s art.
Sailor Moon, incidentally another Toei joint like One Piece, works well as a crystallization (ha!) of much of what we’ve already talked about. The original anime was a lauded cultural landmark, but it was also an adaptation that took lots of liberties with its source material. And its size could be seen as an obstacle to fresh new audiences getting into it.
And while I’ve seen some fans who swear by Crystal (which itself is ten years old this year, jeez) due to its accuracy to the manga, I’m just not someone who can see that kind of fealty as the defining element of if something is “good” or not. Much like Oshii on Urusei Yatsura, the ’90s Sailor Moon introduced many to Kunihiko Ikuhara, making it invaluable in multiple ways as a great piece of anime history.
You also have Kunihiko Ikuhara admitting he hated Tuxedo Mask, so I can understand why diehard fans of the manga might rankle at that. Personally, though, I think that friction made for a more interesting show. It’s proof they actively engaged with the material! Plus, that kind of open hostility from a director is just very funny to me. And if you want the manga’s story, well, the manga is always there! No anime can take that away from you.
It’s why I get punchy when I see viewers argue that adaptations need to be rebooted on account of not lining up with the original story. Or even if it does line up but doesn’t match stylistically with what they imagined (Yeah, I see you Chainsaw Man complainers already starting to type in the comments!). There are also genuine cases of that not working out! I’m still here thinking it might be nice to get another go at The Promised Neverland that doesn’t set itself on fire.
I think it’s difficult to argue that any reboot is ever “needed.” Every anime has a cost, labor-wise, in addition to its monetary footprint. I’d rather have an industry spend those resources tackling different adaptations and more original works. That would put artists and audiences alike in a more fulfilling space. But seeing as we live in reality and reboots are an inevitable part of the ecosystem, I’ll acquiesce there are situations in which it’s nice to have one. Hunter x Hunter comes to mind, where the 1999 anime could only adapt so far, and the 2011 version created an opportunity to put the immense Chimera Ant arc on the screen.
That leads to the question of when the right time to reboot is versus just making a later-on continuation. There were barely six years between the previous Hunter x Hunter anime finishing up with some OVAs and the 2011 reboot starting up, yet it’s generally agreed that was a fair move. Meanwhile, they’re rebooting Spice & Wolf this year, and I’m out here like, “Come on, the original wasn’t that long ago! They should make a new season!”
The original Spice & Wolf came out in 2008.
That may as well be four score and seven apples on a witch’s tree ago.
But you’re right; it does feel more ridiculous than the Hunter x Hunter situation despite the more significant gap. I’d chalk part of that up to hindsight since both HxH series are well-liked now, whereas we still don’t know how the new spicy wolf will shake out. Hunter x Hunter is also a very popular and beloved Shonen Jump series, so its continued production was more or less guaranteed. On the other hand, we don’t know how far Spice & Wolf will get this time. There are plenty of novels to adapt, but what if it doesn’t even surpass the original two seasons’ cutoff? Then what are they doing? Remaking those in another 15 years?
I mentioned those diminishing returns with One Piece. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the original Spice & Wolf enough that I’ll at least check out The New Adventures of Lawrence and Holo. But it sure doesn’t feel like a series crying out for them to hit the reset button.
Oh, of course I’m still going to watch it. I love Holo too much not to. I’m part of the problem.
And hey, it’ll at least likely cause less hoopla than arguably the most visible example of this sort of thing. That was a 2003 anime adaptation that was an icon of the medium in the era, which got a rebooted version years later, which made for some consternation in how it went about being closer to its source material. You all know exactly what I’m talking about:
I speak, of course, of Kino’s Journey.
Of course. And I mean Ryutaro Nakamura‘s direction is an impossible act to follow, but I didn’t hate the new version. Rebooting an anthology series also strikes me as less egregious than other situations. At least it mixed in some new stories.
But I can also read between the lines, so I will infer that what you want to talk about is Fullmetal Alchemist and [slightly different voice] Fullmetal Alchemist.
Mostly out of obligation, mind you, since Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood seems to be the poster child for “anime considered superlative because it accurately adapted the manga.” It’s to the point that it actively seems to have displaced the 2003 original, despite that version being huge in its own right during its heyday.
It’s a debate on which everyone is more than happy to give you their opinion. It’s also a perfect storm of everything we’ve covered so far: it was a popular shonen, there was a short gap between iterations, both versions have distinct styles, etc. What transmutes this into a powder keg, though, is the bifurcation between their storylines. The ’03 anime, as we all know, ran off in its own direction after it ran out of manga chapters to adapt, while Brotherhood stuck to the source. That makes this particular reboot situation unique and rich for discussion. Also, ’03 is better, and everyone who disagrees with me is a snake.
Fortunately, I can confirm that I am 100% non-reptile in agreement with you on this one. It’s always felt like much of the discussion about Brotherhood being “better” or “doing it right” compared to the 2003 version missed the forest for the trees. That quick turnaround between versions indicated the new series was made because of Fullmetal Alchemist‘s popularity. Even Brotherhood’s most passionate fans have to acknowledge how one’s pacing blitzes through the early parts of the story since they were counting that viewers are already familiar with them from the last time.
Yeah, that has to be the weirdest compromise they could’ve done. Like, they acknowledge the silliness of retreading that material so soon, but their solution is to retread that material—specifically, everything leading up to Hughes’ murder—in half the time. It robs the emotional impact of what should be a watershed moment. If you’re going to commit to the reboot, you may as well commit to the reboot.
I’ll additionally acknowledge that whatever version of Fullmetal Alchemist you prefer probably aligns with the version you watched in high school. I enjoyed both, but nothing in Brotherhood felt as chilling and mind-blowing as watching Ed stumble into the secrets of the fifth laboratory on my dinky bedroom TV. You can’t reboot that.
I can admit some bias, too—it’d be hard to recapture the appointment-viewing plot swerves of the 2003 version’s second half that blew my college-aged mind on the weekly. But that makes it further frustrating that it’s harder for others to choose their experience freely. Unlike some of the others we’ve mentioned here, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood‘s displacement of the 2003 original extends to the streaming space.
It makes me glad I loved the series enough to pick it all up on DVD back in the day, but still. That kind of erasure of a series that was a pillar at the time simply because a version some consider “better” came along speaks to issues with these reboots. Adaptations shouldn’t be seen as drafts to be disposed of as you get closer to some supposed platonic ideal.
A reboot is not and cannot be a revision. It’s another version that exists alongside the source and whatever other adaptations exist. We can and should consider the strengths and weaknesses of different versions (because it’s fun!), but we can only do so by looking at the whole picture, past and present. That’s where most of my trepidation about reboots comes from. These projects don’t intrinsically have to stifle creativity. Different voices can bring out different aspects of the same story. However, it can only create a stale and sterile environment in the hands of producers who want shiny new things to sell with minimal risk, all while brushing the anime of yore under the rug.
When you talk about reboots being able to “exist alongside” their other versions, it is a little galling to think about that being so dang literal with this forthcoming One Piece reboot. It’s possible, likely even, that Wit Studio will turn in some impressive work. But I shudder to think of things going in a direction where most anime are simply shallow reiterations of the same unilaterally popular base material.
In unrelated news, I can’t wait to cover all the new isekai shows of the season in another week or two!
You know, I just realized we didn’t even touch on Kanon getting two adaptations separated by less than five years. There’s also Fruits Basket, which rebooted quite well. Dragon Ball Z Kai could be worth exploring further due to its unique approach as a remixed retelling. Tell you what, why don’t we reconvene in a week and do this column over with those points in mind? Surely, we’ll get it right next time.
I eagerly look forward to the hundred-pages-long forum arguments over which was better, This Week In Anime, or This Week In Anime: Die Neue These Nuts.