One of the first comments one will often see in criticism of a manga-based anime (or any visual work inspired by some printed source material) is that it’s “not faithful to” or “butchers” the manga, novel, or other source material.

I was too lazy to Photoshop something or take some screencaps this time, so here’s your obligatory amusing but completely irrelevant image from danbooru.

It seems to be the case that many consider whichever product came first to be “better,” particularly when there are significant deviations. I don’t know how true this is, though, and it’s probably skewed by the fact that the manga usually precedes the anime. Printed works tend to have more thorough development, plot details, and so forth, simply due to the nature of the medium; this is is likely why those who have read the manga will generally prefer it to the animated version.However, manga being “naturally” better just doesn’t seem to be the case. The manga adaptations of popular franchises like Cowboy Bebop or Gundam aren’t very highly regarded, and there are even manga that are generally considered worse than the series they inspire.

Something interesting to observe is the possible correlation between “faithfullness to the manga” and quality. A common example of this is Rurouni Kenshin; most franchise fans consider the anime to be excellent until the end of the Kyoto story arc, after which the show’s storyline deviated from that of the manga. Many, myself included, believe the show after that point was really, really crappy. The second Kenshin OVA ended differently from the manga, though, and in the minds of many, was still pretty good.

In any case, it would be a terrible lie to say that there aren’t manga adaptations that are simply bad; Love Hina, Air Gear, and GANTZ come to mind. A more interesting question, though, is: how much does having read the manga/game or having played the (h-)game affect the viewer’s enjoyment of the anime adaptations? In my case, this seems to vary; I still enjoyed the first sixty-four or so episodes of Rurouni Kenshin even though I’d read the manga, but I got bored of the animated version of Bleach pretty quickly in the same situation. I watched Love Hina before reading the manga; I thought the animated version was all right before reading it, but thought it was terrible afterwards.

Anyway, I ask this question because, for most of the cases in which the manga fans approve of the animated adaptation, the anime remains a “faithful” adaptation to a great extent. Why, then, do so many people complain about an animated adaptation being “bad?” Is it just a kneejerk reaction to something different from what the viewer is familiar with? It’s hard to tell, because most of the manga-based shows that are generally considered high-quality tend to be pretty faithful to the manga (with some exceptions, like My-HiME), and many of the “bad” manga adaptations are not necessarily bad because they deviate from the manga (people who have never read Air Gear still think that the show sucks), but because they’re just, well, bad. Certainly, there is a seeming correlation between quality and faithfulness to source material, but correlation does not necessarily mean causation and there are more than enough exceptions.