Reverse Adaptation

August 16, 2013

Total Eclipse creator Kouki Yoshimune once mentioned that one thing he wanted to try with Total Eclipse was “reverse” adaptation.  One usual path for a game adaptation is game -> anime -> manga -> novels.  Kimi ga Nozomu Eien went through that path, more or less.  He mentioned that at every step, fans would complain about the adaptation, that it would leave things out or otherwise not be exactly like the original.  Things would get worse through every step of the path, since an anime would necessarily be shorter than the game, forcing the staff to leave things out – while tie-in manga and novels are usually shorter than the anime itself, meaning even more things have to be left out.  According to Yoshimune, anime sponsors are actually very sensitive to that kind of criticism nowadays, and it is a major reason why major properties (like Muv-Luv) are sometimes slow to be adapted.

What Yoshimune wanted to do was try that path in reverse.  Start with the novelization, which is usually the most criticized for being too truncated.  Even during the serialization, Yoshimune would encourage fans to think of it as less of an original work,  and more of a novelization of a “hypothetical” longer work (the game being a pipe dream at the time).  The manga started up.  The anime aired.  The game came out.  At each stage, Yoshimune hoped the new medium would add even more material to the story, ending with the game, which would pull together all of the new material added at each stage.  In that way, Yoshimune hoped to sidestep much of the criticism usually directed towards adaptations.  He hoped that fans would enjoy an adaptation path where each new adaptation added new ideas.

I think Yoshimune sadly underestimated how resistant fans would be to this.  There is a frustrating tendency among fans to declare one version the “true’ version of events – with the implication that other versions of that event must therefore be “false”.  This is very contrary to how Yoshimune wanted to do things.  He feels (and I agree) that an adaptation that simply follows the original story word-for-word is boring, and that much of the fun in seeing the same story in a different medium is seeing how a different creative staff would put its own spin on things.  With so many different adaptations coming out around the same period – the anime, the game, the ongoing novels, the newly restarted manga – I think he delighted in obscuring the concept of an “original version”, making it very unclear which version came “first”.

A great example of this is in the way Yuuya and Yui originally clashed during the first few episodes.  The original novels were told from a neutral 3rd-person point of view, without supporting or criticizing either side.  The anime is told from a 3rd-person POV as well, but viewers had just spent two episodes watching the BETA destroy Kyoto and kill all of Yui’s friends, and they were much more likely to agree with Yui that Yuuya was not taking things seriously enough.  Finally, the game is told predominantly from Yuuya’s point of view, and these scenes in the game emphasize Yuuya’s arguments.  He strongly believes that Yui is in fact the one not taking things seriously enough, that she is far too dismissive and frankly ignorant of the dangers of being a test pilot.  He believes that people like Yui can pilot their TSFs in safety and confidence, because behind the scenes some test pilot strapped himself into a completely untested machine and put his life on the line to identify every possible way that machine could kill its pilot, and ensured that those flaws were fixed before it entered production.

Each version of this argument feels completely different – and yet, each version is “correct”.  Each version has been specifically tailored to the medium it is being told in.  There is no technical reason why Yui’s point of view could not have been included in the game.  But Yoshimune has been firm that a game should be written from the POV of its lead character, so elements like the Kyoto battle were left out.  I’ve noticed that the game does indeed strip away many of the 3rd-person scenes, keeping the focus on Yuuya.  Some are still there, when they are necessary to advance the story, but many of the lesser scenes are gone.  The anime is told from a neutral POV, so it is much easier to include viewpoints other than that of the lead character.  Yoshimune chose to tell this story in different ways after careful consideration, adapting it to the strengths of each medium.

I was curious how the other versions of TE would handle the various anime-original characters – the operator girls, Corporal Yamamoto, and Natalie.  Natalie is perhaps the most interesting, because, as I’ve mentioned before, the collected novels had stopped around the Blue Flag arc when the anime was airing.  As such, both the expanded novelization version and the game version of the start of the terrorist arc came out after the anime had finished.  Yoshimune wound up including Natalie in the game, but not in the novel, so there is still a version of the story that plays out as it originally did during the serialization, with our various heroes already gathered at the hangar when the attack begins and with none of the events of episode 20 occurring.

The collected novels had already passed the Soviet arc, so obviously Corporal Yamamoto could not be included in them.  His big scene was left out of the game, because, as I noted before, the scene where Yui kills him is a follow-up and conclusion to the scene where Yui fails to kill Yamashiro.  Since the game didn’t include the story of Yui’s past, there was no point in including Yamamoto’s death, since without that context, the scene is meaningless.  Perhaps to make up for it, Yoshimune cast one of the recurring nameless mechanics in the game with the voice of Yamamoto, and encouraged fans to think of him as a version of Yamamoto that survived the events of the Soviet arc.

The three operator girls (Lida, Phoebe, and Niram) were also included in the game, and some throwaway dialogue helped flesh them out a little more.  More interesting to me, though, was the way they were included in the new manga version.  The original manga went up to the beach episodes and then ended due to the artist’s health.  A new version started up when the anime started, picking up where the first version left off.  Obviously, the first manga didn’t include the operator girls since they didn’t exist at the time.  I had thought the new manga would simply include the girls as if they had been there all along, but instead it actually opens with an original chapter explaining that three new operators were transferring to the XFJ Project, and giving them an extended introduction.

There is one last major difference I want to mention, though, and this is something that only became clear after I had played the game.  The second half of the anime has been rewritten in several places to incorporate elements from the second half of the game.  Either Yoshimune asked the anime staff to include them, or the anime staff added them on their own after reading the scenario for the full game.  It’s a very curious thing to do, and I can only speculate that it’s because they were worried they might not get a second season, and wanted to touch on many of the themes from the second half of the game.

The major theme that gets explored is the idea that Yuuya has become a better person due to the influence of the people around him, and that he now feels it is his responsibility to pass on that gift to Cryska and Inia.  During the Blue Flag arc, Natalie tells Yuuya that all of his fellow pilots were as gloomy as he was when they first arrived, and it was the people around them that changed them.  They in turn passed that favor down to Yuuya, and now Yuuya, recognizing that Cryska is the same as him when he first arrived, wants to pass that favor down to her.  Yuuya then reiterates that idea when he fights with Cryska and Inia in the final episode.  That concept was not touched upon at all in the novels, nor does it show up in the game version of the Blue Flag or terrorist arcs.  Back when the anime was airing, I had thought that the anime staff must have come up with it since I didn’t remember ever reading about it.  But it actually comes from the second half of the game.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the second half of the game revolves around this idea.  As I said, I suspect that either Yoshimune or the anime staff considered this concept to be so important to the story of Total Eclipse that they wanted to make sure it appeared in the anime, even if they wound up not getting a second season.

Once I realized that the anime had mined the second half of the game for ideas, I saw other examples as well.  The appearance of the Berkut is a major one.  The Berkut does not appear anywhere in the original serialization, and was only hinted at to play a major role in the future.  The anime brought it in at the end so that we could get a chance to see it animated.  The Berkut also allowed other elements from the second half of the game to be brought in.  The mysterious capsule behind Christopher in the Berkut cockpit plays a pivotal role late in the game.  We also get a glimpse at the strange blue flames that envelope the Berkut, which appear at the end of the game.  The flashbacks to Cryska and Inia’s past in episode 17, and to Yuuya and Leon’s past in episode 18, did not originally appear in the novels – obviously those were drawn from the game as well.  Like before, I think these flashbacks were important enough to understanding these characters that the anime staff wanted to be sure they got animated.  The secret mission the Infinities embarked on at the start of the terrorist arc was never explained in the original serialization either.  It was the anime that first revealed they had destroyed a Soviet laboratory.  It was explained in passing later in the game, but clearly the anime staff didn’t want to leave that thread dangling.

The original Muv-Luv saga was adapted into 7 novels.  They are extremely boring.  They are, for the most part, exact transcriptions of the game, with no new material added.  Getting through them was a chore.  I’ve never felt that way about any of the Total Eclipse adaptations.  I was always happy to see a new version of the story, and find out exactly how they had changed things up.  I was never more excited about the Total Eclipse anime than when it would surprise me.  I have two favorite memories watching the anime.  The first was at Anime Expo 2012, when Yoshimune explained that the episodes they were about to screen for us were completely anime-original, set several years before the main story, and I first realized that there had been some actual creative effort put into the anime.  The second was after episode 18 aired, as I sat there in shock and really pondered the possibility that they had created an original RLF member, cast her as a sympathetic friend of our heroes, and seeded her into the show without anybody realizing.  Even now, I still await new volumes of the novel and manga, hopeful that they too will shake things up and present new variations on the story that will surprise me.