Who is to blame for a badly written show that's based on a light novel?

December 20, 2013

Kyoukai no Kanata has not been a particularly well written show and it recently concluded with an ending that's fairly broadly considered unusually tacky and bad (personally I wasn't bothered too much but I had low expectations). However all of this got me thinking.

Kyoukai no Kanata is by KyoAni and we've been blaming them for its writing flaws (partly because KyoAni has done excellent work in the past), but it's based on a light novel series. It seems highly unlikely that KyoAni made up a number of the major problem elements, especially the ending of the series; that pretty much has to come straight out of the light novel. Can we really blame KyoAni for 'bad writing' when the bad writing comes straight from the original source and KyoAni's choices are to use it or to come up with anime-original material? In a real way, KyoAni's only choices were to animate Kyoukai no Kanata, terrible writing and all, or to pass on it entirely. We can blame them for choosing bad material in the first place but perhaps not for writing as such.

(This is especially so when one of the reasons that light novels, manga, and so on are used as sources for anime shows is to increase the sales of the original source. I expect that this works much better when the show sticks to the original material instead of inventing its own, and as a result the production committee is likely to be fairly against anime original material.)

But wait, there's a wrinkle here. The Kyoukai no Kanata light novels are actually published by KyoAni themselves and the anime itself may be an entirely KyoAni product without outside sponsors. At the least this gives KyoAni much more knowledge and influence over the adaptation process (although not necessarily total control, since the novel's author might still object to anime-original material) and also much more control over whether it got animated at all. Does this increase their blame for the bad writing? Should it also make us view them more cynically on the grounds that they probably animated this not because it was particularly well written but because it would sell?

(Let's skip over them publishing the light novels, because as far as I can tell almost all light novels are as bad as this one probably is.)

I don't have any particular answers here, just things I'm thinking about. Oh, and the obvious note: nothing about this means that KyoAni is excused in general for making a disappointing show with bad writing. It just changes what sort of blame I'll give them. If KyoAni didn't really write the show (or the flawed bits), the sort of blame changes to 'doing a straight adaptation of a bad work' and perhaps this is less of a failure than doing a terrible job of scriptwriting.

Comments on this page:

By Kinza Datteri at 2013-12-20 17:38:12:

I am impressed by the raw layout of your blog, I don't remember when I last saw pure html, notepad-written webpage. This or my browser just got broken.

Anyway, I don't think that LN author is the only one at fault. You can make good adaptation of mediocre work if you are good director and have good scriptwriter. Unfortunately, the direction of KnK sucked so badly it hurts. It failed to induce any sense of attachment to characters and the story, it was just no fun at all. Nothing more than sum of its parts which is disastrous in a supposedly good and HQ show. I suppose it might've been because this was first full-time direction job for the guy.

If it's true KyoAni wrote this story themselves, it's even worse. They should learn from SHAFT which actually really ADAPTS LN into Anime medium - always in a unique way, always giving something extra in exchange when stories have their weaker moments. As it goes, the best of KnK are those short "I will judge you" videos, especially the one with naked Hiroomi. Those were sincere, funny and had some substance.

It feels like KyoAni had a leash put on them sometime around this whole Endless Eight mess. I weep for them.

By cks at 2013-12-20 18:31:16:

To be clear: KyoAni didn't write the story, they just publish the light novels (per the Wikipedia page on the series).

I agree that KyoAni fumbled the directing of KnK as well as at least tolerated its bad writing, but I see this as two or three different things (directing, overall plot, and the actual script writing). If the overall plot of the ending came from the light novels, there's only so much that KyoAni can do to it without making major or even drastic changes to it. On the flipside, I've now read that there's some not insignificant differences between the light novels and the anime (including in areas where I think KyoAni made the anime worse, such as Mirai's early clumsy moeness). This points to KyoAni actively being to blame for a significant amount of the writing and at least some of the plotting.

(This is especially so if the light novels have not yet explained just how the ending twist happened. KyoAni's choices then become either to leave it unjustified or to step on the toes of the LN author by inventing their own explanation. Of course all of this assumes that the ending twist and several other aspects actually come from the light novels. If they don't, oh boy is this one KyoAni's fault.)

But that's the specific issue for Kyoukai no Kanata. I find the whole line of thought interesting in general. Can one really blame an animation studio for 'bad writing' if they're doing a straight adoption of a (bad) light novel, or just blame them for choosing bad source material? I can see arguments on both sides.

(As for the raw layout of the blog: there's a bit of CSS sprinkled discreetly here and there but yes, it's pretty much pure text and pure HTML. Of course the actual software that produces it is kind of heavyweight by now, but let's not look behind the curtain.)

In this case, the fault lies pretty clearly with KyoAni, I'd say.

First, from people who've read the LNs, apparently KyoAni inserted all the comedy and witticism nonsense into the show because that's how KyoAni shows operate since Haruhi, which resulted in wildly changing the characters' nature, their relationships, and impacted our ability to take the characters and their relationships seriously - the last few episodes, save the last one, had done great work to rectifying the situation somewhat, but always fell short due to the damage that had been done by the early episodes.

Second, the show was full of poor directorial decisions, especially the final episode, for which you can hardly blame the LN author.

Third, I think the show's composition was poor, and had they re-organized the events differently we could've taken things much more seriously, considering the characters. Even if the LN is told in the same manner and order, when one adapts it, one has a choice on how to treat it, and they've made the wrong decision.

Fourth, we don't even know how the LN ended, but how much the final episode screamed of Sequelitis was sickening, we don't know whether the LN ended the same way, but two things to be said here - one, that's often how LNs are, and KyoAni organized an LN competition and adapted an LN knowing these things. Two, they probably emphasized the sequelitis themselves, to leave room for another season. Third and finally, they could've easily cut it out, or changing it, they own the adaptation rights, and the LN, they could've given us any ending they chose to - see my first point - they already changed the LN considerably.

The fault clearly lies with KyoAni, who have a serious need of a good author, but it seems even a good author might not help them, if they don't respect what they actually write and change it willy-nilly.

Written on 20 December 2013.
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