Who is to blame for a badly written show that's based on a light novel?
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.
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Written on 20 December 2013.