Lately I have found myself watching a lot of remakes of classic anime. As well classic anime which have fairly recently been remade. Neon Genesis Evangelion, Berserk, Kino’s Journey, Appleseed, Dragon Ball Z Kai. Even Bartender is getting a remake now, which I wasn’t even aware of before starting on the 2006 original. This has given me reason to ponder about remakes of classic anime. Why I am generally not a fan of them, yet find that some appeal to me regardless.
My main issue with remaking anime is that a lot of factors come together to make an anime that is worth remaking in the first place. Series like Legend of the Galactic Heroes are regarded as masterpieces, exactly because they were so phenomenal. The sum of hundreds of talented individuals combining their skills and experience, with brilliant results. It’s a small miracle when an anime comes together like that. It’s not so easy to recapture that same success when a series gets remade decades down the line. Especially if you try to change it up in order to modernize an older series.
Berserk is a tragic example of this. The 1997 anime was a well-respected adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s fantasy epic. Though it wasn’t outright hated, people were a lot less receptive towards the 2012 remake which was handled by a different studio and team entirely. The CGI animation was off-putting to many and the 5-hour runtime left it a lot sparser in content as well. Though it has since re-aired as an extended TV series that I have yet to see.
Still, that was a mild disappointment compared to the 2016 TV anime. The CGI in the movies may have been a bit stiff at times, but the 2016 series became a laughingstock. It’s not strictly a remake since it adapts mostly new content, but it makes you wish they’d have left the original series untouched all the same.
In a less dire example, this is also what put me off from watching more of the 2017 remake of Kino’s Journey. The original anime had a surreal appeal to it, both in its animation as well as the directing of it. It gave the series a mysterious vibe that complemented the writing. For the remake, they just went with as clean a look as possible. Again supplemented with glaring 3D animation. Someone out there could no doubt make an argument for why this version of Kino’s Journey looks better to them, but few would deny that it’s less inspired and memorable.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Rebuild of Evangelion I praised, exactly because it feels like a faithful modernization of the original anime. An anime that, by the end of the movie series, was 26 years old. A major difference between Rebuild and other remakes, however, is that the Rebuild movies retained much of its creative staff; including of course series creator Hideaki Anno.
Imagine an alternate course of history where Gainax retained the Neon Genesis Evangelion license post break-up and handled a remake instead. I sincerely doubt that the result would be anywhere near as successful or enjoyable as what we got in our reality. A moment of silence for FLCL.
A part of me realizes that this sounds childish. Even if a remake isn’t as well-liked, creative, or critically acclaimed as the original, that doesn’t mean the old version is erased. You can still watch Berserk or Kino’s Journey just like in the olden days.
While that is true, a remake does intrude upon the original’s space in popular culture. It reduces interest in older versions of the series and forms the baseline through which new fans will view the franchise. How many people had the misfortune of Berserk 2016 becoming their introduction to that franchise? Or the tragically mediocre Cutie Honey Universe?
You can even see this effect for yourself if you use sites like AniList. If you want to look up what characters were featured in the 1972 adaptation of Devilman, you’ll find that the profiles use the character designs from Devilman Crybaby. Same with Higurashi, whose original designs are replaced by those of the pseudo-remake Higurashi Gou. Legend of the Galactic Heroes still uses pictures from the old series, though that’s mainly because nobody wants to commit to updating that many profiles.
As somebody who cares a lot about anime history and preservation, this irks me. And I don’t blame these websites for what art they use or individual people for the shows they choose to watch. I blame companies who allocate time, talent, and resources into “safe” projects. Who’d rather churn out a CGI abomination of a beloved franchise than to take a risk on new projects. Or, you know, put the slightest effort into keeping the history of this medium alive and available for the consumers.