On the Kuma Miko Ending Controversy and Creative Ownership

All this started because everyone was talking about something I hadn’t seen and I just had to be a part of the conversation.

Kumamiko

I have not watched even a single minute of Kuma Miko, but when I heard through the Twitter grapevine that the scriptwriter for the anime adaptation of Masume Yoshimoto’s manga had deleted his account because of backlash against the show’s anime original ending, the urge to be in the know hit and I went searching out the basic information so I could Have Something to Say.

To summarize briefly what I discovered: Kuma Miko follows a young girl named Machi who lives in a rural village with a bear and some other adults. After spending much of the series wrestling with crippling social anxiety, she’s traumatized by an small-time idol performance she does at the behest of some of the adults in the town who want to revitalize the community. Following the the performance, the anime original ending is that Machi decides to give up her dream of going to school in the city and is told by her elders that she doesn’t need to think about anything at all any more—and suggestion she apparently takes so literally that her mental capacities regress to that of a 4 or 5 year old.

The fallout from this ending came, apparently, from a few different sources. Fans of the show, perhaps predictably, were outrage, but the original creator (who apparently had decided not to do script checks for the anime) also posted some comments that expressed a great deal of unhappiness with the way the adaptation had been handled.

Kuma Miko

Comments (now deleted) by Masume Yoshimoto re: the final episode of Kuma Miko. (Translation from here.)

Now, some of the details there might be missing, but that’s a general outline. Notably, however, this wasn’t even the baseline I began with when my curiosity was piqued by the controversy. This was the information I scraped together from reading Twitter and Reddit discussions about the ending, and from there I began to take in different people’s interpretations of the events. Generally speaking, these seemed to be pretty normal steps to take, but for some reason I was being much more analytical about my information-gathering process than normal. Perhaps it was because I’d seen different opinions voiced and different perspectives (and I mean that quite seriously, as in people approaching the situation from entirely different points) offered on the ending before I even knew what was going on.

And so, I found myself asking: “what are the questions I need to be able to answer before I can really say anything substantial about this situation?” Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Descriptive: what actually happened in the anime, and how did it differ from the manga?
  2. Interpretive: what was the intent behind these changes and how did they modify the message being communicated by the story?
  3. Value: was this “right”?

This was the general outline I began operating form, but I quickly realized that while the first question was relatively easy to answer from second-hand accounts (i.e. my Reddit and Twitter research), the best answer was obviously to read the manga and watch the show myself. However, I realized that due to time constraints this was going to be impossible and so contented myself with doing as much research on those terms as I could. This meant that I read a few more tweets and Reddit posts. My methodology may have been slightly suspect.

Kuma Miko

This question more or less (less) answered, I turned my attention to the interpretive and found a couple of possible answers. The first, and least interesting, was that the anime staff’s intent was simply to blackball the manga’s story out pure malice & that the only message to come out of this was simply that the anime staff hated their work. While this may have been partially true, I considered a different option more interesting: from whatever motivation, the anime staff decided to manifest a certain perceived subtext within the original manga and highlight it through the show in a subtly deconstructive way designed to examine the disturbing implications of the source material’s setting. Again, not exactly a watertight methodology, but for the sake of continuing what had become a thought experiment for me at this point, I assumed the latter choice was true.

At last, I was on to the value question and immediately understood that this top-level question contained an overwhelming number of sub-questions I was going to have to answer before I could even think about coming up with a value judgement on the situation as a whole. Some of those questions:

  • Was the manga’s original material so bad that it “deserved” to be changed in focus this way?
  • Even if the manga was that bad, did the distortion of their original intent in such a contrary way automatically invalidate the any “rightness” of the change due to the sheer potential perceived meanness of it?
  • And, finally, ultimately, who ultimately held creative ownership over the adaptation? The anime staff or the mangaka? In other words, ought the adaptation to have subscribe to the mangaka’s original intent or, as an adaptation, did creative ownership transfer to the anime staff?

The first question of this trio, although definitely one involving a value judgement, was one I couldn’t answer since I hadn’t read the manga myself, so I skipped it and moved to the second. I’ll confess: I was stumped for a while due to two competing forces—empathy for the mangaka and a desire to defend the art of adaptation. In the end, I swung towards supporting the adaptation on its own merits over the original creation (of course, taking the very necessary assumption that the anime staff had made the choices they did for the sake of making an artistic-creative choice, not out of simple spite).

 

Now, perhaps that choice seems like it foreshadowed an inevitable outcome to the final question (which, in turn, would answer the original value question equated to my final interpretation given my assumptions), but seeing as this was a general question whereas the preceding one was more about being nice, I found myself more puzzled. At the most basic level, I believe pretty strongly that adaptations ought to be judged on their own merits rather than on their faithfulness to their source, which already leans in favor of the adaptation’s right to be its own creative endeavor. Sure, the adaptation is takes the majority of its basic elements from the source, but the act of reinterpreting one creative work into another mirrors the creative process of reinterpreting reality into fiction. The action, though occurring in a different context, is shares many fundamentally similar elements.

That being said, anime adaptations of manga don’t exist in a convenient sphere where only the artistic impulse is relevant. When we consider the industry context, things are a bit different. As we’re all aware, anime adaptations frequently exist to act as commercials for their source material and to build up interest in related merchandise. Despite being creative efforts, their origins generally lie in the commercial, not the creative. Thus, for the anime staff, this means that they were given a specific job to accomplish. I don’t think it would be difficult to argue that this job likely was implied to entail a different sort of final product than what Kuma Miko ultimately became.

So, then, does the creative imperative ultimately outweigh the commercial? I’d like to argue yes, but when we begin to filter this abstract pondering back into the reality of the Kuma Miko controversy, adjacent facts complicate the theory because of the implications have on the original work, the commercial success of the job, and the unknown quantities that are the intentions of the anime staff.

In short, I don’t have a final opinion on Kuma Miko‘s ending. I simply don’t know enough to have any sort of reasonable opinion. I suppose I count that as a personal win, along with the pleasure I got from engaging in this line of thinking. That’s all I’ve got. Yoshio’s the worst.

Kuma Miko

19 thoughts on “On the Kuma Miko Ending Controversy and Creative Ownership

  1. I like to think my own personal outrage at this original ending isn’t really about the fact that it deviated from the manga (which doesn’t even have an ending…also I’m also an advocate for judging adaptations on its own terms): I think I responded more angrily at the moral implications of the anime’s second half and how it treated Machi, a victim of severe social anxiety and lack of basic worldly awareness. The adults in this story are pretty much where the majority of my distaste originates. So basically, while you haven’t watched the anime, you at least understood that Yoshio is the Hitler of the story, and that he; along with the elders of the village; deserves to all of the criticisms that the fandom is directing against them. My tweets stated my desire to crucify Yoshio and display his head on a pike, alongside the other village elders: a fitting reference to my discontent.

    Personally, I think the debate between respecting the original source material and the creative freedom of adaptations takes a backseat in this issue, as supposed to the lack of moral awareness displayed by the Idol story arc at the latter end of Kuma Miko (and the way the ending was framed was even more insulting). But this extended thought experiment of yours did engage in some interesting dialogue, which I found a joy to read.

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    • Yes, depending on your interpretation of what the show does, this experiment becomes more or less pointless. As I said in the post, I only got as far as I did because I took as a given the assumption that the anime staff wanted to make a valid artistic point, a deconstruction, if you will, of the show’s premise.

      But, of course, if you don’t agree with that—and certainly you have more than a right to do so given you’ve seen the show and I’ve not—then yeah, where this post ends up is pointless.

      I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!

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  2. I’ll be back with more details later, when I have the time, but I agree NaChiKyouTsuki97: this isn’t about adaptive freedom: it’s about the shows moral treatment and framing. The kicker is that there are signs of some awareness in the final episode, all of which comes to nothing for a really simplistic ending that goes completly the wrong way. This was me watching the ending:

    Is this the finale? The direction suggests this is the finale, but it can’t be the finale. Can it? Can it? Wait, that was the finale. Blank stare at screen

    My overall impression of Kuma Miko is a good one, but all through the show there seemed to a worrying stream of laughing at inaptness. Early on you could convince yourself that it’s good natured, but starting with a supermarket job it got increasingly harder. The ending made it very, very hard and leaves a sour impression in my mouth. The feeling I get is that someone in the show thinks people are cute if you can look down on them, but there are also counter examples (look at your chain link fence picture, for example – that’s clearly a sympathising shot). It’s odd and incongruous.

    I have a hunch they ran out of time, and the unsavoury elements on the production committee had the upper hand, but who knows?

    Details concerning the show later (if interest exists).

    That was a great post to read. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen some arguments (you saw one of them in the embedded tweets in the post) that the entirety of the show was to drive home the point about the poisonous nature of the premise, to show the logical ending point of the infantilization of a moe-type character controlled by adult men… but not having seen the show I can’t actually argue for that interpretation myself. I just took it as assumed because it allowed me to think through things, as you’ve seen.

      And glad you enjoyed reading it! It’s quite a bit different from my normal stuff, so I’m pleased it’s actually enjoyable haha.

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  3. I only saw the first half of Kumamiko, so take what I say with a grain of salt. The ending as described isn’t that surprising to me. I think anime writer was aiming at the right mark, but he overshot and went too far. Kumamiko wasn’t a nice, fluffy show. It was Watamote-lite. The ending just took it too far.

    I do notice this about authors who work in other people’s universes. Very often, they go “this show/universe is cool because of X” and then they double down on X. Whereas the original author had a lighter touch with X, and balanced things better. For example, I would argue that J.J.Abrams is a prime culprit with his Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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    • Yup, I’ve seen Watamote (which I’ve also not seen) brought up a few times wrt Kumamiko.

      And that’s an interesting thought regarding universes. And then you have Kawamori, who is all in on all parts of his own universe lol.

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  4. Dawn storm pretty much summarizes my position… and I’m on my tablet which makes writing and editing long comments difficult anyhow. (Should have my PC back before the new season begins, ready to write a wall again…)

    But, IMO, Yoshio isn’t the worst… as misguided as he is, ultimately his goal is a worthy one. The village elders merely follow along in his wake. Nastu, standing in loco parentis, is the worst. He not only opposes Machi’s dream, he actively undermines it and is complicit in Yoshio’s abuse and mistreatment – all for selfish and self centered reasons.

    But debating over the worst is a diversion even as it illustrates my point…

    I think abuse is the correct word, and the heart of the outcry (not controversy) over the ending. We were lead to root for Machi, only to see her ruthlessly crushed. There was no redemption, no comeuppance for the perpetrators, only the start of a new and endless cycle of abuse. And it was all played for laughs.

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    • I heard rumors that the bear was terrible… glad to hear they’re confirmed. Never liked bears much…

      I suppose it could be argued whether the cycle of abuse was the point, but as far as it being played for laughs. If that’s the way you saw it, then I can fully understand finding the adaptation morally bankrupt, even.

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    • Yoshio is extremely pushy and extremely dense; he’s convinced he does the right thing, but he doesn’t really get Machi and pushes too far as a matter of course. Natsu on the other hand understand Machi perfectly well and is manipulative; but there’s a tension field between concern and selfishness (in the sense that he doesn’t want to be left alone). It’s hard to remember, but Machi and Natsu seem to be of roughly the same age; it’s just that bears mature faster (which might have been an interesting dynamic had show looked into it).

      If Kumamiko reminds of any show, it’s Plastic Memories. A show with an interesting basic concept and the talent to pull it off severly hurt by the idea that humaliation is cute. I felt a similar sense of disappointment, for similar reasons. The difference between Plastic Memories and Kumamiko is that PM nailed the ending, while KM messed up completely.

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      • I think the comparison between PlasMem and Kumamiko is an apt one… PlasMem (mostly) stayed true to the themes established over the course of the show and stuck the landing. Kunamiko blew the landing, in part because (in retrospect) it didn’t really have any themes. It kept looking like it was going to, but kept falling back on the same cheap gags.

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  5. Based on the post and the comments, it sounds like I wouldn’t have enjoyed this show. Comedic sociopathy (making characters suffer and playing it for laughs) is generally my least-favorite style of comedy. That’s why shows like Watamote, Baka & Test, and Anne-Happy ended up in my drop zone – I spent more time cringing than laughing. The only anime series I can remember where it didn’t totally turn me off was Haruhi, and even there I struggled with some of the early episodes the first time I watched it.

    On the question of why the ending got changed, even though I know nothing else about this series, I highly doubt they were deliberately trying to blackball the manga, for reasons of simple self-interest. Any writer or director who pulled a stunt like that would be killing his own career; no mangaka or book publisher would ever trust him with another adaptation in the future. I think it’s more likely along the lines of what you said, that the staff wanted to bring certain themes in the manga more to the fore in the anime, because they thought it would make for a better/more interesting television series, and ended up going overboard. It looks like the staff for this show is relatively inexperienced – this was Kiyoshi’s Matsuda’s first outing as a series director, and the two guys getting co-credited as the show’s writers only have one series composition credit and a handful of previous scripts between them – so it’s not impossible to imagine that maybe their ambition got ahead of their ability to pull it off.

    And

    “At the most basic level, I believe pretty strongly that adaptations ought to be judged on their own merits rather than on their faithfulness to their source, which already leans in favor of the adaptation’s right to be its own creative endeavor.”

    This I completely agree with. I will never be one of those “They changed it, so it sucks” people. That sometimes makes it hard to talk about streaming shows that aren’t anime originals, though, since it seems like half the conversations about any adaptation are nothing but people complaining about changes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Much depends on how it’s changed though… was the show altered from its basic nature? Was a significant character pushed into the background? Etc…

      Also important and often missed, were the changes inherent in the differences between the media? That’s why I stopped reading Girl Genius… It’s intended to be read as a graphic novel, and was published on the web page-for-page. The pacing that will work on the printed page (being read at a fairly good clip, one after the other) was excruciatingly slow when published a page at a time thrice a week.

      That’s why I’m both looking forward to and not looking forward to the upcoming anime Orange, the first anime I’ve seen where I read the manga first. I’m going to have to rethink how I watch.

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      • Oh, absolutely. If you’re already familiar with the original source, then it’s impossible not to make some kind of value judgment on how it was adapted, and there’s nothing wrong with doing that either. For myself (as a writer) it can even be a fun exercise to think about how I would have chosen to adapt something compared to how it was actually done. I did that a lot with the Harry Potter movies, for instance (although even as a huge fan of the books, I was very satisfied with most of those movies anyway). Where it goes overboard is when you have people like the Fate/Stay Night fans who were complaining because they didn’t put all 987 of Shiro’s internal speeches from the visual novel into Unlimited Blade Works. And I’m thinking to myself, yeah, that’s because the medium is called “animation,” not “dialogue.” Like you said, differences in the media, which is something that purists never seem to understand or account for – having Shiro go off on those extended self-justifying rants is fine in a Visual Novel where the reader can plow through them at his/her own pace, but unless it’s Dragon Ball Z, making an anime that routinely comes to a screeching halt for half an episode at a time while the main character talks, talks, and talks some more is practically begging your audience to tune out.

        Never read a manga first, huh? Interesting. Actually, I have to admit that’s rare for me too, though mainly because I’m just not a big manga reader in the first place. The two series I can remember off the top of my head where I read the manga first were Rurouni Kenshin and Princess Resurrection, two of my personal favorites, and in both cases I’m glad I read the manga first because they were given pretty mediocre animes (though in fairness, RuroKen’s generally good when it actually IS adapting from the manga; it’s the copious amounts of low-quality filler that kills that series for me).

        Liked by 1 person

        • I pretty much just read what’s on Crunchyroll and catches my eye. Speaking of which, Crunchyroll has the manga and will be streaming Sweetness and Lighting next season… I suspect it would be right in your wheelhouse.

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          • You know me well…that one’s already on my must-watch list. Problem is that I really didn’t want to carry more than six shows next season, but including the two carryovers from spring (Delta and Twin Star Exorcists) that gives me eight shows on the schedule that I refuse to miss, so I have some decisions to make.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. A CR forum user translated the mangaka’s comment as: “I would say that what Yoshio said, was kind of mean…” Which I think anyone can agree with. Yoshio has never been a “nice” character and I don’t see why he should suddenly start being considerate just at the end.

    Personally, I’ve been loving this show all along. I’ve never read the manga so I don’t know if there really is any significant difference between the manga and anime. However, I think most people are blowing the “issues” of the anime way out of proportion. Machi is a very young girl who is extremely sheltered. She does not have psychological issues. She’s just scared of the unfamiliar. EVERYONE is scared of the unfamiliar to some extent. In Machi’s case her world has been so small and so sheltered all her life that EVERYTHING is unfamiliar and scary to her. But she’s young and all she needs to do is grow up. I did not see any indication in the anime that there was any deeper issue in her.

    In the final scene of the anime, people seem to be assuming that she has mental regressed to a childlike state. However, Machi has always been rather childlike. After all, she only 14. She is still much more of a child than she is a woman. Second, my personal interpretation of that scene is that Machi is intentionally acting playful and silly like a child. She has not “mentally regressed”. She’s just so happy to be safe at home with Natsu that she’s hamming it up and acting ignorant for the fun of having Natsu there to explain things to her. I really don’t think there’s any reason to think she has actually mentally regressed. I honestly don’t know where people are getting these interpretations.

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    • Yeah, I think the the intent of the mangaka’s comments comes across however you translate it.

      Interesting take you have on this! Very different from most of the ones I’ve seen, which is fun for me since I’m entirely reliant on the actual watchers for both communication of the literal events and their meanings.

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  7. Been a while since I posted anything but I was really liking this anime and didnt even think much of the ending then it blew up!

    But you weighed on a lot of issues.

    First shame on both The Manga Author for not checking the Script and The Studio not checking in

    Everybody in the anime industry should watch Shirobarko / really.

    Now from what I understand there was no material to work with. Why bother rushing it to be an anime / you mean the author couldnt have at least written an idea

    BTW I was already knocking Yoshiro from the start / you mean the author didnt write him as a pain. It was there from the start.

    BTW there was deep connection between Natsu / Machi If you didnt watch the anime they both had flashbacks of when they were sick and took care of each other. Also who came running to rescue Machi despite him maybe getting shot if he was in the city.

    Now I am usiing my original excepts from a post I did

    ” I wanted to do a different review but the reaction is very extreme / yes maybe it was not the ending a lot wanted / I was not impressed about the final episode but it was Machi’s decision despite Natsu wanting her to stay . Lets face she is not ready and I think Machi is a realist. She gets along with everybody in the village.

    I did not think it was bad / yes she gets anxious around crowds strangers . But even in real life that happens. I do blame Yoshiro a lot

    Shows that get away with mental issues

    Watamote / No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! was very popular and despite some remarks about Tomoko getting help that was given a lot of leeway.

    I do not want to talk about mental issue( regular / villans etc ) throughout anime so I will give a couple of Spring Shows . There is a lot of damaged peope in Kiznaiver / Bungo Stray Dogs / and The Lost Village are way more extreme.

    Looking back on previous episodes the freindship / love between Machi / Natsu might have been a forebearing to the outcome ”

    Yes maybe it could have been done better but that was extreme reactions . I should have said go watch Excel Saga for abuse. I forgot this one Prision School everybody liked it over that and that was deliberate mental abuse.

    I dont think Machi was abused except by her own persons / but then she should have been left alone / but she was willing to try it and failed after saying no the first time ( to the Idol contest in the City )

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  8. Having skimmed the comments, I don’t know that I can really add much of value. That said, my enjoyment of Kuma Miko peaked a few episodes in and has simply gradually declined episode-by-episode. Say what you want of moral arguments (most of which I agree with), but I simply don’t think the finale was a very good production from a technical perspective.

    Great article!

    Like

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