All this started because everyone was talking about something I hadn’t seen and I just had to be a part of the conversation.
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.
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:
- Descriptive: what actually happened in the anime, and how did it differ from the manga?
- Interpretive: what was the intent behind these changes and how did they modify the message being communicated by the story?
- 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.
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.