The last few years have seen a wealth of TV reboots and revivals—series once thought dead getting a second chance at life and legacy. After a former final season featured a change in creative control, Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life saw the original showrunner returning to her old whimsical stomping grounds. After an abrupt cancellation that left fans dumbfounded, Deadwood: The Movie offered you the chance to say goodbye to the residents of the foul-mouthed titular South Dakota town. After blurring the line for years between “ridiculously popular and foundational science-fiction show” and “cult classic,” two more seasons of The X-Files let us in on how Mulder and Scully were weathering the 2010s (Not particularly well.) And there are so, so many more planned (Frasier, Dexter, Rugrats….)
Some of these revivals have amounted to little more than comfort food, consoling nostalgic audiences that the fictional people they cherished turned out okay in the end. Others seem like grand experiments in taking storylines and characters that seem so deeply rooted in the era of their conception, and seeing how they survive the trials of modern television. But regardless, they are nothing new, especially to anime fans, whose entertainment diet often revolves around a parade of reboots.
The last decade has also seen a wealth of anime remakes and returns, some attempting the same things that these live-action TV shows are, and some produced for a different reason. In the former category, we have shows like Digimon Adventure Tri and Dragon Ball Super, revisiting the worlds and colorful casts you may have loved as a kid that now serve almost like an annual medical check-up. Haven’t seen ya in a while? How’s your blood pressure, Goku? Take some vitamins, and I’ll see you in the sequel.
But others attempt to solve a more complicated predicament—like not overlapping the source material, which is a more common situation than you think. One of the strengths (and sometimes a weakness) of manga is that it tends to be the work of a single person’s creative process. They might have assistants and editors helping them out, but the consistency of the series rides heavily on the manga author’s output. If they decide to take a break, the story stops. Meanwhile, if the series is being adapted by an animation studio and they are eager to pump out episode after episode on a weekly basis, they run the risk of lapping the original.
Some handle this by adding filler, storylines that are inconsequential to the overall narrative that will kill time until everyone feels comfortable moving forward. Others, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Hunter x Hunter, took a different approach. In the case of the first, the manga’s author Hiromu Arakawa asked that a new ending be devised so that she could work on her story at her own pace without feeling hamstrung about whatever the anime was doing. Thus, the plot of 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist switches gears halfway through, providing an adaptation and then an alternative. 1999’s Hunter x Hunter, on the other hand, reached the last bits of source material left and just ended, with the studio later providing three OVAs’ (original video animations that mostly serve as home video products) worth of stories to try and wrap things up to an extent.
Both of these series are divisive among anime fans, especially FMA. So, in April 2009, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood premiered, which attempted to retell the original story in a 1:1 fashion, excising any filler or big deviating details. Two years later, a Hunter x Hunter reboot was announced, this one taking the same approach to filler while also giving us more of the story that had been told since the first anime ended. Both of these series are usually regarded as better versions of the dual adaptations.
Recently, a reboot of turn-of-the-century hit manga Shaman King was announced. The original anime, produced in 2001 when the manga was only halfway through its run, ended up branching off into new territory when the manga’s publisher requested it. However, the new adaptation, set to show up on Netflix this year, promises to stick to the full manga’s story. (Whether it accomplishes this or not remains to be seen, resting on just how popular the reboot is.)
So obviously, there’s a bit of a difference between the reboots of these American live-action series and many anime reboots. With the former, it’s usually a continuation of the story that we love, and with the latter, it’s a retelling that more closely adheres to the story that we love. But the big thing that they do have in common is reassurance.
There’s something inherently encouraging about returning a story to the hands of its creator, even if the creator previously seemed long finished with it. The X-Files’ creator Chris Carter deeply wanted to make another film to wrap up the story of the FBI agents and their supernatural adventures, and with two new seasons, he got to come back to that world. Many people attribute the success of Gilmore Girls mostly to creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s writing style, and giving her the reins once again meant that, at least on paper, it would be a return to form. And it’s nearly impossible to separate Deadwood from creator David Milch’s thoughtful voice, so a film written by him served as both continuation and tribute to his mastery of television writing.
Though some anime fans may disagree about the pros and cons of the storytelling, many consider a return to the manga plot as the true narrative meant to be told. For those already familiar, it will contain few actual surprises. Instead, it offers something a bit more soothing: That in an uncertain entertainment world where cancellations are often frequent and unexplained and direction is often ripped from the hands of artists, some stories are powerful enough to remain—and worth returning to.
Daniel Dockery is Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. You can follow him on Twitter.
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