Now that Western animation and live-action have failed to adapt a much-loved fantasy series, it’s time for a new approach: anime.
Dunes. The wheel of time. The witcher. Even more screen adaptations such as shadow and bone and of course, game of thrones, prove that the time has come for beloved sci-fi and fantasy series to go from page to page. Some book series, however, have yet to take that leap.
One of these series is that of Terry Pratchett Discworld, consisting of over 40 books with over 100 million copies sold. Pratchett was knighted for his contributions to literature, but he might be best known to some as the co-author of good omens starring Neil Gaiman, which was adapted into a miniseries in 2019. Sir Terry died in 2015 and although attempts have been made to adapt his works, nothing has been the explosive success that Discworld holds the potential for. Here’s why it would make for a brilliant anime.
With several different branches of character journeys including witches, guardians and wizards as well as various standalone novels, Discworld is the perfect playground to explore – yet nothing considered high caliber has ever been produced, with companies lacking funding or knowledge of how to truly recreate Pratchett’s work. Fortunately, it was recently announced that Pratchett’s books were to be faithfully adapted by his own production company – now run by his daughter – and a children’s film, The incredible Maurice and his educated rodentsis on the way.
However, a Western production company could cause the same problems as before. Not for lack of passion, but because a better alternative is available – one that has handled stories like Discworld before. With the knowledge of creating more mature stories and the skills to animate them, an anime studio might be just the thing. Discworld Needs.
There are plenty of signs that 2D shows or a mix of 2D and CGI shows are becoming the perfect home for epic sci-fi and fantasy series. First, the success of programs such as Castlevania, which features long action sequences and gruesome fantasy elements while maintaining a mature style to animation that makes it adult entertainment. Using animation as opposed to attempting live action gives animators more leeway when it comes to the movement, expression, and overall look of characters and environments. Instead of using CGI to modify an actor, the character would simply be animated according to the books.
Beyond the overall design, another aspect of Pratchett’s work that the studios have struggled with is the balance of humor, action, and authentic reflection on the questions posed in his works. Ignored by many fans, a 2021 live-action adaptation of The watch took all the gritty parts of the show and attempted to put on a show, but fell flat without the balance of humor. Western animation studios either seem tied to similar projects or sitcom television, making them a poor choice for an adaptation that demands nuance and a full spectrum of emotions when presenting a story.
Nevertheless, several anime have hit the mark here — including Gintama and One-punch manboth of which are comedic and violent, but have the ability to back off for some genuinely meaningful scenes. One-punch manThe oscillation between a true “superhero” spectacle and one man’s battle with depression is incredibly similar to a battle between a fun fantasy world and the serious personal and worldly issues presented by Pratchett, such as the battle against sexism and classicism.
A particularly interesting comparison is Mumen Rider from One-punch man, who acts as standard comic relief until he attempts to stand against the Sea King in Season 1, after which his story becomes much more serious and forces the question of a superhero’s purpose. However, the story runs dry and light again with Mumen Rider escaping dire circumstances with relatively minor injuries.
Other times in One-punch man and similar anime have shown the ability to dip in and out of dark places during a story arc instead of just getting darker and darker. This suggests that the anime industry might have a different idea of what it means to present a more mature story without getting lost in it, which makes it potentially ideal for Pratchett. Discworld.
The fact that anime created these more mature stories – whereas Western studios have used animation to make shows more aimed at children – plays a huge role, as does the ability to incorporate absurdist humor like the one featured in Discworld. Series like strange taxi and The vampire dies in no time might contain scenes straight out of the books, further demonstrating how anime studios have a better understanding of making adult-oriented series through the use of both humor and darker themes.
While the appeal of using live-action CGI may be strong, the best fantasy adaptation may still be anime, which has produced some stellar fantasy works over the past few years. With a steady mind, strong animation, and the ability to get in and out of dark places, anime seems a perfectly valid candidate to give the Discworld series a worthy home on screen.
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