Fiction and History in Anime

I recently made the 100 review milestone on my own blog, something that has been long coming and yet, now, a relief to have accomplished. Because of that, as well as computer problems, I had decided to transfer all my old written reviews to Google Drive and free up space. That's when I came across an old article that I had originally written towards the end of 2012 that I never published. Because of that, I had decided to use what I had originally written, retool it (cause I was a bit of a dork a few years ago), and finally publish it!

Lesson of the day: 
You never know what you will find 
when you revisit old written work.

When it comes to anime, directors or production studios will want to make stories relevant, or familiar, to today’s audience. Or, in probably a decent amount of cases, they could just have no original bone in their bodies and just want to revamp something (You go, industry). A lot of times, these adaptations of classic stories or characters are completely ruined and the original ideas these anime were based off of tend to suffer because of it. However, there are some anime that actually manage to pull this off; even, sometimes, doing a lot better then original. I wanted to touch upon some anime of the past decade that either have some sort of fictional influence, or were ripped off and changed entirely, as well as talk about some of the results of those changes. WARNING: Some of this article may go into spoilers for some of the series discussed so please be cautious in reading if you have not seen any of the series mentioned.

Mythology is, probably, one of the things that seem to come up a lot in recent anime. Whether it’s one mythological character or a big cast of them, classic myths are certainly one way to make an anime interesting, and help you learn about myths along the way... Sort of. One series that decides to uses mythology in its characters is Soul Eater's Medusa Gorgon. In Greek Mythology, Medusa was a Gorgon who had snake hair and would turn mortals into stone if you dare make eye contact. What does Soul Eater Medusa have? The name and the snake thing mainly, except snakes are more the result of witchy magic rather then her actual hair. Otherwise then that there’s not really anything else. But the real question is, why did they make a character based on this Greek Myth? Probably the same reason they needed another character that we’ll get to in a minute, for the sake of making something rather awesome! She's actually not the only character from the franchise to use Greek Myth for her namesake. Arachne Gorgon also derives her name from myth as the woman who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena after the goddess lost to Arachne in a weaving contest. Unlike Medusa's Greek myth, Arachne's is a little less known, but it still counts!

There are series that don't just use singular characters that are based on myth, but an entire cast or story surrounding them. Another series of the past decade, or so, that's like this is Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, because 80% of the show’s characters were plucked from Norse Mythology and thrown into this series... No joke. They must have been stumped when they were creating characters I guess. Loki, Jormungand, Fenrisulfr, Hel, Thor, Freyja, Heimdall, Freyr, The Norn Sisters, Odin, and Spica all belong to Norse mythology. What’s the reason for this? Since this is a kid’s show, I would have to say because it helps bring Norse mythology into the modern era with the hope that little kids will be excited and want to look up the actual Norse myths... Oh, you wanted me to explain the characters now? Well that would take up the rest of then entry and we still have so much to cover... Besides, it's a blatant rip off of Detective Conan, and not an amazing one at that. Another series that uses characters from various myths that's much more recent is Kamigami no Asobi. Now this is a romance dating sim adaptation, yes, but one of the draws of it is the use of mythological characters from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, and Japanese myth. While much of the entire series was pretty average to me, it did keep a majority of the original mythological stories of these characters intact. While I can't say for sure how successful Loki Ragnarok was (I had watched a few episode when I was initially writing this back in 2012), I can say for Kamigami it was moderately successful. It does have a home video release scheduled in North America for this year, however, it did not warrant an english dub since this is a Sentai Filmworks property and that's how these things tend to work with them.

Another big thing you may see in anime is the use of fictional or historical characters and figures, either because they would be badass or to get people to look into the stories they’re based off of. The prime example of using the “bad ass” effect would be Soul Eater’s Franken Stein. Soul Eater is kinda guilty of having the fault of incredibly unoriginal names for their characters (Soul, Death, Free, Medusa, Stein, etc), however, unlike Loki Ragnarok, Soul Eater is leagues better. Guess what Stein's character is based off of? If you guessed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then go buy yourself a cookie. Now, before you go on and think “Wasn’t Frankenstein the big monster that was created?” you are wrong, you do not get a cookie. Dr. Frankenstein was the man who created the monster in the Shelley's novel. How does this compare to Professor Stein? Well, the crazy is there, that’s for sure; but more importantly, Stein is really into experimentation. Both Frankenstein and Stein experiment because they are curious about life; how it’s made, what makes a human being a human being, and so on. Think about it, Stein did bring Sid back from the dead as a zombie, after all. Again, Stein’s true purpose in Soul Eater is to make the series even more badass, but I digress. Considering the popularity of the franchise, having well known fictional or mythological characters seems to give a boost to this series. Tack on some adjustments to these characters to the point where only the basic character traits are similar to their original counterparts, and viola! You now have slightly more unique characters that make the series much more interesting.

Now, if Hellsing Ultimate gave us anything truly memorable, it’s Crispin Freeman as Alucard.... Or should I say Dracula. That’s right folks, Alucard is really Dracula. The character of Alucard is purely for the sake of the Hellsing story, but is set in a post World War II setting giving us the addition that is Hitler's regime with the Major deciding to hatch a plan to take on the Hellsing Organization. Throughout the series, we are never made aware of Alucard's true identity until the final episodes. Granted the biggest hint of all time was staring right in front of us while we watched, that being Alucard's name being the reverse of Dracula. Once that reveal is given to us, we do learn more about this incarnation of the well known vampire and it's extremely close to the original story of Vlad the Impaler, one of the historical references used as inspiration in Bram Stoker's novel. This isn't the only connection Hellsing Ultimate gives as the Hellsing namesake is seen as well. Even though she is not the man himself, Integra Hellsing is a direct descendent of Abraham Van Hellsing, a well known doctor and vampire hunter in the Stoker novel. These may be the only references used for this franchise, but they are implemented rather well as they don't give too much focus on these characters for the sake of some good old butt kicking antics and gore.

Question: have you ever heard of a man from French history named D'Eon de Beaumont? If not, then don't worry too much, since this is one of the more lesser known connections between history and anime production. This figure's anime counterpart from Le Chevalier D’Eon is loosely based on the real life French spy by the same name, D’Eon. In this case, however, D’Eon isn’t haunted or taken over by his sister, Lia. Some people believed he was born a woman and lived her life disguised as a man, or vice versa (Can’t remember which and honestly, neither could they). Taking this, plus real life royal figures of that time made Chevalier D’Eon very accurate historically. Granted the gargoyles and the book of psalms being spells are a bit of a stretch, but then again this is anime we're talking about here so we're not going to get a one hundred percent accurate depiction of this well known French figure. Rather than use one full fledged transgender character for the anime, it was decided to create two, D'Eon and Lia in order to display D'Eon's complexity a little easier. Considering the fantasy element, this works. Because of D'Eon's feminine features, this made the transition between his character and Lia's take over much smoother. In the end, Chevalier's D'Eon actual does take on a full female appearance, making the transgender aspects fully realized by the end. However, personally, I would have loved to have seen a singular character rather than the two that were created for this series. I have seen transgender characters appear rather rarely in anime, and using this historical figure as a basis would have been an interesting twist for the series as a whole.

The biggest thing in anime is the use of actual stories as the basis of a series of anime. Whether it’s telling the real story, revamping a story, or just taking the story and making an adaptation of it, this is the point where production companies wanted to bring something classic into the modern age... Or didn’t give a crap and just wanted to make money. This can also vary from literature, historical events and people, or just media outside of Japan in general. The sky's the limit, after all! The problem then comes as to how much of the original material to you retain and how much do you change in order to satisfy your audience. It's the same idea as when you adapt a novel for a film or TV show. One of the better examples of a basic storytelling anime, with minimal changes, would be Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror. This series is made up of three stories, which are complete retellings of Japanese fiction and lore, but in anime form. You have the classic ghost story “Yotsuya Kaidan”, “Tenshu Monogatari” which is based on a play by Kyoka Izumi, and a story involving Japanese folklore simply called “Bake Neko,” one that later inspired the successor known as Mononoke. Each story has a unique animation style, making them each stand out and be even more memorable, with "Bake Neko" as my favorite. If you wanna learn about these stories, look them up. They are actually rather interesting tales.

In terms of fictional work turned anime, but given some drastic changes, Romeo X Juliet comes to mind. Based on the play by William Shakespeare, it pits two noble families against each other while Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love. What does Romeo X Juliet do with the story? Keeping the original romance that develops between the title characters entact, the anime creates a continent floating in the sky called Neo Verona, kills off Juliet's entire family, and flips gender roles a bit with Juliet being the male crusader and Romeo more of the gentle female role. With fantasy, evil tyrants, and the rebellion of the Capulets, Romeo X Juliet turns the classic story into an adaptation that's more thrilling and exciting then Shakespeare could ever come up with, and a few more things he never wanted... If you've seen the series, then you are aware of the ending which, for a theatre enthusiast like myself, drives me nuts. It's almost as if they ended the main story with no problems, but then realized that they needed to end it with tragedy like the original play, coming up with a rather cop out method in achieving it. But on the bright side, the English Dub is to die for! It sticks to much of the Shakespearean dialect really really well, compared to the Japanese, making this a more realistic revamping then most other anime. And did I mention Shakespeare is a featured character in this series voiced by Shakespeare enthusiast (according to fellow voice actor Josh Grelle) J. Michael Tatum who also happens to be the one who directed a majority of the english dub.
You're welcome, folks!
The last anime I’m gonna talk about is one that was completely adapted into an anime, and turned out to be, probably, one of the best adaptations in a long time. Of course, I’m talking about Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. Based on the classic novel of the same name, (minus the Gankutsuou) by Alexandre Dumas, the story keeps the original completely intact with rather minimal, yet large, changes. The main change is whom the story is told through. In Dumas's novel, you follow Edmund Dantes entirely, meanwhile, in the anime, you follow young Albert and his encounters with Dantes. For a twenty four episode series, this change helps make the Count even more mysterious and deadly as he works to exact his revenge on his old comrades who betrayed him, and the families they have created since Dantes's false imprisonment. The other big, noticeable, change with the anime adaptation is the being Gankutsuou itself. He met the Count while in prison, pretty much took over his body, and then helped exact his revenge. This being helps with Dantes's motivations and gives him power and opportunity in order to succeed. All this, plus the SciFi elements and very colorful animation makes Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo original as well as a very well done and very faithful adaptation.

There are many many more anime that use stories and characters from fiction and history in order to create anime series for their audiences to enjoy, however I would be here all day if I had the chance to track down and talk about each and every single one of them. I used as many examples that I have managed to come across for this article, but I do have two Top 10 videos on my YouTube channel that talks about a few others that I may not have brought up. If you'd like to see what other characters from fiction and history became rather interesting anime counterparts, check out the video here! If you want to learn a little more about anime adaptations of western media, then check out this video here featuring a good friend of mine! If you have any other examples of anime using fiction and history that I may have completely missed out on, leave a comment and we can start a little discussion! It's always fun to see what other people can think of!


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