On Haganai and the struggle to adapt

On Saturday, Japanese theaters will premiere the live-action version of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai aka Haganai. Creator and writer of the original light novels Youmi Hirasaka initially wasn’t keen on the idea of a film, but acquiesced in the Spring of 2013 while deciding to be hands-off. His definition of “hands-off” likely differs from mine, because in an interview to promote the film, director Takuro Oikawa said neither he nor the film’s actors watched the anime adaptation, based on a suggestion from Hirasaka. Reaction to this comment hasn’t been the most positive, with most comments accusing Oikawa of completely disregarding the source material. That may or may not be accurate, but Oikawa’s reasoning for doing so is actually quite sound, especially if it was as Hirasaka’s behest. Oikawa mentioned in the interview that Hirasaka told him the Haganai anime was an interpretation of the novel, so using that as the basis of the film would make it a copy of a copy. Is Oikawa wrong to want to shoot a film in his own style, even if he may have gone to extremes to do so?

The backlash against the Haganai film speaks to an interesting situation that has arisen in the fan community. When you read a book, your imagination provides all the visuals for you. When those books get turned into movies or films, chances are what you saw when reading isn’t going to match up with what you see on the screen. (This could also be said for radio programs that made the transition to early TV.) Ordinarily, though, there wasn’t much of a fuss raised when the film and book didn’t jibe. I personally don’t know how much deviation happened in the film versions of Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, or Jurassic Park, but I’m sure no one really cared. (I could bring up Harry Potter as well, but even the books got some re-working for the States before movies happened.) Of course, this is also a good example of the sports adage, “winning solves everything” as every one of these films were well-received. This was also the case with the some of the comic book adaptations, especially anything that came from FOX. (Not only did they air X-Men and Spider-Man, they also had the first entries in the DCAU.) Adaptations that didn’t succeed (Dune, various Superman sequels) failed on their own merits, but the critique of “unfaithfulness” tended to show up every now and again.

However, as the years passed, our technology improved, our storytelling became more visual, and our perceptions became more cynical. Going back to the first Crisis or even earlier, narratives have been constantly reworked in lieu of creating new ideas and the Hype Machine keeps saying the new film will be the Next Big Thing. When it fails, or even if it succeeds in spite of itself, we cite the failure to adhere to the source material as opposed to it just being a bad movie. That mistaken ire has grown to the point where faithfulness is expected (even though Marvel Studios laughs at this notion while swimming in their Scrooge McDuck vault) and I’m able to essentially troll my co-workers. You don’t want to see the Ender’s Game movie, you want to see the Ender’s Game book!

I admit that as a rule, adaptations have to have certain beats and tropes to remain consistent with the source, and the amount of which is open to debate. However, as someone who bows to the Jurai Royal Family, I can say that there is nothing wrong with making your own interpretation. Conflating “faithfulness” with “quality” and automatically writing a film off because of a lack of the former is just dumb and short-sighted. Also, I fail to see how Oikawa is the only one “at fault” here. What Hirasaka calls “a bold step” is what a corporate suit would call “increasing brand awareness” or what a cynic would call “a cash grab.” If there is supposed to be only one truth, shouldn’t the creator of that truth share the blame when he wants to allow a different version? If Haganai fails this weekend, it’ll be because it’s not a good movie, not because no one watched the anime. Keep an open mind. Maybe the film will be a hit and find that new audience like Hirasaka and Oikawa are banking on. Then, maybe you’ll make more friends.