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Analysis / Hard-to-Adapt Work

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"The medium is the message."
Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist

Reasons Works Are Difficult To Adapt

  • The original derives most of its appeal from a stylistic element or means of playing with the medium that can't easily translate. A classic example is a book that utilizes an experimental style or clever narration or turns of phrase, which simply telling the original story doesn't convey.
    • This is one of the reasons Gabriel García Márquez never authorized a film adaptation of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is a multigenerational tale presented in Anachronic Order with over a dozen characters who are named Aureliano. This intentional confusion isn't translatable on film, however, Netflix defied this trope and announced that the story will be adapted to a series.
  • Books are allowed more wiggle room than film or television, which is why Middle Grade and Young Adult books contain more mature topics than what appears in many shows and films for that same demographic.
    • Similarly this could be said of comics, which often depict much more violence and mature subject matter than films or cartoons aimed at the same young demographic.
  • Books and video games tend to be significantly longer than films, which by nature means that a film adaptation is going to have to cut some things out.
  • Prose works that rely heavily on internal monologues are hard to adapt to film or television mainly because depicting one often stops a movie dead in its tracks.
  • Stories with a Tomato Surprise plot may be difficult to adapt to a dramatic medium as it is harder to hide the twist element (especially if The All-Concealing "I" is involved) without tactics that are so obviously artificial that they tip off the viewer in themselves.
  • Story Branching is a common headache, as described by Cutting Off the Branches.
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  • Arbitrarily Serialized Simultaneous Adventures and Simultaneous Arcs don't work well in all media, and can cause issues when there isn't an easy way to convert them to Two Lines, No Waiting.
  • Video games have a completely different way of writing than film (assuming they have plots), particularly being that adapting a game into film inevitably removes the core component of a game (the gameplay) which is a component in why Video Game Movies Suck.
  • Visual stories such as comics or manga with incredibly detailed or complex artwork can struggle with adaptation to animation, simply because sustaining a similarly impressive look at a decent FPS can quickly turn ugly unless you're dealing with a downright silly budget.
  • The original work having a premise which attracts a very selective fanbase, which can threaten to become an Audience-Alienating Premise when marketed at a wider general audience, and can result in changes neither the original audience nor creators prefer.
  • Visual Novels tend to suffer from this as they usually involve separate routes depending on the protagonist's choices that are understood by players to essentially be different universes, which most mediums don't deal with unless the story is explicitly sci-fi. There are three main ways of dealing with this:
    • 1) excise any inconsistent content (usually, the romantic stuff) and adapt as much of the routes as possible (Kanon)
    • 2) excise no content and just accept that the protagonist will act in ways that seem chaotic and/or immoral (School Days)
    • 3) take the alternate universe route and essentially turn the adaptation into an anthology series (Yosuga no Sora)
      This is even weirder for VNs such as CLANNAD and Little Busters! that explicitly use the visual novel mechanics as part of the story - in Clannad, there is an urban legend that an orb of light capable of granting a wish will be created when someone experiences a moment of true happiness, and completing each route spawns a light orb on the home screen which becomes relevant in the true route, and in Little Busters each route is a result of Kyousuke turning back the timeline in this artificial world he created to try and give Riki and Rin enough new experiences that they'll be able to grow up and become able to take care of themselves. The Clannad anime keeps this pretty subtle, and just leaves out the orbs created from the routes which weren't adapted (Kyou and Tomoyo's for being explicitly romantic and contradicting the true route, plus two more just for time), while Little Busters covers this plot point by depicting only Kurugaya's route (also necessarily romantic) in the 'alternate universe' format.
  • Generally-speaking, a good number of rock operas fall victim to this trope, as the medium of a music album features a number of conventions and stylistic permissions that wouldn't be possible in a more visually-oriented format.
  • Works with non-human protagonists, specifically ones that don't much look like humans (and in some cases may not have a moral code that easily aligns with most humans's) can be tricky to adapt to film or television. You need a decent special effects budget for animatronics, CGI or whatever else you're using to portray the characters on a screen without making them look silly or slipping into the Uncanny Valley; you can work with actual animals but this can pose challenges such as getting the animals to do what you need, and you're out of luck if the story involves creatures that don't exist or have gone extinct. You can get around this by making a fully animated adaptation, but then you can run into other problems such as audiences or the studio assuming it's for kids because it's a cartoon starring talking animals, yet the story itself deals with themes and content that is not appropriate for or wouldn’t be understood by children (xenofiction runs into this issue a lot; Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey did well commercially and is considered a classic because it's a straight-forward and largely family-friendly adventure about three pets trying to get home, while the Warrior Cats film adaptation got stuck in Development Hell partly because it's a violent fantasy saga about warring feral cats with lots of political intrigue and family drama).


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