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Adaptation Decay

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"It's a Japanese card game based on a cartoon based on an ancient religion based on a candy bar."

The gradual distortion or even disintegration of a world and its characters during its odyssey from original source material to movie to TV movie then to television series then to video game and finally to licensed derivative work. The dramatic equivalent of photocopying a photocopy of a photocopy. The adaptation does not need to be subjectively worse than the original. It only needs to be different.

Every step away from the original property involves new input from multiple directions which dilutes and changes the flavor and behavior of the story. Adaptation Decay can sometimes be minimized, and each generation of the process will remain reasonably faithful to the original. On the other hand, a strong example of the trope would result in an In Name Only adaptation, for better or worse.

Anime frequently features some degree of Adaptation Decay, since many series are based on either manga or video games, which are subject to less censorship than TV shows. More egregious examples include dropping or adding characters. Additionally, when an anime series is brought to the United States, it may suffer further decay if it is being translated with an eye toward broadcast markets — dialogue may be arbitrarily changed or censored, and entire plotlines may be removed.

This page is for In-Universe Examples Only. For Real Life examples of Adaptation Decay, please go to one of these subtropes:

Distantly related to sequelitis.

Note: if you see an example of this on a work's YMMV page, please remove it. If it is in-universe example, then please move it to the main page.

Examples of fictional references to Adaptation Decay:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Franken Fran, a movie was made based on a previous patient of Fran's, a dog whose brain got put into a human's body. Among other things, the dog was now a pretty boy instead of an ugly balding man, the dog's owner was turned from a little girl to a young woman, Little Miss Badass Veronica was turned into The Big Guy, the dog and his owner have sex, and the story was given a happy ending where the woman's leukemia was mysteriously cured by The Power of Love. Compare that to the real events, where the girl died of pleurisy and the dog waited for her at the hospital until his own death. Veronica ends up throwing a chair at the screen and declaring the movie crap.
  • Deliberately done in Excel♡Saga. The anime was never supposed to stay very true to the original manga, which is far more tame than the hilarious monstrosity that is the anime. While the manga focused on mocking the recession Japan was going through at the time while using quirky humor, the anime focused on all-out wackiness using the same characters and setting. This trope is used as a Running Gag by the anime, where, Once an Episode, the Author Avatar of the original author Koshi Rikdo is forced in increasingly violent ways to give his approval to transform his creation into a different genre entirely, creating an anime that cheerfully mocks every genre it touches.
  • The second episode of Cromartie High School opens with Takashi talking about how fans constantly complain about design changes and voice acting whenever a manga is adapted into an anime, and then his appearance transforming into the blond, female Piyoko from Di Gi Charat, along with her Verbal Tic of ending sentences with "pyo", then transforming again into a very sketchy, unanimated, version of himself.
  • Invoked in-universe in Aquarion EVOL with the movie "Skies of Aquaria", a "Hollywood" version of the events and legend in the first anime.
  • Also invoked in-universe in Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer with the movie "Celestial Being", a "Hollywood" version of the events of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 with a lot of liberties taken. This gets taken to the extreme in Super Robot Wars Z 3: Hell Chapter, which inserts Mazinger Z, Shin Getter Robo, Gurren-Lagann, Tetsujin 28-Go (even though he wasn't in that particular mission) and an army of VF-25s. Koji is excited that Mazinger Z was depicted as a 200 meter tall giant of light. The other heroes are... less than thrilled.
  • In an episode of the Buu Saga of Dragon Ball Z, a movie representing Cell's defeat at the hands of Mr. Satan is shown before the tournament. However, not only is it untrue (It was actually the Z Fighters who beat Cell), but it is embarassingly ridiculous. Only Goku was entertained, and even then, only because he considers it So Bad, It's Good.
  • In The Daughter of Twenty Faces, Shunka approaches one of her friends to draw a manga based off the adventures of the Bishoujo Detective Girls (a group she is a part of). Upon reading the finished product, Shunka is annoyed to find that the artist has inserted a fictitious Love Triangle in order to make the story more appealing to publishers.
  • Discussed in-universe in Shirobako, when the production staff of Musashino Animation talk about what happened to Sailor Suits and F3s, a manga by Takezou Nogame that had been animated earlier, while they're working on another Nogame series (Third Aerial Girls' Squad) The fairly serious sports manga was retooled into a Gag Series, with its battle-hardened Action Girl protagonist being turned into a vapid moeblob. The ratings were so poor Nogame's reputation was affected even though he had little role in the production. The experience of working on it also turned production assistant Daisuke Hiraoka, a fan of the original manga, into the burnt-out cynic hired by MusAni.
  • At one point in Ojojojo, Haru has her father finance the anime adaptation of a manga that Akane showed her, only for both of them to be disappointed when it doesn't capture the feel of the original work.
  • One of the villains of EDENS ZERO ends up becoming Friendly Enemies with Rebecca after being won over by her cosplay of a children's anime he is quite passionate about. Later, when they're forced to fight each other, Rebecca names her finishing move after an attack from the manga version that was subjected to an Adaptation Name Change in the anime, prompting them both to agree that they liked the manga better anyway.

    Comic Books 
  • The Authority: In one issue, a suicide-inducing meme is rendered harmless when it's told to a screenwriter, who acknowledges that "it's very good, but it needs something", and rewrites it.
  • Captain Marvel: There is an In-Universe TV show about the title character. The real Carol Danvers is pissed off to discover that her TV counterpart has undergone intense Chickification, including a costume with heels, a Navel-Deep Neckline, and a tacked-on romance with a male superhero.
  • Catwoman: There's an issue where Harley Quinn attempts to sell Selina's life story to a group of film execs, who promptly suggest a bunch of unnecessary changes (such as Race Lifting Harley into an Asian teenager and making Selina a young spy). The story ends with an enraged Harley killing the execs and storming out of the room.
  • Damage Control: One story arc featured a Hollywood producer who wanted to make a movie about the company. The results were... less-than-faithful.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: The story "Faithful to the Original" has Huey, Dewey and Louie trying to do a school research about a book titled "The Seven Brothers". They try to read the book, but halfway through they get bored so they try searching for some kind of adaptation that eases them. To their surprise they discover that in fact the book got adapted in multiple medias, but all of them are very different from the original version: among other things, the comic book adaptation changes the setting to a Wizarding School, the musical version is an In Name Only version about seven businessmen trying to save their company from bankrupt and the movie version is set on a space station (and turns the main characters into six brothers and one sister), and most of the adaptations also seem to add a monkey playing with a yo-yo as a Plucky Comic Relief character. Unable to do a proper research on the book, the three ducklings decide instead to make one about all the adaptations to analyze how the same story can be altered in multiple ways to adapt to modern audiences. Their research gets a great vote, and after the matter they discover that all the adaptations they saw were in fact inspired by a research on the same book Donald Duck made as a kid where he made up random stuff because he was bored of the book.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: An issue of Guardians 3000 implies there's a version of the 2014 movie in the Marvel Comics universe. Peter Quill's only comment is a bemused "it takes a few liberties".
  • Hellboy: All of the in-universe adaptations of the life of 1930s pulp hero The Lobster are said to be massive examples of this, utterly rife with Stylistic Suck. Worst of these are a series of Mexican movies in which he is not only given the name "Lobster Johnson" (the last name taken from the Pulp Magazine version's secret identity), but is also portrayed as a Masked Luchador. Hellboy still enjoys the stuff, though.
  • IDW Publishing's original Transformers continuity (running from 2005 to 2018) has the 2018 Annual titled "Thundercracker in: "Starscream: The Movie"", which provides a few examples:
    • Even before Starscream approaches him, Thundercracker is working on a biopic of the deceased G.I.Joe agent Chuckles, where he imagines Chuckles (resembling his traditional Hawaiian shirt-wearing self rather than the Darker and Edgier version of the IDW comics) dramatically faced off with Cobra Commander before redirecting COBRA's nuclear missiles into destroying COBRA's island base. In truth, Chuckles had already killed the Cobra Commander of the time and was actually confronting Xamot Paoli, who had cruelly forced him to murder his lover Jinx to maintain his cover before revealing his cover was already blown and murdering Jinx was All for Nothing. The missiles destroying the island was a last act of spite.
    • Starscream commissions Thundercracker (a budding author and filmmaker since the end of the Autobot-Decepticon war) to make a biopic about him to bolster his popularity. Thundercracker has his doubts over the veracity of some of the stories Starscream mentions, like the time he saved Scrounge from being brutally beaten by Impactor, Ultra Magnus and Ironhide, or how he claims to have tried to stop Megatron from shooting down Air Force One and killing the POTUS (the latter being especially galling considering Starscream himself is the one who shot Air Force One down).
    • After Thundercracker does some research, he rewrites the script to be a more honest retelling of Starscream's life... though he does take a few liberties, like a confrontation with Megatron...
    "You're what made me what I am, Megatron. The whole time I was a Seeker, what I was really seeking... was your love."
  • An old MAD strip showed a writer submitting a film script about a teenage boy who gets into trouble with the law but learns better. At the end of a ludicrous series of rewrites at the behest of various studio execs, his script has morphed into "Cinderella".
  • Spider-Man: Several times, it's mentioned that the Marvel Comics universe version of Marvel Comics prints Spidey comics... but since they've no idea who he actually is, they take some liberties. Like portraying him as a supervillain. And those are the nicer ones.
  • Wonder Woman Wonder Woman (2006) Vol. 3]]: Gail Simone's run has a story about Hollywood making a terrible movie based on the title character's life. It eventually turns out the whole movie is actually the pet project of a supervillain who had killed the producer and stolen her identity.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The aptly named movie Adaptation. portrays a highly self-referential example of this.
  • In Saving Mr. Banks, P.L. Travers makes it her mission to prevent this from happening to Walt Disney's film adaptation of her Mary Poppins novels.
  • Towards the end of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the supporting character Michael Comeau says "The comic book is always better than the movie". He can also be overheard saying that the first album is never as good as "the first" album. Comeau's a satire of the people who are into a given social scene for the social aspect, rather than caring about the subject that supposedly unites everyone there.
  • The Japanese film Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald is about the live production of a radio play. Problems with the actors, sound effects, and advertisers result in them deviating from the script to the point that they are completely rewriting it every commercial break, much to the original author's distress. Needless to say, the final product ends up having very little in common with her original story.
  • The 1986 Alan Alda comedy Sweet Liberty is about a history professor struggling with a film adaptation of a book he wrote on the Revolutionary War. As the film's director explains (while Alda's character is complaining about yet another historically inaccurate change they have introduced), historical accuracy is not important to the movie-making process; the only rules for a successful movie are: 1. Defy Authority, 2. Blow Things Up, 3. Take Your Clothes Off.
  • In The Witches of Oz, Ilsa plans to make Dorothy's child-friendly books into Hotter and Sexier movies. She's not pleased.

  • In Neil Gaiman's short story "The Goldfish Pool", a young writer struggles to adapt one of his novels to film. Due to Executive Meddling, he is forced to discard the title, plot, characters, themes and even genre of his original book; ultimately changing it from a psychological horror story into a romantic comedy.
  • The Agatha Christie novel Mrs McGinty's Dead includes a playwright adapting one of Author Avatar Ariadne Oliver's books about Sven Hjerson, an elderly, Finnish, vegetarian, Celibate Hero detective. The playwright doesn't like the idea of him being a vegetarian, thinks he has to have a love interest, which means he can't be elderly, and decides he isn't even a Finn any longer, he's in the Norwegian resistance.
  • Briefly seen in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Lucifer Rising, when Bernice Summerfield sees the end of a 22nd century holo-drama in which a beautiful computer expert defeats the Martians and claims the handsome museum curator. She is surprised to realise that this is meant to be the Martian invasion of 2090... just as the readers are surprised to realise it's meant to be 1969 serial "The Seeds of Death", in which the computer expert is an Emotionless Girl and the museum curator is an elderly eccentric. And there's apparently no mention of the Doctor's involvement either.
  • The various film adaptations of Dracula in Johnny Alucard take massive liberties with the source text (which itself makes a massive deviation from what "really" happened in the Anno Dracula universe). The title film in "Francis Ford Coppolla's Dracula" was made instead of Apocalypse Now and is simply that film with the names and locations changed. In "The Other Side of Midnight", John wants as many versions of Dracula out there as possible as part of a Post-Modern Magik ritual to get everyone to Clap Your Hands If You Believe in the Count; it doesn't matter if most of them are any good or not.
  • In the short story Blood Sacrifice by Dorothy L. Sayers, the protagonist is the author of a play. He's come to loathe the lead actor for demanding so many changes to the plot that it's hardly recognisable as the same story.

    Live Action TV 
  • An episode of Two and a Half Men involves a double example of this: Jake feigns having read Lord of the Flies (his book report assignment), while Charlie feigns having read the Oshikuru comic book (the Animated Adaptation of which he's writing the theme song). In the Oh, Cisco! moment, after a montage of Jake trying to help Charlie understand his source material, we get to watch Alan, Jake, and Charlie watch the premiere of Oshikuru. The show uses the exact same theme Charlie had originally written with a Lighter and Softer twist. Jake voices his incredulity, while Charlie simply says, "The network liked it."
  • An episode of Blossom once demonstrated almost instant Adaptation Decay in action: Nick once had a chance to pitch a TV show concept about his family life to a pair of network execs. The concept was called "Rosie", and was essentially a recursive version of Blossom. By the time the network execs got done with it, though, "Rosie" had transformed from a gentle family comedy to a detective show starring chimpanzees.
  • Married... with Children also demonstrated this in an hour-long ep, where Christine Applegate's talk show went from being an edgy local cable show... into a show with practically no bite at all when a network picked it up. Example: heavy metal guitarists yelling "Sex!" replaced with nice accordionists saying "Book."
  • Power Rangers played around with this type in the Dino Thunder episode "Lost and Found in Translation". In it, the Rangers discover a Japanese television show which seems to be based off of their adventures (which is really an episode of Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger, the show used to create Dino Thunder). Conner is initially upset with the show for, in his opinion, making a mockery of both the Rangers and America, but by the end of the episode he learns An Aesop about diversity.
  • Mercilessly parodied in the Stargate SG-1 episodes featuring the Show Within a Show Wormhole X-Treme!, a television program based loosely on the "actual" events of the Stargate program which is allowed to go ahead by the powers-that-be in order to act as a cover for the real thing. Each episode that features Wormhole takes liberties with the original source material for laughs, and hangs numerous lampshades on various plot holes and inconsistencies in previous SG-1 episodes.
  • The X-Files episode "Hollywood AD" centred around a film being made based on Mulder and Scully's work. The Big Bad is an insane bishop using a magical artifact to take over the world, his henchmen are gun-toting zombies, Mulder (played by Garry Shandling!) cracks cheesy one-liners during fight scenes and there is a romantic subplot between the two agents.
  • In the iCarly episode "iCarly Saves TV", the trio are offered the opportunity to turn their webshow into a syndicated television series. By the end of the episode, Freddy had been replaced by a zany mascot, the Deadpan Snarker sidekick was replaced by an obnoxious child star, and when Carly quit, she was replaced by a sitcom family, and they changed the title. Yet the network considered it the same show, despite not even being In Name Only.
  • In Californication, Hank Moody wrote a book called God Hates Us All. The movie adaptation became a romantic comedy called Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Hank seduces the director's wife to get revenge and later gets into a public brawl with him. His daughter points out that the transition shows his work reflected his deeply-buried idealistic side when trying to sweet-talk him.
  • One of Angel's adventures was adapted into an in-universe movie. Angel is a cop played by Nicolas Cage, Wesley was his partner, Spike is his female love interest, and Fred is a short-haired butch badass. IDW Comics released a comic adaptation of this movie.
  • The basic plot of Episodes. Husband and wife team Sean and Beverly Lincoln are the creators of Lyman's Boys, an award-winning Brit Com about a Boarding School headmaster, and agree to make a Transatlantic Equivalent providing Richard Griffiths still stars, and nothing gets changed. The US version turns out to star Matt LeBlanc as a hockey coach, and is called Pucks!
  • Seinfeld almost avoided this when Jerry and George got their sitcom pilot based on themselves, but they didn't get the green light until they added the guy-sentenced-to-be-his-butler-because-he-had-no-auto-insurance, so Jerry has an indentured butler.
  • Lampshaded in the opening number of The Muppet Show when Brooke Shields was the celebrity guest and they were doing a production of Alice in Wonderland.
    "Don't be surprised if you meet Captain Hook, 'cause our version won't always follow the book."
  • Happens twice in Ellery Queen:
    • In "The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader", Ellery is not pleased with a comic book series about him.
    • In "The Adventure of the Sinister Scenario", the script based on Ellery's novel is said to be not only horrible, but getting worse with each revision.
  • Happens twice in Community, too:
  • In The Affair, Bruce despises the movie adaptations of his books because they make a mess with his material, so he just gives nominal support, cashes the checks and shows up at the premieres.
  • In As Time Goes By, Lionel writes a miniseries based on his and Jean's romance when they were young. The American producers proceed to make a travesty of it, laying on every English stereotype in the rewrites, hiring terrible actors, poor production values, everything.
  • The Sketch Show: In one sketch Tim is reading a book in the theater with Lee and Jim sitting next to him. When they ask him what he's doing, he says that the book is better than the film based on it.

  • According to Les Luthiers, the Las Majas Del Bergant? zarzuela (a Savoy Opera about a Spanish ship whose crew is attacked by pirates) is based on a novel... about a Bulgarian lumberjack and his parrot. The only character left from the original novel was the parrot. This is forgivable, considering that Les Luthiers are a comical group and Las Majas del Bergant? is one of their most hilarious performances.
  • There Goes The Neighborhood:
    This is the movie of the screenplay of the book about a girl who meets a junkie.
    The messenger gets shot down just for carrying the message to a flunkie.
    We can't be certain who the villans are 'cuz everyone's so pretty
    But the afterparty's sure to be a wing-ding as it moves into your city
  • The Jerry Lewis song "The Book Was So Much Better Than the Picture" has Lewis complaining about the changes the movie made to the book, including the title ("Don't see why they had to go and change the title, it was hard enough to recognize the thing!"), the plot ("In the story, she was plotting a murder, but instead, I watched her murdering the plot!") and the characters ("The man who was a cook was a lifeguard in the book, on top of that his part was poorly played!"). The book's author was not happy about the changes either, as "when [he] saw the picture [...] he shot himself right in the mezzanine!"

    New Media 

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech's cheesy "I can't believe it's not G.I. Joe!" cartoon series from the early '90s was later referenced in a sourcebook as a poorly reviewed anti-Clan propaganda holovid.


    Video Games 
  • Played for laughs in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, with the Super Luigi series of books. According to them, Luigi went on a grand and epic adventure that rivals the one Mario is going on. By asking Luigi's various sidekicks, you find out that they're actually a lot less impressive than they're made out to be.
  • A plot point in Dragon Age II, as due to the legend of the Champion of Kirkwall being constantly embellished with each retelling, Cassandra is forced to track down Varric, the originator of the tale, to find the truth about who Hawke really was and what really happened at the Gallows. Varric is also shocked to learn that in some retellings, Hawke has been Flanderized from the Right Man in the Wrong Place, to the Big Bad who masterminded every calamity suffered within Kirkwall as a means to acquire power and cause the downfall of the Chantry.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, there's Godot's theme music ~ The Fragrance of Black Coffee which is so stylish, chic and badass at the same time, a shout-out to jazz music. Any player would have thought that the "ungodly cool guy" has an ungodly cool tune by the time they get to also hear his in-game cellphone ringtone, which is a simplified monophonic rearrangement and is also cool, but sounds so embarrassingly lullaby-ish without those saxophone parts, that upon hearing it Phoenix wonders just what kind of ringtone that is.

    Web Animation 
  • In Homestar Runner, the DVD-exclusive Strong Bad Email "Comic Book Movie" had Strong Bad describe how Hollywood would handle a movie of his comic book character Strong Badman: badly.
  • Parodied in this intro sequence for a nonexistent Watchmen Saturday-Morning Cartoon, done by Harry Partridge. If one is unfamiliar with the source material, it just looks like any other cheesy kid's cartoon from the 80's. If you are familiar with it, then you know the satire here is so biting that Alan Moore has said it's the only adaptation of his classic graphic novel that he actually likes.

  • In the Kings War arc of the Meta Fic Roommates the Shadow Child aka Disbelief remarks that thanks to this he would be able to grind the once unbeatable Glinda's will to dust. Specially alluding to The Wizard of Oz, Wicked, Oz the Great and Powerful and The Witches of Oz (in this order) while saying this. If you haven't guessed yet, the Shadow Child is quite an evil being.
  • The Secret Knots: "The Day of the Blue Gods" is a recounting of how this has happened to a fictional movie over the course of several decades. The original film was a 1964 Spanish B-Movie about blue aliens from Sirius declaring war on Earth because of "subterranean vibrations" that were destroying their world. After multiple alterations from its various rereleases and redubbings, the film was reduced to 8 minutes of the original film (mostly an unimportant romance subplot), with the rest of it being new material added at various points.
    • In 1966, it was dubbed into Russian and named Colonizers From Planet U when it was distributed in the USSR, which added a subplot about the aliens wanting to kidnap workers to be their slaves.
    • In 1968 it was released in Czechoslovakia, where it was retitled Dream from Planet U and added a subplot about a teenage girl whose singing could rob the aliens of their psychic powers.
    • In 1969 it was released in Japan, where it was retitled U Against Earth! and the aliens turned into giants to fight a Kaiju. The US version then inserted new footage of an American officer but otherwise left it unchanged.
  • Fans' typical reaction was reflected here in Weregeek.

    Western Animation 
  • Turtles Forever features the 1987 and the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meeting and constantly getting confused over the differences in their worlds. They also note how they are Lighter and Softer than the 1984 comic book Ninja Turtles they are based on.
  • Family Guy
    • Peter Griffin takes this to unseen levels with "his" play of The King and I — which, ironically, ends up being a huge success much to Lois's chagrin.
    • Brian's drama What I Learned on Jefferson Street becomes the sitcom Class Holes! with a live studio audience, a chimpanzee, and James Woods.
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Ember Island Players" was highly precise but not very accurate.
    Zuko: That...wasn't a good play.
    Aang: I'll say.
    Katara: No kidding.
    Suki: Horrible.
    Toph: You said it.
    Sokka: But the effects were decent.
    • Prince Zuko also explains that he dislikes the Ember Island Players because of how they've "butchered" Love Amongst The Dragons.
    • Toph liked the huge muscle-bound guy who played her, though.
  • Polly Pocket and her friends once went to the movies to watch what they expected to be the best movie ever because it was adapted from what they considered the best book ever. In the end, they considered it the worst movie ever.
  • Jimmy Neutron gave us Principal Willoughby's play Macbeth In Space! It was somehow even less faithful than you'd think it'd be.
  • Early in Phineas and Ferb, the boys decide to be movie directors for a day and adapt their sister's favorite play. We never learn what The Princess Sensibilities (based on the name, perhaps a combination of The Princess Diaries and Sense and Sensibility) is initially about, but Phineas and Ferb make it into a monster movie.
  • In the Steven Universe: Future episode "In Dreams", Camp Pining Hearts, a Soap Within a Show Peridot and Steven absolutely adore, gets a reboot. Steven and Peridot hate it, calling all the characters uninteresting and the cinematography terrible. By the end of the episode, they conclude that it's So Bad, It's Good, laughing hysterically at it.
  • The Looney Tunes Show: Lola completely rewrote A Christmas Carol for the community play using an entirely new script with her playing a character named Carol.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Adaptational Decay


"Sweet Today" Drama

Ruby and Miyako discuss how the drama adaptation of "I'll Go With Sweet Today" deviates from the manga it was based on. Needless to say, that one star says it all.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / AdaptationDecay

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