Before the manga roundtable, our Tom Crippen asked why manga adaptations sucked.

Then I tried to answer the question, using mangafied Hitler and others from East Press.

Today, a related question: why do adaptations from manga not suck? Or, why do I always seem to prefer not the manga when given a choice? (Short answer: “You suck!”)

Someday I’ll write this all about the Urusei Yatsura TV series and movies, where the math’s Mamoru Oshii > Rumiko Takahashi. Also, Noah’s touched on this with regards to Nana the movie, though I think I’m more okay with Jpop than he is.

Today, Osen, where the math’s TV series > manga. Also, TV series ? manga.

The TV show ran for 10 episodes from April 2008. Kikuchi Shouta’s manga’s still going, with a small chunk scanlated by Kotonoha (my source for quotes).

I saw the show first. On paper, it was made for me: mostly about food, with long, erotic closeups of food. Good food. And fetching actors making said food. Food drama, like, “Oh no! We have run out of the traditional rice straw we use to cook our rice!” The final two episodes hinge on whether or not the makers of the traditional hunk of smoked fish using only the most traditional, labor-intensive methods will survive this modern world. Just the thing to watch on your cel phone.

Aoi Yu plays the lead like a traditional Miyazaki heroine, Kiki or one of the Totoro kids, only with a drinking problem. She talks to the food and pities the tea leaves when they get stewed. Whoever did the music plays it like a Miyazaki soundtrack. It’s all bright and good, and the food O Lord the food. Miyazaki’s food always looks like painted hunks of foam.

But here’s Osen with a scoopful of miso that looks like a fried chicken leg:

I swear I’d eat that whole scoopful right there on the floor.

So the show’s fun, with a nice Jpop theme song, cartoony performances, and eye-candy videography. The televisual equivalent of all-you-can-eat sushi, where the food’s kind of crap but you eat a ton and it reminds you of good sushi you’ve had so you don’t care. Finding out it had a manga source was no surprise, though the source was.

For one reason why, see the first image in this post. TV Osen’s getting trashed with the local toughs; manga Osen’s falling out of her kimono after a long night of getting trashed. (Both Osens like getting trashed, and the show usually starts with a hangover.) She’s got her best drunk-hither look on, and is basically a flirt. Also, her kimono does a poor job of containment.

Kikuchi draws her as an ├╝berbabe. Not that an ├╝berbabe in manga’s a surprise, but that it seemed so different from the TV series, where Osen’s sexlessly married to the restaurant while her mom, the former proprietress, carries on with eligible seniors.

Kikuchi’s one of those manga artists with quite accomplished, detailed art. He clearly values design for its own sake: his most striking pages are full- or double-page splashes, and note the patterning in this sample. But he also stays on model too faithfully. For instance, Seiji, the head chef, has one expression in every panel. Kikuchi draws it from multiple angles, but the guy’s a statue.

When I read manga like this, it feels like a lot of work to fill in the blanks. You’ve got his line, the character designs, and the story, but very little life in the characters themselves. He doesn’t have to be Milt Gross, but there’s a nonthreatening emptiness at its heart (contrasted with, say, an apophatic art’s very threatening heart).

Which is probably why it works so well as a TV show. Its characters are also drawn in broad strokes– Seiji’s got a spare expression. But they’re incarnated by a person, and watching the actors chew the scenery is most of the fun. Manga Osen’s ├╝berbabe perfection– she does bascially everything, and well– is a little easier to swallow when displayed by an actress who looks like she’d die if she ever actually drank a cup of booze.

Or maybe it’s just the food. You can’t eat drawings of food. Photos win every time.