I give this new manga adaptation of L. M. Montgomery's famous novel...a 74/100.
What?! There's a new Anne of Green Gables manga?! You read that right. Udon Entertainment commissioned someone to make their own manga version of Anne of Green Gables as part of their Manga Classics line, and it was just released back in November of last year. Anne of Green Gables is one of the most popular children's novels in Canada (Though I have a friend in Vancouver and he says he never even heard of it until I told him about it), published way back in 1908, and since it's technically in the public domain, it's rife for adaptation in any format. However, what many don't know is that while this is technically the first English language manga version of Anne's story, fully endorsed by Montgomery's descendants, it's actually the second manga version to ever be made. There's another manga adaptation that was published in 1997 by one Yumiko Igarashi, a mangaka who did the artwork for stuff like Candy Candy and Lady Georgie. Granted, that version was never brought to the States, so it's easy to understand why hardly anyone would know about it. I did manage to read that version and I absolutely love it. Of course, being a fan of Anne of Green Gables in general, as soon as I saw this, I bought it straight away...though, in the back of my mind, I had a feeling it wouldn't reach the levels that Yumiko Igarashi's take on it achieved. Now that I own it and have read it, while this manga is a perfectly serviceable adaptation of Anne's story and is true to the spirit of the novel, there's really no denying it: the Yumiko Igarashi manga is just better in every way.
Anyone who even has a passing knowledge of the Anne novels already knows the main premise, so I won't repeat myself here. As of this review, I've seen the following adaptations of Anne: The 1979 anime series (Which I consider to be the best one), the 1985 miniseries/movie, the 1997 Yumiko Igarashi manga, and Anne With an E, though I have yet to finish the final season of that. As far as faithfulness to the novel goes, this manga version is fairly faithful to it for the most part. It keeps the more important story beats while glossing over the unimportant parts such as Anne's trek through the Haunted Wood and the Sunday School picnic. But for some reason, the artist decided to reduce some of the chapters to just one whole page, completely glazing over chapters such as the liniment cake incident, Ms. Stacy's introduction, Mr. and Mrs. Allan, Anne falling off of the roof of Diana's house, and so on, with the events just being told through narration. Ms. Stacy in particular gets little to no pagetime in this adaptation at all, with the narration basically spelling out her whole character for us without even giving her any kind of agency or impact on the story at all, so we as the audience can't help but question why we have to care about this woman at all. This is one area where the 1997 manga succeeds: Even though it was three volumes long and covered the book in a probably shorter chapter duration, Igarashi was still able to not only give the characters the right amount of pagetime and development, but also made sure to adapt every important event in the novel, including the liniment cake incident and Ms. Stacy's role in Anne's life, never condensing anything to just one page. Igarashi knew what to leave out and what to focus on, and it seems like this manga can't quite seem to find the right balance in regards to deciding what to leave out and what to focus on.
There's also the art to consider. Now, the backgrounds are very well drawn, and from the notes at the end of the manga, it's made clear that the artist who worked on this tried very hard to get the details of the setting just right, from Green Gables itself to the meadows and flowery trees in Avonlea, so on that note, they succeeded. That said, the backgrounds aren't as detailed as Igarashi's, but they still get the job done. On the other hand, I find the character designs to be rather...questionable. I mean, they're not...bad or anything, but again, compared to Igarashi's detailed designs, they look woefully generic and uninspired. I mean, just look at the pictures below.
(Sorry for the bad photo quality. Took this one with my phone)
First of all, the empty eyes on both Marilla and Matthew make them look like they're dead, and Matthew is, for some reason, given a really long beard that just makes him look like a discount Santa Claus. Out of all of them, Diana, Jane, and Ruby look fine, and I do like that the artist for the 2020 manga actually bothered to give Mr. Phillips a first name (He was never given one in the book or any other adaptation). Also, whose bright idea was it to make poor Gilbert look like another stock, spiky-haired shounen manga protagonist?! I mean, look at him! He looks like a younger version of Taichi from Blue Flag or Kanata from Astra Lost In Space! Josie, who gets little to no pagetime or dialogue in the 2020 manga whatsoever, just looks like a generic shoujo protagonist, while Igarashi at the very least gave her a design that fits her bitchy personality. While Igarashi's art style is guilty of heavily leaning into the 70s shoujo art style, complete with curly hair and large sparkly doe eyes, she at least made everyone look distinct and somewhat realistic, with her designs fitting not only the story, but the time period in which Anne of Green Gables takes place. The 2020 manga also has some continuity issues as well. In the chapter were Anne accidentally dyes her hair green, it gets cut off, but in the very next chapter, which is said to take place a while after that, her hair is immediately back to being long and in braids, which isn't possible. Again, this is something Igarashi realized as well, and had Anne's hair be shoulder length in her take on the chapter.
I feel kind of bad for criticizing the 2020 manga, though. I always try to be as objective as I can when reviewing anything, and I never go into something wanting to hate it. On its own, the 2020 manga is fairly serviceable for anyone who wants to read a comic-based take on the story without having to read through Montgomery's overly sentimental prose. It's not even a bad adaptation of Anne's story. The characterization is on point, the artist does make use of funny, cartoony facial expressions whenever the situation calls for it, the background art captures the feel of the novel just fine, and you can tell it wanted to do more even with the restrictions it had. But having read the 1997 manga, I just can't help but compare it to that, since that version did everything this version did much better, and in a more streamlined, organic fashion in a way that felt natural. Still, I don't hate it in any way. This is pretty much the only English manga version of Anne that we're going to get, and unless someone decides to bring over Igarashi's Anne manga and translate it into English, we might as well appreciate what this adaptation has to offer, even if it does stumble a lot in the process.
Not one of the better manga adaptations of Montgomery's famous novel, but it tries. It really tries. But for me, Yumiko Igarashi's take on it is better in every way.
Firechick's Manga Reviews: Anne of Green Gables (Udon Version)
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