Guin Saga: Changing the Spots of a Leopard


Depending on who you were the Lord of the Rings movies could be a very different experiences.  You could have went in only having a vague pop culture osmosis as your awareness of the original books. Those people went in and had little to no expectations. There were also the casual fans of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. They knew the general plot from when they last read the books and may have remembered when major parts were adapted. They might remember that  they removed Tom Bombadil but minor changes are easily overlooked. Then there were the hard-core Lord of the Rings nerds who noticed ever single change made to the battle of Helm’s Deep. Whenever you adapt a book into a visual media there are changes they have to be made. The longer the prose the more changes have to be made. The Guin saga novels are no exception when they were adapted into an anime.

I was lucky enough to discover Guin Saga (though only the first arc) before the anime, but not too long before so it was fresh in my mind. Watching it come to life in animated form was thrilling but also challenging. I can only imagine how the legions of Japanese fans who have stood by Guin’s side for years and years felt about it. Novel to screen is harder than manga to screen for obvious reasons but there are many other issues that come up beyond pure aesthetics. Still, the Guin Saga anime did a good job, but of course there were moments missing that we couldn’t ignore.

The first two casualties in any adaptation into to a visual medium are scenes and plot lines cut for time and the lack of inner monologue. As visual media often has time length restrains that the written word does not you have a tendency to cut scenes down or remove them all together to fit in your running time. A good deal of the fighting in Nospherus was either simplified or cut down. In the novels there are many more scenes of Guin using guerrilla warfare and clever tactics to fight a larger and well-trained foe. These scenes gave you the sense of how skilled he was as a tactician and well as a warrior.  I also remember us being really disappointed that the scene where Guin must cross the over a massive flesh-melting slime creature was cut from the anime. In the books it was an amazingly tense scene are really had you on the edge of your seat. The other major cut was a good deal of the inner monologue. You lose a good bit of Guin’s and Istavan’s character due to this. Guin’s inner monologue gives to a greater sense of how he plans things out, what he thinks about his situation, and what he remembers about his past. Without this he becomes a bit more of a silent protagonists than a thoughtful leader who only speaks when he need to. This is very noticeable when he meets the wolf in his journey to find the Lagon. In the anime the wolf guiding him is only in a pretty short pair of scenes. In the novel Guin is constantly assessing what the wolf is telling him without words and how he is getting inklings that this meeting and many others to into his greater fate. We also get less of Istavan’s inner conflict over balancing helping others and looking out for his own skin.

Guin is a deft and charismatic leader. Competent would be the understatement of the century for his physical abilities but it has to be said that Guin just as often uses his words, few as they might be, to move the people around him on and off the battlefield. And while certainly divinity is on his side, that doesn’t diminish his strengths. But that hand of Fate, the eye of Janos or Jarn or whoever it might be that looks down on the world and especially the path of Guin, is intense and weighty. You feel it in the story no matter the setting or characters you are observing at the time. Yet, in the TV series it feels like the most diminished part of all the elements. The idea that Guin brings the disparate tribes together is paramount, but feels glossed over in the anime perhaps from a lack of time. But on the flip side, the height of the Nospherus battles sometimes come off bland making the time devoted to them seem too large. You also lose some of the fated element when Rinda’s role as prophetess is practically forgotten almost immediately after it is introduced.

The other main difference I noticed was the all the fight scenes were different. The sights are mainly the same but the details and style are radically different. From the first time Guin fights the soldiers in the forest to his duel with the strongest Lagon warrior the choreography of the fights is much different. In the books they read much more like the fights you would read about in a traditional low fantasy adventure whereas they played out more like an anime when adapted to the medium. The fact that everything explodes when Guin defeats the The Black Count or the fact that the The Black Count has a ninja like bodyguard in the first place. I don’t think either style in inherently superior to the other. In fact the flashier style of the anime fights might be a bit more suited to the media.

Speaking of battle differences, Istavan’s infiltration of the Mongaul ranks and subsequent betrayal didn’t feel nearly as impressive in animated form. Istavan is portrayed from the beginning as a very gray character, his part in this deception takes it further and deeper. Once again time seemed to be against the series, we don’t feel Istavan bond with the commander of the blue squadron. And the final decisive moments as Istavan leads the band into the trap that ends with soldiers being burned alive was relegated to the death of only a few. It just didn’t come off as divisive for victory as it did in the books.

In my opinion the best way to experience the franchise is to watch the anime first. Even with the Fate/Zero anime and Game of Thrones I am watching the TV series first and then going back to read the novels. You are often able to judge the adaption in a fair manner when you are not constantly comparing it to the book. Therefore it is often best to take in the visuals  for the enjoyable spectacle they are. Then you can read the novels and get an expanded view of the story you already enjoyed getting new layers you were unaware of beforehand. I know that while we enjoyed the anime overall our favorite parts were the episodes that adapted material past the first 5 books as it was new material to us. Without preconceived notions about the material we just sat back an enjoyed what we watched. The only downside is that watching the anime first tends to set your mind’s eye as to what everything looks like. You often will picture what you saw in the anime as opposed to creating your own images through the text. But I think if you can accept that influence it is the way to get the most out of all the media and with a series as good as the Guin Saga it is great to experience it to its fullest. Both forms of the story are worth your time.

It is really easy to ruin your enjoyment of a series by expecting it to adhere perfectly to its source material. I know this comes off as a gripe post, and I guess it is, but it is more about noting the differences rather than hate the show for it. I found the anime (at least the 13 episodes I’ve seen) entertaining. But I can say with certainty that I enjoyed the parts that I hadn’t been able to read the novel of much more.


2 thoughts on “Guin Saga: Changing the Spots of a Leopard

  1. PhoenixTerran says:

    A very nice assessment of the anime, well done. I tend to agree with many of the points you’ve made. I’ve only read the first Guin Saga novel so far (although I have the other English volumes waiting on my shelf to be read) and so most of the material in the anime was new to me. Things move very quickly and it felt like I was only catching glimpses of a much deeper, more complicated story. But I still found the anime to be a lot of fun to watch and I really enjoyed Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack. While I liked many of the character designs, the animation almost seemed too pretty to me and doesn’t quite match the darkness present in much of the story. I’m looking forward to the release of the second half of the series, though!

    • reversethieves says:

      Read those books!!!

      I didn’t mind the character designs, but I thought the animation was pretty sloppy at times. I loved the backgrounds though. We too are looking forward to the second half, once again it was more fun once it got to material I wasn’t familiar with!


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