Tuesday, November 23, 2021

TV: Streaming Adaptation Triple Feature

It's always tough adapting a story into a TV show, and doubly hard when the original source material has a devoted fandom. How can you possibly match the expectations of millions of people who each have their own vision of what the adaptation should be like? These three new streaming shows try their best, with varying results:

Arcane: League of Legends (Netflix)

Of the shows in today's post, the animated series Arcane had the blankest slate to work with, as it's based on Riot Games' MOBA League of Legends.  Though that game is super-popular, it doesn't place much emphasis on narrative, and I'd wager the backstories of the "champions" featured in Arcane were only known to the most diehard League fans.

An empty canvas can be both a blessing and a curse, but creators Christian Linke and Alex Yee have done a great job making you care about what were formerly tiny figures stalking around the lanes. The emotional focal points of the series are the strained sibling-ish relationships between Vi and Powder from the poor undercity of Zaun, and between Jayce and Viktor from the gleaming utopia of Piltover. Couple that with some stylish action sequences and top-notch animation from French studio Fortiche, and you have one heckuva show.

Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)

I remember watching the first American broadcast of ShinichirĊ Watanabe's anime masterwork, Cowboy Bebop, on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in my college dorm room.  Everything about it was impressive - the noir-infused animation, the offbeat characters, and especially Yoko Kanno's eclectic jazz-heavy soundtrack.  Netflix's live-action adaptation brought on Watanabe to consult and Kanno to compose, but the enterprise often feels like a hollow imitation of its predecessor:

Which is not to say cast and crew didn't try their damnedest to make the show work. John Cho's Spike Spiegel and Mustafa Shakir's Jet Black have pretty good buddy-cop chemistry, and the series inserts some twists on classic Bebop episodes (most notably in the season finale).  But for all the reverence shown to the source, Cowboy Bebop lacks the imagination and soul of the original.  That might be something that gets better in future seasons, but it's a tough show to recommend as it is now.

The Wheel of Time (Amazon)

I read the first entry in Robert Jordan's fantasy epic The Wheel of Time in middle school, and the last entry several years after becoming a lawyer, so I can say without exaggeration that the series has been with me my whole life. Now, a few of the books aren't particularly good, but the story as a whole is a classic.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the The Wheel of Time was finally completed by Brandon Sanderson, years after Jordan's untimely death. My relief ebbed when I learned they were adapting the books - all 12,000 pages of them - into a TV show on Amazon Video meant to be Jeff Bezos's answer to Game of Thrones:

So is this version of The Wheel of Time any good? Yes and no. Some aspects of the story and some characters are well done - Rosamund Pike's Moiraine is a standout, and Eamon Valda and Liandrin are as suitably slimy.  However, some portions are radically changed from what a reader of the books might expect (Perrin has a wife named Laila? The Dragon can be reborn as a woman?!). The sets and effects generally look good, but other times resemble Renaissance fair rejects. 

The three episodes out now are worth a watch, but I'm reserving judgment.


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