I recently finished the Witcher season 2. Because my Witcher lore knowledge is limited I had questions. Questions regarding characters and events depicted in the show. So I did some research and quickly stumbled upon a video aptly titled: The Witcher Season 2: Is it really the Witcher? So outside of a few events in episode 1 the rest is all new. Or at the very least reimagined. Newly created stories and events that never happened in the books or video games. This discrepancy is a problem for long time franchise fans as well as for new fans exploring the dark fantasy world of The Witcher. Not only has the show continuity issues with the rest of the canon; its tone is also different from the original work. If I was a cynical drinking man, I would tell also tell you about THE MESSAGE1 but that’s not the subject of today’s piece. Today I’m talking about adaptations and the problems with canon.
Is it canon?
Canon or the material officially accepted as part of the story seems to be lost when translating or remaking a piece of media to “the modern standard.” Or whatever people say to justify decisions made to alter tone and story to please the viewers. In our current era, the owner of the i.p. holds the prerogative to make said decisions. So W.B. (now part of Discovery) and the Big Mouse (A.K.A Disney) are the ones who decide what is part of the main narrative and what is not.2
When it’s clear from the start what is canon or not makes it a lot easier for the fans to understand what media they’re consuming. But in our current era of adaptating properties that have been around for decades this poses a problem. If you take a piece of media, say an anime created 24 years ago, and do a live action remake there will be problems. Not only do I think that a near-media adaptation is silly; it could very well be that the original show commented on social issues which are not relevant anymore. So what kind of story do you want to tell that is not a straight copy of the original, but also one that does not alienate the fanbase.
Big Bad problems
My personal answer would be to think twice about adopting a show and asking what a retelling would add to the canon. But I’m not the one receiving a big bag of cash with an explicit wish to have my i.p brought to a large audience.
So that leaves us with the show creators and their eagerness to work on a property. And to these people there is only one thing that they’ll probably keep in mind: It’s never good enough for the fans. Even if they get free reign to bring their vision to the screen there is a fine line to walk. You have likely lost before you’ve even started the battle. I can appreciate bold decisions when adaptations are made; but I question the choice to insert a big bad as a narrative tool.
Examples of this are the adaptations of the Cowboy Bebop and The Witcher series. Where the name of the game is to put a big bad front and center. I can understand the decision to do so. It’s easier for the audience to understand what’s going on if the narrative is pushed by a big bad. But in both cases it’s absolutely not working, I’m not sure about The Witcher canon but I can definitely say that for Cowboy Bebop the big bad is not important. We see that characters overcome difficulties to (perhaps) learn something about themselves and grow as a character. But that growth can come from trying to help your indebted ex-girlfriend3 or from finally burying a resurrected monster baby.4 You do not need a mastermind that instigated these events.5
The power of transmedia
You’ve probably heard of cross-media storytelling. This is in short: telling the same story on different media platforms. It’s a big part of our current (visual) media landscape. It has the benefit of bringing a fanbase over to your platform by retelling a familiar story.
Transmedia on the other hand is using one story world and telling its stories across different platforms. Transmedia has the benefit of bringing the fanbase over to a new platform and expanding the universe with new stories. In the best cases it brings new vision, style and fans to the universe. Think of the Star Wars Visions project, Arcane or Pokemon. These are great examples of i.p’s allowing creators to do something that they want with an i.p (withing the storyworld rules) without compromising the canon.
It’s something that I personally would want if my work has taken an interest by third parties. While it is interesting to retell a familiar story in a different medium I am currently preferring to tell more stories to explore the created world. I hope that they (eventually) learn from constructive feedback from the fanbase that they have to put more care in adapting media properties. For there is a chance that they lose more than just the fans of said property.
- Don’t get me wrong, I find the Drinker’s videos very insightful, albeit a bit on the nose. They always clearly show what’s wrong with the media produced in our crazy society. I’ve linked his Witcher videos here: Season 1 review & Season 2 review
- A recent, famous example being the Star Wars Expanded Universe or Legends as it’s now known.
- See Cowboy Bebop episode 10: Ganymede Elegy
- Referring to the Witcher 3 quest: Family matters
Jakubisko, J. (2016). Defining Transmedia vs Crossmedia. Published in FNE Innovation
Like Stories of Old: Multiverses, Nihilism, and How it Feels to be Alive Right Now
Dena, Christy. (2004). Current State of Cross Media Storytelling: Preliminary observations for future design.
Green, D.A (2021). How Neil Gaiman kept control of the Sandman characters
Storyfloat: Introduction to Transmedia Storytelling