Shall ‘The Three-Body Problem’ adaptations stick to original?
Published: Jan 13, 2023 12:09 AM
Illustration:Hang Dachuan/GT

Illustration:Hang Dachuan/GT

The Chinese-made TV series adapted from The Three-Body Problem is set to premiere on January 15, while the adapted version made by Netflix is also scheduled to launch in 2023, which is expected to become a hit. But the negative word of mouth linked to an animated version of the sci-fi masterpiece might throw cold water on the enthusiasm of producers to adapt the work.

The animated series Three Body debuted on December 10 on Bilibili, a leading Chinese video sharing platform popular amongst young people. 

After six episodes were released, the animation experienced a critical rollercoaster, from the grand occasion of its debut that attracted over 1oo million viewers on a single day, to the rating on media review platform dropping to 4.8/10.

Among the reviews of the animated series on Douban, the major Chinese media review platform, there are many views shared by fans and readers of the original sci-fi novel series The Three-Body Problem, which won the author Liu Cixin a Hugo Award in 2015, the first for a Chinese author to do so, and because of the work's international reputation, it has special place in Chinese sci-fi canon. 

Does the rating on Douban reflect the real quality of the animated series? Not necessarily. There are some irrational remarks and low ratings given by fans of the original novel as they believe the adapted work "did not respect the fiction." They listed some examples in the reviews, including different personalities of roles from the novel and failing to restore time-honored scenes described in the novel.

But respecting the original work is not equal to copying it verbatim, because the content creators of adaptations also need to consider their wider audience who have not seen or read the original work. The animation is based on the second book of Liu's novel series, so the producers have to take background and roles' stories narrated in the first book into account, allowing the audience to enter the world of the Three Body.

If the adaptations can be organized using reasonable logic and possess the high-quality graphics as well as a captivating narrative rhythm even though making many changes, staunch fans of the source material should be willing to meet the creative team halfway.

Some audiences who have not read the sci-fi books spoke to the Global Times and said that the lack of information about the original work did not affect their understanding of the animation and as outsiders of the science fiction, they were impressed with some of the visual effects. Leading roles like Luo Ji and Shi Qiang fit into the whole story and they can understand these roles' behaviors at that situation.

The animation does have issues mentioned in the more levelheaded reviews. The producers did not carefully polish details in some pictures, causing some ridiculous mistakes such as a finger of one person having four knuckles. As an adapted work that must be able to win a wide audience, the production team should be careful in dealing with all pictures in the animation to keep the audience on side. 

The Chinese animation industry has been developing so rapidly and the production technology has been recognized by many industry pioneers. Including Wang Huiyu, director and scriptwriter who worked in Hollywood for nearly 10 years, some animation studios have realized that Chinese animation needs better storytellers and scriptwriters.

It is hoped that the producers can polish the script more carefully and complete adaptations without deviating from the world view and main line of the original work.