Where the hell is our Zelda anime already? To some, that may be a dangerous question. Making an anime adaptation of a video game is hardly an unheard of concept, but it’s trickier with a series like Zelda given the underdeveloped narrative structure, Link’s status as a silent protagonist (and the resulting lack of dialogue), and how much the series means to people and not wanting to tarnish that legacy. Detractors of the idea will point to all those issues as reasons why an anime adaptation shouldn’t happen; maybe these issues even have Nintendo wary of pursuing such a project. Let’s not forget that there already was an American made The Legend of Zelda cartoon from 1989 and it was awful.
Now it’s 2017 and in March of this year we received The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a literal and figurative game changer for the series. Suddenly there’s voice acting in a Zelda game, a more complex narrative, and a vast open world, filled with hidden bits of lore. Gamers are looking at The Legend of Zelda in a whole new way and in honor of that, I think it’s time to re-examine all of these previously mentioned concerns about a Zelda anime and lay them to rest, one by one.
Concern 1: The Games Can’t Serve As Developed Stories
Some Zelda fans may not realize we already have fully developed adaptations of the games in the form of manga. The first of these was actually a comic book by the renowned manga artist, Shotaro Ishinomori. In 1992 he was contracted by American gaming magazine Nintendo Power to write a Legend of Zelda comic to coincide with the release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Unlike a typical manga, this work was colorized and reads left to right like a traditional comic, though the art style is unmistakably derived from manga, and reminiscent of Ishinomori’s earlier works. The story takes some liberties with the basic Link to the Past plot, but the tone that it captured, mostly serious with some minor comedic touches, was very well received by fans. Six years later, the first traditional Zelda manga was released when Akira Himekawa created an official adaptation of Ocarina of Time. It too was well liked by critics and fans and was so successful that virtually every title in the franchise from Ocarina onward has also had a manga adaptation by Himekawa.
Breath of the Wild hasn’t received a manga yet, but the game features a lot of subtle story telling in its geography, relics, ruins, side-characters, and memories that Link has to recover. There’s actually so much going on that could be told to the player but isn’t – the game is more of an exploratory experience. These elements would be much easier to incorporate into a narrative compared to the previous games. Logically then, if the previous games can be successful manga, and there’s even more to work with in Breath of the Wild, a successful anime could be created too.
Concern 2: Link’s Voice
It’s important to stress the success and reception of these adaptations because of one of the biggest issues surrounding the idea of a Zelda anime: giving Link a voice. Even when discussing just the games themselves, a voiced Link has been a source of debate in online forums for years. Historically he hasn’t been given any kind of voice or dialogue outside of grunts, yelps, and combat cries; he hasn’t even been given any text boxes. Any in-game dialogue has been relegated to other characters through text passages, though recent games have given certain characters a kind of, gibberish voice with subtitles; chiefly Midna from Twilight Princess, and Fi from Skyward Sword.
Breath of the Wild breaks new ground in this respect by actually giving legitimate spoken dialogue to a number of different characters, Zelda included. The acting is solid; it makes the characters come to life in a new way and helps them live up to the mental images many players have had of them over the years. Even though Link is still silent, when you take into consideration the “voice” he’s been given in the manga and the voice work going on around him, there’s now plenty of proof to show this franchise can work with voice acting.
Concern 3: The Previous Cartoon Was Horrible
The first time Link had a voice actor was in the previously mentioned American cartoon of 1989, and it didn’t go well. In defense of the writing team behind this series, they didn’t have much to go on in order to craft a narrative or properly fleshed out characters; they only had the first two NES games to fall back on. So, like a manga based anime without any chapters left to make an episode out of, the writers had to make things up. This is why Zelda is a conceited, nagging know it all, Link’s a reckless, wise-cracking jerk, and Ganon is a wizard who just summons other creatures to do his work, and gets whiny when they fail at it. And because cartoons and video games were considered as being mostly for children back in 1989, the episode plots weren’t taken very seriously, resulting in constant story clichés, wretched dialogue, horrible jokes, stilted animation and bland action sequences aplenty.
Concern 4: Tarnishing A Series So Highly Regarded
This just illustrates how far the franchise has come these days. The Legend of Zelda is no longer a simple game of ‘collect 8 pieces of the Triforce and defeat Ganon’. Even if the start and end points of the stories are still the same, there’s so much more in the middle that writers wouldn’t have to make up story lines anymore. We also already have an idea of what Link, Zelda, and Gannon should sound and act like because of our shared history with them over the last 30 years. The older, limited, cartoonish depictions of these legendary figures don’t coincide with how they’re presented now. Even the overall narrative of the series is far more developed thanks to Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia companion book. For years fans had contemplated how the games connect and whether the Link you play as was the same one in each game, or a different incarnation of him. Hyrule Historia maps out all the games along different timelines, so if we were to get an anime series, it could follow these stories and the different versions of Link in a coherent way.
It’s now 2017 Nintendo, and You’ve just given us the most expansive Zelda game ever in the form of *Breath of the Wild.” You took more than a few chances by giving Link a different set of tools to work with, an open world to explore, a non-linear story, voice acting, and an environment that tells the story alongside spoken dialogue. You made a game that took creative liberties with a well established formula, and both critics and the fanbase have been overjoyed with the results. Now’s the time to take that creative spark, and set the world of anime on fire with it. The Triforce is in your court, Nintendo.