Animorphs is a series that is very near and dear to my heart. It is THE first book series that I became very invested in as a young child, spending hours upon hours reading through every book as I relied on a local library to supply these exciting stories to my fingertips.
For those unfamiliar with Animorphs, it tells the story of five teenagers who meet a dying alien and learn that Earth is secretly being invaded by parasitic aliens called Yeerks, who are steadily enslaving the human race. These five teens are then given the distinct power and ability to turn (or morph) into any animal they touch in the hopes of protecting and saving humanity from total enslavement.
A word of advice to share: do not let Animorphs' disposition as "kids books" fool you. Despite being originally marketed to preteens, Animorphs is a dark series of young adult books, one that heavily deals with mature themes of war, morality, dehumanization, identity, growing up, etc.
In addition, the series doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to the physical and especially mental abuse inflicted upon the titular child soldiers as they continuously struggle against an enemy they cannot defeat outright and come close to death on a regular basis.
And this is without getting into how things only get more complicated as matters become less black-and-white and much more grayish as the story progresses.
It's chilling yet compelling: these are the words I would use to describe Animorphs. It has rightfully earned its place as my favorite literature as well as one of my top favorite fictions of all time.
So, naturally, when the news of a graphic novel adaptation was announced, my excitement skyrocketed into the heavens! In fact, I was so stoked that I occasionally hounded the Internet looking for any updates on the release date until it was eventually revealed to be October 6. I was so filled with anticipation and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! I even pre-ordered it, something I've never done before despite my love of books.
Once it arrived in my mailbox, I set aside an entire day to read this comic in one sitting. On the afternoon of a most relaxing Sunday, I eagerly opened its pages and delved into the visual recreation of a classic I have read countless times. Would it meet my expectations? Was it a faithful reproduction? Would I enjoy it? Could this be what I hoped for? With these burning questions and an open mind, I leapt into the unknown.
And the result? Well, readers, that's exactly what I'm here to discuss. In this review, I will examine the fundamental aspects, share my likes and dislikes, express my hopes for the future of this adaptation, and nitpick everything in-between. So if you're ready, let us dive right in!
THE ART STYLE
First, let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room and talk about the art style, which is probably the most divisive element of this adaptation as found in other reviews. If I were to describe the art style in words, I would say it is very reminiscent of nineties cartoons. This makes sense given how Animorphs' setting is originally rooted in nineties America. In regards to that, I believe this particular art direction suits it well as it visually captures the aesthetic and feel of that era.
However, while I accept this visual style as it does grow on me over time the more I’m exposed to it, I ultimately feel it doesn’t properly reflect the overall theme of the series and its inherent dark tone. If anything, I’d say this nineties cartoon aesthetic brings a lighter and softer feel to the original story, which doesn’t do it justice. In truth, I’d much prefer a more realistic style, one similar to the The Walking Dead comics or (even better) manga series like Bleach and Death Note.
I believe one of the most important facets of any art style is its ability to convey the feel and tone the author/artist wishes to present for their story. A good example of this is the anime/manga series One Piece. The plot of One Piece is centered around themes of adventure, camaraderie, pursuit of dreams, living life in your own way, etc. I feel these themes are perfectly reflected in the cartoonish and fantastical aesthetic of the manga’s art direction, which helps to sell its presentation in addition to being unique.
Another good example is the aforementioned The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead comic features a more realistic and gritty art style that accurately represents a story focused heavily on death, survival and societal decay.
To be fair, I am aware of visual media that portray an art style dissonance, where the visual style deliberately DOES NOT match the themes and content of the work (Happy Tree Friends is an excellent and HORRIFIC example in that regard). For all I know, the illustrator could be going for that particular vibe with this adaptation, but it remains to be seen. Overall, I firmly believe that a more realistic art direction would better represent the story of Animorphs.
THE CHARACTER DESIGNS
While I may not be the biggest fan of the art direction, I would say most of the cast are represented well in these visuals. The characters are portrayed in accurate depictions of how they’re described in the original books: Tobias looks like a loner with messy blonde hair, Jake and his brother Tom look similar, Chapman looks like what I’d expect of an assistant principal, Visser Three’s morphs look monstrous and insurmountable, the Taxxons somehow look even MORE terrifying, etc.
The one glaring inconsistency among the character designs that I must point out, though, is Marco. For one, he is portrayed with short hair when it’s supposed to be longer (he doesn’t switch from long hair to short hair until a little later on). Secondly, Marco is originally described to have tan skin, yet here his skin tone is practically the same as Cassie’s. This is only a minor nitpick of mine, but it certainly stands out in comparison to the faithful depictions of the other characters.
The setting is also complimented by the art style. When I read this, one of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing the depiction of The Gardens (an amusement park and zoo hybrid) and the Yeerk Pool (a central base for the main antagonists), two key locations in the series. The result was much better than I expected: stunning artwork that perfectly captures the atmosphere and vibe, especially with the Yeerk Pool, and looked better than I had originally imagined them in my mind growing up.
Although I am generally pleased with the character designs, there are a couple that I disapprove of. One of these is the Hork-Bajir. The Hork-Bajir are originally described as peaceful aliens who essentially look like walking weapons (and that’s NO exaggeration), having a dangerous and fearsome appearance that contrasts heavily with their true nature. Let us compare the original design from the books (pictured below on the left) to the new design from the comic (pictured below on the right).
Do you see a big difference here? The new Hork-Bajir design does not look intimidating in the slightest; instead they look very much like overgrown cartoonish lizards. This design completely lacks their defining character trait and misrepresents them entirely. One could argue that this is inherently due to the art direction, but I like to think the design can be improved regardless of it.
Another character design that misses the mark for me is none other than that of the big bad himself, Visser Three. In the original books, Visser Three is often described by the Animorphs themselves as someone who, despite appearances, has a very frightening aura about him. He has an evil vibe that can be felt through his mere presence, no matter how innocuous he may appear. It’s one of his most defining character traits, but this isn’t represented in the graphic novel.
His design doesn't seem imposing nor does it give the impression of him being the Animorphs’ greatest enemy. I also think his evil aura is not properly expressed here in the graphic novel, failing to convey the malicious threat he truly is. Compare this to his original design (pictured below). In my mind, this design and posing choice represents Visser Three perfectly and serves as the definitive image of the character.
On a minor note, I also want to express my distaste for the graphic novel's Andalite designs in general. As you can see in the above images of Visser Three, Andalites are centaur-like aliens. Using him as an example once more, do you notice how his comic design makes him look fat and chubby compared to his original design that features a more sleek and muscular figure? In my first reading of the graphic novel, I don't think I paid much attention to this. Upon re-reading it, however, I can no longer unsee this and thus it really bugs me.
FAITHFULNESS TO THE ORIGINAL
We now arrive at the million dollar question of this review: is this adaptation faithful to the original source material? Does it accurately represent the literature it is based on? Well, my answer to that is... YES, it certainly is! A hundred percent!
As someone who has read the first book many times over, I can proudly assure this adaptation is very much faithful to it. From beginning to end, this graphic novel retells the same story and features the same characters and settings as found in the original. Even the dialogue remains generally the same albeit with some minor differences, such as certain dialogue being spoken by a different character rather than the original speaker.
One notable change is the inclusion of extra dialogue not present in the original. Understandably, this change was inevitable given the transition from literature to comic, as the original books were first-person narrated and often shared plot relevant details within the narration itself. For example, let's examine Marco's reasoning for his reluctance in fighting the Yeerks. In the original book, the backstory is simply disclosed here in Jake's narration.
However, in the graphic novel's version of this scene, Marco is given additional dialogue in order to convey this same information.
I really like this addition, despite its seldom occurrence, and is something I'd like to see more of in future installments.
The morphing effects are pretty good, portrayed accurately as described in the books in all their creepy and uncanny glory. The depiction of violence is also retained and isn't censored or toned down in the slightest as I originally thought. Granted, the first book is not that gory, but it's still pretty mild in some scenes. Overall, I have no complaints here. The Invasion is perfectly recreated in this comic with love and respect.
THE BIG VERDICT
Honestly, from start to finish, I very much enjoyed this graphic novel! Sure, it isn't exactly the dream comic I wanted it to be, but I can't deny that reading this gave me joy and laughter while bringing a genuine smile to my face. This is a dream come true for my favorite literature to be adapted into comic form; it is very well done and I applaud the artist Chris Grine and all those involved at Scholastic for making this a reality.
For those who missed out on reading the original books and/or want to give Animorphs a shot, I'd highly recommend the graphic novel! I see it as a great entry into the series for new potential fans and as a worthy revisit for older fans like myself! It's faithful to the spirit of the original books, has beautiful color, the art direction represents it well for the most part, and is an overall joy to read! I really hope these graphic novels become successful enough to warrant the entire series getting adapted into comic form, and for that I'll definitely lend my support!
Readers, I hope you enjoyed this review! If you read every word from start to finish, I really appreciate it! Thank you so much for being an audience!
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