Adam Stvořitel is the most obscure text ever made into anime.
Just about every kind of media has been adapted into anime at one point or another. Manga, light novels, and video games go without saying, but there are also any number of anime series based off of literature (Aoi Bungaku and World Masterpiece Theater, to name two anthology series) and even films (Animatrix, Samurai 7). Plays, though, are a little rarer. Romeo × Juliet from Studio Gonzo is one of the only examples, and that’s one of the best-known plays in the world–plus it’s an incredibly loose adaptation, as a 24 episode series is far too long to stick to the script.
The most obscure text ever made into anime, though, has to be Adam Stvořitel (Adam the Creator) by Czech playwrights Karel and Josef Čapek. He’s not exactly an unknown–he coined the term “robot” in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots, for one–but it’s not a well-known play by any means, with the only English translation long out of print and the only Japanese one part of an anthology of his work. And yet, Adam the Creator is cited as the source material for the short anime Kanón, made by Mahiro Maeda as part of the Japan Animator Project–which you may know as the anthology series that included viral sensation ME! ME! ME! One has to wonder how Maeda even heard of it in the first place.
Kanón is eight minutes of pure chaos. It’s hard to imagine it being based off a play, only that it must be based off of something, because nothing this frenetic could possible exist without being in reference to another work that would provide structure for it. The plot is simple enough: Adam, tired of the world, destroys it with a negation cannon, only to realize he’s neglected to negate himself. As punishment for his sins, God declares that he must be the one to remake the world–which goes exactly as well as you’d expect. Adam’s attempt at flawless beings who transcend humanity despise him; when he makes himself a wife to be cheerful and doting, she turns out vapid and clingy; the Alter Ego he created rejects everything he’s done and demands the same rights as him; war breaks out between the new humans created by Adam and AE; and finally, the creators are held accountable by their creations, and Adam desperately, pathetically denies ever creating them at all. The short ends in mocking laughter, darkness, and the voice of God asking if he will keep doing this. Miserably, Adam says “yes.”
It’s not as heavy as that description makes it sound, though. Kanón is by and large a fun watch–partially because it’s so fast-paced that everything whips by before there’s a chance for how cutting it is to sink in, but also because it’s just plain silly. In fact, when I first watched it, I assumed it had to be a loose adaptation that took serious liberties with the source matter, as I couldn’t imagine another explanation for things like Adam forgetting to negate himself, or his wife being a loli, or AE’s wife hitting on her. There were just so many things that seemed too weird to have been in the original text, considering that it was written in 1929, and it was impossible to find either the play itself or a detailed summary of it online. I had to assume that Maeda had read the vague plot outline available on Japanese Wikipedia and based it off of that, or something similar.
Eventually, though, I got curious enough that I purchased a copy of the long out of print anthology that features the only English translation of Adam the Creator from Ebay, at which point I discovered that Kanón is actually an astonishingly faithful adaptation. It’s abridged–at eight minutes it would have to be–but plot, tone, and even dialogue all hew very close to the original. What I failed to realize before reading it is that the play is a comedy. A dark, bitingly satirical comedy, but a comedy nonetheless–and one that is both genuinely funny and surprisingly timely, even now in 2019.
It just goes to show that people never really change. Adam is myopic and entitled, declaring that as a human, it’s his sovereign right to complain without actually having to do anything about it. As far as he’s concerned, the entire universe is sour grapes–he’s lead a miserable life, so better to just wipe the slate clean and have done with. Of course, when he’s actually given a chance to remake the world and right the wrongs he’s been raging against all this time, he does little but frustrate himself with perceived failures and recreate the flaws of the old world, as he was never really concerned with injustice at all–only his own selfish happiness. It’s all too easy to imagine him as a modern men’s rights activist YouTuber, especially considering that his ideal partner is apparently an unconditionally doting child housewife.
In fact, Adam the Creator is an attack on just about all of humanity. Lines like “Liar! The truth is what is decided by vote. An absolute majority can make anything into truth!” and “You blood-thirsty dog! You murderer!” “Thanks! You’ve grasped the situation” and “To the devil with happiness if we only have progress!” are both funny and painfully true. But it’s not entirely hopeless, either. In rejecting the idea that they were deliberately created, the people find solace–after all, it’s too painful to imagine that one would be made to work, suffer, and die. The fallen creators Adam and Alter Ego are taken in by a pitiful creature outside of their creation, who rejects their selfish desire to cleanse the world with the simple declaration that he wants to live so that he can see better days. And in the end, the Cannon of Negation is made into a bell that rings not “No, No” in denial of the world, but “Yes, Yes” in affirmation.
While satire tends to age poorly–as it’s rooted so specifically in the era and society in which it was created–Adam the Creator touches on universal truths which remain relevant even today, which is perhaps why a Czech play from the 20’s found itself made into an anime short in 2015. In fact, it seems as though Adam the Creator is having something of a renaissance–a reading was put on at the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. this March, making it one of the only American productions ever and the first in nearly a century. It’s a bleak, funny, poignant play, and there’s no doubt that in making Kanón, Maeda wanted to bring it to people’s attention. That’s the only reason for adapting something so obscure–out of genuine love for the source material, a desire to get your hands deep in it, and a hope that others will appreciate it just as much as you do.