Video game adaptations have a very long history since at least the 80’s. Like any media, when something catches on, investors and executives will become invested in this new product and will try anything to spread awareness of it’s existence. There are countless examples of video games being adapted into alternative media, ranging from comics, cartoons, stage plays, and movies.
On paper, there are advantages to trying to adapt a video game into an alternative media like the above. The main advantage is that the more story focused nature of media like comics or animation is that it’s possible to flesh out the lore of a video game. Video games are inherently limited from a narrative perspective for several reasons, ranging from limited memory for older games preventing anything elaborate, to the interactive nature of the media forcing developers to create stories that guides players towards their destination. Of course from a different perspective, this limitation of details can be a hindrance for writers too, since the lack of context means they’ll have to effectively make up details to fill the gaps.
Video game adaptation unfortunately have a reception for being very mixed. Some are flat out awful, some are hilariously weird, and some are simply forgettable. Movies and television shows tend to attract the negative reception the most, though comics and manga seem to have a better reception overall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a United States production or produced in Japan, video games for one reason or another tend to struggle to adapt to other mediums.
So what about Puyo Puyo then? Well despite the success Puyo Puyo got, it’s presence in alternative media has been pretty downplayed, even during Compile’s run. The most ambitious it ever got was arguably miscellaneous shorts on DiscStation, but otherwise stuck mostly with comedy driven 4komas. To be fair, Puyo Puyo itself relied heavily on classic “Manzai” style of humor, with the main comedy being one character (typically Arle) experiencing the asinine situations revolving around the rest of the cast. So it was appropriate that these simple short comedic comics and shorts animations were the norm.
There are of course a few exceptions. Probably one of the bigger exceptions for the Puyo Puyo series is a series of manga called Tottemo! Puyo Puyo. Originally these manga were released between 1996 and 2000 across 6 volumes total. The original author and artist for these manga is Tachibana Mami, who aside from the Tottemo! Puyo Puyo series was also involved with a series of manga based on the video game Chocobo’s Mysterious Dungeon, and more recently was credited for the Pretty Rhythm manga based on the Aurora Dream and Dear My Future installments.
Tachibana Mami also naturally makes a few cameos in the comics themselves, typically wearing different types of masks similar to those worn by heroes. More specifically she appears on the binder of the Tottemo! Puyo Puyo books and appears at the end of the books, typically throwing in her own comments about the contents included. This is actually a relatively common practice for manga artists to have a self-insert “mascot” for the sake of commentary. For example, Pokemon Adventures manga author Hidenori Kusaka is commonly depicted as an Electrode, Daily Life with Monster Girl Okayado being depicted as a hermit crab, and Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Hiromu Arakawa is depicted as an anthropomorphic cow, to just name a few examples.
The key thing that immediately stands out from other manga for the Puyo Puyo series is that it adapts actual stories. Instead of focusing on simple gags in 4 panels, Tottemo! Puyo Puyo has multiple short stories divided up by chapters, with some story arcs also included. Each story focuses on our heroine Arle Nadja and her sidekick Carbuncle, with each story typically having her deal with different problems from other characters like Witch, Seriri, Harpy, and Schezo. The scenarios themselves are rather straightforward, for example one chapter involves Arle trying to help Harpy sing better by trying to get her healthy while another has Arle help Seriri try to grow a pair of legs to dance with Suketoudara. There’s even a few nods to Madou Monogatari, like one story effectively being a retelling of Madou Monogatari R from the perspective of Arle instead of Rulue.
The art itself also shows a slight art progression with each volume. There’s a subtle increase in detail, such as the improved shading and adjusted proportions, giving off the impression the artist is improving with each chapter. Later volumes even go so far as to show off different angles and perspectives, for the sake of more dramatic and dynamic shots.
Tottemo! Puyo Puyo also provides a bit of “lore” at the beginning of each volume. For example, the first volume introduces the various characters, introduces Arle’s world, and answers a few questions like how Puyos can breed. Then the second volume similarly introduces the characters, but instead talks about Arle’s different spells like Fire, Ice Storm, and Bayoen. These sections are notably in color in contrast to the rest of the pages, and starting with the second volume will also have at least one comic in color as a sort of bonus.
However in contrast to the typical bubbly nature of the franchise, there’s also some more dramatic moments. This is more pronounced in the 4th volume onward. One story involving Arle having her body stolen by a Puyo, who then proceeds to cause chaos under the identity of Arle. Another story involves Arle traveling back in time and meeting her younger self. There’s even a few moments where they try to invoke death, like Satan nearly dying twice from having rocks fall on him then to being impaled by thorns, and even Arle herself almost had to see her younger self be turned to stone and nearly killed.
The characters themselves are a mixture of being familiar yet also changed. Rulue is still obsessed with Satan, Harpy still sings terribly, Kikimora is still a neat freak, and so on. But it also throws in it’s fair share of changes to help flesh out some of the characters more. For example instead of Arle constantly annoyed by Satan like in the games, in the Tottemo! Puyo Puyo manga she instead has a secret admiration for Satan that she expresses on the odd occasions whenever Satan is in a dire spot or recovering. Another example is that ambiguous situation with Witch and Arle in Puyo Puyo SUN being fleshed out as a one sided romance, with Witch wanting to get intimate with Arle, even resorting to desperate methods like drugging Arle’s tea with a love potion.
But the ultimate question is how does this work out in the context of the Puyo Puyo games? The typical Puyo Puyo matches works within the context of the games, but for the different adaptions like manga it’s commonly ignored. This is because Puyo Puyo matches fall into the trapping of being repetitive and restrictive from an actual narrative standpoint. This has an unfortunate side effect of the titular Puyos ironically being downplayed a lot. Tottemo! Puyo Puyo however is unique in the sense that it managed to find a work around in several key areas.
The first point is that the Puyos themselves do play a role in the stories. Some stories focus on the Puyos going through their own problems, for example one story has Arle and Schezo babysit a group of baby Puyos while the parent Puyos repair their house. Puyos are also used as a tool for conflict, one story involving the entire cast being transformed into Puyos and basically threatened with death via the traditional Puyo popping. But most importantly, the Puyos are used in creative ways by Arle in dire situations. There are plenty of situations where Arle will try to use Puyos in creative ways, ranging from stairs, bridges, flight, and projectiles.
Overall, Tottemo! Puyo Puyo do a good job at capturing that Puyo Puyo spirit in comic form. In fact I’d argue it’s one of the better adaptations for a video game, simply because it tries to takes the original formula and tries something familiar, yet different enough that it feels like a fresh interpretation. Yet I’d also argue this is the type of manga that would only appeal to a specific audience, the Puyo Puyo fans, as veteran manga readers may not see anything particularly special about these manga. This is also the type of manga where it arguably gets better with each volume, with the more notable moments happening roughly around the 3rd or 4th volume. But I’d still recommend a read if you’re at least curious.