5/20: Minor grammar fixes made

First, some disclosure. I don’t necessarily consider myself an “anime fan”. Do I like anime? Based on how the term is used, yes. “Anime” usually refers to animated shows and movies from Japan. However, anime gets treated as a genre. Anime is just animation. That’s it. (And just to tick off fans of Western animation, “animated series/movie” is still a cartoon! Why is that wrong? It’s a bit different that 7-year-old me trying to convince my now late grandfather that not all cartoons are “Mickey Mouses”.)

I do, however, consider myself a fan of good storytelling. (One of the reasons for this blog.) Japan has been a lot more willing than the “western world” to push the cartoon/animated format to its limits and go beyond them. Disney is one of the few to come close for years (while still keeping the family-friendly banner), with more independent studios (even I will give Bakshi credit here) or people who came from Disney (Don Bluth who still targets the wider family-friendly audience) has done this in the movies. It didn’t happen on television until the rise of produced-for-syndication shows or Fox Kids’ Batman: The Animated Series that US producers starting playing catch-up, and even they still keep it kid-focused.

(One could make the case for Williams Street, if they didn’t make mostly poorly made Flash comedies.)

In Japan, animation is used for every genre you can imagine, from kids shows, to sci-fi/horror, to porn, but also soap operas, cop dramas, “slice of life” and the like. If you can do it in live-action, you can do it in animation. American culture (and many other countries) tends to have issues with even adult-targeted animation series. Then again, all we get are Comedy Central’s reality show parody Drawn Together or HBO’s Spawn, who simply think that it’s a reason to push nudity, foul language, and depravity because it’s “only” a cartoon. So I understand why there’s an anime fanbase in this country.

So it’s cultural differences that have allowed cartoons in Japan to push itself as a style, but it is also those differences that is at the heart of probably the biggest debate in the English-speaking animated and anime fanbases: which is the better way to watch anime, in the original language with subtitles, or dubbed in English?

The short answer? It’s a stupid question.

I can’t actually tell you which is “better”. I can tell you I prefer it in English and why, but I won’t necessarily argue against the subtitled side. I can only defend the dub’s right to exist against the “anime purists”, though who demand everybody watch it the way THEY think you should (thus making them a chapter of the “everything for meeeeeee” crowd). Let’s take a look at the individual arguments, shall we?

“Dubs screw up the vision of the original.”

OK, here’s the one I most understand, and where all the other arguments really stream from. As a creator myself, I would hate to see my vision interfered with, especially if said vision was really important. (See the whole “Amish Paradise” situation, or something more in line with the topic, Warriors of the Wind.) So I can’t in any way argue against this.

Except for one point: what if the dubbers get it right? Even the often attacked 4Kids can get it right or better.

Seriously, tell me that “Kids, don’t use formula-1 race cars to chase hedgehogs” isn’t a better parody of the “moral lesson” bit than “kids, don’t ride on race cars”. OK, maybe you can, and I can disagree, but most of that scene is virtually the same. Also see the show Ronin Warriors and compare it to the original Samurai Troopers. At least the first few episodes I’ve been able to compare and unless the subbers got it wrong, there are very few changes. Which leads to the next argument.

“The English version often gets the words wrong, especially the TV edits.”

Japanese and English have different ways of speaking. Japanese words can be shorter or longer than their English counterpart. Japanese grammar is totally different, and has a more flowerly way of speaking that, when directly translated, leads to what is referred to as “Engrish” (noting the missing vowel sound from Japanese language). What results is that often the words wouldn’t fit in the characters mouths. Just watch a Godzilla movie or and old kung-fu flick. Why do you think Speed Racer and his friends had so many words in one sentence?

Now I will grant you it’s another story when the totality of the scene is altered.

Fans of the original have every right to be annoyed. On the other hand, you end up with a whole new story that someone else will enjoy. Remember, I grew up with Battle of the Planets and I loved it. I’ve had a chance to see the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and enjoy it as well. However, it feels like two totally different shows. See also Robotech, which I’ve been spotlighting in light of the late Carl Macek’s passing the past few weeks.

“Why are you making (change X)? You’re taking out the Japanese symbolism out of it?

I hope I expressed that thought right. What they’re referring to is something like this.

On the left, Ash Ketchum is holding a rather big sandwich. On the left, “Satochi” is holding a rather large rice ball (or onigiri). That seems like a lot of extra work, doesn’t it? I can’t understand why the writers can’t explain something like that in a throwaway line, like in the Sonic clip about “sonic booms”. While I can accept character name changes to help the audience (you know, little kids, most of whom have never been to Japan and may not get their puns or spit out certain names) relate to the characters better, and I prefer to have signs changed to English so I can read them where they are (and thus not pull me out of the experience), the food changes (although I understand 4Kids thinking) don’t feel necessary to me.

There is a problem, however, when includes things that aren’t as taboo there as it is here.

“But aren’t all the violence, cursing, and nudity a big part of the artist’s vision?”

Let’s address point two first, since it’s the most uniformed. Japanese doesn’t have all the swear words we do. They have a complete different way of being derogatory. From Wikipedia:

Unlike the English language, the Japanese language has few direct swear words. Cursing is most often conveyed through particular variants of existing, harmless words (such as the term ‘kisama’, a very rude and disrespectful version of ‘you’), rather than words that can be easily translated into curse word equivalents. However, translators producing English-language fansubs are often known to use stronger interpretations for certain words, commonly resulting in the incorrect impression that the original version of the anime contains notably stronger language than its English counterpart. Most prominently, the commonly used word “kuso” (literally, ‘excrement’) is an expression of discontent with a situation; it is regularly translated by fansubbers as “s—” or “damn”. For a series targeted at school-age children, this is not an appropriate English equivalent, as “s—” is considered a taboo word, while “kuso” is not.

Also, some anime shown in Japan have English profanity, as is the case with BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad. This led to the anime being rated TV-MA on the Funimation DVDs.

Yeah, I’ve seen shows that target kids where all the swears are put in for the fansub (which people who actually rally against official dubs often swear is more accurate…but that leads to a whole other article). That means that I couldn’t show a kid the original Japanese version of Pokémon, even if I didn’t mind showing them James from Team Rocket sporting the chest of Dolly Parton! I take no responsibility for the nightmares you gain from clicking that. NONE!

And you really need to see the cleavage of a guy in his twenties or a 14 year old girl (cue Sailor Moon edit), there’s something wrong with you, but nothing compared to the rally against Funimation editing even a non-airing version of Dance in the Vampire Bund (where do they get these titles?). If you haven’t heard of this argument, cue MarzGurl.

On the one hand, I’m all in favor of keeping all important scenes in. On the other hand, naked 9-year-old. With all the pedophiles in the news (big weapon for the anti-Catholic people, as well as making Chris Hanson’s career), is it really that big a problem?

In that video you also saw a scene from Naruto where some guy is bleeding from his headband. Other anime that I’ve seen on TV, such as Ruroni Kenshin as well as Naruto, are on the list of my favorite animes. And you know what? That was without the blood and nudity! It’s one thing if we’re talking about a horror or porn movie, but do you really need to see all the blood and eyes double-sized to know that guy is dead? He just had a sword slashed through him! (I’m talking in general, not in that clip.) Is decapitation really a huge part of the story? And as MarzGurl said, you have the uncut DVD’s. (Personally, I wish they’d release the TV edit version for me, but I’m not demanding it or that it should be the only version released. That’s where the “everything for meeeeeee” crowd comes into play.)

I’ve enjoyed these shows just fine without the “blood and boobs”, because I don’t see them as that important if the overall message (he’s dead, she’s naked) comes through.

In the original these characters were gay/lesbian. Why did you…

I don’t even care on this one. It’s purely a cultural issue that is beyond the scope of this blog’s mission statement. Maybe it’s because you believe in the lifestyle and I don’t. (Full disclosure.) That’s fine. Maybe it shouldn’t have been shown to a certain target audience in the states. Which leads to my last argument:

They totally dumbed this down for kids. The original wasn’t even targeted to kids!

And this is why Escaflone and Knights of the Zodiac were horrible shows while Vision of Escaflone and Saint Saiya are beloved in the fandom. (Frankly, Knights of the Zodiac is a better name.) Calling blood “Cosmos” and painting it green, or removing whole episodes that are important to the overall narrative because it’s too “mature” should have been the first clue that they were marketing to wrong audience! Ever hear of a movie version of Robotech? No, not the recent Shadow Chronicles or the few produced episodes of The Sentinels that were bundled together. This was an actual theatrical movie, using some bits of Southern Cross/Masters Saga to connect the footage of Megazone 23 to the overall saga. This was promoted to a young age group for the test-market showing in Texas, leading to a theater of crying young people who saw the ads during The Smurfs and thought it would be interesting. Going up against Transformers: The Movie (the original animated version) didn’t help its chances, either.

(Also, Macek has said that he hated the final product, later obtained the rights for Megazone 23 for his own company, Streamline Pictures, and released it in the original version.)

I’m sure other arguments exist (like the intro/outro issue or the fact that Japan dubs over our shows with no known debate, but anime purists tend to hate anything that isn’t Japanese), but this may be my biggest post in a long time if not ever, so I’m going to see what the fallout (if any with my current small readership) is and see if a follow-up is needed. Suffice it to say, you watch your way, and let us watch it our way. Neither is necessarily “wrong”.

About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

One response »

  1. […] where I disagree with her. I suppose it was inevitable. As I posted last week (correction: it was back on May 6th), I don’t think of anime any different than I do animation from the west, which I don’t […]

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