atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

Here Is Greenwood, Buried in Anime Commentary

It's not often that I get to read a manga (Japanese comics) series which I saw on video first. The world of translated manga has exploded in the past few years; it used to be that a highly select core of manga titles were available here, and for the rest you would have either to learn to read Japanese (not a trivial task, considering that written Japanese consists of two phonetic alphabets, the 5,000+ ideograms they learned from the Chinese, and the Roman alphabet) or hope someone else would translate it and post it somewhere on the Internet or Usenet.

I'm not kidding about written Japanese. The Japanese learned to write from the Chinese; as I recall that was sometime around the fall of Constantinople: the Chinese ran Japan for quite some time, which is why there are so many similarities in the cultures of the two countries. When China invaded, Japan did not have a written language of its own; and the two phonetic alphabets that Japanese uses (hiragana, for native words, and katakana, for foreign words) were developed from the Chinese characters, called kanji in Japanese.

I once wore a "Tenchi Muyo!" t-shirt into a Chinese restaurant. After taking my order, the guy behind the counter asked, "Do you know what your shirt says?" I replied, "I know what it says in Japanese." He said with a snort, "That's not Japanese."

I wasn't there for an argument so I didn't tell him that:
a) the shirt was produced by a Japanese company, Pioneer
b) Pioneer had footed most of the bill for the production of the first "Tenchi Muyo!" episodes
c) "Tenchi Muyo!" had been: written by; drawn by; inked by; painted by; voiced by; had music and sound effects added by; music written by; and sold to; Japanese people.
d) China taught Japan to write

"Tenchi Muyo!" means "no need for Tenchi" but I suppose I now will never know what the characters mean when read in Chinese.

Anyway, so not long ago I learned--to my astonishment--that Here is Greenwood (HiG) had been translated and for sale in the US for quite some time. HiG is one of the series which I latched onto 'way back in the early days of my addiction to anime.

There is this Canadian anime magazine called Protoculture Addicts--or was, anyway; I have no idea if it still exists or not--and for a time it was one of my primary sources of information about anime. This ended after the editors of the magazine went up on an anti-Christian soapbox some three or four issues in a row; I stopped having the comic shop pull it because I wasn't going to subsidize someone bashing my religion for specious reasons.

Well? Did we blame all of Islam for 9/11? No, we didn't...but certain elements of the Fan subculture (SF, fantasy, gaming, comics, whatever) seem to believe that since some loopy fundamentalist Christians want to ban the things they enjoy on the silliest of reasoning, that all Christians must agree with that.

I've talked a bit about this phenomenon before. I'm not sure what, in 1995, the source for all this anti-Christian vitriol was. I had heard nothing at all about any Christian group speaking out against anime, certainly not before much of it was put on American TV. For the record, about that time, Sailor Moon hit these shores, in a format chopped into tiny shreds by DiC, which is a subject of Ted Turner's media empire, the one that brought us Captain Planet and the Planeteers by the way--so you know how politically correct they made Sailor Moon!

That was also about the time that the first season of Dragon Ball was brought over, as well. In fact, thinking about it, perhaps this is what inspired the ire of the editors of Protoculture Addicts: the editing of Sailor Moon, and the--horror of horrors!--the addition of a digital swimsuit to scenes where Goku, the main character of Dragon Ball, was skinny-dipping.

I figure there are two ways to look at this situation:

1) Put up with the editing and the censoring of Goku's wee-wee. This way we get to see a new anime series just by watching TV. (Remember, this was at a time when anime was still a tiny, tiny niche market in the comic industry.) Show our interest in anime to the media corporations who have the money and clout to bring over plenty of other anime, and jump-start an industry around it here in the US, thus ensuring a big supply of new anime to watch. Or:

2) Refuse to watch any anime that has been edited in any way, thus sending a message to the corporate drones that we won't tolerate any changes to anime even if it makes it commercially viable in the United States, thus allowing people to make a profit on it--and allowing it to be shown on American TV, so more people can see how good some of this stuff really is.

#2, there, has a rather undercurrent, though, one I saw stated explicitly a few years later, in Animerica: the idea that most Americans aren't sophisticated enough to understand anime, and this is why the corporations had to edit and censor it.

I personally don't understand what "sophistication" has to do with Goku's wee-wee being shown on national TV in a time slot guaranteed to expose it to children. Our culture has determined that children should not be shown nudity. The Japanese culture has not made that determination. It's not a question of sophistication but of cultural differences. Goku's nudity is not a major plot point; in fact it's a minor detail. He's taking a bath out in the wilderness, so he takes his clothes off. A child isn't going to care whether or not he's bathing or swimming; the adults who watch it are the ones who care about this.

Sidebar Two:
Another thing from Animerica: Around the time that Princess Mononoke was in American theaters, some girl wrote a letter to the magazine about seeing it in the theater.

"...I wanted to write about a harrowing experience I had while watching...." [emphasis mine]

A harrowing experience--keep that in mind. What was the harrowing experience?

Someone laughed at a scene in the movie. And the scene wasn't supposed to be funny.

That's a harrowing experience?

The girl complained that it had ruined her enjoyment of the film. One person laughing at the wrong moment ruined her enjoyment of a two-hour-long movie which, to any reasonable examination, is an artistic tour-de-force by one of Japan's premier animation directors?


So I think this is what happened: the editors at Protoculture Addicts saw the edited and censored versions of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball and it got them angry: those damned Christians ruined the anime! --because you know, it's always the Christians who demand decency and positive role-models from things. It never has anything to do with someone like Ted Turner who's company bought the rights to a Japanese series and hacked it up in an attempt to make it politically correct, so that no feminists would have a hissy fit over the rather bland "swimsuit episode" that was excised in its entirety.

Oh does.

Look, I don't blame anyone for what happened to Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball--and except for one line, every one of the changes made to the Tenchi Muyo! series made perfect sense to me when that was adapted for the Cartoon Network in 2000. If the stuff is going to be shown on American TV, it has to meet the standards our communities expect from video aimed at children, because most people in the US--like it or not!--are going to think "cartoons=kid show" and let their children watch the stuff.

But I have never heard so much as a peep from fundamentalist Christians over any anime series, let alone Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball. Those editors' ire was misplaced...and even if it wasn't, directing it at all Christians is, as I said, similar to blaming all Muslims for 9/11.

So, in about 1994 or 1995, Protoculture Addicts did an article about the HiG anime. And it sounded great to me. I mean, it sounded like a lot of fun--so I wanted it. And I was pleased that, a few months later, the anime became available here in the US.

But the anime seemed a bit disjointed--and as I saw more and more anime, I came to realize that the HiG anime seemed to be trying to cram too much into each of its episodes. Well, it's a six-episode series, direct-to-video (which anime fans refer to as OVA or OAV--the letters, regardless of order, stand for Video, Original, and either Animation or Animated). The first episode has to cram in a lot of exposition, in order to enable the other five episodes to be about other really great stories in the series.

The last pair of episodes are the best, by the way, IMHO.

So yesterday I got my hands on the first two trade paperbacks (TPBs) and I was able to sit down with one this morning and read some of it.

And I'll be switched if the damn thing doesn't read exactly like the anime went!

I have to wonder if it was edited. Dark Horse did that with Aah! Megamisama! (Oh! My Goddess!). They cut out whole stories in order to make it "fit" with the video that was released here in the US. They did later bring those cut stories back, thank all that's holy.

Anyway, the artwork is good and the story is hilarious. There are a few touches which are different, but not too seriously--Hollywood would do well to learn from the Japanese manga and anime industries how to translate a story from book to movie, particularly in the case of all the endless comic-book movies that have hit the silver screen lately (Hulk, anyone???). I have seen episodes of Ranma 1/2 which are the exact same as the manga which inspired them.... So perhaps that is what happened here; the first episode of HiG was done exactly like the manga, only in anime form it didn't flow quite right.

HiG is shoujo manga (comics aimed at girls) and it's a worthwhile read. Most of the manga I collect is shoujo--it typically has better characterization and better stories than shounen, or boys', comics do. It's a matter of personal taste, of course.

However, for anime sanitized for the American audience, my magnanimity has its limits. Well, really, it's not a question of the anime being "sanitized". Make that word "converted", instead.

You see, in 1994, 1995, dubbed anime was reasonably well-done. Take, for example, El Hazard. If you watch it, you see--in the first five minutes--one of the worst voiceover performances in any Pioneer release: Lia Sargent playing Nanami Jinnai. She sounds like she's in a junior-high-school play, for crying out loud...but after the first five minutes of the series is through, there are no problems with the dubbing whatsoever; it's perfect. They use the right "level" of swear words, which is not an easy thing to do, since Japanese doesn't really have swear words. The emotions are exactly correct without being overwrought. And Lia Sargent later turns in one of the best lines in the series (she went on to do the lead voice for Hand Maid May and did a perfect job).

The absolute worst dub of the period is a tossup between Outlanders--which I rented, watched five minutes of, then rewound and returned to Blockbuster the same day--or the hideous performances in AnimEigo's first attempt at a dub title, Those Obnoxious Aliens. They had planned to release that series (the title is the English translation of the title of Rumiko Takahashi's seminal work, Urusei Yatsura) as both sub and dub, but the dub was so fuckin' horrible that it never got past the first tape. (The sub, started long before that ill-starred dub, is going strong even now, of course.)

I started out my anime fandom loving dub titles. The early dubs of Ranma 1/2 were outstanding. The dub of Wings of Honneamise was superb. The dubs of Tenchi Muyo! could not have been better. They got the pronunciation of names right, they got the emotions right, and they got the intensity right.

But as anime became more of a commodity, the quality started to slip.

Viz Video, back in the early Ranma days, was a paragon of good dubbing. But by the time they'd gotten to the third season, well...let me put it this way: I was at an anime convention, watching a parody fandub at a room party. (It was Ranma 1/3 and I want a copy of it.) Steve Bennett, the artist who was behind Studio Ironcat and other efforts (he worked as an animator in Japan for years) came in and asked, in all seriousness, "Is this a Viz dub?"

Now what do we have? Inu Yasha which is being released by Viz. It's on Cartoon Network but I can't watch it. They mangle ALL the names. Here are some examples:

Kagome: proper pronunciation is "Kah-go-MAY"; usually it comes out "kah-GO-mi"
Sesshomaru: properly: "Se-ssho-MAH-roo"; usually: "Ses-SHO-m'roo"

...the first is the main character of the series. The second is the primary villain. I can't stand to listen to it.

The ones which don't mangle names sound like junior high plays. The ones which get the emotions right use the wrong voices for the characters. The ones which get the other things right mangle the names. Argh! I buy all-sub now, and I'm happier for it.

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