Introduction: Okay I think a little introduction is in order for these sets of posts I’ll making over time. The first is that in many ways this (or well a form of it) is the kind of post I’ve wanted to write for years since I first came to TAY under a completely separate name. To tell you too much will spoil some of the rest of the article but this idea has been percolating in my head for quite a while now. Second I’m not sure but I think I have a few more of these in me (at least two at the moment) so like my Filler Free Viewing Guide they may pop up every now and then and of course vanish without a trace.
In short these will be looking at the mistakes that are often made in anime development; depending on the topic some may be focused more on history others on my own opinion. However as always these are my own thoughts so disagreeing with them isn’t discouraged its actually actively encouraged as it can often foster the best discussions. Enough home cleaning business I’ll get right into it.
Topic Reasoning: Localization is an interesting topic in my opinion. Mostly as video game fans even bad localization are often something to celebrate just look at Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment and it’s fan reaction. While as an anime fan now localization’s are almost expected for the more popular anime and they’re often at the very least component workman like if not great (Looking at you Funimation) efforts. However what if I told you not too long ago a localization of an anime wasn’t something to look forward to but to dread and be fearful of right to your bones. That was the state in many ways of localization in the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s. There were several reasons for this and I’ll get into them later however looking back on this now its amazing how fan focused this industry has become over the years as opposed to how it started.
The History (The Nineties to the Early 2000’s): I’ll preface this there were attempts to bring anime over before the mid-1990’s however they were smaller affairs and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that anime started to really make a splash outside of the VERY small subset of Otaku who could get their hands on low quality subbed VHS bootlegged from Japan. With that in mind this section will start with the mid to late 1990’s and looking at some interesting trends from an orbital view going forward in time.
One anime in this time which’s importance cannot be over stated was of course Dragon Ball Z however when talking about Dragon Ball Z (now to be refered to a DBZ) one has to remember it’s own past. You see DBZ wasn’t the first Dragon Ball piece of media to make it to North America, actually Dragon Ball with episode 1 started to air in North America in 1995 a full year before DBZ. However due to the MASSIVE unpopularity of Dragon Ball during the Emperor Pillaf Saga the studio localizing it (Funimation with Saban Entertainment) decided to skip Dragon Ball entirely and go straight to DBZ which they figured would have more resonance in the North American marketplace due to its focus on action rather then adventure and humor that Dragon Ball had.
They were right, DBZ like Power Rangers (ironically produced by Dragon Ball co producer Saban Entertainment) around the same time was a massive hit with young boys. With it anime finally came out of the woodwork and started gaining mainstream market share. However as many can probably guess with this success came issues. Around this time another anime company was trying to produce a similar but markedly different anime to North America that anime was Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon brought over by DIC Entertainment at the time more known for producing the eco-super hero show Captain Planet...
However unlike DBZ, Sailor Moon just didn’t quite catch fire the same way. The big shots up top wondered about why this was and came to the most superficial argument possible. Girls don’t like anime boys do so we’ll stop marketing anime to girls. This is of course wrong on a few key points girls/women do of course enjoy anime as history will show time and time again. Furthermore it was a mistake of metrics; of course Sailor Moon looked like it was doing poorly next to Dragon Ball Z anything would. DBZ would go on to be the highest selling (in North America) and influential anime in history singly handling blasting open a door for literally everything that followed. Of course Sailor Moon was not served well by the initial numbers even though yes it was a hit even among girls.
This started giving executives a warped mind about anime with which everything had to fit. Girls don’t like anime, boys do, it’s a children medium (due to the popularity of Pokemon in 1998), and it can’t be weird/exotic. Over time other things would be added such as people like Giant Robots which we can attributed to the success of Gundam Wing in 2000. However as you can probably see where I’m going with this these early success paved the way for the mediums greatest failures and abominations. Also keep in mind not everything was bad from this time enduring classics like Cowboy Beebop and The Slayers all emerged from this time as well as the massivly influential to North American fandom movie Akira. However they tended to be more the exception then the rules. However those are for a different article so without further build up lets get into why I wrote this whole thing in the first place the greatest abominations of early anime localization.
A quick note there are many decent and good anime and poor and bad ones (see basically any 4KIDS dub...) from this time I’ve chosen these examples as particularly bad. Mostly due to the fact their original source anime are considered masterpieces of the respective genres mecha-shojo and magical girl respectively.
“Escaflowne”/The Vision of Escaflowne: Many people remember this anime very fondly as a gateway anime and well they should it was an amazing anime and certainly one of the better entries in the mecha genre from this time. However sadly many children never got to see this amazing series instead they got “Escaflowne” on Fox Kids. Fox Kids you see was Fox’s Saturday Morning children s programming (while that was still a thing) aimed primarily at the 6-12 age range (or so it could skew older earlier in its life it was the home of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series). If you know The Vision of Escaflowne now you’re probably thinking “wait isn’t The Vision of Escaflowne more a Young Adult show”? Indeed it is and that is the problem.
Due to the fact Escaflowne was already dubbed three years prior by Bandai Visual and being from the same Studio as the mega-hit Gundam Wing, Escaflowne was seen as a gem that everyone wanted. Fox ended up winning the bidding war over Toonami which wanted a product to fill the hole left by Gundam Wing’s end (imagine The Vision of Escaflowne on Toonami...) however Fox won out. However unlike Toonami, Fox didn’t really have a time slot to make the series as it was constructed work. So rather then letting the product go it massively edited it to the monstrosity that was eventually aired in late summer 2001.
Some of the key edits (remember the rules of anime at the time) was that Hitomi the main protagonist was demoted from key point of view to little more then a damsel in distress because little boys don’t want to watch female protagonists. The first episode was completely skipped because it focused on Hitomi too much and it was featured things like emotions and love; things 6-12 year old boys aren’t really interested in. In short Fox completely butchered what made The Vision of Escaflowne unique and special to so many people. The series made so little sense and was such an unmitigated disaster it was cancelled less then twelve episodes in.
Overall The Vision of Escaflowne as a series has mostly brushed off this very sad chapter. Ironically Canadians such as myself would be treated to the proper series only weeks after it aired in America in a completely unedited format on YTV, for Americans imagine YTV as everything great about Toonami, Fox Kids, and the WB Kids EVER minus Cowboy Beebop. However that being said what confounds me to this day is how it ever even made it to air. Did nobody see what a disaster the show would be? Beyond that when you have such a distinct audience profile how did they not pick literally any other mecha show or shonen action show? However not everything about this “adaptation” (I’m using the word loosely) was terrible the new TV Opening was actually a lot of fun even if represents everything wrong with anime from the time.
“Cardcaptors”/Cardcaptor Sakura: Moving on from The Vision of Escaflowne we come to the other notorious example of the topic from the time. Nelvana’s dub of Cardcaptor Sakura renamed for North American audiences Cardcaptors, better to down play the female protagonist of the series less one scares of boys. Unlike Escaflowne this series actually finished airing so in this case we do know the full extent of the damage done to the beloved magical girl series. Much like Escaflowne the reasoning behind the changes was a simple one the licensors didn’t think a show about girls would appeal to the majority male anime audience at the time and all edits were made to this regard.
What’s stunning about this example however is unlike Escaflowne that has some of the trappings of a standard anime for the target demographic such a giant mechs, dragons, ax crazed villains, Knights, and Samurai’s Cardcapturor Sakura has very little of these. It had cutish magical monsters, children running around in frilly dresses, and talking plush toys not exactly something that screams shonen adventure. Making the selection of this show over other shows a mystery, my personal theory was the show was edited in an attempt to broaden the appeal probably to capture a weird cross section of Pokemon and Sailor Moon fans...
Of the more major changes made the entire 70 episode run time of the full series were cut to only 39 episodes and those that survived we reordered due to content issues, mostly stemming from the episodes strong focus on Sakura the original protagonist instead of Syaoran Li the character more attention was given too, again to appeal to the young boy demographic. Finally other very common edits were made to accommodate the new plot and changes such as the total whitewashing of the series (which to be fair makes sense as I doubt I could remember the japanese names when I was a kid...) such as changing Sakura Kimimotto into Sakura Avalon, Tomoyo Daidouji to “Madison Taylor” who was also changed from a high bred “ojou-sama” type character into a little more then an Audiovisual fanatic... the only Asian element of the entire production to survive was Syaoran’s lineage coming from China. Other cut issues which makes total sense was the subplot involving a relationship between a classmate of Sakura’s and her adult teacher as well as several of the same sex relationship between certain characters.
In the end until The Vision of Escaflowne, North America wouldn’t actually have a legal way to watch a faithful Cardcaptor Sakura or a dub for over fifteen years until just recently the entire (Asian produced) English dub and sub track were brought to Crunchyroll. Making it a lingering sore spot especially considering the popularity of the property and its successor manga/anime such as Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic. Funnily enough much like Escaflowne’s Fox opening the only thing I remember fondly about this series is the ridiculously over the top opening song for the series.
Conclusion: I decided to start with this topic as it’s something that has been on my mind for a while. Basically how as anime fans we are uniquely well treated by production companies, I mean seriously compare us to gamers... When we complain people listen, we have near instant access to overseas content, and when a dub does come out it can be counted upon to be high quality and relatively untouched in terms of content. In short we’re spoiled, however that’s not how its always been and I hope this little feature shows clearly some of the giant pitfalls that could happen. My next one of these will be going back across the Pacific Ocean and I’ll be writing about a favorite topic of mine anime Endings. Until then thanks for reading.