Like many other eras of media, the 2010s is one where for anime abridging it started out as a vast field full of many different attempts at parodic anime series, and eventually ended as a landscape composed of a select group of fan-made shows, essentially trading initial quantity for improved quality. What was once a seemingly endless number of creatives wanting to show how they could alter a series for cheap laughs has now become a more focused field of creative teams, ones who understand that not only does anime abridging call for a good level of post-production changes, but also a good understanding of a show’s core essential strengths and weaknesses. To make a good abridged anime, the people doing the abridging not only need to be talented in their own right, but they also need to know what makes a show work in the first place, and also whether or not there’s enough material there to make something new that’s actually worth the effort. To make a good abridged series, what’s almost always required nowadays is the understanding of what makes a good adaptation, not unlike what it takes to translate an original manga into a new anime series. I originally wanted to go through this list show by show, but I quickly realized that abridged series usually have the same strengths as one another, and that I’d effectively be repeating myself four times over. So instead, I’m going in the opposite way: strength by strength, whilst covering a show that displays said attribute in a good fashion.
And to throw in another curveball, I won’t start with DBZA, but instead with what’s probably the second most well-known abridged series: Sword Art Online Abridged. This show is probably the best showcase of the almost universal abridging attribute of “fixing what’s broken,” and even at times elevating the source material so that for once it reaches its full potential. As demonstrated by the popularity of the isekai genre, there was a good show within SAO, and not only will I say that the first season was alright, but that over the years the series has gotten better thanks to the original writer improving in his craft over the past decade. But make no mistake, even before Alfheim, SAO had problems, which Something Witty Entertainment took great (and hilarious) stride in addressing. From the titular game’s worldbuilding and technical issues, reworking characters by making them more engaging to watch, and even completely rewriting the original ending to make something that’s not only funny, but believable in today’s current game development culture.
However, SAOA’s main positive attribute is that it reworked the existing show to be for a slightly different audience: instead of being just a generic power fantasy, this is a show that was made by gamers, for gamers. The opening joke is a double whammy of in-game advertisements and microtransactions, and it just goes from there. From easter eggs and references from Assassin’s Creed to Everquest, jabs at MMO design, to even addressing more personal territory like people’s attitudes when they game and even crunch culture, this reimagining is a far cry from a source material that obviously was created by someone who didn’t put enough thought into what they were originally writing. And that’s the first lesson of abridging (and adaptation in general): know what you want to do with what you’re working with, so that it feels not only different, but needed.
A relative newcomer, Goblin Slayer Abridged is one that I avoided for some time because, well, I pretty much hated the Goblin Slayer anime. Partly because the first episode was such a bad first impression, but also because from what I heard this really wasn’t a good adaptation in general. While good abridged series follow similar rules to good adaptations, GSA is kind of a wild card in that it doesn’t try to rework the series into something closer to the original work, but is instead a throwback to when abridged series threw a million jokes at the wall to see what stick, while almost completely sanding down the rougher edges the original show was known for. Abridging has become a rare art form for many reasons, and while most of them do have to do with how youtube and copyrighting is making the artform more and more difficult, some of the blame does have to fall down on that a lot of abridged writing was done by people who were pretty good at video editing and after effects, but weren’t as imaginative or funny as they thought they were. A look at the very first DBZA episode shows what I’m talking about (and TFS themselves agree with this sentiment).
That said though, Goblin Slayer Abridged stands tall today because while it does harken back to those dark times, it is very much a modern show, given how it does have a small but substantive sense of empathy to itself. Characters actually care about each other, and even the titular badass (who very much was written with Hellsing Ultimate Abridged’s Alucard in mind) is a much better character now because not only is he a fun character, he actually does have a tragic backstory to him, that’s actually depicted in a much more subdued way than the source material, making it land much harder than you’d expect. I know how weird and even unsettling this all sounds, but trust me, by the time you get to the show’s most recent episode, this all becomes clear. It’s what earned GSA a place in this piece, thanks to what’s effectively lesson two: find the right balance between the comedy and the drama, because if you have one, it can make the other land much harder and better than it usually would.
But if you want to know what my personal favorite abridged series is, it’s one that I wouldn’t have guessed in a thousand years would be something I so eagerly enjoy that I actually became a patron of the youtube channel that makes it: Fate/Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works Abridged. While this show is another case of smoothing out the show’s kinks to make it much more approachable, Project Mouthwash also ended up doing something many would think… well, unthinkable for a Fate series, but it’s worked out surprisingly well: this show spoils a lot of the Fate franchise. The main hurdle with Fate is that there’s not really a good place to start, unless you’re okay with diving into the original visual novels, and for me personally it’s not a good sign when you have to completely switch mediums into order to know what’s going on in an anime. UBWA though basically says “eh, fuck it”, and while it’s still confusing at times, its complete lack of worry about spoilers actually makes it the best place to jump in and get into Fate (in my opinion).
One of the funny things is that while Fate fans will catch the spoiling as it happens (episode 3 completely gives away the whole plot of Fate/Zero, using marbles of all things), if you’re going in blind, so much is happening that you end up not being bugged by it too much. Sure, you eventually find out what’s going on, but when you go back and watch previous episodes, you actually end up catching so many more jokes you missed the first time. It can also end up making you the viewer want to explore the Fate-verse to see exactly what all the references actually mean, because this abridged series feels like it was made by people who know Fate inside and out. To me, this is the most impressive abridged series currently in production, because while it does follow the titular rule of abridging (take a piece of work and condense it for easier consumption), it takes it to places I originally wouldn’t have thought possible. Not only is this take on Fate easier to get into, it’s much funnier this time around, still action packed, and actually does have ruminations on what it means to take action while sticking to one’s ideals. It’s easy at times to forget that abridged shows are supposed to be refined reinterpretations on existing source material, but UBWA might just be the current benchmark of what that really looks like.
It must be said, I wanted to get this article done by the end of January, and by the time February rolled around I thought I had missed my chance to make one last relevant “AniTAY Decade in Review” article. But with the announcement from Team Four Star concerning the fate of Dragon Ball Z Abridged, maybe my procrastination was somewhat fortuitous. This show is so universally known and well-covered that I’m just going to go straight to the key lesson from it: this shit requires love. Both in the abridging process, and also some amount for the original work itself (it not at least some level of respect), because it has to be said, there’s no other reason anyone would do abridging. It’s a long, uneasy, tiring process that’s fraught with ways that’ll shut you down, mostly in the form of copyright strikes that’ll shut you down, but also in how meeting a consistent level of quality you set for yourself is never easy, regardless of your line of work. That is ultimately what made DBZA so great, its consistent attention to detail, and the sheer amount of care Team Four Star put into it. Which is why, despite my own heartbreak about their announcement that the series is over, I fully understand why the end is indeed here.
I was surprised to hear that the Bojack movie is the one that TFS had the most trouble with, but with the context that the show had been going on for over ten years at that point, and that the material for DBZ itself was going to start its own level of unavoidable decline, I can’t really blame them for deciding to bow out before the start of the Buu saga (also, they’d have to do two more Broly movies, which I’m pretty sure is prohibited in the Geneva Conventions). I’m sad, but I get it. And like they said a little while ago, it’s much preferable to end things on a good note instead of taking it to a point where they end up hating the very thing that’s brought so much joy to millions across the world. And besides, it’s not like TFS itself is ending, with more projects on the way, the finale to Final Fantasy 7 Machinabridged, and you know what, I doubt that this will be the absolute last time we see this version of Goku and friends again. Probably not the Buu saga, but there’s always the chance we’ll get the fabled remake of DBZA season 1, or even Dragon Ball abridged, a project where TFS would be working with stuff that Toriyama made during his peak. Whatever the case, I wish the team all the best, and if I haven’t said it already, thank you so much for (re)creating something that’ll forever be associated with the 2010s, and how we anime fans interact with the medium in a way that’s the best sort of mad brilliance.
You’re reading AniTAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. To join in on the fun, check out our website, visit our official subreddit, follow us on Twitter, or give us a like on our Facebook page. You can follow TGRIP on Twitter @Dennisthatsit, find his other work on Unwinnable.com and AniTAY, and his Gamertag on Xbox Live is “Aventador SVJ”.