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Editing Anime: Why all anime fans should be concerned
By Jim Lazar
One simple word, but a word that speaks volumes. Some accept it, some curse it, some profit by it. It can be simple and innocuous as calling a rice cake a cookie to extreme and detestable as cutting large portions of video out and changing the dialog to make the end result unrecognizable when compared to the original.
So what exactly is editing anyway? In my opinion, editing anime means any alterations done to the original product as it was released in Japan.
Of course, from that viewpoint the only way to get 100% unedited anime is to buy the original Japanese import. Unfortunately, that is very costly and does not provide the English translation that many American anime fans need to fully enjoy the story. And even the Japanese imports may not be 100% unedited from their first incarnations. I've lost count of all the different versions of the Evangelion movies and other minor and major changes some anime shows sometimes go through over the course of various releases. For instance, the Japanese LDs of the Vision of Escaflowne had a little extra footage that was trimmed from the TV series to allow it to run in time allotted. A very minor difference, but still a change.
Blurring the matter further is the fact that the Japanese makers will occasionally edit together TV series or OVA's to form movies or 'best collections'. Now, if an American anime company buys the rights to one of these 'edited versions' and releases it unchanged in America, that isn't technically editing of the original anime (since it was released in Japan in that form), but the American company would be wise to release the original uncut material instead of the Japanese edited version (or both, if they really want to reach as many customers as possible). When in doubt, release the unedited version. Very few anime fan (the 'customers') are going to argue if a show is left unedited, but the reverse is not true.
But I digress. The purpose of this article is to discuss editing done when anime is brought to America and released in subbed and dubbed formats.
Now, some may argue that just the act of adding an English dub to replace the Japanese dub is editing. Although an English sub may be more accurate to the original dialog in most cases, if an English dub follows the English sub script for the most part and only makes the changes necessary to match mouth moments and make the spoken dialog seem more natural it can be considered unedited.
Unfortunately, all too often, US anime companies feel the need to change the English dub to reach a broader audience. They are under the mistaken impression that the most die-hard anime fans only watch English subs. This is not always the case. So the changing of names, cultural references, and other elements of the dialog is editing, IMO. While some
changes to the dialog to make jokes understandable in English (puns are especially hard to translate) is understandable, major changes and adding ad-lib dialog to the English dub is not. The Battle Athlete OVA English dubs, for instance, added some dialog that was not present in the original Japanese version. Playing fast and loose with the dialog of an
English dub is a form of editing.
Other aspects of the audio track should always be left as is. There is no reason to replace the music, sound effects, and other audio components in an English dub. Replacing these components is a form of editing. Tekken is one recent example. For the English dub the original music score was completely replaced by ADV.
If a song is sung by an on screen character, it usually needs to be translated into English for the character to sing (Key: The Metal Idol is an example of doing this right, the Ranma 1/2 OVA 'A Tendo Family Christmas Scramble' is an example of what not to do). Other songs (for the opening and closing credits, for instance) should either be left
un-translated or if a company feels they must translate the song for the English dub, then they should include the original Japanese songs as an 'extra'.
Some dialog changes are common in adult or hentai titles to 'age' 16-18 year olds to be 19 years old in order to avoid any, shall we say, 'legal entanglements'. Although I hate editing of any kind, this is probably a necessary evil we have to live with to get adult tiles released in America. Since, for the most part, it usually doesn't change the story or plot I can live with it.
The worst kind of editing that can be done to the sub or dub script is to change dialog to the point the original plot or story is lost or altered. Anime fans do not buy anime to hear the story that the American translator/writer wants to tell, they want to hear the story that the original Japanese creator wanted to tell. With all due respect to the people who translate and write the scripts for American released anime, if they want to make an original story they shouldn't be translating original stories by someone else; they should write their own stories. And yes I know as a fanfiction writer, this is a little presumptuous of myself, but then I'm not translating a commercial product and reselling it to an audience that is expecting an accurate translation.
Now the video. Video edits and changes are the most noticeable 'edits' done to anime when it is released in America.
One of the most common video edits is to remove openings (OPs), eye catches (those short segments between commercial breaks), endings (EDs) and previews in order to make a 'movie' or 'uninterrupted viewing experience'. Recent examples are Battle Athlete's Victory, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Kite, but unfortunately this practice is very widespread. Initially, Pioneer was going to remove the OPS and EDS from Fushigi Yuugi , but fortunately they listened to fan complaints and left FY intact.
First, calling a TV series or OVA series that has been edited together a 'movie' is deceptive (whoever said marketing people were always honest?) and it also implies a level of quality for the animation that may or may not be true. Granted, not all of these 'combined' episode 'movies' are called movies or motion pictures in the advertising or on the box, but
some are misrepresented to the consumers as being 'movies' when they are not.
There are three general sources for anime: TV series, OVA's, and movies. Anime fans have certain expectations about what the animation quality of a particular show will be based on the way it was originally meant to be released. TV series are generally the lower quality of the three, since they have more animation to produce with a lower budget and in less time than an OVA or movie. OVA's are the next rung on the ladder with movies being at the top. Now, there are exceptions to this 'ladder' of animation quality (I've seen some anime movies that were extremely poor video quality and TV series that were gorgeous), but for the most part something that was made as a movie will have higher animation quality than a OVA or TV series episode made around the same time.
Herein lies the problem, combining a TV series or OVA series into a seamless product and then calling it a 'movie' is misrepresenting what it is and giving potential buyers expectations of animation quality that may or may not be true of the final edited version.
In some cases these edits that remove OPS, EDs, and previews from between episodes also add another problem: spoilers. Some of these tapes/discs combine the previews for all the episodes on the NEXT tape/disc at the end of the current tape/disc. Not only does this mean that sometimes previews from the first tape/disc are missing and are never seen by the American viewer, but it also means that potential spoilers can be found in the previews for episodes that you have yet to see. For instance: In the preview of episode 5 a major character is near death and the other characters all are worried. The preview of episode 6 shows the other characters grieving over the death of the character. If shown directly
after the episode 5 preview and before anyone could have seen episode 5, then the viewer will know that the character dies in episode 5 and his/her viewing experience is spoiled.
So removing the OPs and EDs changes the anime from the original way it was intended to be seen: as an episodic series. It also introduces the possibility of spoilers if the previews are combined. In the age of DVDs where these items can be skipped by those wishing to skip them as easily as pressing the chapter skip button (if they are setup as separate chapters, which they should be), there is no excuse for companies to remove them from the video.
Another common way to edit anime is to replace titles and credits with English equivalents. This is mostly a matter of personal taste to the viewer, but as long as it doesn't obscure any animation used for the OPs and EDs it is usually acceptable. Each company tends to handle this differently. Some use the original animation without the titles/credits
and put English titles/credits over them. Others leave the original titles with the Japanese characters alone and then have a separate credit scroll at the end of the video. In some cases they might add in a different English logo for the original version.
In the end, if you can see the original animation under whatever they do, it's acceptable and isn't really editing. Although, I'm sure some people who like to see the original Kanji credits (even if they can't read them) will disagree with me. To each his or her own.
Although it doesn't change the actual video or audio, changing the order of episodes from the original order they were originally aired/released in is also a form of editing. Viz completely reordered the second season of Ranma 1/2 for their video releases (and I still have no idea why). They also occasionally shift stories to fill the last tape of each of their Ranma 'seasons' (a season 4 episode was pulled forward to fill the last Hard Battle/season 3 tape and a season 5 episode was pulled forward to fill a Outta Control/season 4 tape). This also sometimes leads to them changing the OPs and EDs for the episodes (not just removing them, but putting a different OP and ED on the episode than it originally aired with).
And now we come to the worse form of editing: Editing for content. This can be editing it for running time (although for a video release, this is not an acceptable excuse), to remove nudity (again for a video release, this is no excuse), change the story to be acceptable to a broader audience, or to even go so far as turn a adult film into a general release title that is supposedly appropriate for all viewers.
Basically, anything that changes the video/story from the original creator's intent is unacceptable. Here are some of the more prominent examples (unfortunately the list is much longer than space here allows me to list):
Robotech was actually edited together from three entirely separate and unrelated series: Super Dimension Fortress: Macross, Super Dimension Calvary: Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Scenes were removed, dialog changed (especially from the latter two series), and events inserted into the dialog that bore no resemblance to the original
series. Many fans consider Robotech to be so changed from the original Macross series, that you can't even consider them the same.
The first group of Dragonball Z TV shows were heavily edited for content and changed certain references. For instance, no one ever died, they just slipped into a nearby dimension for a 'time out' from the action. Fortunately for DBZ fans, the newer DBZ episodes are being done unedited and a DVD release appears to be forthcoming. Chalk one win up in the
ongoing quest to keep anime unedited.
Sailor moon had various video and dialog changes to make it more acceptable to an American TV audience. In addition to name changes, certain dialog that DIC felt would be objectionable was changed. Various scenes were changed or removed and even whole episodes were skipped due to content. Even the transformation sequences were changed to remove certain female specific lines. Contrary to what some people believe, the original Japanese transformation sequences were not nude either, but DIC did remove the inner lines of those curves and intensified the sparkly effect (at least my comparisons seem to show this).
Pokemon had various changes to the dialog (names, Japanese cultural references, food items), OPS and EDs were changed, electric attacks were toned down to avoid the seizure effect (this is, of course, understandable-no one wants to cause seizures in their customers... it reduces the repeat business after all), and even whole episodes were skipped.
Kite was heavily edited to remove all the scenes containing sexual situations. Only a single nude scene was left in. Although originally said to be done to remove what Media Blasters called 'child pornography' it later became apparent that only around 30 seconds of the 6-7 minutes removed contained scenes with the young (11-14) Sawa in sexual situations (which did include graphic scenes of intercourse).
The other scenes all contained characters who were visibly adults in body build and were apparently removed for the sole purpose of selling Kite to the general market where it was never intended to be sold. Kite was always intended to be seen by adults only, so one has to wonder why Media Blasters licensed it if they weren't going to release it to it's intended
Unfortunately, removing those scenes altered and changed the story to the point that, in my opinion, Sawa's motivations at the end were completely altered and obscured in the edited version. Some people hear 'they removed all the scenes involving sexual situations' and assume that scenes involving sex couldn't have anything to do with the story or plot. This is not always the case. Although many adult anime titles (and most American ones, for that matter) are light on (or completely devoid of) plot and story, there are some very good and thought provoking adult anime titles. Kite was one of them before Mediablasters edited it to make a general release only title.
All things considered, this was one of the most deplorable acts of anime editing I have ever seen.
CPM' s recent Midnight Panther was released in both an edited version and an unedited version. Some of ADV's adult titles were released as edited 'general release' titles, but were also usually released as unedited Softcel releases so the buyer could make the choice.
That is what this is all about: Choice. But who should have that choice?
If the companies releasing the anime in America are the ones making the choice and chose to change the video/audio then they are doing a disservice to their customers and all anime fans in general. If they alter the original creator's work for whatever reason, they are changing what could be a beautiful piece of animation and storytelling. And who is to say if it would be better or worse than the original? In the end, only keeping something as close to the original form as possible allows anyone to say that they saw what the creator of an anime show intended to depict in that show.
If a company feels they need to change a particular story to make back their investment on a particular title and make a profit, so be it. But only if they give their customers the choice of seeing the story as it was originally intended by releasing the title in an unedited version is this acceptable. At the very least, a VHS English sub version, but an unedited English dub will extend the number of potential customers even further. Lest we forget the home video medium of the next millennium, an unedited DVD release is desirable as well and maybe even more important than a unedited VHS release. Since the initial adopters of DVD are the fans most likely to desire their anime as close to the original with as high of video/audio quality as possible, releasing a poor quality or edited DVD is sure to reduce the chances of good sales for a DVD.
In fact, DVD technology allows anime producers to provide multiple versions of the same story on a single disc. This would help avoid the problem of releasing multiple versions of the same title on VHS (which would cause problems with retailers). Using branching, a disc can be programmed to skip OPs, EDs, and previews by a menu selection. It can also branch past scenes unsuitable for younger viewers (CPM' s upcoming Midnight Panther DVD will use the parental lockout feature to accomplish this).
So why should all anime fans be concerned about the editing of anime? If they haven't edited the anime you watch currently, it's only a matter of time before something you do want to see is edited by some company that puts profit above the original creator's story and artwork.
It's about choice. The choice between unedited and edited anime. My choice is unedited. Your choice may be different and that's okay. But if the companies make the choice... then they remove the choice from their customer's hands.
Or do they? Given a choice between an edited version on DVD and an unedited version of another title on DVD, I'll take the unedited title even if I want to see the edited title more. And that's how customers vote: With their purchases. Petitions, E-mails, and correspondence with companies can help change their minds about making unwanted changes
before a title is released (or get them to release an unedited version after the initial release), but the sales of a title are their bottom line. If an edited video sells, they'll keep hacking away at other titles.
So vote with your purchases and let the companies know WHY you are not buying their edited titles with a polite e-mail or letter.
Money talks. So let's start talking out there.