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Improper Censorship in Shoujo Anime
By Justin Strauss
The subject of censorship and editing in anime is perhaps the most commonly discussed topic in the industry. This applies even more so to almost every complaint and angry editorial you'll ever hear. However, there's something going on in the anime world lately that makes me wanna beat that dead horse of a topic just one more time. It is, in fact, the handling of a Shoujo anime in translation to an American dub. In fact, the debate over Card Captor Sakura has been raging even more so lately than ever before. It is mostly based off the confessions of the American development team, and how they have "changed" the series for American TV audiences. However, with the debut on Kids WB still a week away, I won't preach too rigidly without having seen it myself. Either way, this situation is a familiar one while still having some appeal as a unique case.
Why is it "unique" then? Truthfully, the situation in this show is in fact a complete opposite one to that which appeared in the last Shoujo megahit to be dubbed in North America... Sailor Moon. The company DiC, who handled the Sailor Moon dub until this year, has admitted to their target approach in countless interviews. They toned down, censored, cut, and edited countless parts of the show (to the extent that it was an extensive effort to alter it). And why? Well, we could just blame them and blindly point insults and hatred towards the company itself. But why? The solid fact of the situation is... that they were aiming the show at a young audience. And no matter how many of the diehard anime fans want the original and uncut show, they won't get it; when there's a "young target demographic."
Now of course we will all say that, "True anime fans don't like that kind of change in the show," or, "We are the masses, why not appeal to us?" No matter what kinda excuse we may have, we're wrong. Why? Well, very simply put, DiC can make much more money by appealing to the multiple millions of young females and other children who may get a chance to watch Sailor Moon after school... or on weekday mornings. And don't get me wrong, I think that America is long due for a pop series that can glorify the "young female hero." We've seen enough spiky-haired young men who save the princess or the cutesy female from the evil villain. I am a confessed Shoujo fan, and Sailor Moon is, in fact, my favorite anime series of all my life. Why? Well, I have seen the entire Japanese run of episodes (200 of them) as well as every special and musical CD that was ever released in Japan for it. And the American show, I must say, loses the fun and flavor that the originals had. The romance and dedication of the original show shines brightly, despite any complaints of the ever-so-common "monster of the day" term. So I definitely take personal offense when the early dubs are slaughtered.
Despite my obvious bias towards the original episodes, I can't truthfully say that the American dub was terrible. It was, in fact, a large endeavor for DiC. And besides, to be truthful, most of the young school kids that they aimed the dub at... are not gonna notice if they cut out a bunch of slaps and comedic verses from the show. But then again, maybe they aren't giving our children enough credit, eh? Seriously, this author has conversed with children of age nine who actually complain of how "childish" they view the American dub to be. And though it makes sense to aim the show at children, and to impress girls, they seem to have went a bit too far. For one thing, they spent enough money to replace the entire audio track from the show when recording the American audio. What does this mean? It means that they not only recorded the voice actors' lines for the dialogue, but they also eliminated all of the beautiful composed music from the original import audio track (and replaced it with a few small and repetitive American samples). Did they think this would be too hard to keep in, or too costly? Or did they think that young children are not smart enough to appreciate fine music, and that they'd be pleased with just a man named Bob playing keyboard samples?
So you may be asking, "Why did they do that?" I seriously can't answer it, to this day. I've heard excuses, but none of them stick with me. In fact, the dubbing company for the newly aired "Sailor Moon S" season (Cwi) has proved that they can easily keep the original Japanese Background Music and still dub over it
properly. And in doing so, they have attracted a countless number of alienated fans BACK to the dubs. It's amazing how just the music alone can change people. But why not? The original BGM selection was beautiful, inspired, and full of orchestrated music from violins to pianos to harpsichords. The old American BGM, on the other hand, is just a few remixed selections of the butchered English opening song.
To go back to Card Captor, however, let's discuss why their premise is so unique and different than Sailor Moon's. In recent years, the anime companies in America have realized (more than ever) that the core part of their viewing audience is mainly comprised of boys (especially among "kids" out there). And why not? With the success of shows like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing, they know that "those boys like their action." And, because of this ideology, they have announced a few "changes" in the production of Card Captor Sakura. First of all, the name "Sakura" was removed from the title. And apparently, they are intending to emphasize the importance of the main male character from the series (to make it sort of a boy/girl team of heroes). So they are even going as far as to rewrite, redraw, or rearrange parts of the show in order to make it more "male friendly."
They claim that they wish not to "alienate the male audience, especially since they are the major part of our viewership." But whenever there's a show that's predominantly female-based (which is what Card Captor originally is... a Shoujo anime) it will get put on the back burner in place of another action series. In fact,
almost every hit animated series on television appeals more to men than anyone else. But I ask them this, "How will these Shoujo programs ever become popular, if we aren't even allowed to air them in prime slots?" And the act of "dumbing them down" like they did with Sailor Moon is not going to help give Shoujos a good reputation. They make Sailor Moon too childish to attract adult males, and they make Card Captor too action-packed to appeal to the powerful young women who wanna SEE a strong female hero (and not just a bunch of silly action scenes and monster fights that have been played to death already).
But then again, perhaps we (as the viewers) are the guilty party. Why? Well, let's look at this fairly. When people respond to Dragonball Z so well (despite the countless arguments of its "unbearable censorship") and agree to go and buy the horridly ugly toys that they release, they are just telling the companies to, "Please
make more fighting shows, and make more shoddy merchandise for us to buy... because then you will make a bigger profit off of us." And besides, we could always analyze the content that was cut from Sailor Moon. They cut out countless instances of slaps, kicks, and short and hardly-noticeable showings of underwear (what do you expect when people wear skirts, jeez). With these out, parts of the show seemed very incoherent. And yet, parental testing groups said that this was appropriate to cut out. They also complained about when the "mouth movement" of the characters does not match the American voice track. On the flipside, the diehard fans seem to hate it when companies will purposely rewrite dialogue just so that it will "fit the mouths" better. It's hard to please everyone when you're an anime company.
They also made some really gritty decisions, such as changing one of the male characters from season 1 into a female in the dubs (because he was the boyfriend of the other male villain). This happened, despite the fact that all they ever did was "romantically stare at each other." They did nothing vulgar or strange, and never would. Yet, how can we deny that every religious group in the country would be on the phones in a SECOND to bash DiC if they decided to leave a homosexual couple in the show? I'm not trying to nag the religious groups, but I am making an informed majority statement based on their past actions towards shows (for example: they have actually showed concern over how they did not wish for the seemingly romantic relationship between two females in season 3 to air in America... before they even confirmed an American dub of that season).
The above matters are touchy subjects indeed. We've established that the show is not as real or mature without the slight violence or romanticism. But how many of us can say that DiC would be making a smart business decision by leaving this stuff in. They would have suffered a fate of possible suing and other things that tend to come up whenever people need a scapegoat to blame for society's problems. They love to look towards the television and gaming industries, and they always have. And worse yet, the Americans of the early 1990's (as a majority) viewed anime as a "violent and adult world that no child should be exposed to." Despite how this is NOT true, it is how anime was presented to us for a while, with titles like Akira and other killer Shonen things being stressed as "examples" of what anime is. If only they had exposed us to more Shoujo anime, maybe we wouldn't have that problem, eh? ^_^
There is yet another problem from Sailor Moon that is also coming to the Card Captor Sakura dubs. It is, sadly, the deletion of "Japanese cultural content" from the scenes. In the earlier episodes of Sailor Moon, they cut out any and all frames that showed Japanese text. Signs, posters, it didn't matter. They wanted to leave the impression that the show took place in America and not Japan! Are they insane? Americans don't wear Sailor "fuku" (clothing) to school anyways, jeez. But even worse, sometimes the American team would put English signs in over the original Japanese visuals from the show (like at the school or store signs). And aside from that, they once said in an interview that, "American children will not react well to Japanese culture, so we should make them think that it is an American setting in Sailor Moon." If this is not racial inequity, I dunno what is. And sadly enough, this same thing is being done to the release of Card Captors for America. Even though there have been countless shows in the past year (Digimon, Sailor Moon, Dragonball, etc) which have made sure NOT to edit or cut the Japanese text from their shows... Card Captor still wants to do it. They wanna be like Pokemon.
Either way, there are good things to be said about the old Sailor Moon dubs. Despite how we hear complaints of, "The voice actors in America don't sound like the original voices," can we really see this as a valid complaint? How many American women can actually achieve the high-pitched and adorably cute voice that
Usagi-chan (aka "Serena") has in the Japanese originals? DiC did what they thought they had to do, which is to "find an American equivalent"... which became the ditzy valley girl type image we know today (and the image that the new dubbing company has carried over to their new voice actress). And to be truthful, I
personally think that the American voice actors in Sailor Moon did a phenomenal job! Seriously, they read their lines with realism and quality almost all the time. We take this for granted when we watch "live" TV shows, but it is NOT easy to come by in the anime world. There are countless American dubs of series that have suffered from voice actors who read lines like robots, devoid of emotion or substance. We should take joy in the fact that the Sailor Moon VA's actually sounded like... real people (whether or not they were the kinda person you wanted to hear).
Unfortunately, despite the difference of target audience in the two shows, it seems that Card Captor Sakura will suffer the same types of cuts, missing episodes, censorship, and edited scenes that Sailor Moon suffered from. Heck, we have to draw the line when: they actually DRAW in a seatbelt over a character's chest when
they rode in a car (a true Sailor Moon example from the American dub) so that "kids won't think it is okay to ride without belts." Yeah, it was really worth a 10 second edit for that (*sarcasm*). Yes, the took the time to draw a seatbelt over a character for just a few seconds of footage. It's really tough what to say about this all.
So what do I demand out of this rant? My demand is that they not cut out parts of the show for their Japanese content, first of all. Let's not deny when a show takes place in Japan, and be smart like Digimon was by their 30th episode. Why should we "Americanize" a show when we all know where it comes from? Japan is a beautiful and eclectic country that has given us these gems of animation to enjoy. We should not pay the creators back with just disrespect. The same goes for cutting out bits of dialogue to make the jokes sound more American. If the original writers had a joke in mind, do not butcher it. Let it be, as the plot was written for a reason.
And let's not censor out any and all kicks and punches we find, okay? We see tons of them on Power Rangers, we even see people die on that show. And yet, we can't see Sailor Moon SLAP Sailor Mars one time... nor can the characters in Dragonball Z "die." Instead, they just "go to another dimension." This little incoherent change was the biggest complaint of DBZ fans. In fact, Funimation admitted to getting more hate mail over that small point (in one week) than they got positive mail in the same week (at various points). That is why they changed it, because we refused to put up with it. They have showed us some innocent punches in Digimon, Gundam Wing, and other shows... and our children have not been hurt because of it.
As far as the homosexuality thing goes, it's too deep a subject to have an exact answer. Any fan of the original Sailor Moon will express their love for the characters of Michiru and Haruka-san from Sailor Moon S. They are seen as some of the most romantic and mature characters in the world. And yet, it is uncertain whether the American audience (as a whole) will allow two women to have any sort of close relationship on a regular basis (even if it is just a hug or kiss on the cheek... which is all they ever could be seen doing anyhow. There was no insisting of any sexual related matters anyhow). The same goes for Zoicite, who was only seen to "adore" his love in Kunzite (aka Malachite). There's no reason for deletion of these ideas, in my mind. People love who they do out of sincerity, and anyone who tries to abash their right to love someone... is as evil as they get (gomen, I don't wanna start a whole 'nother rant). That is all I'll say.
And all in all, give our kids more credit. They are not going to become bad people if they see a few punches or kicks. They will not be turned away if they see a sign written in Japanese. Maybe they'll LIKE the language, and want to learn more about it (and diversity in learning is GOOD, right?) And stop shoving Dragonball down our throat; give us some more Shoujo anime. Men and women alike have been shown to adore shows like Sailor Moon and Sakura in Japan. We need to have some strong females on our shows, because otherwise we're just feeding into the age old society roles that cause us torment in the first place. Despite the insistence on romance and love, series like Sailor Moon also emphasize a strong and devoted cast of characters... who are intriguing to say the least. And I still have a problem thinking that big businesses spent millions of dollars to air shows like "The Pauly Shore Show" that died in 4 weeks, while they refuse to spend that money to hire a good team to faithfully develop an anime series that has proven to be a hit.
So now it's your turn. If you survived the rant, let me know what you think! We can only come up with valid and informed answers if we work together and debate the important facts. Send your responses, arguments, additions, or elsewise to the address below. In specific, for this week, I beg the following questions as "examples," though you may send in any question you want:
1.) Dubbing: can it be done well enough to do the series justice?
2.) The punches and kicks, in or out?
3.) Aim the show at kids to make money, or aim it at fans to make reputation?
4.) Homosexuality in anime, will it work with paranoid American parents?
5.) Translate the Japanese signs, or go for authenticity?
6.) Is the changing of a character's name ever a good thing?