Ask John: Is Bandai the New Streamline Pictures?

Question:
Is Bandai the new Streamline Pictures? Lately Bandai has been engaging in many of the practices that people hated Streamline for such as, name changes, bad dubs, and the final insult, Americanization, as was displayed in last week’s episode of G Gundam where they replaced the song “In My Dreams” with “America the Beautiful.” I could list more examples but I’m sure you already have an opinion on this matter.

Answer:
I can’t address the alterations made to G-Gundam in particular because I haven’t seen these changes myself. As an obsessive purist, I can’t bring myself to watch any anime broadcast on the Cartoon Network, and as only a marginal Gundam fan, I consider G-Gundam the plague of the Gundam franchise. I think I can, though, address the speculation that Bandai may be compared to Streamline Pictures. In fact, I could actually broaden this accusation to include many of today’s most prolific domestic anime distributors. But I won’t lay blame entirely on domestic distributors, as I think the “streamlining” of anime for the American market has as much to do with American anime fans as it does with American anime distributors.

I’ve always considered Streamline’s name ironic. To streamline is to smooth out or pare down something to make it more aerodynamic, in essence, to edit something to a more easily acceptable form. Streamline was notorious for doing this by changing names, re-writing dialogue, removing footage, and changing music in the anime that it brought to America. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Streamline’s bastardization of anime was met with fierce resistance from die-hard fans and supporters of the Japanese art from known as anime. However, over the years, much of this crusading among fans has been forgotten. I would even go so far as to say that complacency has largely subdued the vocal and critical voice of traditional American anime fandom over the past decade. For all the criticism levied at Streamline, the company largely did what it had to do in order to get imported Japanese animation into the American market. At that time, America simply was not prepared to accept and embrace foreign cartoons with the same respect given to foreign art films. Now, I believe that American culture has matured enough to accept foreign animation in its original form, but I believe that anime fans themselves have lost sight of their traditional goal of earning the same respect for the cultural and artistic integrity of anime that’s given to imported foreign art films in America. I believe that it’s no longer necessary to heavily alter, edit and Americanize anime in order for it to be accepted in America; however, American fans are no longer defend the artistic credibility of anime itself. Contemporary anime fans prioritize getting anime the way they personally want it, or prioritize getting anime for free on American television. And as the old adage goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Perhaps the current state of anime in America was always an inevitable condition that many fans just never saw coming. In hindsight, the influence of the American obsession with collecting and hoarding may have posed an insurmountable obstacle for the unqualified success of authentic anime in America. As demand for anime in America increased, and especially as VHS gave way to DVD and a virtually unavoidable zeitgeist of completist collecting mania swept through American fandom, American fans shifted their ideological goal of “totally unedited anime in America” to “unedited anime in America for me.” Especially as DVD introduced the technological possibility of both Americanized and purist versions on a single silver disc, American fans starved for anime became satisfied with the opportunity to easily obtain unedited anime. The “gotta catch ‘um all” mantra of Pokemon became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Americans forgot their traditional goal of protecting the cultural and artistic integrity of Japanese animation, and instead concentrated on protecting their own individual right to unedited anime. In simple terms, the focus shifted from anime itself to anime collectors. While at one time Americanized anime was a necessary evil, but evil none-the-less, contemporary anime fans have seemingly became satisfied with edited, Americanized anime on TV and in movie theaters as long as an unaltered version is available on home video. While in years past die-hard fans considered edited anime simply unacceptable under any circumstances, contemporary fans support a belief that edited anime is okay as long as there’s also an unedited version. Domestic anime distributors including Bandai, Pioneer and Viz got their anime onto American television in edited form, and American fans were overjoyed. Even if the anime on TV was edited and censored and Americanized, it’s still free and easily available, and those who want to see it the way its creators intended it to be seen can buy the DVDs. Domestic releasing companies, spurred by this tacit support from anime fans, have simply given fans more of what they seemingly want.

Virtually any alteration or bastardization of anime for the American market is now acceptable as long as an unaltered version is also released. The census opinion seems to be that it’s acceptable for Bandai and Viz to allow the Cartoon Network to alter names and change music in G-Gundam and Inuyasha and Cowboy Bebop because an uncut version is also available on home video. TOKYOPOP can change names and announce their plans to change music in Initial D with the promise that an unaltered version will also be released because such Americanization is “necessary” to get the show onto American television. With the seeming approval of fans, AD Vision seeks to “improve” upon the creation of the original Japanese artists by adding their own American produced parody TV commercials and “Menchi recipes” into Excel Saga DVDs, in effect turning what the original Japanese creators intended to be a simple running gag into a marquee highlight for the American version.

I’ll be the first to admit that my speculation is subjective and written from the viewpoint of a fringe provocateur. My goal is to encourage anime fans to think about anime, and what they want from American anime distribution companies. It becomes increasingly difficult to lay blame entirely on domestic anime translating companies for editing and altering anime, and adding elements like “jiggle counters” and “pop-up vid notes”- in effect eliminating the necessity for viewers to educate themselves about anime and “dumbing down” American versions by doing the work for viewers instead of relying on viewers’ intelligence to figure out jokes on their own. (I’m sure there will be criticism of this prior statement, but I firmly believe that the fun of anime in-jokes lies in discovering them on your own and learning more about anime and Japanese culture in order to understand in-jokes and cultural references, not in having someone else explain them to you.)- because American fans continue to support these alterations. As long as American fans continue to support edited anime, companies like Bandai and the Cartoon Network that respond to consumer demand will continue to streamline and Americanize and edit anime. As long as the majority of American fans and viewers continue to validate easy accessibility of edited anime on American television over artistically and culturally authentic anime, companies will continue to prioritize Americanized anime. There are always alternatives to edited, censored, Americanized anime available to die-hard otaku, including importing untranslated, unaltered Japanese versions. But the alternatives are not cheap; however, no one ever claimed that anime was cheap. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied with streamlined, Americanized anime, don’t watch it; don’t buy it. Let companies know via e-mail and letters, and in person at convention appearances that you want to watch and buy only Japanese animation, the way its Japanese creators intended it to be seen. Naysayers will argue that boycotting anime on American television will only result in anime being removed from American television altogether. But I believe that the American market is influenced by consumer demand. Fan demand for anime is what brought anime to America in the first place, and it can be what sees anime released in America only in artistically unaltered forms. There are and always will be American companies that strive to support and import artistically and culturally unaltered anime. By supporting these companies exclusively, other distributors will take notice and strive to emulate them. If you want only unedited anime, and aren’t willing to settle for anything less, make sure that companies including Bandai and Pioneer and AD Vision and Viz and the Cartoon Network know that.

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