Ask John: Is Edited Anime on American TV a Good Thing?
Why do so many anime fans cry and complain so much concerning the selective editing of anime when it’s broadcast? You’d think the networks and everybody involved was committing a capital crime. Don’t these people realize they should just buy the DVDs and stop complaining? Broadcasting anime is increasing awareness and the number of anime fans, so shouldn’t fans be thankful anime is available on TV at all?
The broadcast of imported Japanese animation on American television is, in my personal opinion, a mixed blessing. I’m occasionally asked if anime is edited for Japanese television broadcast. For the most part, it’s not because anime broadcast on Japanese television was made for TV broadcast, so content that couldn’t be aired on Japanese television simply wasn’t animated in the first place, or alternate TV broadcast and home video versions were created in the first place, eliminating the need for censoring for broadcast. Since America is importing already completed animation made to meet the television broadcast standards of a foreign country, the luxury of broadcasting anime unaltered isn’t always an option in America. What America and particularly American anime fans get, then, is a compromise.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the broadcast of anime on American television increases awareness of Japanese animation. What can be argued over is whether or not the American broadcast of anime increases understanding of Japanese animation. The fact that Synch Point has had to rush FLCL back into DVD replication because the Cartoon Network broadcast of the show has generated an unanticipated demand for the DVDs that outpaces the number of FLCL DVDs currently in print proves that TV broadcast certainly increases demand for anime. And if we look further back in time, the American broadcast of Robotech was single-handedly responsible for creating an entire generation of American anime fans. But the question is whether or not the edited broadcast of anime on American TV is creating demand for Japanese anime, or increased expectations of Americanized anime. In the 1970s and 1980s, anime was edited and dubbed for American TV because that’s the only way it could possibly air on American television. However, much time has passed and the anime industry in America has evolved while the American television broadcast of anime largely has not evolved at all. The International Channel has proven, in its limited exposure, that airing totally uncut, subtitled, and even totally unaltered and untranslated anime on American television is possible. Yet the Anime Network, the self-promoted first American anime only “channel” still offers no Japanese language anime.
Many fans simply argue that as long as uncut, bilingual anime is released to domestic DVD, what happens to anime on American television is irrelevant. Unfortunately, this may be a narrow-minded and short-sighted perspective. Beside the fact that dubbing and editing anime for American television is a corruption of its original artistic integrity, dubbed and especially edited anime on American television may do as much to propagate itself as promote interest in anime. By continuing to create and support alternate home video and TV versions of anime like Card Captor Sakura and St. Seiya American anime fans and the American anime industry is at least partially continuing to feed and nurture a demand for dumbed down and censored anime. Continuing to air edited anime on American television doesn’t promote the TV broadcast of unedited anime; it simply promotes the broadcast of still more edited anime. We’ve already seen this theory proven by the domestic release of Initial D, which has been heavily altered and Americanized for possible American TV release. The unique Japanese concept of “enjo kosai” has been edited out. The carefully sampled authentic car sounds chosen by the original Japanese animators have been removed and replaced with more appealing and marketable sound effects. The fact that a theoretically unaltered domestic version of Initial D exists does not excuse extensive alteration of Japanese art by American businessmen. And this heavily altered version of Initial D only exists because there’s interest in an American TV friendly version of the show.
Rather than demanding unaltered anime on American television, many American fans either make do with censored TV broadcasts or disregard censored TV broadcasts by demanding only uncut DVDs. Personally, I suspect that many fans assume that the fact anime is now on American television will eventually lead to uncut, unaltered anime on American television. But such an assumption has very little weight. The continued broadcast of censored anime, I think, conditions viewers to just expect more censored anime. The American television industry works, very much, on a policy of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If censored, edited anime on America television turns a profit, what motivation is there for television networks to air unedited anime? By extension, the continued release of TV edited anime in America may have more of an impact on die-hard American anime fandom than fans realize. Already, as noted above, we’ve seen the influence of edited American TV anime have a massive impact on the DVD release of Initial D. As I also mentioned earlier, edited anime in America makes more viewers aware that anime exists, but it may also create generations of fans familiar only with and in search of more Americanized anime. The old advice goes, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” But in this case, it’s unwise not to ascertain that the gift horse isn’t carrying the plague. Certainly fans should be thankful that more anime than ever before is now on American TV, and all this anime on American TV is inducting more new fans into awareness of anime all the time, but we have to question whether or not anime edited to American TV standards is really anime any longer.
The fight is not yet won. The demands of anime fans have gotten anime onto American television, but it’ll take still more voices to let TV networks know that we want uncut, unaltered anime on American television. Anime on American TV is certainly something to be grateful for, but fans shouldn’t be totally satisfied until their demands and desires are totally fulfilled.