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Notes from the coffee mill...

October 2000

Well, well, well. And here it is into October already. One of the things which has undoubtedly caught a lot of people's attention is the increasing prevalence of Japanese anime in the Fall lineup for kids and youth TV. Teletoon has picked up Cardcaptors which started on Aug. 23 and YTV started airing Vision of Escaflowne and Gundam Wing on Sept 4. Granted those in the USA have already been enjoying Cardcaptors for several weeks and Escaflowne and Gundam Wing likewise have had a head start down there. Even so, more and more Japanese titles are making there way onto mainstream TV. So, why is it that despite this increase in mainstream exposure that anime otaku aren't exactly overwhelmed with joy?

Looking at the treatment that anime gets from broadcasting corporations, very seldom do we see anime get brought over to the North American market in what can be considered a truly "pure" or unadultered form. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean that it never happens; it's just rare. However, it's no real surprise that edits need to happen. Looking at Japanese TV, there are fewer commercial breaks than what happens on American TV meaning that timewise there are constraints. And that's before looking at any actual content in the shows.

Also, on a purely cultural standpoint, North American public opinion tends to be one of "cartoons are for kids" and therefore should not contain any material which is inappropriate for kids. In Japan, of course, this simply is not the case. Anime and manga are very prevalent in all aspects of the culture, and while some people may not openly read Shonen Sunday or Jump every week, there are many a business man who does just that. Looking at this difference in perception of the two media in the different countries, we therefore can understand that there will be material which is considered inappropriate for kids in anime and manga; be it sexual, violent, drug related, or what have you. All these and more are dealt with a lot more openly at all ages. Also, because of the relative racial homogeneity of Japan, we can also understand how portrayal of colored people, people of Caucasian descent etc., may not be particularly significant in anime whereas in multicultural nations, we are very aware of stepping on another culture's toes in the way we depict one another in the media.

So being quite practical about things, none of the shows in the fall lineup would be able to be shown on North American broadcast TV in its raw form. However what's been most striking this time around is the change in demographic target from that intended by the original program to the North American targeted viewer. How is it that Escaflowne, an anime program originally meant for teenagers (mid-teens) is suddenly being targeted for boys age 6+ by Fox Kids? The alterations required for such a drastic change in demographic target means that much of the material would therefore need to be changed. Not only do we need the cuts for blood and violence, but how many 6+ boys shows have a love story in them? Also, while the folks at Fox Kids may well have picked up the series after screening only the first four episodes of the series, does the background work into choosing appropriate titles stop there? Could they not have decided to change their target thus making their own lives easier and thus keeping the show and its original intent more intact?

Then there is Cardcaptors, originally meant to be a girl's show for mid-elementary aged kids, it is suddenly being aimed at again boys 6+. The only plus with Cardcaptors is that the age is still the same hence inappropriate content will be somewhat reduced. Looking back to the original article in the Calgary Herald about Nelvana's acquisition to the rights for Card Captor Sakura, they were clearly quite aware of the original demographic for the show, and yet they deliberately chose to change that focus. It begs the question as to why choose a "girl's show" if "girls don't watch TV" and "girls cartoons don't sell". However, if nothing is ever targeted to that specific audience, we end up in a Catch-22 situation. Mind you, at least with Cardcaptors, the series itself tends to stand on an episode by episode basis such that the actual order of showing isn't entirely important. It's just nice for continuity when seeing Sakura use a card. Watching Sakura use a card one week only to actually capture it the following week tends to leave viewers a touch confused. Moreover, with Sakura is the loss of or at least serious toning down of the interpersonal relationships between various characters and the underlying story of growing up. Was the toning down of all the relationships necessary and will the underlying storyline survive through the various edits? Time will tell depending on how Nelvana chooses to deal with the subjects as they come up again at later dates.

While anime otaku are not in the demographic being targeted, they are a vocal bunch. However, most broadcast companies probably pay little if any heed to them simply because they are not the primary target. Likewise, numbers-wise, they are in a definite minority when it comes to percentage of the total viewer audience; anime or otherwise. Many otaku are not impressed with the treatment of Cardcaptors nor Escaflowne on mainstream TV. After the treatment Gundam Wing got on Cartoon Network, otaku had been very hopeful that a new era was at hand; one where anime could be shown in a purer form than previous. After the early-mid-80s and the total rewrites various anime titles received, Gundam Wing suggested that anime could in fact be dubbed and shown on North American TV in near raw form to a high standard of quality. However, the more recent results of Escaflowne and Cardcaptors begs the issue. Suddenly, once again, we are instead thrown back into a stage of heavy editing and rewriting for content and selling purposes. The only promising point is that for lovers of the original series, the subtitled versions are promised to be released. However, for the industry as a whole, it takes yet another step back from the stronger visibility which had been suggested and the more open approach to once again having to re-write, re-edit and completely change stories again.

ja ne,

Jane Nagatomi, 2000.09.28

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