FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
August 10, 2014 posted by Fred Patten

Americanizing Anime

voltron600

The news that Japanese animation is made in Japan will shock nobody today in 2014. But before the 1990s, many American TV executives were paranoid about viewers realizing that any programming was not “made in America”, especially animation for children. There could be parental complaints that children were being brainwashed with un-American ideas. (And there undoubtedly would have been. Look at all the post-1990s and current complaints about Disney’s release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away animated features; that they are “promoting witchcraft”.)

I have personally experienced this. In 1984, I was part of a production team led by producer/director William Winckler to turn Tatsunoko Productions’ 1975 Tekkaman, the Space Knight into an American TV cartoon show. When we were developing screen credits, I asked to be listed as Translator or Adapter. No, Winckler said; I would be the Writer, and none of the original Japanese credits would be shown. If any TV executive realized that Tekkaman was not an American production from start to finish, nobody would buy it. (Almost nobody bought it, anyway.)

Tekkaman, the Space Knight. (Begins after 24 seconds of black).

To some extent, Americanization is unavoidable. Most obviously, the Japanese dialogue has to be translated into English. But there are often Japanese cultural references that have to be removed. This goes back to Astro Boy in 1963. Astro Boy’s wise old mentor is Professor Ochanomizu, the head of the Ministry of Science. That is clearly Japanese/meaningless, so he was given an American funny name: Packadermus J. Elefun; a reference to his big nose.

prof-elefunHowever, Ochanomizu is not just a Japanese name; it is a reference. The Ochanomizu district of Tokyo is where Japan’s first Western-style university was established in 1875, and it is still known for the number of institutes of higher learning in its area. Calling the character Prof. Ochanomizu is a reference to his erudition. An equivalent American name might have been Prof. Harvard P. (for Princeton) Yale. But Packadermus J. Elefun is just a gag reference to his exaggerated schnozz.

The classiest job of Americanization, or at least of internationalization, may have been in the adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato by Claster Television in 1978-’79. Of course, the main job was accomplished by renaming the program as the generic Star Blazers. But this was the first anime TV series whose American adapter undertook to keep it in serial format, rather than re-editing so that the episodes could be shown in any order. When Jungle Emperor/Kimba the White Lion was produced in Japan in 1965, NBC insisted that it be written so each episode was independent of the others instead of the whole program being a single serialized story. More specifically, when the World War II Japanese battleship Yamato is resurrected in episode #2 of Star Blazers to be rebuilt as a spaceship, the new dialogue acknowledges that this is the Yamato; but quickly renames her the Argo after the earliest ship known in ancient Greek days, since she now represents all Earth.

The most unobvious job of Americanization may have been in the adaptation of Beast King GoLion into Voltron: Defender of the Universe. GoLion included 52 episodes, and it plus Voltron’s inclusion of the 52 episodes of Armored Fleet DaiRugger-XV left the American producer, World Events Productions, with enough flexibility that whole episodes could be left out if necessary – such as episode #20 of GoLion, “Goodbye Earth”, in which Earth is totally destroyed by the villains. World Events had employed the usual editorial practices to tone down violence, such as, when one of the GoLion team was killed, having the dialogue say, “He’s been wounded. He’ll have to spend some time in the hospital.” – and assume that viewers would not realize that he never came back from the hospital. But the GoLion episodes of Voltron proved to be so popular that World Events commissioned the Japanese producer, Tōei Dōga, to make twenty new episodes, in which a dead leading character does “return from the hospital”, after all; “proving” that he had not been really dead.

Voltron was so popular that World Events Productions tried to import another Japanese animated TV series and edit it into an American TV cartoon program. This was during the success of animated “space Westerns” like Filmation Associates’ BraveStarr and Gaylord Entertainment Company’s The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. So World Events picked Studio Pierrot’s semi-humorous Bismarck, the Star Musketeer (Sei Jūshi Bisumaruku, 51 episodes, October 7, 1984 to September 25, 1985) to do the same thing, as Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs.

Craig Miller of Wolfmill Entertainment, the Hollywood company subcontracted by World Events, has described the problems associated with the Americanizing. Bismarck features a very distinct international team of teenage heroes: a Japanese racecar driver, Shinji Hikari (red); a Scottish aristocratic champion fencer and horseman, Richard Lancelot (black); and an American cowboy, Bill Wilcox (blue). They are accompanied by a French 15-year-old mechanical prodigy, Marianne Louvre, who helps design the Bismarck giant robot. The team dress to emphasize their nationalities. Although the three are supposedly equals, it is obvious that the Japanese teen is the leader. He makes all the important decisions, and the others defer to him.

Firstly, World Entertainment wanted to make the American rather than the Japanese teen the leader of the team. Miller explained that this wouldn’t work. It was more than a matter of writing new dialogue. The “body language” of the animation made the Japanese teen the leader. The American was clearly a “best friend” follower rather than a leader. World Entertainment conceded that the cowboy was not leader material, but insisted that it was impossible for a Japanese to lead the team. Go with the Briton, then. He was an acceptable substitute, and was already a rather aloof aristocrat. Miller said that this meant writing a lot of dialogue where Shinji, renamed Fireball (for the Rising Sun on his costume), would step forward and say, “Saber Rider (the renamed Richard) wants me to tell you that …”, instead of Saber Rider speaking for himself.

Secondly, the setting is the New Frontier, pioneer planets that just happen to look like Old West towns, inhabited by Earth settlers. The galactic government is Cavalry Command, which builds the RAMROD spaceship/giant robot and commissions the Star Sheriffs. The Star Sheriffs’ mission is to patrol the New Frontier in the RAMROD and protect the Earth settlers from the evil alien Outriders from the Vapor Zone dimension. When RAMROD is configured into its Challenge formation, it yells its battle cry, “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out! Power stride and ready to ride!” Every New Frontier world has a saloon, and the Star Sheriffs often stop in for a little drink in anticipation of a fight or a victory celebration afterwards. World Entertainment ordered that it be made clear that the Star Sheriffs were NOT drinking alcohol. So the dialogue has them drinking milkshakes, even though the animation shows them getting progressively tipsy on those milkshakes. (Obviously drunken scenes were edited out.)

The prize for the most brutal job of Americanization has to go to Sandy Frank Entertainment for its adaptation of the Japanese Science Ninja Team Gatchaman into the American Battle of the Planets. This just happened to come along right after the first Star Wars movie in May 1977 was a smash success. Every American TV executive wanted a similar boys’ space-adventure TV series – and there weren’t any. Not American-made, anyhow, and any foreign-made TV cartoons were considered too violent by the standards of the times.

Enter Sandy Frank. He was aware of Tatsunoko Pro’s 1972-1974 TV cartoon titled Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman, literally Science Ninja Team Gatchaman; in better English, Gatchaman, the Scientific Ninja Team. It had costumed superheroes, an international criminal organization, and lots of sci-fi action. It was much too violent for American TV, but it had 105 episodes. A similar American boys’-adventure TV cartoon program was considered successful with only 65 episodes. Sandy Frank figured that he could edit the 105 Japanese episodes into at least 65 episodes acceptable for American TV.

battleplanets1American TV wanted an outer-space program, and Gatchaman was set on Earth, but almost every episode had the Gatchaman team racing to a different locale around the world to confront the evil Galactor organization that was trying to seize control of Earth’s natural resources. Sandy Frank felt that with rewriting and editing, and a bit of new animation showing a spaceship flying in interplanetary space, he could turn the program into one about a human-settled galaxy that is menaced by alien invaders, with a team of Earth superheroes flying to a different planet each week to stop them. So he licensed the American rights to Gatchaman for thirty years, advertised to the American TV market that he had a Star Wars-type cartoon series titled Battle of the Planets, and sold it in enough syndication markets that he could afford to start his editing.

The Gatchaman superheroes became the “G-Force”. The Galactor international criminal gang (which was secretly controlled by a rarely-seen alien General X, viewed only on a TV communication device) became invaders from the planet Spectra, with their local human henchmen. The visible lead villain, hermaphroditic Berg Katse, became the all-male Zoltar, with the character’s rarer unmistakably feminine appearances passed off as Zoltar’s seldom-seen twin sister. The new footage of the Phoenix spaceship flying through space allowed Sandy Frank to claim that each episode was set on a different recently-colonized planet. It turned out that so much violence had to be edited out of some episodes that new animation was necessary to bring them back to half-hour length. This was fine from the point of view of making Battle of the Planets look even more interstellar. A robot similar to Star Wars’ C3PO and R2-D2 was added, 7-Zark-7, who had a robot dog, 1-Rover-1. Sandy Frank took the additional liberty of turning one of the Gatchaman team, the kid sidekick Jinpei, into a robot, Keyop, who only spoke in electronic bleeps and whistles. This eliminated the expense of translating a main character’s Japanese dialogue.

(Although extremely far-fetched, it is impossible to not suspect some connection between the names of Berg Katse and Burg Katz, Katz Castle in Germany, built in 1371; a historic landmark today. The creator of Gatchaman, Japanese manga artist and Tatsunoko Pro’s founder Tatsuo Yoshida, was notoriously fond of puns and in-group references. The first episode of Gatchaman was broadcast in Japan on October 1, 1972, and the French-language Yoko Tsuno mystery-s-f comic-book adventure, The Devil’s Organ, set in Berg Katz, was serialized in Le Journal de Spirou beginning in February 1972. So it was in current serialization in France and Belgium while Gatchaman was in production. Did Yoshida see it? ???)

Battle of the Planets, 85 episodes rather than 65, debuted on American TV on September 1, 1978. It was a big hit. At the time the only other animation on TV was The Three Robonic Stooges, The All-New Popeye Hour, Tarzan and the Super 7, and the like. Two years later brought Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake. Battle of the Planets was just what the costumed-superhero-loving comic-book fan wanted. If the human-colonized planets happened to often have recognizable landmarks, such as NYC’s Statue of Liberty, London’s Big Ben, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the canals of Venice, or the Pyramids, these were explained away as duplicates built by the colonists to remind themselves of home. “The G-Force has just arrived at the latest planet that Spectra is invading. Here they see the monument built to honor the four brave space explorers who discovered this world.” Cut to a picture of Mount Rushmore’s Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

If the anime fans cringed, anime fandom was just getting started in 1978 and the 1980s. Today’s society’s attitude toward Japanese animation and violence in TV cartoons has changed. Anime still has to be translated into English, but thankfully it no longer has to be “Americanized” as thoroughly as it used to in Sandy Frank’s day.

36 Comments

  • A few other violence-reducers:
    – Every firearm shoots “tranquilizer darts”
    – Any vehicle that gets blown up was robotic or remote-controlled
    – Prisoners and out-of-favor henchmen are dragged off to be “locked up”

    When “Eighth Man” had Japanese text onscreen, they usually tried to explain it away in the dialogue:
    – “This is the International Airport. The signs on this side are in Japanese.”
    – “He left a note in his native language. I can translate it!”
    Oddly, the police chief who was always calling Tobor (Eighth Man’s secret identity) had a big Japanese name plate on his desk that was never explained.

    • A few other violence-reducers:
      – Every firearm shoots “tranquilizer darts”
      – Any vehicle that gets blown up was robotic or remote-controlled
      – Prisoners and out-of-favor henchmen are dragged off to be “locked up”

      Nobody gets an even break on this show! It’s amazing you never hear of the sprawling traffic jams caused by those evacuations or the millions of taxpayer’s money that gets lost thanks to the destruction by robotic forces. Lord knows that would be a story to tell but since was aimed at kids, whatever.

      When “Eighth Man” had Japanese text onscreen, they usually tried to explain it away in the dialogue:
      – “This is the International Airport. The signs on this side are in Japanese.”
      – “He left a note in his native language. I can translate it!”

      “Oh boy, making all these signs oriental sure doesn’t help you find your way, doesn’t it?”

      Oddly, the police chief who was always calling Tobor (Eighth Man’s secret identity) had a big Japanese name plate on his desk that was never explained.

      That is an amusing thing to point out, I guess they ran out of reasons for it.

  • Battle of the Planets: In the first episode it was stated that Keyop was NOT a robot, but rather, “Manufactured” from a single embryonic cell. His verbal tics, which were NOT “Beeps and whistles” were a side effect of his growth. The “robot” identity came from that godawful comics adaptation Gold Key published.

    • Battle of the Planets: In the first episode it was stated that Keyop was NOT a robot, but rather, “Manufactured” from a single embryonic cell.

      Might as well call him a test-tube clone or something.

      His verbal tics, which were NOT “Beeps and whistles” were a side effect of his growth. The “robot” identity came from that godawful comics adaptation Gold Key published.

      I bet, and yet I nearly saw it as borderline Tourette Syndrome to say the least. The less said about the ‘pet names’ for a couple other characters, the better!

  • Cut to a picture of Mount Rushmore’s Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

    Hell in the original episode, Lincoln was getting replaced with the face of Jesus Christ, noodle on that!

  • The real reason “normal” Jinpei became “lab-created” Keyop was so American kidvid could accept a 10-year-old boy beating up grown bad guys.

    • It’s a shame we couldn’t yet if that’s the case. Of course the way the series was handled, it came off like a watered down version of the SuperFriends the way they tend to run away from the Spectra forces instead of fighting them, or simply say something odd happened at the last minute just to explain away why they edited those fight scenes out.

  • The killed pilot in Voltron wasn’t “resurrected” in one of the US commissioned episodes. In the original Japanese version the dead pilot’s identical-looking brother is introduced. In the Voltron version, the brother was changed to be same character.

    Starblazers also combined two identical brothers from Yamato into the same character.

    • The killed pilot in Voltron wasn’t “resurrected” in one of the US commissioned episodes. In the original Japanese version the dead pilot’s identical-looking brother is introduced. In the Voltron version, the brother was changed to be same character.

      The irony there in the original was how that brother also gets killed on some kamikaze attack on the baddies anyway (a revenge type deal I’m sure), of course the nanny character gets killed too but of course none of that was used in Voltron anyway.

      Starblazers also combined two identical brothers from Yamato into the same character.

      Was that Conroy? Starblazers also had it’s share of odd moments like Sgt. Knox being said to have gotten out of the giant city the guys set up bombs in when it was clear he committed suicide at that point.

  • Doraemon, which now airs on the Disney XD, is the latest series to undergo this sort of Americanization. They’re editing around the fact that the show takes place in Japan and digitally painting over a lot of things that aren’t the least bit offensive to American viewers like characters crying huge streams of tears or changing a first aid kit to pizza. The most oddest I’ve seen is the editing of a doll out of the main female character’s hands and replacing it with a book.

    The dubbing company Bang Zoom! Entertainment said they’re the ones calling the shots when it comes to what needs to be edited and their decisions are just bizarre especially when they pride themselves on staying true to the original source material. I can only assume they meant staying true to the original characters while everything else is fair game.

    It’s not even like they’re aiming the show at pre-school children since they have an entire network for that. Disney XD is their dumping ground for action shows like the latest Marvel series. When Disney acquired the rights to air Naruto Shippuden it was placed there and you can’t get more Japanese then Ninja so I’m not sure where Bang Zoom! are even coming from.

    • Doraemon, which now airs on the Disney XD, is the latest series to undergo this sort of Americanization. They’re editing around the fact that the show takes place in Japan and digitally painting over a lot of things that aren’t the least bit offensive to American viewers like characters crying huge streams of tears or changing a first aid kit to pizza. The most oddest I’ve seen is the editing of a doll out of the main female character’s hands and replacing it with a book.

      That episode involved a time capsule I think, and it made sense to me that the book the replaced the doll with could be a journal/diary if that was what Shizuku was going to place in there, she could’ve wrote down her feelings of Nobita that he’ll never know about.

      The dubbing company Bang Zoom! Entertainment said they’re the ones calling the shots when it comes to what needs to be edited and their decisions are just bizarre especially when they pride themselves on staying true to the original source material. I can only assume they meant staying true to the original characters while everything else is fair game.

      Funny, I thought it was the Japanese company telling them what to do. At least that’s what I’ve been reading for the past few months. The name changes had already been done for VIZ’s English release of the manga since last year.

      It’s not even like they’re aiming the show at pre-school children since they have an entire network for that. Disney XD is their dumping ground for action shows like the latest Marvel series. When Disney acquired the rights to air Naruto Shippuden it was placed there and you can’t get more Japanese then Ninja so I’m not sure where Bang Zoom! are even coming from.

      Again, I can only assume that was a different case and the company that had that show probably didn’t want to alter it at all unlike those behind Doraemon.

    • Despite whatever ‘setbacks’ are the case here, I saw no problem in watching the show itself and hope for the best though Disney XD only picked up 26 episodes so far and placed it on a timeslot I felt wouldn’t work quite as well (noon). This ANN link does state the Japanese companies were responsible for much of the alterations going on here, or at least giving the US guys the go-ahead.

      http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2014-05-09/disney-xd-to-run-doraemon-anime-in-u.s-this-summer

    • Well, I guess that okay. However, I was disappointed to find out that the first dubbed episode to air was actually a half-hour flashback episode edited to 11-minutes.

    • Well, I guess that okay. However, I was disappointed to find out that the first dubbed episode to air was actually a half-hour flashback episode edited to 11-minutes.

      At least it tried to get us up to par with what the show was about. This edition is not meant to follow the same continuity as the show normally goes for simply out of simplicity and selection (much like what they did with Crayon Shinchan, which didn’t get brought up here until I said it just now, but that show’s a good example of it as well, they were not going to go back to 1992 on that one).

      It’s amazing what annoys some people these days.

  • One of the Gatchaman changes I find most interesting is an early episode where Ken/Mark is insistent upon a hesitant little girl firing a missle to destroy villians who killed her father. She doesn’t want to do it, and he slaps her and demands she take revenge. In Battle of the Planets, the slap is gone of course, and she chooses not to push the button, to his praise.

    • So I guess “revenge” is not the answer! Thank you Sandy Frank!

  • Somebody in America is finally showing DORAEMON?? Ted Turner bought the rights 30 years ago! I guess Turner couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

    • In the early days of cable TV, he could’ve just went ahead anyway (I recall seeing nudity on Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel series in the early 80′s).

  • Aside from Sandy Frank managing to get stations hot ‘n bothered for this cartoon, while having to go through a library microfiche of my town’s newspaper’s TV listings, I noticed a station here had aired Battle of the Planets for only 4 months or so, replacing it pretty quickly with Tom & Jerry at the start of 1979. I can see how that was.

  • There are a lot of hilarious changes in Voltron that are blatantly apparent even without having seen GoLion. “Stunning” large groups of people who are never seen again, dialogue like “that was just set to stun, but you might not be so lucky next time”, etc.

  • Wow. And people thought the changes to One Piece when 4kids dubbed it was bad. These changes are much worse!

    • “Look, I can see their parachutes, they’re OK!”

  • I wonder though if you’re reading to much into “Berg Katse.” After all, “Berg Katze” is German for mountain lion.

    • I wouldn’t give the creators that much credit of course (since they felt we were to overtly Christian enough in our country to alter Mt. Rushmore to our wills).

  • The hack job on Gatchaman is certainly one of the worst, but in my personal opinion the hack job done by 4kids on Card Captor Sakura is worse. Card Captor Sakura was a charming, beautiful series and what was done to it was a crime.

    • The less said about Fox Kids’ handling of Escaflowne, the better!

  • Oops! Craig Miller says that I slightly misquoted him on the Americanization of “Bismarck” into “Saber Rider” — I was trying to repeat what he told me years ago. The facts of the Americanization were accurate, but he was just telling me what he had found out from someone else. His Wolfmill Entertainment had not been started yet when “Saber Rider” appeared on TV.

    • I think one company that worked with World Events on Saber Rider was Calico Entertainment, who would go on to do other such ‘gems’ as Denver the Last Dinosaur, Widget, Mr. Bogus, and a pilot to the video game has-been Bubsy.

  • I remember that, when “Voltron, Defender of the Universe” premiered in the Los Angeles market over KTTV (11), they started out–or intended to start out–with the five-part origin story. But soebody at the station got his episodes mixed up, so that, instead of showing the third part of this entry (from the “Lion Force” episodes), they showed an episode from the “Vehicle Team” run–which confused me, and probably confused anybody else who was watching it.

    The “Lion Force” episodes were reassuringly repetitive. There were some more adult elements in the “Vehicle Team” episodes–including one story arc in which the main “dog=heavy”, (an alien general named Hazar) did something of a “heel face turn”, and was court-marshaled for it, with one episode devoted to his trial and his sentence to exile (with one of the common citizens of his home planet making the fervent wish that he shold be turned over to a mob of his own people, to be torn apart with their bare hands!)

    The settlers whom he had saved wound up naming their planet after him.

    • Since I never saw the “Vehicle Team” episodes, that’s kinda impressive for a cartoon aimed at kids.

  • So, when Gatchaman was aired on Cartoon Network in the 1990s as “G-Force” was it ‘de-Americanized,’ so to speak? Or was it aired in it’s bowdlerized Sandy Frank form?

    • It’s been years since I’ve seen it, but while it bothered to have a Sandy Frank copyright at the end of the show, the show was perhaps a tad closer to it’s roots (no robots and the youngest member didn’t talk like a weirdo) despite a new set of names given the characters and an added rhythm beat that didn’t need to be there in the first place but was often used when Bob Sakuma’s score wasn’t used in the silent parts. Fred Ladd supervised this edition.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XX42UX1ZylY

  • Not quite the same, but there were a couple of strange efforts to “Americanize” the British puppet series “Thunderbirds”. For one, they edited the hours to half-hours and dubbed over bland undifferentiated voices (Kyrano was stripped of his accent). For another, they had live-action American kids running the Thunderbird 5 communications base (like the robot in “Battle of the Planets”)

    • Lord knows I forgot that one (and who shouldn’t, that was not memorable the slightest).

      Of course in Japan, they did a show that got brought over as an animated spin-off of Thunderbirds as well despite hardly being connected at all…
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvV0poJXdZc

  • I don’t watch enough anime, so the only example I can cite is from Pom Poko. I wanted to see this movie when I read about it, but the description breathlessly talked about racoons hitting their enemies with their testicles. I didn’t think it would get distribution in the U.S., and I was further doubtful when Disney got the rights to this movie, and they weren’t allowed to edit. Their only leeway was in the translation; so when it was released, the characters called it a “raccoon pouch.” I thought only marsupials has pouches. Whatever it took to get the movie to my TV, I guess. It was worth it: the movie is magical. The lowered expectations meant that Disney didn’t try any star voices for this translation, and let professional voice actors have a chance for a change. However, after watching Animaniacs and Futurama, the voices of Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeille were a little too familiar, taking me out of the movie.

    • And speaking of Futurama, the episode “Saturday Morning Fun Pit” has a segment about ineffectively editing violence out of cartoons.

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