FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
March 24, 2013 posted by Fred Patten

How Home Video Created Anime Fandom

Editor’s Note: I’ve just spent the weekend in Denver Colorado at the Summit on Anime In North America where a group of selected professionals held several lectures and discussions centering around the question: “Why is Anime popular in North America”. Anime historian Fred Patten recalls, in the post below, his recollection of how anime fandom started. Fred should know, he was there and he explains what made it happen. - Jerry Beck

woody_VCRIn April 1993, UCLA’s Animation Workshop hosted a birthday party for animation veteran Walter Lantz, then 94 years old. (I think that it was at this party that Lantz announced that he had recently found his birth certificate, and was shocked to learn that he was a year older than he had always thought. He was born in 1899, not 1900 as his parents had told him.) Lantz was wheelchair-bound and very weak, but his mind was still sharp. He died the next March, just before the Animation Workshop could hold a 1994 birthday party for him.

Someone at that party asked Lantz, who worked on his first cartoon in 1915 and directed his first cartoon in 1924, what he thought had been the greatest technological development in the history of animation. The addition of sound to silent cartoons? The multiplane camera? The replacement of hand cel coloring by computer coloring? Lantz surprised everyone by insisting that it was the introduction of home VCRs in 1975.

I don’t know if he was recorded, but he said approximately:

“In 1975 animation was a dying art! All the theatrical animation studios were closed except Disney, and by 1975 even Disney was moribund. Animation for TV was all toy and cereal commercials, and was so bland that nobody but little children watched it. The very few festivals of animation were glorifications of the past, attended mostly by animation veterans and cinematic scholars, not the public. Then in 1975 the first home video cassette recorders came out. They took about a decade to become widespread, but suddenly the public was asking TV stations to show more classic cartoons so they could record them to watch whenever they wanted. Movie studios and whoever owned the rights to old cartoons found that there was big money in putting them out on video. The first video releases of old prints were later upgraded to remastered prints with original title cards. Today new animation features are being made because the studios know that they can make as much or more from video sales as from theatrical screenings. Animation that hasn’t been seen in decades is available again, and permanently for whenever anyone wants to see it, not just when its studio re-releases it theatrically or on TV. The animation industry was just short of dying when the first VCRs came out; now it’s bigger than ever!”

Before the Christmas season of 1975, about the only VCR available was Sony’s U-matic, and that was only introduced in 1971. It was bought by members of the movie industry more than by the general public. I became friends with a Hollywood TV animator in the early 1970s, Wendell Washer, who had bought his own U-matic and was recording a collection of one episode of every TV cartoon. Then at Christmastime 1975, the first “buy for your own home” Japanese VCRs were advertised to the public, in three incompatible formats; JVC’s VHS, Sony’s Betamax, and Sanyo’s V-Cord. A mutual friend of Washer and myself, Mark Merlino who is an enthusiastic technophile, immediately bought one. (Unfortunately, he picked the V-Cord, the first of the three to be quickly discontinued.)

v-cordMerlino and I were both members of Los Angeles’ weekly s-f fan club, The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. Merlino started to record s-f programs off of TV and bring them on his V-Cord to LASFS meetings and s-f parties. Some of his most popular programs were the Japanese giant-robot half-hour TV cartoons, which fortuitously had just begun on L.A.’s Japanese community TV channel in February 1976. After a few months (this was also during the peak popularity of Marvel Comics’ superheroes), a small subgroup developed within the LASFS who encouraged Merlino to emphasize the giant-robot cartoons and forget the other stuff. It was my suggestion to turn the irregular giant-robot cartoon screenings into a separate club with regular, publicized meetings. The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization first met in May 1977 with Merlino providing the programming on his V-Cord and myself as the secretary, bulletin publisher, and everything else. Cartoon fans in other metropolises like New York and San Francisco started clubs to record Japanese cartoons off their Japanese-community TV channels. So the creation of anime fandom in the U.S. & Canada can be traced directly to the VCR.

The 1980s were the decade of the war for supremacy between Japan Victor Corporation’s Video Home System (VHS) and Sony’s Betamax formats. Everyone agreed that the Betamax was slightly superior, but the VHS slowly won out because its cassettes could record 120 minutes, allowing families to record complete movies off TV, while the Betamax cassettes only recorded 60 minutes, too short for the average 60+-minute feature film. It seems incredible today considering the flood of Disney releases to video, but Disney was originally a leader with Universal Studios in the battle to have VCRs and the home copying off TV declared illegal. (Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios, 1976.) The case was argued up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1984 in favor of Sony and the Betamax. Disney, which had already entered the video market in 1980 for rental cassettes and non-copyable video discs, promptly started selling the Walt Disney Cartoon Classics videos. Remember the steadily-diminishing list of “Disney classic features that will never be released on home video”? Today every Disney film, animated or live-action, is available on VCRs or their successor DVDs. (Except Song of the South, of course.)

Anime fans had long become accustomed to Japanese cartoons made especially for video release. They were called OAVs or OVAs, for Original Animation Videos or Original Video Animation. (The Japanese are great at coining their own English-language abbreviations.) Fans clamored for the American animation studios to begin making OAVs, since they were so successful in Japan. They finally got the first with Warner Home Video’s Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation in March 1992, except that WB did not call it an OAV. It was a Direct-To-Video release. The OAV/OVA abbreviation has never caught on in America, but there are too many direct-to-video animation productions to list. The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends, anybody?

robot_carnivalStreamline Pictures, the anime licensor where I worked from 1991 to 2002, got caught up in anime fandom’s dubbing-vs.-subbing video wars. Which was better, an anime dubbed into English, or in the original Japanese language with subtitles in English? Most American anime licensors promoted the purity of the original sound track, subtitled, which not incidentally was a lot cheaper to produce than a fully dubbed audio track. Carl Macek at Streamline Pictures was the only producer who insisted on dubbing everything. He got death threats from Japanese-language purists, but he insisted that he made anime videos for the general public rather than for the elite fans; and sales proved that the public would rather listen to an English-language sound track than read subtitles. The wars continued until the DVD replaced the video cassette in 1995 and it became possible to include both an English dubbed sound track and the original Japanese with English subtitles on the same DVD.

Today, multilingual animation DVDs are common. I recently watched an Indian DVD of the Yash Raj Films-Disney release animated feature Roadside Romeo, in Hindi with subtitles in English and in Malayalam available. It seems like all American animation is available now on DVD, although new releases of “lost” and “forgotten” animation are still being announced. Walter Lantz was right: the VCR and its DVD successor have been godsends that have saved the animation industry.

37 Comments

  • Walter Lantz made an even more prescient comment regarding the future of animation in the pages of the now-forgotten Pace magazine in early 1970. Lantz said words to the effect of “Someday our animated characters will rival live action movie stars in popularity.” In 1970, animation had one foot in the grave and CG was nowhere on the horizon. One could have (and many probably did) write off Lantz’s 1970 comment as the rambling of an elderly man. Time has proven them wrong.

  • Most American anime licensors promoted the purity of the original sound track, subtitled, which not incidentally was a lot cheaper to produce than a fully dubbed audio track.

    If it was cheaper, why were the subtitled versions more expensive than the dubbed versions when the same video was available in both formats?

    • “If it was cheaper, why were the subtitled versions more expensive than the dubbed versions when the same video was available in both formats?”

      I’m going to guess that it’s because the obsessive purists were willing to pay through the nose for their “untarnished” versions, while the dubbed versions were marketed to the general public, and priced accordingly.

    • I think it was because less people bought them, so they had to charge more to profit from them. Even though the small amount of existing fans were demanding them, they didn’t bring in any new buyers like the dubs did.

    • It certainly made sense from a marketing standpoint the way it was done in making those sub tapes a pricier. The dub tapes were far more accessible in most stores I use to go to 15-20 years ago when subs often were confined to rentals unless you special/mail-ordered the tapes.

  • You left out an important reason for the success of anime on videotape. Anime offered adult stories with graphic sex and violence. Parents considered all animation safe for kids, so teens, especially teenaged boys, created a high demand for anime. Once parents caught on, anime proved popular enough for teens to watch even the “safe” stories.

    • Of course you could blame that on the way they were marketing these to adults to start with rather than to go after more family-friendly titles at the start. I recall those days very well and was glad to be at that point where the thought of what else animation could be was something I had wanted to see past Saturday morning.

  • I’m glad to see my old friend Fred Patten back in action! I’d just add that video discs were very much indeed copyable and in fact I spent much of last year copying my old laserdiscs to DVD. I seem to dimly recall that there was some experimentation with some sort of copyguard on laserdiscs, but it was never much used because it had some effect on the picture quality. I also seem to remember hearing that the ease of copying discs led some studios to not support laserdisc as much as they might have, and led to insistence that copy protection capability be written into DVD specs. I do remember clearly that DVDs hit the US market in the spring of 1997, rather than in 1995.
    When I was writing for the magazine Animerica, I spoke with the people at Viz Video now and then about the anime market in the US, at least as it stood in the later ’90s. When they put out both subbed and dubbed versions of the same tape, the dubbed version vastly outsold the subbed one. Casual viewers didn’t like having to read a movie, and the sub market was pretty much limited to die-hard purists. It cost a lot more to dub a show (obviously, since it’s hugely expensive to hire a voice cast and record the dialogue) than to just subtitle it, but for popular shows, the sales were so much greater for dubs that the money spent was made back. The factor that a lot of fans didn’t understand then was economy of scale. Dubs sold so many more copies that they could charge less for each one. Subs sold so many fewer copies that the prices had to be higher than dubs, even if dubs cost more to make. It wasn’t a conspiracy to gouge fans. If anything, the sub-only version was considered doing the hard-core fans a favor, and from a business standpoint barely worth doing at all.
    Stores hated having to stock two versions of the same item because of constant customer confusion and having to deal with returns when somebody bought the wrong one by mistake. DVDs with their capability for multiple soundtracks solved that problem, since stores no longer had to stock different versions.

    • I’m glad to see both Fred Patten and you still writing on this topic! As someone who still has her C/FO card and first encountered anime via homemade off-air tapes shipped from friends of friends in Japan, I agree that commercial video availability made an enormous difference. The laughable dubs of the past (I remember Captain Harlock sounding like John Wayne) were worth it to have a nice copy with understandable dialogue that you weren’t sharing with 12 people, and they helped the fanbase hang on until cable finally realized we were here.
      Too bad about Princess Knight.

  • Jeff Jackson: See Dwight Decker’s comment. Michael: You’re right, but this was pretty irrelevant. Whether anime was popular or unpopular, home video had to make it available first. The first post-l977 anime on TV, “Battle of the Planets” and “Star Blazers”, were usually shown in “kiddie” time-slots when the teens who were its natural audience could not see them. It was the ability to record them on video for later playing that helped popularize them.

  • Dwight Decker: If you are transferring your laser discs to DVD, do you have the 1990s Disney laser disc release of “Song of the South”? Inquiring minds want to know…

    • I indeed do have a copy of SONG OF THE SOUTH on LD, but it’s a circa-1985 Japanese release. Analog-only, with the Japanese soundtrack on one channel and the English on the other. Unturnoffable Japanese subtitles for the opening title and song lyrics. I think there was a later digital release, but if there was, I don’t have it. The bad news is that recording 400 laserdiscs killed the old and well-used LD player I had turned up, and I’m currently playerless. Only a last few discs remain to be copied, so I haven’t been in a hurry to find another used working player. Come to think of it, one of the discs I still haven’t copied, you might have had something to with (Streamline’s NADIA). Isn’t your voice on the English track of that?

    • Dwight – regarding your dead Laserdisc player: if you’re in the Los Angeles area, contact Marconi Radio. They repair laserdisc players. If you’re not in LA, it might be worth shipping it.

    • I got the “digital audio” release with both Japanese and English audio tracks Fred! It’s the best purchase I ever made! (Dwight was right about it). Bothered making a DVD-R of it and a few other discs in my collection over the years.

  • Really glad to see new articles from Fred Patten. Didn’t Disney also start licensing and releasing animated films and shows they didn’t even create? I once came across a VHS on eBay for an Asterix film with the Disney logo on the front.

    • They did, the first three Asterix films (Asterix the Gaul, Asterix & Cleopatra and The Twelve Tasks of Asterix) were released by Walt Disney Home Video in the early 80′s (though sometimes they were under the Buena Vista label too). Other films included two Lucky Luke features (Daisy Town and Ballad of the Daltons – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZa80-YE2-8 ), all those Franco-Belgian animated features even showed up on The Disney Channel as well. Some programs that were aired on The Disney Channel also saw releases on their label as well including Kit Parker Films’ “The Fabulous Fleischer Folio” (a collection of the Color Classic cartoons produced by the Fleischer Studios though some from Famous Studios in the 40′s were throw in anyway) and the Welsh-produced SuperTed series. Arguably they probably were desperate to find stuff to fill up those schedules back then but the stuff they did put on was some of the best and coolest things I could never see anywhere else (like Osamu Tezuka’s Unico). All I can say is that this was the time I loved being a kid in the 80′s when we had a VCR and cable!

  • Dwight Decker: No, while I did work on Streamline’s production on “Nadia”, I did not do any of the voices for it. Carl Macek was adamant about using only union voice actors, even for the bit parts, and I was never in the voice actors’ union.
    Johnny: Yes, Disney handled the U.S. distribution of the French animated feature adaptations of the Astérix and Lucky Luke cartoon albums from the French Pilote magazine.

    • I could have sworn there was a single line in NADIA, spoken by a very minor spear-carrier, that was voiced by Mr. F. Patten, as a quick fill-in, to get the job done and out the door, but perhaps I am confusing the incident with some other anecdote I’ve heard.
      It reminds me of how my one encounter with June Foray ended up with me looking like a bit of a dope. She was on a panel at the San Diego comics convention some years ago, and when the floor was opened to questions from the audience, I asked about her work in the circa 1990 LITTLE NEMO feature-film. She looked a little blank, then said she hadn’t even heard of it and certainly didn’t work on it, and added, “Little Nemo… wasn’t that something from the ’30s?” My reply that her name’s in the credits got a little lost and I decided there would be no profit in trying to push it any further, and so let someone else ask a question. I checked later, and yes, her name was listed in the credits, though for a character I didn’t remember (“The Librarian”). I’m guessing that whatever she did was mostly cut, and she did so many voice-acting jobs over the years that even she doesn’t remember them all. This may have been a small one that she had simply forgotten about. I never did get to make my cute observation that it was too bad she wasn’t given the job of voicing Little Nemo’s pet… a flying squirrel that wore aviator goggles and helmet. (It didn’t talk but at least it chirped.)

    • I recall Carl and I recruiting Fred to do a line in one of the Streamline films… but for the life of me, I can’t recall which show it was for. I also did a line or two, once or twice, “just to get the show out the door”.

    • Yes Foray was credited in a small role in the Little Nemo film as “The Librarian”, that’s probably she doesn’t remember it, the character comes in and out very quickly during a song number given by several Slumberland subjects at the palace informing Nemo on what it takes to be a prince or whatever. They gave the squirrel’s part to Danny Mann though I suppose he does it fine doing it in that critter sort of way.

      As Jerry had mentioned, I’m sure there were times when they needed to fill a line for an ‘extra’ in a production and that’s all there is. There was only 8 or so episodes of that Nadia series that were dubbed/released I think, and to this day, I still say it was quite a good dub for what they went with there, sad it didn’t see a sale to a TV network as it would’ve been a nice show in the early 90′s to find on the tube. The dub we did get later was fair, but I still like the older-voiced Jean and Nadia myself.

  • Boomer memory: I remember sort of stumbling into anime before the VCR and even the giant robots. Back in pre-cable days you had UHF stations that relied on cheaper fare: Really old sitcoms, vintage movies that had worn out their welcome on VHF channels, the last late-night horror hosts (with lower-rent features), and mysterious imports.

    This final category included live-action Ultra Man, Thunderbirds, Rocket Robin Hood (Canadian?), and cartoons I only slowly realized were Japanese: Speed Racer, Kimba. the oddly bleak Eighth Man, Astro Boy, and a historical piece about a clever little boy training to become a Buddhist priest and solving village crises. They were unfamiliar, and they were lavish compared to Saturday morning (where adventure was still mostly seven minutes of Superman lifting something large and announcing he was going to throw it).

    Yes, the VCR made anime fandom possible. And it definitely fueled its popularity by providing a means to see a clear picture. But we knew it was out there.

    • I do not remember that live action Ultra Man, Astro Boy, and 8th Man were on TV as reruns in the mid-1970s. They probably were, and I just did not notice them. Kimba the White Lion, yes. Merlino video-recorded it, so we have a record of it being shown in Los Angeles with the title cards of Channel 13, which we later determined it was on from 1975 to 1977; its final showing in America before NBC Films’ 1966-1977 license expired.
      I also remember looking at the local Japanese-community TV Channel, Channel 52, from time to time before it began showing Brave Raideen in February 1976. Channel 52 did show TV cartoons before giant-robot fare was introduced, but it was pretty lame stuff, for little children. If VCRs had been available, I doubt that Merlino would have bothered to record any of it. The series about the little Buddhist acolyte was Toei Animation’s Ikyu-san; very popular and long-running in Japan, but a yawner to us in America. As far as I can tell, none of the Japanese community channels around America started showing any of the giant-robot or other s-f cartoons for “older boys” like Space Pirate Captain Harlock until February 1976. Then they all did, and each city like San Francisco and Atlanta seemed to get different series. We in Los Angeles were frustrated that fans in New York could see Cyborg 009 and Getta Robo which we couldn’t. We had to ask them to trade tapes with us for what we got that NYC didn’t; Getta Robo G and Galaxy Express 999, as I recall.

    • @FRED PATTEN, The irony being that it was handled individually from station to station depending on what they could show or chose to show on the airwaves in those days. I felt because I was born a tad late, I missed out on that 70′s indie TV boom when you had many of these UHF stations, often in larger markets (the top 20 will do), catering to certain minorities, or picked whatever they could afford to fill in time hoping for viewership against other indies or the major network affiliates. Some of those shows like Ultraman, Kimba and 8th Man may have gotten airings into the 70′s often out of need for content to show. It doesn’t necessarily meant that the same show was playing at the same time elsewhere in the country as these shows often were in the back catalogs and film vaults simply waiting for any particular use at all. One station in Detroit, Michigan (WGPR TV62, the first black-owned station in the country) managed to air Kimba late as 1978 on it’s station. Another Detroit station (WXON TV20) got mileage out of Ultraman in the 70′s too.

  • Very interesting article. But the comment that, “It seems that all American animation is now available on DVD” is not accurate. There is plenty of well known golden age, and even some 1960s TV animation that remains in the vault. (Betty Boop and Quick Draw McGraw leap to mind.) We seem to have a hit a brick wall of economic collapse. Those powers who hold the master prints of this desired animation are unwilling to spend the money to bring their products to market for fear of not being able to recoup their investment. We are in an unprecedented era when there is no successor technology appropriate for animation and music videos. The DVD is still the perfect vehicle, but has fallen out of public favor, or is being forced out of public favor, without any viable vehicle for release on the horizon. Downloading doesn’t cut it.

    • I suppose that Betty Boop, Quick Draw McGraw, etc. — Calvin and the Colonel? — still counts as “lost” or “forgotten” as far as their corporate rights holders are concerned. While Streamline Pictures was in production, we tried to get the production elements to make videos of Prince Planet, Marine Boy, Toei Doga’s Wolf Boy (all episodes were produced in English; it never played in the U.S. but it was sold & played in Australia), Princess Knight (all 52 episodes were produced in English) and others, but could not, either because the elements were truly lost or because they were in the vaults of corporate giants like MGM which considered it not worth the trouble to look for them.
      When Streamline got the rights and production elements to the American 1950s Colonel Bleep series, we intended to release the whole series on VHS. Then we discovered that most of the elements had decayed into unusability.

    • @FRED PATTEN, that is very sad to have heard of that Fred. At least what they did get out of Colonel Bleep is enough to allow us a look into a piece of early TV animation.

      I’m only glad for the attempts made in recent years such as MGM’s online releases of Prince Planet (whatever many episodes there are), an episode of Marine Boy put out on one of Warner Bros. “Saturday Morning Collection” DVD’s (though Australia got to watch the entire show again on digital TV), even Right Stuf’s soon-to-be-released Princess Knight set. I recall years back myself noticing an episode of “Ken The Wolf Boy” showed up on eBay and I still kick myself for not having bid on it (wanting to know what Daws Butler was doing on this show).

  • “Everyone agreed that the Betamax was slightly superior, but the VHS slowly won out because its cassettes could record 120 minutes, allowing families to record complete movies off TV”

    Unless your parents weren’t too cheap or you’d get 3 movies on a single tape in SLP/EP speed and have to put up with a fairer picture/sound quality like I did (my mom though knew better given how expensive blanks use to be then).

    “Remember the steadily-diminishing list of “Disney classic features that will never be released on home video”? Today every Disney film, animated or live-action, is available on VCRs or their successor DVDs. (Except Song of the South, of course.)”

    Lord knows we’re still waiting on that one Fred!

    “They finally got the first with Warner Home Video’s Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation in March 1992, except that WB did not call it an OAV. It was a Direct-To-Video release.”

    That did certainly felt exactly like an OVA without being called it (the humor alone fit in well enough if you stop and think about what happens in it). To this day I look back to that Tiny Toons OVA with some sort of pride at what was accomplished despite not quite going far enough.

    “The OAV/OVA abbreviation has never caught on in America, but there are too many direct-to-video animation productions to list. The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends, anybody?”

    Ugh!

  • Interesting, I wrote about the decline of TV animation in America during the 1970s-80s and compared it to that of Japan on my blog just last week.

    • It is interesting to see where America was then when animation was relegated to the Saturday morning ghetto while Japan prospered and experimented in what could be possibly done in the medium. You can see why we were rather hungry for something far more than what we could get domestically in those days.

  • A very interesting article, and I am grateful that Fred mentioned me. There has always been a great appreciation for animation, in all its forms, even in “The Dark Times” here in The States. I was an animation fan since I was 4 (so my parents tell me), though I never pursued it as a career. I was just a big fan. In the 1970s, I ran into Fred paten at the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society meetings, and at their local convention, Loscon. I had been spending all my free time (taking only a few units at Cal Poly Pomona, since I was close to graduating) cruising LA in search of the Last, Great Animators. I was lucks to eventually track down Walter Lantz, Bob Clampett, Fred “Tex” Avery, Firz Freeling, Chuck Jones (where I filled in for a week while his production assistant, Don Foster, was on vacation), and more I can’t recall right now. I met Wendell Washer, an animator for Filmation, and Robin Lyden, a special effects creator, both were huge Japanese animation fans, and had recordings of older US TV shows (Astroboy, Amazing 3, Kimba the White Lion, Marine Boy, etc.). Wendell had copied Robin’s real-to-real B&W video tapes to his massive U-Matic cassette recorder. I had a borrowed U-Matic player, and would borrow his tapes to show my friends. I had the machine and the tapes in my car one Sunday, when the local Loscon was winding-down… I found a TV in a meeting room, and started showing Uusha Raideen and Getta Robo-G episodes. The LASFS fans loved it, and so we decided to have regular screenings at the club house… After a meeting with Fred, Wendell, Robin and Judy Niver, The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (Fred’s suggested name) was born!

    What is my point in writing this long-winded comment? Mainly to point out that I was less a “technophile’ and more of an animation fan. and that’s why I eventually bought my V-Cord II machines (Betamax and VHS cassette machines could not do variable slow-motion or steady still-frame. I WAS interested in animation, after all…). I tracked down famous animators and picked their brains, I organized and managed one of the largest animation art shows ever (June 1975, Cal Poly Pomona Student Union Gallery), helped out with ASIFA Hollywood, collected thousands of video cassettes and Laser Discs, and ran monthly screenings at C/FO meetings and SF and Comic conventions for 20 years. Some people like to talk about animation (which is very cool). I liked (and still enjoy, at our monthly house parties) showing it to people!

    • In most cases, you really did have to start somewhere and stick your neck out to get something done back then. It was a big effort that might seem seem over-the-top by today’s standards but in an era where communication and exposure was still very limited, you had to do what you could to get the word out.

    • Actually, “Cartoon/Fantasy Organization” was Judy Niver’s name. Our first three monthly meetings at the LASFS clubhouse were very informal and did not bother with a name. Then we got evicted without warning — the LASFS sold its clubhouse for a larger building that needed LOTS of renovation, and thought that it was okay to keep meeting in the old building until the new one was ready; but that wasn’t written into the contract, and the new owner evicted the LASFS immediately — and the anime subgroup had to scramble to keep up its monthly meetings. Judy Niver, who was a professional animator (“DON’T CALL ME AN ANIMATOR! The animators’ union could throw me out for claiming a higher position than I’m entitled to!” Well, she had some job in the animation industry.) got us permission to meet in the animation union’s meeting hall; but she had to give a formal group name for its records. So she created “Cartoon/Fantasy Organization” on the spur of the moment, with the understanding that we could change the name later when we agreed on a “real name” for our cub. We never did.

  • Another factor in all this was the happy coincidence of Japan and the US using the same TV system (NTSC), so Japanese tapes and discs could be readily played on US equipment. My first exposure to anime was picking up an imported laserdisc of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE from a dealer at a Chicago comics convention in 1990, prompted by the glowing recommendation of the title by a friend who was already into anime. The disc played fine on my machine and I spent several pleasant hours puzzling out the story, since there weren’t any English subtitles or alternate soundtracks, just the original Japanese. I mainly came away wanting more of this stuff, and “more” turned out to be an import disc of LAPUTA, which was epic! And so I was hooked.
    A lot of other fans were getting import tapes and discs from Japan around then, too, and some of the fanzines even ran plot synopses of the more popular movies and shows so people would know what they were looking at. Still, a lot of shows stood up very well on their own, just watching them even without benefit of knowing any Japanese or having much of a clue what characters were saying. If it had been a case like that of Europe, which uses a different TV standard than we do and so their tapes and discs weren’t compatible with our gear, and Japanese software hadn’t been so readily playable, the landscape of anime fandom in the early days might have been very different.

    • That is usually the one benefit out of all this that Japan adopted the NTSC standard at all (though TV frequencies were still rather different if import gamers know what I’m talking about). While it is true how much hard it was for Europeans to see much of it due to their different color systems in place, they were otherwise blessed with far more programming than America when it came to what broadcasters did pick up (perhaps on the cheap if the Japanese product was much less expensive to American imports) to show to children in the 70′s and 80′s. France and Italy often had many popular Japanese cartoons on the air when it took years for any to become legitimately available stateside. I really envy those fans myself.

    • Streamline Pictures (more accurately, Carl Macek and Jerry Beck together just before they incorporated as Streamline Pictures) produced English dubs for “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro” for Tokuma Shoten, the rights-holder for the movies’ distribution, for use by Air Japan as trans-Pacific in-flight movies. They were very good dubs, and Troma used Streamline’s for its limited theatrical release of “My Neighbor Totoro” a few years later. But when Disney acquired the rights in 1996, it had both of them redubbed with celebrity voices. I think that the original Japanese DVD release of “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, before Disney took over its DVD release, had the Streamline dub on the English audio track.

    • Yes, in addition to the lucky coincidence of America and Japan both using the NTSC format so our video tapes were mutually playable, most Japanese animation before about 1990 was plot-straightforward enough that American fans could broadly tell what was going on in the untranslated videos. After 1990, the anime became so dialogue-heavy and plot-complex that a translation was needed.

  • Responding to Mr. Patten’s comments:

    I thought I heard that as well, though I don’t think they used that version of Kiki on their R2 releases in Japan (a Japanese LD box set release of Ghibli films in the mid 90′s did). This old IGN post confirms it: http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/kikis-delivery-service-out-on-dvd-region-2-only.6578524/ (perhaps an act of laziness on their part though perhaps since Disney already dubbed it a few years before they saw no reason to go with the Streamline original). I do recall the Japanese R2 for Totoro did use the Streamline dub otherwise. I enjoy that dub far more than the Disney version though I would love to hear Macek’s version of Kiki’s too if ever that shows up someplace. Outside of Macek’s involvement, the original English dub of Laputa was also released on R2 DVD as well.

    Perhaps that’s why it became a little eye-straining to me when it came to fansubs for a lot of that stuff that was very talky and I had to re-watch things over and over a few times so I could pay attention to the visuals and what has been said. Certainly the straightforwardness of the plots in those 80′s films did far more to get us in than what came after it.

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