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The Edit List * Edit List Special - Cartoon Network Interview
by Kyle Pope, Mar 4th 2002
It appears that the good folks over at Cartoon Network are aware of my efforts at listing the edits to their anime shows and have afforded me the opportunity to interview them and determine the hows and whys of the editing process. I am extremely grateful to them for giving me this opportunity and to the good people at Anime News Network who have made this interview and its dissemination possible. The questions were answered by Mr. Jason DeMarco, Sr., writer/producer for Toonami and so come straight from the source. I also appreciate the fact that his answers to my questions were definitive and direct. While I certainly don't agree with all of the editing policies practiced by CN I now understand them. And it will certainly provide better information for evaluating the potential of other shows as potential Cartoon Network acquisitions. I hope this interview is sufficient to clarify any questions you may have regarding the editing process at Cartoon Network. So I present to you for your enlightenment and edification the interview in twenty three questions.
1. Are there specific, written guidelines for Toonami and Adult Swim determining what material must be edited and what can be left alone?
Definitely. When we first began this process two years ago, there really was no guidebook- this hadn't been done by Cartoon Network before. Eventually, our Standards and Practices Department became involved, and provided us with a list of objectionable actions, words and general guidelines for a TV-Y7 FV program (most of Toonami's programming receives this rating). Some of these guidelines are flexible, some are not. In general, Cartoon Network's guidelines are a bit less "uptight" than other networks (if you can believe that). The main thing to keep in mind is that we are trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible - we need to attract advertisers and sponsors. If any group finds some of the content offensive, that needs to be taken under consideration.
2. Can I get a copy of these guidelines if they exist?
Sorry, we aren't allowed to give out those guidelines, they are "top secret." That said, I can tell you that we are not allowed to show: Alcohol consumption (directly), Gambling (directly), abuse of minors, blood from any major wound, language (obviously, this includes "kill" and references to God, as well as the whole spectrum of "swear" words), and- here's where it gets tricky- "situations considered too brutal or intense for younger viewers".
3. How did the idea of using "digital bikinis" on nude characters develop? The normal procedure up to this point was to crop the image or simply cut the scene entirely.
This was actually my idea (a dubious honor). Being a big fan of Tenchi, I wanted to preserve scenes we would otherwise have to cut out of the series. I also felt that cutting out all of the nudity would leave us with a story that is total gobbledygook. This involved painting on bikinis, painting out blood, re-editing for time (hated that), and having new voice over read. That required gathering all of the actors who hadn't worked on that show in quite a while, going through every single script, and then making necessary changes. At the time, CN was willing to fund the endeavor so we decided to try to do it right. It worked well I think, so after Tenchi we were able to expand our horizons a bit and get shows like Outlaw Star.
4. How complex is the process involved in digital painting and editing?
Very. We do all of our digital paint in the Inferno system, which is what Hollywood studios use for special effects and compositing work (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was composited partially with this system). It's very expensive and very time consuming. We are lucky to have some amazing operators. Re-editing is more complex mentally because it requires that the producer know each episode of the show like the back of his/her hand, to ensure that a scene isn't cut from episode 22 that has major ramifications in episode 50.
5. Tenchi Muyo! had several instances of characters receiving digital bikinis even though they weren't nude (i.e. Mihoshi and Kiyone had digitally applied straps under their towels even though Aeka and Washuu didn't). What was the reason for this?
Well, as you know the majority of our audience is boys 9-14, but we still have a great deal of children 6-11 watching every day. This being the case, even implied nudity- i.e., two ladies talking to one another with nothing but towels on- has to be toned down. It may seem silly to you, but the parents of younger children really demand this sort of thing.
6. Tenchi Muyou had numerous edits where tea was substituted for sake even though it was plainly obvious that the characters were very intoxicated and the liquid they were drinking was neither brown, hot nor in a teapot. Why did CN still feel it necessary to make the change?
Well, this is a tough one. Again, this is just us going by the book. There can be no direct references to drinking on air in a TV-Y7-FV show on CN. This was obviously a problem for a show like Tenchi. But we knew that if we did something as simple as changing "sake" to "tea," the adult fans would still understand what was happening, while the young kids wouldn't. We could keep the integrity of the scenes somewhat intact, other than losing them completely. The whole thing is a bit silly, I agree, but such are the times we live in....
7. Outlaw Star featured a gay character in a prominent role. While Fred Luo was toned down it was still apparent that he was gay. What is CN's editing policy on gay characters?
There is not a specific editing policy on gay characters. Overt sexuality or implied sexuality of any kind are not allowed.
8. Would CN consider acquiring and airing other anime with gay characters in major roles (i.e. Saber Marionette J, Battle Athletes, El Hazard, Vandread, etc) and how would these characters be handled?
All of the above shows have been considered. As far as how those types of characters would be handled, it would be in the same manner as with Outlaw and Tenchi- again, overt sexuality or implied sexual activity of any kind are not allowed.
9. One of the more annoying edits I saw were edits of religious symbols or religious references. What is the reason for removing religious references from these shows (i.e. The Big O)?
Any direct references to religion, especially juxtaposed with violence, sexuality or hypocrisy, is not allowed. Here's an example: in Tenchi Universe, there is an episode where Ryoko goes to a slot machine. In the unedited version, there were Stars of David on the machine (!). We didn't notice this, and when it aired we had several people calling to complain and even threatening to sue. Anime is often full of stereotypes surrounding race and religion that non-otaku will not understand and will take offense to. As a network, CN cannot appear to have a comment on any particular religion or be seen to "endorse" or "degrade" any one style of worship. People in America generally don't want that kind of thing in their cartoons, however you and I may feel about it.
10. Even though Adult Swim is intended for mature audiences I noticed numerous edits for blood and violence in Cowboy Bebop. Given that Cowboy Bebop isn't significantly more bloody or violent than a number of live action shows and movies currently airing, why were these edits made?
Adult Swim shows are edited to a TV-14 standard. For example, cutting the close up of Jet's leg being shot: on a network TV-14 show, such as NYPD Blue, you wouldn't see an extreme close-up of a gunshot wound. You might see a little nudity, and some blood, but not the carnage on the scale of the "Pierrot le Fou" episode. Watch any show- even OZ- and you won't see that much blood. It's just a TV-14 thing.
11. It has been reported that Cartoon Network will no longer be editing the shows it acquires, instead leaving the editing to the distributing companies. Will this result in the editing standards for future properties being tightened up, loosened up or remaining as they are now?
Doing it right is extremely time consuming and expensive. In general, the distribution companies will be doing their own edits; however if we feel that we are the only group who will do a show justice, we will edit those shows. My hope (we have no control over this) is that the distributing companies will take a page from our book and invest the time and money to paint out a little blood, or do a re-read, rather than hack out scenes (which is what has been done in the past).
12. The shows CN has shown so far have demonstrated some inconsistencies in editing from one series to another and sometimes between episodes of the same series. I am not referring to Sailor Moon and DBZ which I understand were not edited by CN. For example there have been episodes of shows where blood was shown and others were all traces of blood were edited out. How much effort is given to maintaining a consistent standard across the shows aired?
When it comes to edits not performed by CN, it's basically out of our hands. At the beginning of DBZ we let them know that they could loosen up the standards just a bit from what Funimation had done with the first season, and it wouldn't be a problem. But yes, you will see a wide spectrum of editing guidelines. They can change for any number of reasons - with network directives, by request from the distribution companies, etc...
13. There appears to have been some effort made while editing the Gundam shows to minimize the presence of death in this series. I refer specifically to two corpses that were edited out of the derelict ship in the first episode of Gundam 08th MS Team. Given that the horrible costs of war in terms of human life is one of the points of the Gundam series, why did CN feel it necessary to downplay this aspect of the show?
Again, I hate to keep banging the same old drum, but here goes: Gundam is about the horror of war. It's also about cool giant robots smacking each other around. For the younger viewers, we have no choice but to tone down the subject of death a bit and try to keep the overall feel intact. If we can bring this show to America, even if we have to cut some carnage, I view that as an even trade. We try to keep in as much content as we can until our S&P department says "whoa."
14. How much effect did the events of Sept. 11th have on CN's editing standards? Both Mobile Suit Gundam and Cowboy Bebop disappeared from the schedule for a couple of weeks and Cowboy Bebop had a missile hit against a skyscraper edited out.
Well, I don't think anyone would begrudge us for taking out that type of content. Mobile Suit Gundam is a show about war and death, and CN decided it was not appropriate to air it at that time. With Bebop, that image was deemed sensitive and we were asked to cut it out. As it wasn't removing anything pivotal, we agreed.
15. The anime series CN airs on Toonami and Adult Swim are available on video and DVD in their unedited states (with the exception of Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyou which offer two versions). Do you feel it would be appropriate to advise parents of potential buyers of these videos that the versions they can buy may not be edited to the standards of CN and that parents should be careful?
Cartoon Network doesn't sell anime videos or DVDs so, parental advisory is really the responsibility of the distribution company and ultimately the parent; however, almost all of the videos/DVDs are clearly labeled "uncut" and have their own rating system: 13 and up, etc. We are responsible for what we air on our network - the rest is really up to the parents and the distribution companies.
16. Outlaw Star featured an curious edit wherein references to guns were replaced with "blaster". There was even a scene where a pair of revolvers were digitally painted to look like futuristic ray guns. What was the reasoning behind these changes?
There is a sensitivity to the display of guns in a show viewed by children. The only other option was to cut the scene out completely. That happens to be my favorite episode, so I bent over backwards to keep it in. "Blasters" are considered to be more of a fantasy type of weapon, like in Star Wars. Guns are something that any child could watch our show and go and get. God forbid anything like that happened, it would be the end of Toonami. Again, not our decision, but I'm sure you can see why we had to change it. The meaning of the scene was not lessened, in my opinion, by changing the revolvers to "blasters." Blunted a bit, maybe, but them's the breaks.
17. Why was Nagi's bathing suit painted in (Tenchi Universe: No Need for Swimsuits)? It was actually less revealing than some of the bikinis worn by the rest of the contestants in the beauty contest despite its unusual cut.
It was more about the close shots of Nagi's suits, and how revealing they were, than the wide shots. You don't see too many of the other contestants in close up shots. And let's face it, that had little to no impact on the story. Fan service is fan service, and I love it, but it's not integral to the plot in my opinion.
18. So exactly how many synonyms are there for the word "kill"?
Nice. "Kill" is a word that is supposed to be forbidden entirely, though it shows up in DBZ and the Batman/Superman series. For whatever reason, they are allowed to use it and we aren't. Cut us some slack, man!
19. Will the new Adult Action Swim block be edited to Toonami standards, Adult Swim standards or its own set of standards given that it starts in prime time?
Unfortunately, the shows put in for the premiere of the Adult Swim block were all slated to run on Toonami and were edited as such. So, initially, the block will be edited to Toonami standards. Unfortunately, the resources weren't there to go back and "fix" these shows. We did put some of the edited content back in to Gundam 0083 on our own time, though. In the future, any shows acquired for that block will be edited to a TV-14 standard. Just watch it until we can convince the folks upstairs to get some good new shows!
20. CN's Midnight Run made history by running Gundam Wing completely unedited. Will CN ever repeat this either for Gundam Wing or any future property they may acquire?
We would like to do that again, yes...
21. How have your editing policies evolved over the years?
They have actually become more stringent. It seems that there has been a tightening of standards in the last two years (due largely to complaints from parents).
22. Has fan feedback contributed to the editing process?
Of course, though we are huge fans ourselves and we like to feel that we have a decent grasp of how we are doing. But the positive feedback about Bebop and the dual Gundam Wing edits has certainly given us ammo to do these kinds of "lighter" edits in the future. In fact, the Adult Swim action block wouldn't have been possible if CN hadn't known there was an older audience out there who might watch that kind of thing.
23. Are there any additional comments or clarifications you would like to add?
The only thing I'd like to say is this: everyone at Toonami are huge anime fans. We hate editing these shows. But any Anime fan will tell you there aren't too many good action shows out there that we could show unedited. We are trying to find the best shows that we can air without completely hacking them up. Anime is an art. We are trying to preserve that art and deliver it to a mass audience. It is our hope that one day, kids influenced by what they saw will buy more anime, and go to theaters to see it. And maybe even create their own anime influence stuff (like "The Matrix"). Then one day maybe all these cartoons won't be "just for kids." And we won't be the only people talking about this as an art form.