Anime Fandom at Odds with Anime in the Mainstream

by Justin Sevakis, Feb 15th 2000
I have to admit, it came a bit sooner than I was expecting. But I think we all knew that when Bandai entered the North American anime industry, things would never be the same.

It was leaked a few days ago that the anime masterpiece Vision of Escaflowne would possibly be shown on Fox Kids (the programming blocks that's not a cable channel). Bandai refuses to comment (obviously implying that talks are still underway), but frankly, you had to be blind not to see this coming.

Or just not paying attention when Bandai (A:) refused to license the title to an American company, (B:) released it here to fans on the web only, subtitled only, (C:) started dubbing it without annoucing a home video street date immediately, and (D:) started talking to American broadcasters. Or chose to ignore the fact that (A:) only one principle character in the series has a Japanese name, (B:) had no nudity and almost no cultural references, (C:) would fit perfectly in the space allotted for American television shows without the end theme, and (D:) was voted the number 2 anime to be worthy of being shown in North America (right here on ANN about a year ago).

I was elated when I heard the news. Finally, one of the true masterpieces of anime would have an audience of millions in America. There would be magazine and newspaper articles on it, and like Princess Mononoke, it would be hailed by the public and critics as a masterpiece. I called my sister back in Detroit, who replied, "if that gets shown on Fox Kids, I am SO there."

Why was I not worried about cuts and alterations? Because this is Bandai. Because one of the top people there used to be the head of a very well-known Southern California network of university anime clubs. Because Gundam Wing made it to Cartoon Network with a scratch here and there, but mostly unscathed. Because they just announced two 12-episode TV series on subtitled-only DVD for $39.98 in one package. Because they just announced they would be releasing TV series 6-episodes per tape. Sure, they've made some stupid decisions (like dubbing Saber Marionette J Again without dubbing the TV episodes, or releasing the putrid Eat-Man `98 series on DVD before releasing the respectable first series), but this is a company that has, time and time again, proved itself to be fan-friendly.

I'm not saying that Escaflowne will get away totally uncut on Fox (although I wouldn't discount the possibility), but I find it highly doubtful that the cuts will be very significant. Disney's "Gargoyle's Quest" TV series was bloody and characters died, and that was carried on many Fox stations.

Bandai has already announced uncut VHS and DVD releases of the dub, the high-quality sub has been out for over a year, so what's the problem? Bandai has, to date, never butchered a release in either dub or subtitled form. That's something that no other company -- not ADV, not Central Park, not Manga, and certainly not Pioneer -- can claim. (Okay, Urban Vision and Right Stuf don't count. ;)

Can you tell I'm optimistic? Can you tell I'm excited? Can you tell I'm ALONE??

Shortly after the news was published here on ANN, I went to the ANN Bulletin Board, which is frequently the source of joy for me, and for the Þrst time I was let down in a royal way. Instead of elation at the possibility of Escaþowne being seen by millions in this country, I saw constant negativity, protest over decisions that probably haven't even been discussed yet, worst-case-scenarios played out as facts, and of course, pledges to leave anime fandom.

To be honest, I was sickened. Too sickened to even bother posting there. I simply had to leave. After visiting another well-known anime bulletin board, I went for a walk to calm myself down. I'd been disgusted by fandom before, but this one hit me like a ton of bricks. The reality was: many fans don't WANT anime to become mainstream.

It's easy to figure out why they don't want anime to become mainstream. Fandom right now is a comfortable little click. There are the newbies, there's a much smaller devoted fan-following, and with the exception of frequent internet flame wars, we's all good friends. You see someone else at Tower Records browsing through the three shelves of anime and there's a quick unspoken moment of bonding there. It's a bonding that just doesn't exist for things that are mainstream. You feel special when you hear a little kid saying "I LOVE anime!" We don't feel so special if a kid says, "I LOVE South Park!" or "I LOVE Pokémon!"

While I can respect that desire to keep anime something special, it's no secret that it's a losing battle. Anime is simply too good to keep under wraps. It's human nature that when we see something cool, we want to show it off to other people. Things that spread as quickly as anime has in the last few years just don't stay underground, and anime hasn't been truly underground for a while now. Fansubbing, the most underground practice of the entire community, is all but dead, and the mainstream media is starting to respect the art-form in a new way. Anime is now an $80 Million/year industry in America, and growing exponentially.

American fans aren't used to this. We resent anime being a profit-driven industry in America despite the fact that toy sales are the main determining factor in how long most TV series stay on the air in Japan. We resent that small alterations are made to anime so that Americans that think egg rolls are a Japanese food will accept them, despite the fact that most of the original creators were forced to compromise their vision from the beginning to suit the Japanese network, that the creators view overseas editing as part of the deal, and that this happens in nearly every country that shows anime on TV.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying wholesale Americanization of anime is a good thing. If given a choice, I'd never watch an anime that had been cut, had the names changed to American ones, or bastardized in any other way. I think ADV is incredibly irresponsible for changing the character names in Tattoon Master when there was no mass media outlet possible for that anime. I refuse to watch the DIC dub of Sailor Moon. I think Media Blasters should be ashamed for not releasing an uncut version of Kite. But by the same token, I'm very glad I've seen the edited version.

There are changes that HAVE to be made for Americans to accept these shows as mainstream media, and that's something that will happen, regardless how much fans complain. (What are you going to do, start a petition NOT to put Escaflowne on TV? Please.) So long as a faithful subtitled version is released, and the alterations to the mainstreamed version are kept to a minimum, I'm happy.

I feel very lonely in my views here. When I see fans going out of their way to cheat the American companies out of money in practice and yelling "boycott!" every time they do something they consider wrong, it makes me wonder why they're fans of an art form where they don't respect the creators or their ability to make money. When fans threaten to stop liking anime because of these things, I stop even believing they're fans. I mean, what kind of fan stops watching Nausicaä because Warriors of the Wind exists? There's no reason to stop watching Nausicaä even if Warriors of the Wind became as popular as Titanic.

The next few years are going to be tough for fans, and I'm sure we1ll lose many of them. However, if they're willing to stop loving something just because it becomes popular in a form they don't approve of, they're obviously not into this for love, they're in it for the sake of being a fan. And those are people we don't need around.

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