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2001 - A Year in Review: Anime on TV

2001 - A Year in Review: Anime on TV: Eastern Cowboys

By Christopher Macdonald

While Anime is nothing new on TV, Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z have been appearing on TV for several years now, and classics such as Astro Boy and Robotech were on TV a long time ago, the sheer volume of Anime arriving on TV, and being marketed as Anime, is something new. The leader in this arena is without a doubt the Bandai / Cartoon Network "partnership". While there is no real partnership between the two companies beyond the scope of the individual shows that Cartoon Network buys from Bandai, fact is that the majority of Anime on TV right now is on Cartoon Network and a significant portion of it is being provided to Cartoon Network by Bandai Entertainment.

The partnership started with Gundam Wing, which has been followed by a number of other Gundam series, including the original Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979. But the partnership has also gone beyond Gundam, CN has aired other Bandai titles such as Outlaw Star, The Big O and Cowboy Bebop.

What makes the presence of these three shows on TV is their orientation, none are aimed at young children, and the immensely popular Cowboy Bebop was specifically produced for adults. Many people had long thought that despite the high quality, and extreme popularity of Cowboy Bebop it would never appear on TV because of its extremely adult material, some people even cited the fact that all three of Bebop's lead characters smoked regularly as a reason that Bebop could not air on TV. But they were wrong, CN created an animation block specifically for animation of a mature nature (please do not equate mature with pornography, extreme violence or other immature "adult" connotations), Adult Swim airs on Cartoon Network at 10pm. One of the shows on Adult Swim is Cowboy Bebop.

Unfortunately it wasn't possible for CN to air all these shows on TV without putting them under the knife, even in its late night, adult only "Adult Swim" block, Cowboy Bebop has still had numerous edits and the deletion of entire episodes. For the most part, the edits are reasonable and to be expected, swearing is toned down a bit, casual nudity is removed (none of these shows are "skin flicks" but there is the occasional casual nudity), sexual situations and banter are removed and so on.

Internet fans of all three shows were quick to count and catalogue every single edit made, and for the most part, the edits have been reasonable and no more than expected, swearing is toned down a bit, casual nudity is removed (none of these shows are "skin flicks" but there is the occasional casual nudity), sexual situations and banter are removed and so on.

While not as mature as Cowboy Bebop, but airing in a day time slot, Outlaw Star was the most edited of the three series, with significant cuts and edits made to scenes of violence and all the coarse language (which wasn't all that coarse to begin with). One episode of Outlaw Star was cut in its entirety as it featured the characters visiting a Hot Spring bath and therefore included a fair amount of skin. Interestingly enough, Cartoon Network previously aired similar segments of Tenchi Muyo! and dealt with the issue by painting "digital bikinis" onto the characters. Following Outlaw Star, and significantly less edited, was The Big O. The Big O was significantly tamer than Outlaw Star to begin with, and all there was for Cartoon Network to remove was a small amount of Blood and the removal of any words remotely religious (Cartoon Network seems to have a serious problem with the word "God").

In the case of Cowboy Bebop two episodes had been removed entirely because of scenes that might be found offensive following the events of September 11th, while a third was removed simply because it was excessively violent. Other than these three cut episodes, which are believed to be an over-reaction to the events of September 11th, Bebop was significantly less edited, than any Anime previously shown on Cartoon Network. The characters continued to smoke, swear and drink alcohol on the show. Still, it was somewhat toned down, most cursing was left intact, but certain words were replaced with "damn", some blood was removed, and a very small amount of nudity was covered (there was very little nudity in this series to begin with). CN will re-introduced the three cut episodes when Bebop returned to CN for a repeat performance. Bebop fans we thankful that the "second coming" of Cowboy Bebop was be complete.

Not every Anime on TV project is a success though. Bandai's sale of the broadcast rights for Escaflowne to Fox and the acquisition of Card Captor Sakura by Canadian company Nelvana both went sour. A popular series with fans, Vision of Escaflowne is an Anime that was produced with a predominantly female audience in mind, the show focuses significantly less on the battles between giant, magical robots than it does on the relationships of their pilots and the people around them. Fox liked the general story of Escaflowne, but they wanted to spruce it up a bit, make it more exciting for boys, they removed the first episode entirely, citing lackluster performance in test audiences. Fox made additional edits in an attempt to focus on the main male protagonist, Van, in the hopes that the edited show would be more appealing to boys. Unfortunately the edited Escaflowne didn't garner good enough ratings and Fox shelved the show after only 9 of the 26 episodes.

If Fox's treatment of Escaflowne was a disappointment, Nelvana's treatment of Card Captor Sakura was a major shock. As Escaflowne was produced with Teenage girls in mind, Card Captor Sakura was produced with young girls in mind, Anime for girls is called Shoujo in Japanese. While Fox merely edited Escaflowne, Nelvana completely cut up and remade Card Captor Sakura into a different show; the resulting show was re-named Cardcaptors. The original show's namesake, Sakura, remained the lead character of Cardcaptors, however her role was significantly decreased while the role of Li, previously a supporting character, was significantly increased. Nelvana felt that boys would appreciate the show more if the lead male character had a larger role. Nelvana also changed the order of the episodes, cutting some episodes entirely; the first episode shown was the 8th episode of Card Captor Sakura, where Li is introduced.

Fortunately KidWB! Was happier with the ratings of Cardcaptors than Fox was with the ratings of Escaflowne, Cardcaptors continues to air on Kids WB every Saturday morning. Fans of Card Captor Sakura have been able to buy the unedited DVDs thanks to a sublicense that Pioneer purchased from Nelvana. Meanwhile, Escaflowne was removed from American TV entirely (it continued to air on YTV in Canada) and those that hoped it might air on another US TV station had their hopes dashed when the learned that Fox owned exclusive broadcast rights to Escaflowne through 2005. Fortunately Escaflowne is available on DVD, uncut and unedited.

Currently, the biggest question about Anime on TV has to do with the fate of Fox's cartoon segments. Fox has already cancelled their weekday afternoon segment, and they are now looking at to sell their Saturday morning cartoon segment, a move that would leave Anime titles Medabots, Digimon and Moncolle Knights without a home. This would also put a permanent freeze of Fox's plans to air Slayers. Fox had acquired the broadcast rights to Slayers from Enoki Films USA, the North American licensor of Slayers, but insiders at Fox had already said that plans to air Slayers had been shelved for the time being.

Fox, Cartoon Network and Kids WB aren't the only one showing Anime on TV, the Starz Encore satellite stations, the International Channel and Canada's YTV regularly air Anime.

Starz Encore and the International Channel both occasionally broadcast older, short series like Bubblegum Crisis as well as movies. YTV regularly broadcasts Anime shows that are being broadcast on US TV stations, ie: Dragon Ball Z, Escaflowne and Gundam.

Right now though, despite the wealth of appropriate Anime, it looks like it will be several years before adult orientated Anime is featured on a major television network.

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