The “Westernisation” Of Anime

“Americanisation” is a term that many anime fans will be familiar with. This is the process whereby an anime show or movie is purchased by a US company and heavily edited, its story changed and even its character names altered to make it have more in common with animation produced in the US. It was a practice that began in the 1960’s and became more popular in the 80’s and 90’s but is now a thing of the past.
I prefer to use the term “westernisation” it might not sound as cool but to me it’s more accurate in its description. Often these altered anime properties were meant to appeal to the western world as a whole and not just a US audience.

Many of the US edits dumbed down the story a lot, got rid of a lot of the more poignant or complex themes and also heavily edited violence and moments of emotional drama like character deaths. Some of them even took things a step too far in editing unrelated shows together. Robotech is a prime example of this, the US company Harmony Gold saw whatever mecha anime they could licence as little more than a gateway to making their own multimedia franchise on the cheap. They licenced Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (one of my all time favourite anime) to pilfer footage for Robotech and later when they ran out of episodes, re-edited footage from two different Japanese shows (the mostly unrelated Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeda).

The only US edit of anime I watched as a kid was Battle Of The Planets (Originally of course Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and I had no concept of what was Western or Japanese animation back then. I was a child and it was cool regardless of where it came from. I had no idea about changes to the plot, or the fact the robot 7-Zark 7 was added to explain what the hell was going on because of the numerous edits. I just enjoyed the battles of good vs evil and the cool enemy robots and bird themed costumes. I was too young to properly understand the plot anyway.

gatchaman01-69

 

Now that I’ve seen the original version I find it extremely difficult to suffer Battle Of The Planets, not because it’s re-edited, but because it’s so badly done. Some of the edits are obvious even if you’re not familiar with Gatchaman and anyone with even mid-range observational skills will be able to tell the awkwardly inserted scenes of American animation that were added to re-build the broken continuity. Yet I’m still somewhat thankful that it existed because it was my first exposure to anime and reading about its many changes as an adult meant the search for the uncut version became a holy-grail like quest in the pre-internet age.

If you’ve read my introductory post you’ll know that I disagree with the process of westernisation because I class myself as an “anime historian”. I’m a fan of preserving any shows or movies (not just anime) exactly as they were originally created, however this process was very much a product of its time. There was no way in hell Gatchaman would have been aired outside of Japan in the 1970’s without serious editing and refinement to US tastes. The fact that a lot of outer space scenes were added to Battle Of The Planets is likely to have been due to the effect Star Wars had on American Pop Culture in the 70’s.

You might say that westernisation was a necessary evil in getting anime available at all in the west even in a wildly altered form. I highly agree that decade was just not ready for the unaltered source material to be broadcast on television and a niche home video market did not yet exist for the uncut stuff in the US or Europe.

However you have to cringe at how badly it could be done sometimes. Take Voltron for example, the US edit of the “Super robot” show Beast King Golion. As far as I know Voltron wasn’t shown here on UK TV when I was a kid but being a fan of super robot anime, when Golion was finally made available on US DVD uncut I bought the series and checked it out. It’s a remarkably dark and violent show and much of it was pushing the envelope even for Japan at the time. There’s a scene in one of the episodes where the main characters flee their base in their four robot lions against their mentor Raible’s wishes. As the lions fly by the castle Raible orders the castle guards to open fire on them to prevent them leaving but the laser cannons fail to hit the lions and they escape anyway. In the Voltron edit the setup is similar and although nothing is actually cut they alter the scene through dialogue. Raible/Coran’s dub actor calmly states “I can’t blame them for going. Prepare to give our heroes a proper military salute as they take off!”
Yeah that’s right, they brush off an event as dramatic as a rebellion among the heroes by just having Raible suddenly agree with them when he’s clearly trying to stop them leaving at all costs. The dialogue as the heroes get shot at is hilariously vague.

There are tons more of these head slapping examples. One of the worst that comes to mind is changing one of the female heroes of Star Musketeer Bismarck/Saber Rider & The Star Sheriffs character design. In doing so she appears quite a bit older in the US only episodes to try and legitimise a romance angle that wasn’t really present in the Japanese version. Way to creep people out.

What I want to talk about more with this article though is the continued legacy of westernisation and how it has affected many Japanese properties and how they are perceived in English speaking territories today. Here are two particular examples I’d like to talk about in depth to illustrate this.

First let’s get into Harmony Gold’s treatment of the Macross franchise as a whole and why it troubles me. The problem with HG is their aggressive promotion of Robotech as a brand. If you look at the history of the series you’ll see that it has been merchandised to the hilt in an attempt to copy Macross’s huge popularity in Japan at the time of its airing. What that essentially amounts to is them making a large number of American only tie-in products (comics, lunchboxes etc) and then also re-boxing Japanese Macross products with slight alterations to sell on as Robotech merchandise. When you look at their comics output some of the artists have been as lazy as to just copy an image from a Macross artbook and redraw it as a comic panel, which even if you own rights to the property is still quite a questionable practice. They essentially see the franchise as a large cash cow that they refuse to let go of. That is why they actively block the sale of Macross products in the US that might lose them money and oppose any plans to have the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross or its sequels/spin offs re-released in the west on DVD or Blu ray.

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Check out this press release for the new Robotech comics if you’re not familiar with the company and you’ll see exactly why they boil my blood.

Harmony Gold’s cult ’80s television series Robotech returns for all-new adventures! Comic written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Briggs Land, Northlanders) and illustrated by Marco turini! TV episodes now available on Crackle, Amazon Prime & Netflix!
Live-action film being developed by Sony Pictures! Comic features classic characters Rick, Lisa, Minmei, Roy, Claudia, and Gloval! New comic series will delight original fans and newcomers alike!
With annual conventions, over 200,000 fans on Facebook, New toys and merchandise, Robotech fans are passionate supporters of this amazing cult franchise!

I wouldn’t expect them to ever reference its Japanese origins but notice how they pat themselves on the back for creating “a cult classic franchise” and even go so far as to name drop how many Facebook fans they have? To me it seems as if they’re desperate to keep the Robotech name relevant and keep their brand in the public eye. Considering that every anime property they’ve bought in the past and tried to make a success of has failed, the three shows that make up Robotech are all the company has left to make money from these days.
If this proposed movie was to ever get made it would make their attempts to hide Macross away even more disingenuous. I’m betting that because they own (or at least claim to own) the trademark for the name “Macross” in the west that the original series might not even get a namecheck in the end credits (perhaps something vague like “original series licenced by Big West”). My bet is that the opening credits would say “based on the animated series Robotech from Harmony Gold”.

Macross is a hugely iconic series with a multitude of fans that paved the way for countless other shows and spawned sequels and spin-offs as well as influencing other anime creators. Its place in history is certainly assured, however there are a new generation of anime fans emerging, some of whom will be eager to discover classic shows and will find their avenues to watch it very limited due to the fact Robotech is being pimped at every opportunity and that’s a real shame.

Previously I mentioned how certain shows mixed original Japanese footage with new American-made animation. There was also the practice of getting the original anime studio to create more footage to use for the American version (Voltron did this apparently to increase the episode count as well as also making a second series from another entirely unrelated show). However rarely have American companies who bought a Japanese franchise been so bold as to make a reboot or continuation of the same series entirely created in America.

golion original
We’ve bashed Harmony Gold enough in this article so I won’t discuss their various failed attempts to continue the Robotech franchise in animated form. Instead let’s focus on World Events productions and their attempts to make Voltron sequels. 3 different American attempts to recapture the success of the original have been made since the 1980’s, one in 2008, one in 2011 and finally one in 2016. If i was to say that the previous two didn’t exactly set the world on fire that would be a huge understatement. However the most recent 2016 reboot Voltron: Legendary Defender has in fact become rather popular both among old school fans and people new to the franchise. The new show was produced by Dreamworks animation (of all people) in association with Netflix. Critics have been kind to it as well, giving it generally favourable reviews. The writers of the show gave the analogy of the new animated Voltron being a lot like the TV adaptation of comic book The Walking Dead in that it’s a new take that has some of the same story beats but essentially does its own thing. Except that it’s not at all like that really…..when you consider that Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead has a great deal of influence in the creative direction of the TV show as executive producer. None of the original staff on Beast King Golion are involved with Voltron: Legendary Defender and it has now become quite far removed from Golion in that Voltron is now an established US brand whereas Beast King Golion remains a fairly obscure anime even in its native Japan because of the glut of similar 80’s Super robot shows. The fact the titular robot got his own Chogokin die-cast toy in Japan recently is likely more to do with the westernised version’s success rather than any attempt to celebrate the series to Japanese fans. In fact despite being made by Bandai the box of the toy has both the Voltron and Golion logos and the plaque that comes with him has an interchangeable title for fans to choose the logo of whichever of the two shows are their favourite. This is a highly unusual practice, most Japanese toys that have a western counterpart are reboxed for the US market or even remade entirely.

I can’t bash the makers of Voltron: Legendary Defender because first of all I haven’t seen it and secondly I guess many people will argue that because Golion as a franchise (unlike Macross) is totally dead in Japan that it’s only the American version keeping fandom alive. That may be true but essentially whether you view it as as a simple remake (much like an American take on a Japanese movie) the fact remains that it has been marketed as a remake of an American property and therefore is essentially a kind of “faux anime”.

To my mind copying every element of what makes something culturally unique and marketing it to a new audience without any nods to its origins is inherently wrong. It also doesn’t help that I’ve seen reviews that describe it as an actual anime show and that it copies anime aesthetics in its character design and uses things like super deformed and exaggerated expressions (see below). I found the first episode on a streaming site and looked at the opening and ending sequences and unsurprisingly nowhere did I see either Golion or Toei animation referenced in the credits.

voltron-legendary-defender anime influence

Anime is a unique artform, a medium that is quite unlike any other. If you’re a fan of any Japanese property that has been rebranded in the US and re-edited please discuss your love for the original version with fellow fans and newcomers and help keep the legacy of these shows alive. I fully acknowledge there are some people who love both (many people will have come across anime by the way of watching US edits after all) but let’s not let money hungry corporations muddy the waters of animation history.

Please share your memories about any of the shows discussed or any other “westernised” anime (I couldn’t possibly cover them all) in the comments below.

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Nice article man. Yeah, what I don’t like is that some anime now feels very western sometimes. For example, back in the days for an anime show to be broadcasted on western TV they needed to heavy edit the show, but now some anime is made so clean they don’t even need editing to import for western viewers

    Like

  2. Thanks! i really appreciate the comment, you’re the first!

    Although I’m a big Dragon Ball fan I haven’t gotten round to Super. I have heard similar comments that it seems somewhat sanitised with less blood and risque humour than the previous shows or the manga. The fact it exists at all is probably pandering to western audiences hungry for more. The story felt pretty much told to me with the end of Z (I always preferred the original Dragon Ball anyway with its more playful humour and sense of adventure rather than Z’s endless fights). I hope I enjoy it but I feel very nervous about watching it.

    Like

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