March 22, 2003

Moving Pictures

Nothing new about anime on Cartoon Network. The old-school Warner Brothers cartoons have been relegated to the purgatory of high-number digital channels. But up until now, they've been running futuristic sci-fi shows like Gundam or mindless fighting (a.k.a. Dragonball), and let's not even get into the disguised ads that are Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, etc. Even Cowboy Bebop, which is a big-budget show with a good story and excellent production values, is very much a Japanese interpretation of an American-style story.

Cartoon Network is becoming a little more adventurous, though. They added Inu Yasha, which is at least set in a Japanese milieu, albeit a fantastic wuxia version thereof. If nothing else, at least the girls have black hair and (really big) brown eyes. I might even consider getting it on DVD if it weren't $20 for a DVD with only three episodes each for a 110+ episode show. Rurouni Kenshin started this week, and the setting is based on serious Japanese history in the Meiji era. It's been a benchmark for the hard-core anime fan, and now it's being shown on the most mainstream outlet of all. Of course, it's the dubbed version, so the otakus can still cling to the superiority of their subtitled DVDs.

Even then, subtitling is no panacea. For a historical fantasy, it's difficult to separate the creative additions in the show from the historical and mythic framework of the culture, unless one has some understanding of the appropriate contexts. Taking anime, or any foreign cultural product, entirely at face value can lead to unintended interpretations. Some will see incredibly rich and fresh stories when it's really recycled tropes borrowed directly from the cultural databank. Others will wonder what the big deal is, confused by a presentation that assumes a common cultural context to fill in the background and connect the dots. And it doesn't seem like Japanese really translates well into English anyway. The International Channel is running Fushigi Yugi, and there was some overlap with the episodes I saw in Taiwan. The Chinese subtitles in Taiwan probably weren't perfect, but it scanned a whole lot better than the stiff English translations. Any significance in proper names is lost in transliterating it to English, compared to the direct importation of the kanji characters and their meaning into the Chinese subtitle. This gets to be a big problem in Soul Hunter (also on the International Channel), which is based on a Chinese historical story plus lots of wuxia elements and typical shonen anime schtick. It's a bit muddled even if you can separate the components and know the background story, and it becomes hopelessly convoluted for the ignorant Westerner. The dub decides to stick with the Japanese transliteration for many of the proper nouns, which gives it a bit of atmosphere, but at the expense of turning a good bit of the dialog into gobbledygook, as Mr. Ekjwnajwq's "wekrjnmsjkx" attack defeats the "zioupwq" technique thereby winning the "aqnnzziuq" item. Whereas seeing their kanji/Chinese names would give meaning to all the random words. It's all quite frustrating.

Posted by mikewang on 12:50 AM