*movie trailer voice*
In a world where you thought Armin Arlert couldn’t get any more moe, Production I.G. brings you the anime adaptation of Attack on Titan: Junior High…
*/movie trailer voice*
Worldwide mega-hit manga/anime franchise Attack on Titan’s domination of the commercial scene has been predictable and unrelenting. Car commercials, amusement parks, video games, spinoffs, live-action movies – AoT is everywhere.
Reactions to the series’ ever-expanding roster of novelties have ranged from delighted to discomfited, to downright salty. Some fans appreciate the chance to interact with AoT canon through its different digital iterations, embracing the importance of promoting a great story to a wider market and Captain Levi body pillows with equal enthusiasm.
Other fans are less than impressed with its rampant commercialisation. The Attack on Titan live-action movie looks set to bludgeon audience over the head with a not-so-subtle portrayal of ErenxMikasa, not to mention some nasty, nasty greenscreen work. Not everyone is stoked about parody series Junior High arriving pre-season two. And the less said about 3DS title Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains, the better.
Unfortunately, huge and baffling alterations to beloved manga and anime series are not uncommon. Whether it’s two moody titan-slaying badasses uncharacteristically sucking face in a live-action movie, god-awful English voice dubs of classic Japanese anime, or half-baked videogames, it seems that nothing is sacred these days. What makes the westernisation – or any other alteration – of Japanese series so incendiary?
Well, the anime industry is (shock horror!) first and foremost an industry. This means that corners are cut time and time again in order to hurry production and to boost sales as quickly as possible. It was clear to many that as soon as AoT took off, the titan of commercialism would bust through the series’ integrity like so much Wall Maria. Forget the fan betrayal of Eren and Mikasa’s Hollywood smooch. Forget the shambles that is Humanity in Chains. Everybody’s favourite tsundere, Captain Levi Ackerman, is not in the live-action movie because his name sounds too foreign. I mean:
Let’s put aside discussion of the bastardisation of Attack on Titan for a moment in favour of pastures old. When I asked the rest of the Vexoid team whether they generally preferred subbed or dubbed anime, one hundred percent of them voted for Japanese subtitles over English voice dubs. It didn’t come as a surprise; English dubs are often a questionable rush-job due to severe time constraints, actors not being familiar with the pronunciation of Japanese words, and strange casting decisions that just ain’t right.
It’s generally agreed that western dubs work for the often minimalistic scripting and expressive vistas of Studio Ghibli’s productions. The humour in Japanese genres such as slice-of-life anime is trickier to translate. For instance, puns tend to disappear into the ether; Japanese characters’ names are often sneakily indicative of their personality traits, jokes at which many of us gaijin tend to wave obliviously as they pass by.
It’s not just the westernisation of anime, however, that leads to epic fan rage. Whilst the English dub of Death Note arguably holds its own, Japan can’t seem to leave well enough alone. Nippon TV’s new TV drama rendering of the series has been panned regarding its controversial changes to the story. In it, the Machiavellian Light Yagami is demoted from evil genius to dead-eyed idol fanboy for reasons many simply cannot fathom. What of the intense mental duelling between Light and L, Japan? What of a deservedly internationally-celebrated original story? WHAT OF ANYTHING PURE AND BEAUTIFUL IN THIS WORLD?
You have to wonder why us aficionados get so het up over people taking disgusting liberties making progressive variations on anime series. Clearly, the alteration of well-crafted series that we’ve grown up gazing at, open-mouthed at an artistic culture so far removed from the Western consciousness, is bound to provoke a deep-seated resentment.
And yet, the fact remains: dodgy dubs and more commercially-viable representations of series are what get the rest of the world interested in Japan’s pop culture in the first place. Without the saccharine stylings of the Americanised version of Tokyo Mew Mew – Mew Mew Power – my ten-year-love-affair with anime would never have materialised. I find the English dub of Ghost Stories to be just as side-splitting as the original Japanese. Many of the Vexoid crew cast their rose-tinted specs over the Dragonball Z dub as a beloved exception to the “subs or death” rule. Although subbed-DBZ advocate Mateusz made some fair points about the inimitable energy of Japanese VAs, I’m inclined to ultimately agree with Joe.
Nostalgia is a valid reason for going a tad easier on the “bastardisation” of Japanese anime. The dubbed version of Bleach was my entry-level experience – the first taste is free, kids – leading to my eventual graduation into a preference for the subbed versions with Japanese voice acting. I can’t say that 13-year-old me would have been as immediately interested in a story in a foreign language.
Like it or not, dubs, spinoffs and movies of Japanese productions are the reason that Japanese and Western culture are growing ever closer. We can readily identify with characters like Tomoko Kuroki because otaku culture is slowly seeping into our own thanks to the (admittedly sometimes crappy) representations of the Japanese cultural mindset. Surely that can only be a positive thing, because that shit is hilarious.
I’m desperate for a second season of WataMote, but it’s obvious that only big international sales are going to make my dream a reality. I suppose I ought to thank my lucky stars that Attack on Titan is being exploited six ways to Sunday, as that’s exactly what will bring about the elusive season two. The bastardisation and commercialisation of anime is perhaps a necessary evil – one that we all owe to our enjoyment of its art. Maybe, like Tomoko, we’ve just got to grin and bear it. Maybe body pillows will bring about world peace.