We shall, as is traditional, have to call the show in question Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. The Japanese had left two episodes of it with the TV channel. Bigwig the producer was so important that he could only schedule the meeting during his lunch hour, which was why the opening teaser played out to the room over the sounds of him grazing on a salad.
I watched as the superheroes gathered onscreen to save the world from alien parasites. Across the table, a figure we’ll call Gothboy thumbed listlessly at his cellphone. Bigwig shovelled another forkful of salad into his mouth as a Martian general threatened to conquer the Earth.
We hadn’t even got to the theme song, before Bigwig slapped both hands on the table, leaned forward and called the meeting to order.
“Right,” he said. “What can we do with this?”
He was blocking my view of the screen. I leaned to the side to get a better view.
“We could replace the music?” said Gothboy.
Behind his head, the jaunty theme song had kicked in. It had been a number one hit in Japan, but Gothboy had better ideas.
“This would be really great with Cradle of Filth rocking out on top of it,” suggested Gothboy. “Or someone similar. My mate Dave’s got a band that’s a bit like them. They might be cheaper.”
“We could replace the original language?” suggested a woman who had been sitting so quietly behind a potted plant that I hadn’t even noticed her.
“Yes, Fiona!” said Bigwig. “We could get someone famous to do the voices!”
We were still only a couple of minutes into the first episode. The people around the table had given it all of thirty seconds before launching in to ways of how they might change it.
“Can you translate it?” Bigwig asked me, all of a sudden.
“Not translate-translate,” added Fiona. “He means: translate it so it’s good.”
“I can translate what people are saying…” I began.
“Yeah, I don’t want to know what they are saying. I want you to write a script that’s better than that.”
“Wouldn’t you prefer,” I ventured, “to know what they are saying first? Then you would know if you wanted to change it.”
Bigwig, Fiona and Gothboy exchanged sidelong glances.
“We want it to be good,” affirmed Gothboy.
“I’m pretty sure,” I said, “that a million Japanese viewers tell you it’s good already, without any interference.”
“We’ll make it better,” said Bigwig.
“But still faithful to the original,” added Fiona hastily.
“Faithful to the original,” continued Bigwig, “but with more Zhzhh.”
“And change the names,” said Gothboy. “So they sound less… Japanese.”
“And we’ll put some music on it from Cradle of Filth,” said Bigwig.
“Or my mate Dave’s band, if they’re cheaper…” said Gothboy, carefully.
I stared at them open-mouthed.
“Trust us,” said Bigwig. “This is what we get paid for.”
“Otherwise,” said Fiona with a snort, “We’d be out of a job!”
“You haven’t even seen it!” I protested. “Did you buy it just to change it?”
Gothboy’s cellphone erupted in a disco version of the James Bond theme.
“Better take this,” he said. “It’s important.”
(This article first appeared in NEO #71, 2010)
Yeah they’re on my list too come the revolution.
A bit more scholarly piece on the same topic:
“Not just for children’s television: Anime and the changing editing practices of American television networks” by Laurie Cubbison