Friday, January 25, 2008

the secret history of anime parody dubbing

(this article was originally written in the late 90s. Many dramatic changes have taken place in the anime parody world since then, dramatic changes I have not paid the least bit of attention to. Last March it appeared on the Anime Hell blog, and now because things are very busy at Let's Anime Headquarters, I'm re-running it here. Nothing to do with the writer's strike, I swear. Enjoy!)

One of the craziest things Japanese anime fans do - besides spend thousands of dollars on cartoons that are in a language they don't understand - is parody dubbing. Like making your own music videos, dubbing your own voice over somebody else's video is an idea that sort of comes naturally to the hard-core anime person. You've got two VCRs, you're pretty well versed in the process of hooking them up to make copies, and sooner or later you're going to look at that "audio input" jack and start thinking to yourself, "Hey, that could be my voice coming out of that little TV speaker, making Rick Hunter say silly things!"

In fact, if you get two or three overstimulated teenagers and make them watch some untranslated anime, it won't be ten minutes before the quips and gags start flying. It's only a matter of time before somebody digs up a microphone, somebody else cannibalizes their stereo, and there you are making your own parody dub. This is nothing new - none less than Woody Allen employed the exact same technique for the re-dubbed feature film What's Up Tiger Lily? , and he was only aping Jay Ward's 1961 re-dubbed comedy TV series "Fractured Flickers" - but it took anime fandom and A/V nerd know-how to take this art form out of professional studios and into our living rooms.

Fan-made culture-jamming video has a history prior to anime fandom, though. Five or ten minutes after fans were able to record their favorite shows and play them back at home, some enterprising Star Trek nerd (get it?) borrowed somebody's top-loading VHS and a couple of patch cables and edited together a collection of their favorite Kirk/Spock moments set to Air Supply tunes, or McCoy intoning "He's dead, Jim" at length (for more information on this, check out Camille Bacon-Smith's invaluable "Enterprising Women"). Anime fans of the 1980s by definition had to have intimate working knowledge of home video technology, and the leap to making their own song-tapes, music videos, and parody videos was not far at all. 

actual footage from "You Say Yamato"
Who started this goofy sub-sub-subculture? Well, the earliest evidence of anime parody dubbing is a legendary treasure known as "You Say Yamato". It's an episode of Star Blazers dubbed wacky, and while it undoubtedly is the granddaddy of them all, whether or not it can be called 'influential' is debatable because nobody had a copy of the damn thing, and if you didn't live in New York or New England you didn't even get to SEE it. I myself was begging for a copy as early as 1985, and even my desperate pleas went ignored, because, you know, if they copied it they might get in trouble with the copyright holders. Well, that was the excuse I was given, anyway. Having since obtained a copy, I find the legend of "You Say Yamato" looms large because of its early entry into the field and its relative obscurity, rather than because of its comedy value.

Anyway, the one that was both very early and very influential was a little thing that really had no title, but became known as "Dirty Pair Does Dishes" by a Southern California group known as Pinesalad Productions.. Pinesalad had dubbed some Robotech episodes ("How Drugs Won The War" and "Why Don't You Come Over For A Sip Of Sherry, Slut."), but it was their Dirty Pair that really brought down the house. The voices were goofy, yet fitting - Kei sounds like Der Arnold and Yuri's voice is strictly Valley Girl. The soundtrack was pure 80's New Wave, and the dialog was silly and suggestive enough to make even the most sour-faced anime fan laugh.

some heartwarming scenes from "Dirty Pair Does Dishes"

What's more, this one showed up just as anime tape trading was getting into high gear. DPDD was copied and re-copied and re-copied to such an extent that just about everybody involved in anime fandom from 1988-1992 had seen the darn thing so many times that it wasn't even funny. Pinesalad would go on to dub three more Dirty Pair episodes before extricating themselves from the anime parody community.

The Revenge Of BD
Alan from the Pinesalad crew had this to say: Just to clarify there were actually three RoboTech's (dubbed between 1986 and 1987):

1. How Drugs Won The War
2. You Lying Hussy! I thought you were a Man!
3. So Glad You Could Stop by for a Sip of Sherry Slut.

They were mostly done with an off the air recording of RoboTech, a microphone (well, you couldn't call it that for the first episode), and the audio dub button on a VCR (something that was fairly common on VCR's of the time).

Scenes were dubbed "live" and hence the numerous glitches in the tapes.

For the DP's there were four episodes (dubbed between 1987 and 1990):

1. Dirty Pair Duz Dishes
2. Revenge of BD
3. Fistfull of Pasta
4. Viva La Dirty Pair

I remastered those to S-VHS with Laserdisc source in 1991 and seems to be what's floating around out there.

And technically there is a 5th Dirty Pair that was never finished. It has been worked on from time to time over the years but it's a dead project at this point (it had a killer sound track though).

Kurt Heiden from Pinesalad would love to get in touch with his fellow Pinesalad Producers, so if you fit that category please email him at kheiden @ (remove the spaces, guys.) Maybe if everybody is nice, someday soon I'll reprint the Pam Buck interview from the first (and only?) issue of "Lemonmag".

Around the same time Pinesalad was mangling the Dirty Pair, two guys in Atlanta were doing the same thing to legendary 1974 anime classic Space Battleship Yamato, seen here as 1979's Star Blazers. They called themselves Corn Pone Flicks, and their film would be re-christened Star Dipwads. Corn Pone wasn't content to only tackle one episode; they took the entire film Arrivederci Space Battleship Yamato and re-dubbed it. What set CPF's approach apart was the simple yet effective tactic of editing. While other parody film producers were content to just let the video run unmolested, Star Dipwads would use the magic of editing to make the Star Force destroy their own headquarters, warp whenever the heck they felt like it, and shoot themselves in the main bridge. The Comet Empire was explained away as a giant orbiting swarm of copulating sheep, and Prince Zordar was clearly insane, asking his subordinates repeatedly to explain the existence of goats.

Star Dipwads: Arrivederci Human Race
The non-sequitur comedy of "Star Dipwads" entertained convention audiences for years until CPF got tired of showing it all the damn time. However, this wouldn't stop CPF from using their Dipwads success to create a whole film festival's worth of shorts, parodies, fake commercials, and inexplicable content. 

"Making Of Star Dipwads" - banned in 113 nations
The saga of Star Dipwads would continue in the long-suppressed live-action mockumentary "Making Of Star Dipwads", in which the supposed Star Dipwads producers "Ego Hat" and "Leper Jim" talk about their film, murder the documentarian, and flee from the law through a series of shopping malls and grocery stores. Ego Hat and Leper Jim would introduce the half-live, half-parody prequel "A Star Dipwads Christmas" from a jail cell, the sequences for which were filmed in a real jail! 

A Star Dipwads Christmas - fun for the whole family
The final installment in the Dipwads saga -1997's "The Return Of Star Dipwads II -The Metal Years" - continued the "mockumentary" theme as Dipwads producers Ego Hat and Leper Jim, reduced to nothing more than brains in life-support tanks thousands of years in the future, are revived to introduce a wild thirty minutes of parody dubbing in which the Star Force spends three years fiddling with the thermostat and Captain Avatar's psychic powers are growing stronger by the minute. 

Leiji Matsumoto and two brains in a tank talk "Star Dipwads II: The Metal Years"

Corn Pone Flicks would also produce the parody-subtitled "Grandizer VS Great Mazinger" and "Mazinger Z VS Devilman", and non-parody subtitles of films like Adieu Galaxy Express and Queen Millennia. Their catalog also includes many short comedic films including "Corn Dog Seven," "The Phone," "Dig Dug", "Pong," "The Jar Of Screaming Blood," and the three-part documentary "Bad American Dubbing." CPF's latest projects have been a series of YouTube-released video film reviews on topics like Star Blazers, Captain Harlock, and noted Christian badfilm Armageddon. 

from the short-lived Dipwads comic strip

As the 90s bloomed, so did fan dubbing. Sherbert Productions produced their own Dirty Pair parody and moved on to Ranma 1/2 and Gatchaman. Some guy down in Florida did an episode of Tekkaman where the plot concerned hair care products. Seishun Shitamasu dubbed Gunbuster into a fake Robotech. Magnum Opus Productions did their own version of "1982- Grafitti of Otaku Generation" and turned it into "Fanboy Generation", complete with fake "interviews." They just completed a smutty version of Speed Racer. A Great Lakes outfit known as "G.R.A.A.C." released their own take on Evangelion, with a pronounced Hibernian accent, as "Bad Scottish Dubbing," complete with a fair Sean Connery impression. And Birmingham's Video Mare Jigoku produced not one, not two, but three in the live-action-clips-versus-animated-clips "X-23" series. The second installment (produced in conjunction with Corn Pone Flicks) is 150 minutes long and violates literally hundreds of copyrights and 'fair-use' agreements. Guess what? Nobody cares.

Video Mare Jigoku also did a video in which the Enterprise battles Captain Harlock, inspired by seeing CPFs video where Captain Harlock battles Han Solo, which was inspired by seeing a very very early homemade video possibly by Texas fan Jeff Blend, in which the Enterprise battled the Yamato (the Yamato won). CPF later did a video where Captain Harlock single-handedly destroyed the Empire from Star Wars. Did Lucas sue? Not yet.

Some of these parodies are funny - some are tedious - some are downright abusive. But the important thing is, the kids aren't just sitting back and couch-potatoing like zombies. They're taking what they see and using it as fodder for their own creativity, and that can't help but be cool.

The technology has come a long way, too - gone are the days when you had to record your dialog onto an audio cassette (the same cassette deck that was providing many of your sound effects!) and play it back into the video. Even back then some VCRs had "audio-dub" switches - keep the video, but record new audio - that music video creators were already using to good advantage. These days the kids can mix the audio on their desktop super computers, combine it with video either out to a S-VHS or again, right on the desktop, and there you go. Titles are child's play.

what's your favorite 80s movie
In the years since this article was first written, anime parody dubs have exploded into a culture that dwarfs even the craziest extrapolations of its early devotees. "Abridged" versions of popular anime titles abound on YouTube, making stars out of their creators and reaching an audience that the convention video rooms of the 1990s could only dream about. Meanwhile in those selfsame con video rooms, events like Ryan Gavigan's "Midnight Madness" allow crowds of anime fans to enjoy parody videos like "This Is Otakudom", "Evangelion Re:Death", "Fisting The North Star", "Nescaflowne", "Magical Downloader Girl Pretty Sue-Me", and "Fanboy Bebop"  the way they were meant to be seen; late at night, surrounded by hundreds of fellow nerds.

The best of the parody-dubbed films these days rival even professional TV shows, at least in appearance. Seamless edits and fancy titles abound. The actual writing is still sometimes stuck in the goofy-sit-around-and-make-fun-of-the-cartoons league, but even that has its own D.I.Y. charm. This is comedy without focus groups, editorial boards, sponsors or producers - this is total artistic freedom. So what if dick jokes abound? It's FREEDOM, man. Go out there and get some!

-Dave Merrill

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Menko Part Two: The Quickening

As we remember from our last episode, Mark Time and his rockey-jocket sidekick Bob have... wait, wrong part two. We were talking about menko cards and how they're thick little cardboard slabs decorated with off-register printing of things 9-year old Japanese boys think are cool. Here are some more!

Ambassador Magma is of course the Tezuka manga turned into the live-action television show produced in 1966 by "P Productions" and released in America some years later as "Space Giants"where it rocked our world. This card is a recolored photo of guys in rubber suits pretending to be space creatures, and if that doesn't appeal to 9-year olds everywhere, then something is terribly wrong. The next card is a different look at the same show...

Manga-style Maguma menko! Marvelous! Note the evil, scheming visage of the devil Goa, an outer space mastermind known in the United States as... RODAK!!

Next up is the faded and slightly off-model menko for a show that was instrumental in warping my young brain towards them there Japa-heeno cartoons..

Usei Shonen Papi, or Prince Planet as he was known to American International Pictures, is the story of a young boy sent to Earth and given super powers in order to defeat crime and injustice. With his friends Diana, Aji Baba, and Dan Dynamo, Prince Planet fights evil! The show was originally in black and white which meant Americans were spared the amazingly garish red and green color scheme somebody at "Shonen Magazine" forced upon the character.

This card stars Rainbow Sentai Robin, a team of super androids battling aliens and crime in the future! Created by Shotaro "Cyborg 009" Ishinomori, the menko card for this early B&W Toei series features metallic silver inks for Robin's outfit, which is kinda cool.

One of Tatsunoko's earliest shows, Space Ace came within a hair's whisker of being shown in the United States. It was actually shown in Australia, which got other anime shows the US didn't get like Ken The Wolf Boy. Lucky cobbers. Chubbier than Astro Boy, not quite as colorful as Marine Boy, and with powers far beyond those of mortal men, Space Ace here looks surprised as a rocket-straddling elf blasts through his personal space.

Next up.. Ultraman!

Not normally green, Ultraman is of course the live-action giant hero star of the 1966 Tsuburaya Productions television series of the same name. From the galaxy M78 he's come to Earth to battle monsters, including Godzilla!! Okay, he never actually battled Godzilla, but baby, menko cards don't care. Ultraman was a spinoff from an earlier SF/monster "Outer Limits" type show entitled "Ultra Q".

Because sometimes, sometimes giant spiders attack and you have to look on in horror while wearing your red suit with white polka dots.

Thanks for enjoying these menko cards. Now get back to class!

Friday, January 11, 2008

menko the gathering

I'm too young to have experienced this first hand, but kids in the 40s and 50s and 60s engaged in a game called 'card flipping' whereby Kid A would put a baseball card on the ground and Kid B would in some fashion hurl a baseball card of his own at the first baseball card on the ground in an attempt to flip the first card over and thereby "win". This is what we did before video games, apparently.

At any rate Japanese kids did the same thing with cards known as "menko cards". Squatter and heavier than American baseball cards, menko cards were imprinted with a bewildering variety of subject matter - ballplayers, wrestlers, judo champions, horses, rockets, spacemen, and - oh yeah, Japanese animation characters. They would hurl these cardboard squares at each other, not realizing that forty years later some goof with a blog would post pictures of them. The fools!

I bought these cards years ago at an Atlanta Fantasy Fair from Flaming Carrot cartoonist Bob Burden, who, when not drawing the looped-out adventures of the Strangest Man Alive, would man a dealers room table crammed with amazing stuff he'd culled from attics, junk stores, and yard sales across the nation. When I grow up I want to be Bob Burden. Anyway, here they are!

Alakazam The Great battles a giant scorpion in his quest to Journey To The West in this still from the 1960 Toei film of the same name, which of course was called Saiyuki in Japanese, is based on an ancient Chinese fairy tale about the Monkey King, and was the basis for anime as widely varied as Dragonball, Midnight Eye Goku, and SF Saiyuki Starzinger. Alakazam was voiced by Peter "Speed Racer" Fernandez in this film, which was released letterboxed on laserdisc by Orion Pictures, before they vanished.

Meanwhile, the Tezuka manga character-turned-anime Cyborg Big X looks on with trepadation as bands of Scotch tape wrap around the midsection of his menko card. One assumes this card saw lots of action in the streetcorner battlefields of the Menko Wars.

Cyborg 009 and the curious 60s toddler-style Cyborg 007 are on the retreat from both a giant spider robot and their miscolored uniforms on this kinda neat looking card. Menko cards are not known for their printing excellence or their attention to the finer points of character design. Personally, I love the fuzzy off-register printing.

Here Kimba The White Lion bites what appears to be a very skinny hyena as legions of jungle animals charge towards the scene. I get the feeling this card was more or less traced from the opening credits of Jungle Emperor. Oh, like you've never done this.

More cards to follow in Menko, Part Two!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The hot new entertainment trend for 1977 - "Anime"!

J'ever notice the continual parade of new anime fans who have the idea that Japanese cartoons are some brand new thing that only recently impacted American pop culture? Because if THEY just found out about it, it HAS to be some hot new trend! Right? Wrong. As evidence to the contrary allow me to present... Cool Robot Toys of The 1970's, namely, Shogun Warriors.

In the post-Star Wars toy world everybody scrambled to find science-fictiony properties for America's toy-hungry children. Some bright executive at Mattel must have, I dunno, gone to Japan or something, because the mid 1970s reaped a bountiful harvest of brightly colored metal and plastic spaceships, heroes, robots, vehicles, and unidentifiable THINGS to amuse Japanese children. The idea of shipping these things across the ocean for American kids is not a complex one; Japan had been supplying toys and cutesy ceramics for years (not to mention radios, motorbikes, cars, etc) to their roundeyed cousins.

As one of those American 70s kids, I found the impact of Shogun Warriors to be swift and powerful. We couldn't tell Great Mazinger from the Great Pumpkin, but boy, we knew cool toys when we saw them. The giant two-foot plastic robots shot their fists across the room, the smaller diecast robots shot their fists and transformed and raised a big bruise if you hit somebody with them, and all of these toys simply looked fantastic - this was a level of creativity and design in children's toys not seen since the mid 60s, if even then.

Most of the toys came from various Toei robot anime series - Getta Robo G, Raideen, Great Mazinger, Danguard Ace, Gaiking, Daimos. Some toys were culled from the outlandish vehicles seen in Toei's live-action "sentai" programs like Gorangers or Message From Space. But we didn't care then. We would care later. Later Jim Terry would use the popularity of Shogun Warriors as an impetus to produce a package of episodes of 5 different Toei animated SF series under the title "Force Five". Showtime cable would air compilation films and they just cut to the chase and titled them "Shogun Warriors." I bet Mattel was pissed.

Plenty of ancillary merchandise like coloring books and puzzles produced a Shogun Warriors experience un-marred by any actual context. Mattel took the Japan theme one step further by producing giant plastic fist-shooting toys of Godzilla and Rodan just for the American market. Marvel Comics even produced a licensed title based on some of the robot designs, treating Americans to the spectacle of Herb Trimpe illustrating robots originally drawn by Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.

Nowadays Japanese robot toys are valuable collectors items. The reissues of the giant two-foot fist-shooting robot are much too expensive to allow seven-year-olds to have their way with them, and toys that shoot tiny missiles might as well have giant labels that say WILL POKE YOUR EYES OUT. But for a brief shining moment in the mid 70s, American and Japanese children were united in brightly colored die-cast plastic Japanese cartoon play-value.

-Dave Merrill

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