Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ravings of an Anime Dinosaur

I reminisced about this before, although perhaps not as fluent as Vern narrated it.

I was born at a time when we didn’t really term anime as a-ni-me. It merely existed, part of the lineup you watched on TV along with shows like He-Man, Gem and the Holograms, and Bionic Six.

I’m not as ancient as some anime fans out there. I didn’t get to watch Gigantor (a.k.a. Tetsujin 28) or Galaxy Express 999 or Space Cruiser Yamato in its original format, although I certainly have fond memories of Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom), Speed Racer (Mach Go Go Go!), and a bunch of super robots like Grandizer, Gaiking, and Getta Robo G). And I think the important thing to note there is that anime was scarce, and I tried to grasp for more, even if I didn’t know why I like those shows (or that they were actually anime).

But I’m from the Philippines, and there’s something that differentiates us from anime fans in the US. Shows like Dragonball Z and Sailormoon were aired on mainstream TV several years earlier (and the Dragonball movies was actually shown on cinemas). Many veteran Filipino anime fans will also claim to be rooted in Voltes V (a grittier rehash of its predecessor, Combattler V) and Daimos, as well as to sentai (live-action team groups like Power Rangers) and henshin (live-action transforming heroes like Masked Rider) and tokatsu (live-action shows) shows like Bioman, Shaider, and for me personally, Ultraman.

And when I did finally realize what anime really was about, finding sources of them became a real challenge. Previously, there were only one of four ways to obtain anime. One was to watch them on TV, but even back then, there wasn’t as much variety as we presently do now (well, except the adaptation of many “literary” classics like Heidi of the Alps, Candy Candy, Dog of Flanders, and Romeo’s Blue Skies). Second was to catch them on cable TV, and let me tell you, watching Dragonball in French, or Street Fighter V in Thai, or Saint Seiya in Chinese (and actually understanding what’s going on) is a totally different experience. Option number three was to watch them in the same mysterious language, except you got them on VHS and Betamax tapes. Unfortunately, finding those tapes were similarly difficult. You could either delve into the pits of Ongpin to look for Chinese copies, or hopefully have a relative who came from Hong Kong and bought copies. The third option was from the fansubbers (which are similarly dependent on the US fansubbers). But since this is the Philippines, fansubs aren’t really fansubs more than they are pirated fansubs. They got sold at high prices (one of the earliest ones I can remember was getting 3 tapes for P1,000 [roughly $30.00 at the time]) and you really didn’t know what to expect (there weren’t like anime reviews online or comments from bulletin boards and mailing lists) until you bought it.

That was actually a time that when anime got licensed, anime fans would cheer. Because that meant having access to more anime, to a wider variety of shows. I remember during grade school, staying up late just to catch episodes of Ranma 1/2 and Saint Seiya on a Chinese cable channel. And later in high school, I’d rush home just to watch episodes of Patlabor and Raijin Oh, never mind the horrible dubbing. Or Captain Tsubasa in Mandarin, despite the fact that I can only understand half of what they’re saying the entire time. And I’d watch reruns of Yu Yu Hakusho, even if they kept repeating the same first eight episodes month after month (yes, that was when it was on IBC 13).

And then the Internet came, fansubs were uploaded to cyberspace, and somebody started pirating fansubs in mass quantities. Sure, P300 for a VCD seemed quite expensive, but that was cheaper than shelling out P500 for a VHS (and a pirated VHS copy at that) copy of the same show. Someone was even selling hentai anime for as low as P100 at the time. Oh, did I mention that the only English manga available were from the likes of Viz or Dark Horse, and they were pretty expensive (around $20.00).

This was perhaps the time when anime fans started complaining. When an anime got licensed (whether locally or in the US), they’d gripe about it. Some fans wanted anime to be their fetish, the one thing that kept them apart from the rest of the world. But once it hit mainstream, it’d be like their “thing” was corrupted and they’d move on to a different anime.

For me, it was always about options. Personally, I prefer subtitles over dubbed shows (and for those who can’t relate, think of it as watching your favorite foreign film dubbed in the same method the early Chinese movies were). But if someone was going to provide anime on TV for free and actually released new episodes or episodes of shows I’ve never seen before, then I’d be grateful, even if the dubbing was horrible, or the translations were inaccurate. You can always go back to your fansubs (but honestly, if you’re going to be a purist about it, watch it in raw Japanese).

Actually, at the time, the subtitles versus dubbing wars was prevalent. Now it’s less of an issue, thanks to the latest technological innovation called DVDs (you can have both subs and dubs in the same package!).

For two years, there was a time when I got anime out of my system. But when I got back in, the world had changed entirely. I mean finding manga was already difficult in the past. Finding them online was a treasure! Finding them online AND translated into English totally overwhelmed my senses. And of course, by this time, more manga was being licensed. Tokyopop and other companies were licensing titles, and releasing them at cheaper prices than what translated manga used to cost. I thought that this was great!

And of course, more griping and more complaints from the fans. I mean here we are, a few decades later, when you can catch the latest episode of your favorite anime at the latest one week after it airs in Japan. And if you’re lucky, it’s also been fansubbed. The same goes for manga. And you can do it from the comforts of your home, downloading it at a convenient rate.

So what if it gets licensed? Personally, if I was really the fan that I was, I’d get a hardcopy of the item, whether it’s purchasing original DVDs or buying licensed manga. And licensed anime merchandise provides you with just that (and in a language you can understand). Honestly, if you really support your favorite anime or manga title, you’d support those licensing them. They might not be good at it first and they might be expensive, but the only time it’ll actually get better and cheaper is if they get supported. And in the end, it’s all about options. If you don’t want it, don’t buy it. But don’t let your own complaints deprive other people of anime or manga. Remember, more often than not, your first experiences with anime was in the vernacular, through the mainstream channels rather than the underground network that it is now. I remember watching my first Robotech show, I remember the corny dialog of Speed from Speed Racer. I’m not saying that you should like dubbed anime if you’re a fan of subtitles, but you certainly can’t enforce your taste on other people. And if you want to be a purist and have more shows subtitled, translated more accurately, and altered less for the sake of the market, support it with your wallet. Talk, after all, is cheap. You only get what you pay for. And honestly, if it was that profitable to churn out good, accurately-translated, and recently released anime and manga, the business owners would be doing it.

If you’re not willing to back up your words with your wallet, just shut up and don’t ruin a good thing. Licensed anime for me means a cheaper and easier accessible method for acquiring anime. I may not always like the choices but hey, it’s an option.


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