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  • Transforming U.S. Anime in the 1980s:Localization and Longevity
  • Brian Ruh (bio)

From the beginning of modern Japanese animation in the United States in the early 1960s, there has been a tension between some of anime's obviously foreign aspects (such as Japanese writing onscreen and a more relaxed attitude toward onscreen violence) and its more easily domesticated characters and plots. American producers were often able to effectively obscure the origins of this imported anime through techniques of selective editing and dubbing. Generally speaking, though, the programs generated through such localization efforts were often very close to the Japanese source material.

Beginning in the late 1970s, American television producers not only adapted anime for U.S. broadcast but began changing the shows around to generate programs that were almost entirely American creations. Such shows took the source animation as a kind of raw material and completely rewrote the stories to make them something unique for presentation to American audiences as well as to television audiences around the world. (U.S. licensors often obtained the non-Asian rights to such shows, and as a consequence the versions distributed to the rest of the Americas and Europe were often redubbed versions of the American alterations rather than translated versions of the Japanese originals.) A program might have the relationships [End Page 31] between characters altered, seemingly unneeded plot information excised to shorten the running time, and be tailored too closely to what the producers thought the audience wanted to see. However, not all attempted Americanizations of anime properties were successful.

At the same time that American television producers were adapting Japanese television shows to meet a growing demand, the Japanese animation industry was undergoing a creative surge of its own. A prime example of this was the film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984, Kaze no tani no Naushika), a landmark in the history of Japanese animation. In director Miyazaki Hayao's adaptation of his own manga, he showed how animation can focus attention on real-world problems such as environmental degradation and the need to coexist with other cultures (and even other species) yet still tell an enthralling tale that still looks fresh nearly twenty-five years later. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind would go on to win the 1985 Kinema Junpō readers' choice award and set the stage for Miyazaki to establish himself as a commercial and creative powerhouse in Japanese cinema as a whole, not just in the world of animation.

However, the American dub and edit of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, named Warriors of the Wind (1985), has become infamous in fan circles for the liberties it takes with the Japanese original. Although most would probably acknowledge the necessity of dubbing the film into English for the American market, many had a problem with the fact that Warriors of the Wind cut more than twenty minutes from the film's final running time. The general consensus is that the film was a "mutilated,"1 "wretched,"2 and "horrendously mangled version"3 of the Japanese original, which was "subjected to a devastating series of cuts,"4 and that it "interprets the story of Nausicaä just about as accurately as Demolition Man redid Brave New World."5 Toren Smith, who would go on to the form the translation and localization company Studio Proteus, wrote that he was so "horrified by the butchery the insensitive Hollywood company had perpetrated on this finely crafted film" that he began trying to arrange for the translation and publication of the Nausicaä manga in order "to save the comics from the same sad fate as the Nausicaa [sic] animation."6 Such vocal opinions often fail to properly explain the exact reason for their anger, though, particularly in the context of the anime industry at the time. As already mentioned, heavy editing and dubbing of anime was common, yet few have raised the kind of ire that Warriors of the Wind evokes.7 This reaction raises the question of what it is about Warriors of the Wind that marks it so seriously as a failed transnational media product.

This question raises an important point about the nature of...