Let’s say you’re a TV producer, and you’ve just gotten your hands on one of those anime series that all the kids are watching nowadays. It’s sure to be a hit with young American cereal-gobblers, but you’ll need to do a few things before this show’s ready for the airwaves. You’ll need to dub the voices into English, and you’ll need to tone down the violence and sexuality that are apparently permitted much more freely in Japanese cartoons. One more thing: you’ll have to change the show’s opening number from Japanese pop into a song more in tune with mainstream America. And in doing so, you might just create something beautifully horrid.
As we round up the greatest disasters in revamping anime intros, we should point out that we’re sympathetic to the men and women who had to devise new songs for Japanese shows. Most Americanized anime intros are modestly upbeat kid-show jingles like the original Pok?mon theme or that delightful Speed Racer ditty. We also shouldn’t let the Japanese originals off the hook. Heaven knows anime has plenty of opening songs that don’t need extra meddling to be terrible. For the moment, though, we’re taking on the most memorably bungled cases of American anime openers.
11) Mew Mew Power
One wouldn’t expect something restrained from a show called Mew Mew Power. It’s crammed with magical catgirl heroines who appear to have leapt from the pages of a middle-school anime fan’s Lisa Frank notebook. So it got what it deserved when it came to America.
What did it deserve? A chirpy pop cupcake of a song that could quite possibly rot teeth in the minute or so that it lasts, all while cat-eared, maid-like heroines cavort around and make Sailor Moon look like Cannibal Holocaust.
10) The Adventures of Captain Harlock
An icon of the anime industry for over three decades, Captain Harlock usually has a certain dignity about him. He may travel through space in a skull-faced ship with a galleon-like stern, but Harlock himself goes about his pirate business with confident and manful bearing. So when the original Captain Harlock TV series was dubbed in the mid-1980s, one might’ve expected it to have a booming, serious opening number.
Well, it didn’t get one. Instead, it got a boisterous intro song that somehow missed the disco era by about five years. It has a weird, vaguely Styx-like charm that implores the listener to take to the skies (the skies of space, it would seem), but it has as much to do with Captain Harlock as it does with the Second Boer War.
The Digimon franchise is proof that there’s often no shame in being second. Bandai created it as a virtual-pet toy back in 1997, and Saban was quick to bring over the anime series when Pok?mon‘s success became evident. Indeed, some fans claim Digimon to be superior due to its backstory and the fact that the first Digimon film was co-directed by Mamoru Hosoda (who’d later make Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Be that as it may, the original Digimon intro is a strange and disappointing concoction.
Digimon starts with a beeping proclamation of Digimon being the champions (meaning that Pok?mon aren’t), and then, twenty seconds in, there’s a crooning verse from a guy doing his best David Bowie. And that raises a question. If you’re going to evoke The Thin White Duke, why not do it for the whole song instead bleeping along about digital monsters? And why does the singer cut off at “world”? It’s as though the studio hired the actual David Bowie but could only afford him for nine words.
We imagine there’s a good deal of nostalgia for Gigantor and its original Japanese incarnation, Tetsujin 28. It was a pioneer of the whole giant-robot idea, even if Gigantor’s handler didn’t get to actually ride inside the looming, pointy-nosed mecha. But there’s still the matter of Gigantor‘s lame opening number.
Many old Americanized anime intros sold their heroes quite well: Astro Boy was atom-celled and jet-propelled. Speed Racer was indeed a demon on wheels. Prince Planet was basically Astro Boy with a magic medallion. But Gigantor? He’s just bigger than big, stronger than strong, and a few other things that bring to mind a child’s description of a freshly crayoned robot drawing. Perhaps that was part of the appeal back then, and perhaps it’s part of the appeal now. You’re lucky that nerds discovered irony, Gigantor.
7) Ninja the Wonder Boy
One could argue that Ninja the Wonder Boy didn’t merit any royal treatment. Originally known as Manga Sarutobi Sasuke, the show is the creation of Studio Knack, which made all sorts of terrible anime (including the now-Internet-famous Chargeman Ken). That said, surely it could’ve had a better title than Ninja the Wonder Boy when it was spliced into a movie for North America. Calling the main character “Ninja” is a strange move even for 1980s cartoons. It makes about as much sense as naming someone “Samurai,” which Super Friends was doing around the same time.
Ninja the Wonder Boy gets the opening it deserves thanks to the music of Bullets (watch for them later). The stereotypical yells of “Chop, block!” might suggest a precursor to Parappa the Rapper, but the rest of the number’s a hokey beat that awkwardly proclaims “He can make thunder!” solely to have something to rhyme with “wonder.”
6) Macron 1 Macron 1 followed a common practice in adapting ’80s anime for North America: take two or more unrelated Japanese shows and edit them into a single series. It worked for Voltron, it sorta worked for Robotech, and it… well, it didn’t really work for Captain Harlock and the Queen of a Thousand Years. So the producers of Macron 1 found two series, Sengoku Majin GoShogun and the unmarketably named Aku Daisakusen Srungle, and rolled them into a big ball of giant-robot claptrap.
The opening for Macron 1 tries to explain all of it with an introduction that sets up two different universes, each with its own cast of villains and robots and pilots and blonde-haired heroines. The peppy pseudo-techno that follows isn’t all that bad, but most viewers were likely still struggling to make sense of the mess laid before them.
At least GoShogun would get another chance, as the TV series was followed by a surreal, introspective, and robot-free film known as Time Stranger. It was released unmangled in North America, and it’s well worth a look.
5) Monster Rancher
There were surely some children who spent the Pok?mon craze telling all of their classmates that Monster Rancher was better than Pok?mon OR Digimon. After all, the Monster Rancher games let you create beasts using CDs, and the Monster Rancher cartoon was perhaps just a little more interesting than Pok?mon. After all, the monsters in question talked and bickered and behaved like actual characters instead of subservient stuffed animals. A young Monster Rancher fan might recount all of this to the kids at school, but that fan would probably be mocked as mercilessly as the child who spent the 1980s with Go-Bots instead of Transformers.
That poor kid’s arguments weren’t helped by the Monster Rancher intro. Compared to the cornball catchiness of the Pok?mon theme, Monster Rancher starts with a limp description by history’s most bored rapper, possibly the result of producers trying to emulate that hip-hop music the kids liked without alienating overprotective suburban parents. Monster Rancher fans could point out the intro’s flashes of decent animation, but that didn’t help much when everyone was already playing Pok?mon.
4) Crusher Crusher Joe is often neglected. Based on a series of novels by Haruka Takachiho, the Crusher Joe film and direct-to-video flicks were fun slices of space opera in the 1980s, but they’re obscure nowadays. Even among fans of Japan’s bubble-decade animation, Joe‘s overshadowed by Takachiho’s sillier, more destructive creation, The Dirty Pair. It didn’t help that Crusher Joe never caught on in North America, where it was simply renamed Crushers for its limited distribution.
And what’s a title like Crushers without an appropriate theme song? After about 45 seconds of noodling, the rock outfit known as Bullets (remember them?) breaks into a totally radical riff about Joe and his fellow Crushers. They attack, zap, crack, roll ’em, rock ’em, and apparently put on some sort of show if you rub them the wrong way.
3) Goldwing Goldwing isn’t anime in the made-in-Japan sense, as it’s a Korean production. But it really, really wants to be anime. Specifically, it wants to be lazy giant-robot anime from the 1970s, albeit with an even lower budget. So we’d feel bad if we excluded it just because of its origins.
Harmony Gold, the same company that adapted Robotech, brought Goldwing to American audiences in the early 1980s. The journey gave Goldwing an amazingly wooden dub and a truly memorable opening number. It’s a brassy, upbeat tune that’s apparently about Goldwing, though only about one-third of the lyrics are clearly decipherable. It’s also set to a repetitious montage of the movie’s stiff animation, inviting you to count how many times you see that missile explode in a jerky, elliptical puff. Oddly enough, Goldwing recently saw a Blu-Ray release in Korea, and it features both the American version and a heavily degraded print of the original.
2) The Unreleased Sailor Moon Pilot
Certain fans of Sailor Moon can rattle off long lists of grievous ways the Japanese series was altered for the sake of American television, but they’re overreacting, as anime fans are wont to do. Sailor Moon‘s American treatment was a largely mundane case of editing out violence, nudity, and other things U.S. children’s programming couldn’t tolerate. The American opening of Sailor Moon is similarly inoffensive, apart from that weird line about “winning love” (who talks like that?). Besides, there’s a much weirder American version of Sailor Moon out there.
Not long after Sailor Moon aired in Japan, Bandai and Renaissance Atlantic whipped up a new pitch for the franchise. Instead of translating the original cartoon, they reimagined Sailor Moon as a mixture of live-action footage and new animation. The resulting pilot episode wasn’t leaked to the public, but some brave soul unveiled this clip of a music video promo, including what’s apparently the show’s opening theme.
Yes, Sailor Moon became some strange hybrid of space-surfing She-Ra and those Babysitters’ Club books. While it has good intentions in “diversifying” the cast (to borrow TV executive lingo), the results are a preposterous cavalcade of every insipid clich? that dominated girls’ cartoons in the 1990s. And the song suits this new creation all too well.
1) One Piece
At a glance, One Piece looks like a rollicking pirate-adventure show, a lighthearted and suitable for children. That was the mistake 4Kids entertainment made when licensing it back in 2004. Pok?mon had done well for 4Kids, and the company hoped for a similar breakthrough hit with One Piece, a similarly massive kids hit in Japan.
The only problem? One Piece is a bit darker than its cheerful characters suggest. It’s certainly a goofy series, but it also features violent battles, gunplay, blood, and all of the grim skullduggery a pirate story should have. This wouldn’t fly on American airwaves. One Piece needed to be softened up and brought in line with the other totally in-your-face shows on the Fox Kids block. So 4Kids did this.
And there it is. Kids got to know One Piece through an insulting bit of verse about how Luffy (that’s Monkey D. Luffy!) is gonna be king, and there’s an L-A-D-Y who’s not shy, and One Piece is, in fact, the name of the treasure in the Grand Line. This soon became the most notorious anime-opening rewrite in history, and to this day all true One Piece fans will fly into seizures if you so much as say “YAH-YO” around them.