Friday, March 23, 2007

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 but I haven't been paying attention.)

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?" - but it took anime fandom and A/V nerd know-how to take it from the pro studios and put it in our own living rooms.

Who started this wacky sub-sub-subculture? Well, the earliest evidence of 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 England you didn't even get to SEE it. I myself was bugging one of the creators 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 their excuse, 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.

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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.

Around the same time Pinesalad was mangling the Dirty Pair, two guys in Atlanta were doing the same thing to Star Blazers, AKA Space Cruiser Yamato. They called themselves Corn Pone Flicks, and their film would be re-christened Star Dipwads. Corn Pone wasn't content to just take an episode -they took the entire film Arrivederci Space Cruiser Yamato and re-dubbed it. What set CPF's approach apart from the others 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.

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The non-sequitur comedy of "Star Dipwads" entertained con audiences for years until CPF got tired of showing it all the damn time. CPF would later produce the live-action mockumentary "Making Of Star Dipwads", the half-live, half-parody prequel "A Star Dipwads Christmas", the parody subtitled "Grandizer VS Great Mazinger" and "Mazinger Z VS Devilman", and lots of straight fan subtitled videos, not to mention many short comedic films including "Corn Dog Seven" and "The Phone." The last installment in the Dipwads saga -1997's "The Return Of Star Dipwads II -The Metal Years" - continued the "mockumentary" theme as an intro to one 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. There was even a Star Dipwads comic!

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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, only this one has a pronounced Hibernian accent. Yes, it's "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.

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 DIY 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!


Unknown said...

In this age of YouTube I'm surprised that there aren't more dub parodies getting attention out there.

Anonymous said...

Your descriptions actually make Star Dipwads sound funny. I'd be half tempted to go back and look at those again if I didn't know already how thin the jokes could often be.

Incidentally, I never saw the Enterprise-fights-the-Yamato video until a good ways after making Harlock vs Han Solo. That got inspired by a "fights I'd like to see" list Dave III had included in the old C/FO newsletter circa 1987.

Chris Sobieniak said...

In this age of YouTube I'm surprised that there aren't more dub parodies getting attention out there.

Heh, I once had "You Say Yamato" up on YouTube on my previous account before I was kicked off, wanted to stick up "Fast Food Freedom Fighters" as well. Also got all the Pinesalad Dirty Pair vids too.

I know I'd love to see the Star Dipwads put up on YouTube/Google/DailyMotion myself, reading about it makes it sound like something Adult Swim eventually did with "Sealab 2021" or the other crap they've produced.

I do think it's kind of a shame there hasn't big a big interest in doing so personally. The best effort I've seen so far is some guy who's done a fandub on YouTube to a fairly recent anime, "Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series". So far the original poster had his video removed but a couple other guys stuck them back up. I think the writing/editing in them is actually quite good, though it's obviously most of the voices are probably done by one or two guys here.


Being also reminded of the short-lived MTV program, "Cartoon Sushi", and the "Ultracity 6060" segments they did on there. I wasn't sure if they were a tribute or an insult to the efforts of the real fans out there who could've done those things better themselves.

One thing I tried on YouTube that can't really be called an AMV, but was something simple and of interest only to me is to sync audio of a particular theme song to an unrelated cartoon (mostly American), and finding how out well the sychronicity is even by sheer accident.

The first of such I toyed with was the opening theme of the first episode to Harushi Suzumiya (namely the "Koi no Mikuru Densetsu in SOS Brigade's little video), and re-editing it to the opening of one of America's most infamously cheap cartoons of the early 90's, Hammerman (I couldn't stand this toon)! Needless to say the results were satisfactory and utter perfect!

Really, I didn't expect this to be that good at all. It's more of how I pick the song verses how I see it play out to the visuals. That's my main deal. Sometimes it makes a show look better this way I feel, such as what I did here...

This idea though came about some 6 years ago, when the Battle of the Planets CD soundtrack was released (while I loathe how that cartoon was put together, the extra music by Hoyt Curtin kinda made up for it's weakness), somehow I had LoGH on and somehow just messed around with listening to the theme from BoTP during the OP sequence and went, WTF! It just worked so well though I didn't know how others might've liked what I did. It's stupid yes but on another level I consider it art!

I had a few others I've made but I haven't gathered the strength to bother sticking the up anyway, like one I did of the GoBots cartoon with the OP theme to UFO Robo Grendizer used (sans the lyrics as I used a non-vocal version). Just felt the show worked better if Shunsuke Kikuchi was doing the BGM instead. Of course synching a Japanese theme to an American cartoon can be a tad tricky over the lengths between either (Japanese themes usually are over a minute long while most American OP sequences are 45 seconds or so).

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for the mention there!

I'm still surprised that after 20 years the PineSalad parodies are still remembered well by the folks who saw them.

I still tease Pam (aka BDBanzai) from time to time about doing another project. Maybe if we can bribe her.. hmmm... might take a house payment or 2 though.

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).

Again, thanks mentioning us. Seeing things like this makes me want to work on this stuff again.

Anonymous said...

I've been Trying to reach Alan to no avail!

As one of the co-founders of Pinesalad, I too would like to get together with my old friends in a reunion and do something special.

I live in Boston now and I'm working on remastering these from DVD. I need some help though. I don't have "You lying Hussy...", or "So glad...". I also don't know which Dirty Pair episode DVD set(s) from which our episodes were culled.

I'd like to invite the crew out to Boston for a reunion at the Anime Convention here in March. I'm working on getting Pinesalad on the program guide at a con for the 1st time in 20 yrs.

I'd help re-dub a new episode in a second if I could just hear back from someone in our group.

Alan, contact me at