Fire Emblem: Fates appears to be doing well in America, despite the wishes of a small, yet loud minority of consumers who use social media to harangue Nintendo of America, hoping to boycott the game and see it fail, operating under various protest hashtags. Of course, after the massive success and nearly nationwide sellout (which I can attest to as copies were at the time of writing incredibly hard to find, even in my rural area) they’ve switched gears into becoming “awareness campaigns,” because if it’s one thing Twitter needs more of, it’s useless hashtag slacktivist nagging.
Onto the meat. Censorship. Isn’t that a popular word these days? By definition, censorship is the suppression of speech, art, and ideas by an entity, be they an individual or a group, from another entity. That’s all. It can be as major as a government arresting a critic for speaking truth to power or as minor as a superintendent washing some graffiti off the building wall. A special subset of censorship is self-censorship, in which a person or group decides not to overtly offend another entity, even if it means suppressing one of their own ideas in order to do so. Again, either for ominous purposes like avoiding offense to a government in fear of retaliation or for benign purposes like avoiding offense to a market in fear of going broke.
Censorship is not illegal, nor can it truly be made illegal in any meaningful way by any power without irony (Any ideas promoting censorship will be quashed immediately!) It is the de facto right of any power to exert its force to suppress ideas it doesn’t like or doesn’t favor. It is the obligation of that power to use that right responsibly. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of speech in the United States, in as much as nothing you say will be prohibited by threat of government force, outside of open threats to said government or its citizens. Clear and present danger and all that. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be arrested for saying something, as standing outside somebody’s house and harassing him will lead to police removal at first and arrest if repeated. But you may stand on a street corner, and with your vocal chords, say whatever. You can’t stop the consequences of the reactions to your speech, but you are free to say whatever you like.
This is not to make a morally affirming judgment of such consequences happening, just that they do happen, from all sides of the political spectrum. Today, the left has social power, while a decade ago, the right did. Today’s Outrage Merchants taking to Twitter to protest people and companies for “offensive speech” is last decades’ politically-right radio hosts calling for the boycott of musicians that don’t like the current government. The only truth one can glean from this public constant is that you can control what you say, but you can’t control others’ reaction to it, and likewise your reactors can’t control how others react to them. (Sorry Fine Bros. Can’t find the trademark symbol.) You’ll just have to gauge which negative reactions you can suffer as a person, and be as ready as you can for unexpected negativity. Short version: You’ll have a longer career the less you tweet.
In actual experience, censorship as people fear (or fearmonger) can only come from the government or an otherwise powerful social force onto an artist or group of artists by threat of loss of liberty through incarceration or loss of livelihood through mass protest and boycott. Anything else, edition, revision, alteration, adaptation, localization, reinterpretation, by society’s allowance, is not, even though all of these things are the suppression of ideas which is the classical definition of censorship. You can certainly make subjective judgments on the content or efficacy of these revisions, but they still are not the big boogeyman of censorship as colloquially defined. Localization and modern reinterpretation are the closest you could get, as these sometimes do overwrite established dialogue or canon in the hopes that it plays better to different audiences. In this instance, the goal is to sell more copies/tickets, not to assert one’s own creativity on top of the original artist. It is capitalism, pure free market capitalism, that drives the alteration of content in this regard, and someone of a libertarian slant cannot possibly call the free market censorious or stifling to artists, now could they? Considering the success of Fire Emblem: Fates in America, the free market apparently has spoken, as the game’s sales and reviews from professionals and users alike (aside from people trying to bomb the reviews on Amazon and Metacritic) testify. Any discussion on whether a different translation could have sold better or whether these sales are just fans of Fire Emblem: Awakening buying the next game in the series requires alternate universes and time travel to know, and we might as well be debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
One thing I do know is that, looking through the protest hashtags, and a few Reddit subforums, I’ve seen several protestors do similar actions as what I described in my previous editorial on the matter. They come with a list of grievances stretching as far back as the NES and use this event as some kind of fanboy ammo in a console war, (“This makes Company X look bad and my favored company/platform look good by comparison!”) or they come with an attempt to claim the status of jilted fan, bemoaning the death of Fire Emblem and their pledge never to buy another game in the series again, vocalizing their non-customer status. There’s even a breed of special snowflake jilted fan that says only the SNES Fire Emblem games, directed by series creator Shouzou Kaga, were good and any after are garbage. One wonders why this is relevant when the non-controversial, pre-Fates U.S. Fire Emblem games weren’t directed by Kaga, either, and they apparently were localized just fine. (Or were they?! I’ll touch on this topic in Part 2.) It gives the impression that a good many of them would never have bought Fire Emblem: Fates in the first place, either due to company fanboyism or the fact they thought the series was “ruined forever” a long time ago. So we have a small, loud group demanding changes to games that more than a few apparently would never have bought in the first place. Why does that seem familiar?
But all of this fierce debate does draw out a singular question. “Is creative interpretation censorship?” Which is to say, is it censorship for somebody who is not the original author of a work to make changes to said work for artistic or market reasons, or even for more unpopular reasons like moral decency? The answer, according to societal acceptance, is no, and I’ll elucidate by using a wide breadth of examples from several fields of established art. I’m afraid you’re in for another long haul, but if you’re willing, I’d like to make the case for the freedom of creative interpretation and localization.
First is music, because it’s the easiest. Cover songs are when one artist or a band plays a song written by another artist or band. Let’s skip the formality of honoring songwriters instead of the artists or bands. They do good work, but I need to keep this simple. I may have to dig into my father’s old album collection, but there are many examples of cover songs being better (or at least liked better) than the original artist’s version. Take, for example, the classic rock song “Blinded by the Light.” Why don’t go ahead give that a Google? The artist was Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, right? With the bitchin’ guitar solo? Obviously if you spent more than a minute after your Google search reading links you’ll see some offhand blurb that the original writer and performer of “Blinded By The Light” was Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band, and that it sounds completely different, and some lyrics have been changed, too! And that Manfred Mann added 2 minutes of bitchin’ guitar solo to the original (\m/). What gives with this outright censorship?
What gives is that the music industry (yes, those RIAA scoundrels) allows for cover versions of songs to coexist with their original versions under the Copyright Act of 1909, even without the original artist’s permission. That’s how “Weird Al” Yankovic gets to make all those parody songs. Mr. Yankovic always records the parody first, and then tries to get permission. He never lets anything like the original author’s intent or lyrics get in the way of recording his own,
censored cover version and then trying to sell it. Sometimes Mr. Yankovic gets negative feedback from other artists. For example, take the rapper Coolio in his response to the parody of his hit single “Gangsta’s Paradise,” censored parodied as “Amish Paradise.” Coolio maintained (before 2014, that is) that he never gave permission for Mr. Yankovic to record a parody of his hit song, and kept saying things about him like:
Complaints about light-hearted lyrics for a “serious” song, comparisons to other parodies of songs that are less serious as an excuse, accusations of “desecration,” a moral judgment, and a veiled threat of potential violence. Oh, if only Twitter existed back then and we could get behind #CoolioImbroglio and go after “Weird Al” Yankovic for censoring Coolio’s song. As an aside, don’t go thinking Coolio is some kind of irredeemable shit because of this. He has since relaxed his stances and regrets not giving Weird Al permission to
CENSOR cover his song. Reminders that he still cashed the royalty checks and that “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a complete rewrite of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” probably helped.
There have been covers of songs that outstrip the original works in popularity including Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” Whitney’s Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and Nazareth’s “Love Hurts.” And this list doesn’t include cover songs held in equal esteem to the originals like Joe Cocker’s cover of the Beatles song “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and (guess I’ll have to break out the umlaut here) Motörhead’s covers of other Metal bands’ songs and even a country song, with frontman Lemmy Kilmister (RIP) and Wendy O. Williams’ (RIP too) cover of Tammy Wynette’s country classic “Stand By Your Man.” For some reason those names sound familiar…
Anyway, what does this have to do with Nintendo of America’s localization of Fire Emblem: Fates? Well, everything. Music, a bonafide artform, has allowances for other artists to make changes to an original artist’s work, including tone, pitch, lyrics, tempo, instrumentation, and length, so long as the note structure stays the same. This allows metal covers of rock songs, rock covers of country songs, country covers of rock songs, country covers of rap songs, rap covers of gospel hymns, etc. all without anybody (or at least anybody to be taken seriously) claiming censorship. Oh, you’ll get the occasional movement against a country cover of a rap song, or vice versa, usually belying an underlying conflict to which the protest is a proxy for. And yet, for some reason, “genre localization” is widely accepted, even by some who would claim to be ardently against localization of other things. Game development isn’t afforded the same artistic status as music, and in music one doesn’t even need the permission of the original artist, which Nintendo of America tacitly and expressly does when it comes to their global marketing strategy. Many articles have been written about Nintendo of America’s Treehouse localization team, and they always speak of collaboration with the original developers in creating a market strategy for their games abroad. To act as if these versions were developed in isolation, or that Nintendo of America’s Treehouse team somehow hogtied the original writers and wrote over the original script while eating the food from their fridge is the product of angry and feverish younger minds, or older and ignorant ones.
But enough about music! Let’s talk about movies. Another fun topic, and also relatively easy to discuss. The entire artform of cinema is littered with novel adaptations that follow the source material incredibly loosely, adding and subtracting characters, renaming characters, cutting events and dialogue, all in the translation from book to film. Strangely, this act of rewriting the original source material isn’t considered a form of censorship. In fact they have two words that creatively classify themselves away from the dreaded C-word. “Adaptation” and “artistic license.”
Adaptation merely recognizes the possibility that a description-heavy book may lose something (or gain something) in a medium that’s mostly visual and dialogue-heavy. The characters may not match the descriptions (all these action heroes end up looking like Tom Cruise), the scenes may not be exactly as every reader imagines them, etc. This is to be expected when a work from one medium is translated to work in another. Artistic license, on the other hand, is a privilege reserved specifically for the screenwriters, directors, and sometimes actors on a film. It is the freedom to create a work based on one’s own interpretation and in service to the plot and story. If you’ve ever seen the phrase “Based on a True Story” before any film, you’ll know the reason “Based” is in the title is to cover the differences from the true, factual history of the events displayed. In this case, actual history has been changed simply to suit a director and screenwriter’s needs for a dramatic story. This is accepted, and although it is not without controversy at times. For example, the 2014 film Selma was knocked for depicting the Southern civil rights movement as black only, downplaying the role sympathetic whites had for the victory of the movement. However, Googling Selma and censorship will reveal stories about the movie being suppressed from certain theaters, not the content being historically loose.
Can people possibly love
censored heavily-altered movies based on other works? Of course! Let’s talk Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel about android-hunting detective Rick Deckard tracking down rogue replicants, Blade Runner Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Wait a minute, where the hell did Blade Runner come from? Well, director Ridley Scott came up with it. Wait, why did director Ridley Scott call the movie (something that was not his original work, mind you) Blade Runner? Because it sounded cool. No, really, that’s why. A completely unaffiliated science fiction novel called The Bladerunner had its movie rights purchased by Mr. Scott. That novel was about a person who smuggles medical supplies, a “blade runner,” if you will. Unfortunately, the original novel, written by Alan Nourse, will most likely never have a film adaptation, at least not under its own title, due to the popularity and ubiquity of Ridley Scott’s scifi noir film. Considering the success of the film, as most modern editions of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are called Blade Runner with the original title as a subtitle, Alan Nourse now has his novel sales suffer as well. Not one, but two censorships for the price of one! But who cares about what that other author wants, right?
And yes, it is true Blade Runner was
censored heavily altered from its original novel. Names were changed, characters were dropped, plotlines were dropped, the setting was changed from San Francisco to Los Angeles, dialogue was rewritten, characterization was changed, and religious symbolism was dropped. There aren’t even any electric sheep! Who does Ridley Scott work for, Nintendo of America?! Did Ridley Scott even read the novel?! HE DIDN’T?! OUTRAGE! Even the actors got to write lines over the original script! The famous “tears in rain” death monologue from replicant leader Roy Batty (Roy Baty in the original novel. WHY CHANGE THIS?), one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, is nowhere to be found in the original story, and was suggested and written by Roy Batty actor Rutger Hauer. What?! The actor?! It’s not his job to write dialogue! His job is to ACT, not irrevocably change Philip K. Dick’s original story! #WePickDick
If I’m painting a picture of toothily grinning Hollywood types menacing Philip K. Dick in a corner while they take a sharpie to his book, I’m being facetious. Philip K. Dick was present throughout the filming of Blade Runner (It would be the only film based on his works where he would have any heavy influence) and approved every change Ridley Scott and scriptwriters David Peoples and Hampton Fancher made, although he did not live to see the final movie. All Dick saw was a special effects reel, and reportedly after that he had a discussion with Ridley Scott in which they shared wildly different views on the script. However, after this Dick was behind the movie 100%. Whether it was because he was starstruck with fame or trusted Ridley Scott to do his story justice is up in the air, we’ll never know. What we do know is that Blade Runner is considered a landmark sci-fi film and nobody seems to care that it really does take a hacksaw to the original story, and
censoring heavy alteration doesn’t seem to bother people if they end up liking the final product, even if this heavy alteration is a textbook case of censorship.
Many other popular and acclaimed films vary wildly from their source material. First Blood (That would be the placid first film in the Sylvester Stallone war/action series Rambo) changes the tragic ending of the returning war veteran into him being arrested and put in a military prison. Even though the original ending of the novel was filmed, test audiences didn’t like it so the director decided to
censor change it. The market wants what it wants, right? How does the original author, David Morrell feel? Well, you can read his thoughts here but suffice to say, he knew that novels and movies will be different, and it’s “illogical” to be writing the novelizations of the sequels to First Blood, because at the end of his book, the main character dies. Didn’t stop him from doing it though, or enjoying the movies based on his work, censored altered as they may be. Paychecks and royalties have a tendency to do that. The list of movies altered for monetary gain or artistic license is endless.
The Lord of the Rings? A bunch of stuff cut because the books were too long. Characters cut to give lesser characters more prominent roles.
The Hobbit? A bunch of stuff added because the book too short. Female elf added to increase female ticket sales, changing the character of a dwarf into a love interest for said female elf character, when the book contained almost no female characters at all. Story segments from characters in The Lord of the Rings added that were not present in the original book.
Star Wars? Despite being created by George Lucas, and having a script for Episode VII ready, J.J. Abrams and Disney elected to trash the ideas of the original creator and make their own ideas. They apparently didn’t mind
censoring differing from Lucas’s original intent with his own series, and neither did movie-goers.
Black Hawk Down? The Delta Force operative Hoot, played by Eric Bana, is a compressed character of at least two real non-Army personnel. This is a strange edition to this story, because this is non-fiction, and one can easily look up the facts. Didn’t stop the movie from making a lot of money and being a favored action standard, though.
Conan the Barbarian? The film takes incredible liberties with the source material, such that scholars on the subject of the author, Robert E. Howard, say that the characterization of Conan between the books and films differ greatly. The only media that attempts to follow the original source material was Conan the Adventurer, an animated series that, while beloved by most, drew criticism for not being as violent as the heavily edited movies. Accusation of
censorship adaptation from an already censored adapted product? Labyrinthine!
Edge of Tomorrow? Based off a light novel titled All You Need Is Kill, the Hollywood-produced version changes character names, setting, nationalities, and even races of people, and changes the ending. How could American moviegoers appreciate this travesty and make the film a success, critically and commercially, over the roaring throng of the novel’s original fans?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if you prefer? The original cult-classic musical film was co-written by the original author Roald Dahl, disowned by the original author for slight plot and character changes, and much beloved by audiences due to extensive TV broadcast, despite the alterations to the source material, mostly for its musical numbers. The modern 2005 adaptation stayed closer to the source material (despite inventing characters and plotlines not in the original novel), was endorsed by Roald Dahl’s estate, garnered more box office success, but focused heavily on Johnny Depp’s performance as a reclusive weirdo. Both films gained good reviews, both films have their fans and boosters, both professional and viewer alike, and neither accuses the other camp of censorship. Seems like here it’s just a matter of preference.
Probably the best example of film
censorship adaptation is Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, adapted to western audiences as… a western. Titled The Magnificent Seven, the film replaces samurai and kengo with lawmen and gunslingers, Japan with the Old West, and pensive Samurai ruminations with homespun folksy cowpoke wisdom. Though hated by critics, who were offended that John Sturges, an American director, dared censor localize a samurai film, Kurosawa, the man that they were taking offense in the stead of, told the director that he loved the film. How could Kurosawa feel that way? I’m not sure, but maybe the answer lies in Ran, his Japanese localization of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
What about the small screen? You like any cartoons or anime?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If I say these words, I’m sure visions of pizza swim by your head and surfer slang rocks your eardrums, but suffice to say, those things were never in creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original independent comic book. Pizza? Nope. “Cowabunga?” Nope. They weren’t even color-coded, as the original comic was black and white, and any colorings of the turtles’ domino-mask bandanas and knee and elbow pads are red. Their personalities remain intact, but exaggerated to caricature-level intensity, and the overall tone of the work is lighthearted compared to the relatively violent source material. This cartoon version invents new characters, created by the both the animation staff and one half of the original TMNT creation duo. (can one half of a brain censor the other half?) Rocksteady and Bebop? Invented for the cartoon, primarily to sell toys.
Sell toys?! You mean they created this children’s cartoon series in order to sell children toys and not to create art?! Of course. They go into detail about it here, but suffice to say they weren’t happy with all of the concessions to their art they had to make in order to get licensed for a cartoon show, much less a toy line that the cartoon show was meant to push. But they did it anyway, because this was their ticket to the big time and lotsa money, and the art market, despite dealing in artistic expression, is still a market. Should you wonder where the TMNT series stands today, the Eastman half of the original creators sold his stake to the Laird half, who then sold the entire thing to Viacom, specifically for use with Nickelodeon. If you enjoy anything Turtle-related after 2009, you enjoy reinterpretations and adaptations made by people who had no hand in the original creation.
TMNT was even localized to Japan! “What?” Yep, for a two episode special titled Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend, the turtles look like their American cartoon counterparts, until they use “Mutastones” and get power-armored, more human looking versions of themselves, who then can form
Voltron some robot and fight the “Shredder Gang.” Campy? Sure. Hokey? Absolutely. Playing fast and loose with the source material? You betcha. “Censored?” I’ve yet to see anybody claim that, and I doubt the movement to claim so would get any purchase.
That’s all well and good for an American cartoon localized to Japan, but what about the other way around? Any anime that came over completely localized? Not edited for violence or sex, I mean completely revamped and reworked for American audiences? Hungry for more pizza?
Samurai Pizza Cats is the cult hit localization of the anime Kyatto Ninden Teyandee. And other than the general direction of the plot, almost everything about the series has been changed. Names, tone, dialogue, characterization, adding a narrator to provide sarcastic commentary. The three feline main characters, who are clearly ninjas in the original, have been changed to samurai. Almost all of the names have been made into grade-school level puns on food or other things. Even the main antagonist, Kitsunezuka Ko’on-no-Kami, had his named changed to Seymour “The Big” Cheese, stripping the Shinto symbolism of foxes as tricksters (he’s a rat in the U.S. version) and his entire performance is one long, unbroken Paul Lynde impression. The theme song for the show was sung by the writer, who also effected a Paul Lynde impression. What is it with this translation group and Paul Lynde?
Why did this “butchery” happen? The legend goes that the recording studio either never got script from the original animators, or they had a direct translated script so bad they couldn’t make sense of it. Deadlines approached, so they had to do something. And they decided to make the show almost a parody of itself, and including many pop-culture references and jibes against other animal-and-pizza-based hero teams. The show, Samurai Pizza Cats, is a much beloved television show and I can find nobody that prefers the original and considers what the translation team did as some kind of censorship, even though it certainly fits the classic definition.
“Well that’s all well and good, Deguello. But they didn’t have the original script. If they did, they’d follow it closely. Anybody would.” Are you sure about that, voice in my head?
Ghost Stories is the 2005 American dub of 2000’s Gakkō no Kaidan, an anime series concerning ghosts haunting a Japanese suburb and specifically an old school building, and the adventures of five schoolchildren to stop them. Armed with the diary of her ghost-hunting mother, main character Satsuki Miyanoshita, her little brother, and three school friends fight to protect their city from invading paranormal demons and ghosts. Well, at least the main plot survived the dubbing.
When ADV Films got a hold of the series, the screenwriter for the show, Stephen Foster, added a lot of inside jokes about anime, anime conventions (both kinds,) anime production, local Texas bars, religion, sex, drugs, the whole nine yards. Characters had their personalities completely changed, their sexual orientations changed (for the sake of gay/lesbian jokes), and the plot was bent to make room for more jokes. I’m surprised that their names remained intact, although some were shortened to nicknames. Worse still is that the original script and episodes were freely available, and the scriptwriter seemed to not care about the original characterization or plot in some cases. More sexual content as added via language, and a series about children ended up being vulgarized with crude humor. Who could possibly like this outright, conscious butchery?
Nearly everybody who sees it, that’s who. Ghost Stories’ English dub is considered a masterpiece, even among hardcore anime fans who eschew official dubs (and paying for entertainment, which is another issue) in favor of fansubs from the internet (which happen to be free.) Though there were a few complaints, mostly centering on “artistic intent” and “censorship,” the dub was so damn funny that it had a life of its own, being freely shared on that new “Youtube” thing that people were talking about in 2005, along with redubbed joke versions of GI Joe PSAs and He-Man singing a 90’s Power Ballad. The new dub had received a fanbase, and appreciation, such that, though ADV Films folded (and reformed again as a publishing label) and sold the rights to publish Ghost Stories, the new publisher Discotek Media released the complete collection on DVD in 2014 and assured buyers that ADVs butchered,
MEME joke-filled dub remained perfectly intact so as not to alienate potential buyers. Apparently they and their customers feel that there is artistic status to be bestowed to translation, even if it varies wildly from the source material, provided that they are given permission to do so from the original creators. In the case of Ghost Stories, the American dubbing team were given free rein to try and make this mediocre series into something that could sell in America. And they succeeded wildly.
How about something more close to home?
TaleSpin is a heavily altered cartoon version of an already heavily altered film version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Baloo is a cargo pilot, Shere Khan is a corporate CEO, King Louie (Already an original creation by Disney as there are no orangutans in India, and thus none on The Jungle Book) is some kind of bar owner. There’s a bunch of original characters, all of whom have zero connection to the original story and were created by TV writers without the permission of Rudyard Kipling. Somehow, this show has a good reputation, but I can’t for the life of me understand why people would support such thoughtless
Any Bronies out there? Surely it wasn’t the reinvented and reimagined My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that made you a fan of the show, was it? I’m sure you loved the property since its first inception by the original creator Bonnie Zacherle in 1981, right? Right.
You know, cartoons and anime are not the only media that get put through the reimagination ringer. Comic characters have had such a number pulled on them to the point that it would be easier to list the characters that haven’t been altered by different artists and authors. They even have a special word for it. “Retconning.” Meaning retroactive continuity, it means any author (or more likely, an editor) is free to change anything about a character or a character’s history, be they hero, villain, or civilian, as a measure to increase sales of the comic or push the comic forward artistically. Think of your favorite comic book character, and I guarantee some thing or quality or element of his or her personality is something a writer who is not the original creator came up with, sometimes decades after the original author died.
Green Lantern? Originally Alan Scott, he was some railroad engineer who found a lantern after a railway crash and used it to fight mobsters, and railroad tycoons. This is the vision of the original author, Martin Nodell. Surely you didn’t picture some green guy in space named Hal, did you? That version was created almost twenty years after the original by a completely different author, Julius Schwartz. So ubiquitous is Schwartz’s version of Green Lantern, that they tried to rename the original Green Lantern as “Sentinel” so as not to confuse the newer readers. That’s gotta sting for the original author, eh?
X-Men? Hope your favorite isn’t Wolverine, an Incredible Hulk antagonist bolted onto X-Men a year later. Yeah, the guy who’s arch-nemesis is Sabretooth, an Iron Fist villain they simply repurposed for X-Men. If you’re getting a headache from following all this, you don’t know the half of it. Comics are byzantine.
I pray that your favorite isn’t Wonder Woman. Suffice to say, she is nothing like her original incarnation, whose roots lie in near fetishistic bondage and lesbian imagery and the wacko female superiority ideology of her creator William Moulton Marston. One could write a 100-page thesis on how many times Wonder Woman has been changed or altered to fit popular culture and social movements (don’t worry, I won’t), almost to the point where she has no character at all. There’s almost a new version every three or four years, and though that sort of character whiplash has led to lower sales, nobody is claiming the current authors are “censoring” the original creator.
This is what Wonder Woman actually believes.
Daredevil? The red Hell’s Kitchen hero was originally colored a garish yellow, and kind of a goofball. The pulp noir aesthetic and style was introduced by Frank Miller two decades after creators Stan Lee and Bill Everett. He also introduced the Kingpin, one of Spider-Man’s villains, to be Daredevil’s nemesis, instead of his usual fare such as Stilt Man and the Owl, and changed Daredevil himself to be an gritty anti-hero. Again, Miller’s take on the character ended up superseding the original designs to the point that barely anybody who likes the character today cares about his origin, and wants to see more pulp noir against freakishly large crime lords.
Oh I know who your favorite is! It’s Batman, isn’t it? Well if you want to be an originalist, uncut, uncensored, unadapted, unlocalized purist, then the only Batman you get is this:
Whaaaat? Yep, this is the original Batman as envisioned by his creator, Bob Kane. What, you were expecting black bat ears and a bunch of gadgets? Sorry, those were invented by his close associate Bill Finger, who invented and designed several things about this hero, including his real name, a whole bunch of his villains including the Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Scarecrow and series elements, characters, and themes like Commissioner Gordon, Gotham City, Batman having a sidekick, Batman having a sweet ride, and all that “Dark Knight” spiel. I guess one could try to protest DC Comics, or better yet, Bill Finger’s gravestone (if you can find it; He had a hard life) for completely altering a character to suit his tastes, if one wants to be ideologically consistent about original authorial intent.
Consider for a moment, that all of these characters were created to appeal to children. Adults too, but mainly children. They are superheroes, after all. Children’s tastes can be very fickle, and obviously the children of the 1930’s are not the same as the children from the 1970’s and they both are not children currently. The owners of these properties are compelled to change with the times in order to stay more popular (and sell more copies), and even if the changes aren’t always accepted (or good, female Thor comes to mind), the right and freedom to do so must remain unencumbered by the wailing and gnashing of teeth from controlling enthusiasts and superfanboys, lest these creations be chained to the era in which they were created, creating a sort of interpretive “temporal stasis.” If you think this is something new, let me ask you some questions about the precursor to the popular fiction of comic books.
Pop Quiz! Name as many original Robin Hood characters as you can.
I’m sorry, did you say Friar Tuck? *bzzt* Wrong. He was added to give the popular stories a religious and holy backing. Friar Tuck was the character of his own stories until he was bolted onto the Legend of Robin Hood. Surely Robin Hood’s love interest Maid Marian is in the original legend? Nope. She was an unrelated character that was more of a mascot for May Day. She was added in, replacing Robin’s old squeeze Clorinda the Shepherdess, (herself an addition, although much earlier) who was subsequently kicked out of the story and even had her namesake retooled as an alias for an on-the-run Maid Marian. Prince John you say? *bzzt* The central antagonist was always the Sheriff of Nottingham. Prince John was added as an antagonist by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Ivanhoe, which by the way, only mentions Robin Hood in passing, referring to him as the merry outlaw noble Locksley. So we also have Sir Scott to thank for changing Robin Hood from a simple country yeoman to a noble-in-hiding, a drastically different take on the character that has colored every interpretation since. All this from a novel not even about Robin Hood. Imagine if your own original story in which your self-insert character met Goku, and suddenly your version of Goku becomes the standard version.
Stranger still is that the entire Robin Hood legend itself could have been the invention of livery guilds and clothiers in the 14th century. The very first Robin Hood story, A Gest of Robyn Hode, goes on at length about various clothing items, some recently invented and conveniently for sale at your local livery, and ensures color description of every clothing item, probably at the behest of longtime livery guild partners Lincoln, the dyeing capital of England at the time. So for all intents and purposes, this story may not even be the creative brainchild of a starving artist, but an advertising campaign for Late Middle Age Macy’s or JC Penney, who probably didn’t even care about the “artistic value” of Robin Hood in the first place.
So screw Robin Hood’s sell-out ass! We know the real legend of England is King Arthur. Yeah! Arthur Pendragon! Yanked out the Sword in the Stone and became the Once and Future King! The Wielder of Excalibur! Husband to Guinevere! Leader of the Knights of the Round Table, and best friends with Lancelot, his most trusted knight! Advised by Merlin! Keeper of the Holy Grail! Whose nemesis is Morgan le Fay and was killed in a battle with Mordred and sent to Avalon! Nobody would ever alter this legend for any reason!
Well, pretty much everything I just said is something about King Arthur that was invented by some later writers (even a FRENCH one!) The original Arthur was just some guy who drove off the Saxons at the Battle of Badon Hill in around 500 A.D. That’s it.
“Really?” Yep. That’s it. Merlin, Excalibur, Mordred, Guinevere, the surname Pendragon, and Avalon were invented by a Welsh Cleric named Geoffroy of Monmouth for his work Historia Regum Britanniae, written a good six centuries after the first King Arthur legend appeared in Welsh Folktales. With this man’s penstroke, Arthur’s legend changed from a war story that Picts and the Welsh would tell each other, to a substantive element in the history and formation of England.
“But wait. What about the Holy Grail?” Glad you asked, voice in my head. That was the invention of Chrétien de Troyes, along with Lancelot. What, you thought Lancelot was always in the story? No sir. He and most of the Knights of the Round Table were invented by Geoffroy of Monmouth and Mr. Troyes, except for the Round Table itself which was invented by a Norman poet called Wace. Of particular interest is Chrétien de Troyes’ character Lancelot. As you might guess from the author’s name, he’s FRENCH! Why the hell is a French writer even having a take on England’s national legend?
Well, take the entire story of Lancelot. A French knight, joining the Knights of the Round Table and becoming the best knight ever. The other knights like him. Arthur likes him. Guinevere really likes him. Then suddenly Lancelot is sexing up Arthur’s wife, who in a jealous rage condemns his wife to death, splitting the kingdom in half. When English King Arthur, who suddenly becomes the antagonist in this story, is set to execute English Guinevere, French Lancelot rides in and saves English Guinevere and they run off to France for more French sex while English King Arthur stews in a corner in England. In case you missed it, Chrétien de Troyes, a Frenchman, took the English national story about “The Matter of Britain,” and made it about how much French Knights rule so much they’d cuckold the legendary English King Arthur and his kingdom would be ruined as a result. Chrétien de Troyes sounds like a piece of shit localizer!
Because of one single Frenchman’s addition a to legend nearly 500 years old when he wrote his version, now you can’t see a single damn Arthur story that doesn’t include some nod to Frenchy Lancey Lots about to or in the process of playing Sword in the Stone with Queen Guinevere. Or the Holy Grail, another of Chrétien de Troyes’ additions. But not the Sword in the Stone. That’s from T.H. White children’s novel of the same name from 1938. Merlin as Arthur’s magician/adviser and not some random druid was that dork Geoffroy of Monmouth again, along with Avalon, and Morgan le Fay as well. Speaking of witch, authors can never seem to agree on whether Morgan le Fay is a villain or not. I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of an important facet to nail down about a character. It seems like it’s permanently up for debate, which plays hell for trying to discern authorial intent.
So what are we to do with King Arthur? This legend has been hacked to pieces and reformed, reshaped, recontextualized as authors see fit, and giving not one whit as to the intentions of the original author, whoever that may be. Is it still censorship if there’s no author to censor in the first place? Does art lose its value the instant an artist is unknown? I don’t know about that, but I do know that if you’re going to be an intractable purist, that guy who drove off the Saxons in 600 AD is all you’re going to get out of Arthur.
You know what? Let’s get out of stuffy old England for a while. Let’s head for drier climes and more exotic stories. Like Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Made popular by Walt Disney’s animated version in the 90’s, including world-showing musical numbers and a comedic blue genie voiced by a hairy, sweaty standup comedian.
Obviously I don’t need to tell you that Disney took a lot of liberties with the original Aladdin story. He’s a hungry orphan suddenly, even though Aladdin’s parents played a big role in the original story. Princess Jasmine used to be called the mouthful that is Badroulbadour, and the antagonist used to be called Mehgrab instead of Jafar. There’s a magic carpet in the story because people vaguely associated Arabian mysticism with flying carpets although their true origin would probably be Indian. But the largest change will be the instant you see Aladdin himself.
Yeah see, he’s not Arabian in the original story. He’s Chinese. Meaning he’d look more like Chow Yun Fat or Jimmy Wang Yu or even this Suikoden character than some kind of fez-bedecked street urchin with a pet monkey.
So, why is this acceptable? This is a completely different take on the character and changes the race-relations subtext of the original for some kind of mealy-mouthed class warfare theme that disappears once Aladdin gets rich! This butchery must cease! #ChinAladdin! Of course, the change was an artistic decision to more properly relate to a young audience the Arabian quality of the original story, and since young audiences are Disney’s target demographic, so it goes. Were there people who were really ticked off that Disney made these changes? And even if there were, do their opinions matter decades later when the movie has become a classic?
The story of Aladdin, like the other legends and folktales, has no definite author, so the moral decision to
censor alter the story is an easy one. But how about a story where not only is there no known author, but there’s no definite story either?
Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories in human civilization, and might even be the oldest period. Told through eleven cuneiform tablets, it’s about a Mesopotamian half-god trying to find immortality and failing. He has a buddy Beast-Man named Enkidu who was tamed after a week of Endless Mesopotamian Sex with a temple prostitute. Enkidu dies because he’s mortal. Gilgamesh has a sad and tries not to be mortal, and fails a lot. He then cries all the way home, contemplating mortality. The End.
Or is it the end? There is in fact a twelfth tablet to the Epic of Gilgamesh, but it, according to translators and historians, seems to be an “inorganic appendage” to the epic, which is fancy classics major talk for being a giant plot hole. And it really is because Beast-Man Enkidu is suddenly alive and chatting up a storm with Gilgamesh about some of his possessions like a ball and a drum, and having to go to the Underworld to find them.
Hm… Talk about an anticlimax. What to say to this? Most translators and presenters of this story simply leave this last part out. As said, it’s inorganic and brings the heavy story of mortality back down to earth when Grown Man Gilgamesh sends his Man-Labrador down to hell to fetch his toys. They make the unilateral decision to cut 10%-20% of the story just because they feel it sucks. Or, even worse for story purists, it could an alternate version of the story where Enkidu didn’t die and it sort of peters out to a non-climax, meaning there is no “canon” of Gilgamesh to fight over. The key thing is, since we don’t and probably will never know, we’ll have to make a judgment call on how we want to interpret Gilgamesh, because there is no definitive, “original” version. You either have to trust translators or translate it yourself with the limited understanding of Cuneiform that still survives. Either way, somebody is going to have to make a translation or literary decision and it will not be 100% literal.
Wow, I got way off the beaten path there! Suddenly an article about video games has gone almost all the way back to the cradle of civilization. Now I know what you’re saying. “This is about video games, dork! Stop trying to add history and context and shit!” Well, sock on my left hand, I’m sure you notice that I’m talking about forms of art here other than Video Games. Because if we are to make the argument that video games are art, then they must be viewed with the same lens as other artforms, and the viewers, presenters, and consumers of video game art must have the same rights as viewers of other art forms.
But if you want an examination of changes in translation and localization from video games, then I’m your huckleberry. Join me in Part 2 where I take a look at changes and editions made to video games and ask the question, “Is it possible that some classic games are loved for their regional editions?”