Tooned In To Anime

Fans say there's nothing Mickey Mouse about these Japanese cartoons with their stories of love, sex, death and saving the world

One of ADV's most popular releases, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is a science fiction saga set in the year 2015, when a mysterious race of beings known as the Angels has decimated half of Earth's population. Layering high-tech action with human drama and biblical prophecy, Evangelion has spawned endless discussion and controversy about what it all means.

Greenfield, who directs and produces many of ADV's series, says he tries to talk to as many of the original filmmakers as possible, to properly translate Japanese concepts into English. It can take a few weeks to a few years to release a show, depending on the market. Sometimes ADV shelves shows for a couple of years until the time seems right.

And now seems like a good time for anime, with your average Blockbuster offering tapes for rental and as many females interested in it as males. These days you can see whole families at conventions, Greenfield says.

Robotech aired on American TV in 1985.
Robotech aired on American TV in 1985.
Anime fans Andy Kent and Shoko Oono found their dream jobs at ADV.
Deron Neblett
Anime fans Andy Kent and Shoko Oono found their dream jobs at ADV.

"When we started, you could pinpoint the average anime fan as being between 18 and 27. Obviously he was male and he was usually someone who was in college or just out of college, but that's no longer true at all," he says.

Andy Kent is male, 23, and in college, slowly acquiring a political science degree. He is the quintessential anime fan, what people think of when they think about anime fans. He doesn't care for fashion trends, definitely nothing more complicated than jeans and a T-shirt. He eats hot dogs for lunch and frequently chats on-line and posts comments on message boards at anime Web sites. He also comes across as quite articulate, intelligent and full of information. In short, Andy knows he's a geek.

There is something to be said about geeks who know they are geeks. People who are self-aware about their place in the world possess, at the least, a sense of humor. Anime fans and computer nerds fall into this category. Goth people and Renaissance festival fanatics do not.

Andy was first exposed to anime when a high school teacher sometimes brought it to class, showed a film or two, and called it a teaching day. He saw quite a few classics, like Akira, this way. At UH one day, he walked by a bake sale for a new club called Anime no Kai. Andy joined, and soon enough he became president.

At ADV, Andy does a little of this and that. He synchronizes subtitles, schedules the voice actors' appointments, and proofreads advertisements and product packaging. He does other things outside of anime too. He loves football and used to manage a team in high school. This is Texas after all, he points out. And he reads science fiction novels. But he figures he's probably spent more money on manga than on college tuition.

Usually ADV does not find its employees at conventions, but the company is full of fans. Shoko Oono, 21, majored in computer engineering but found her dream job as a translator for ADV. Born in Japan, she moved to Chicago before the age of one but returned to Japan every summer; hence she has a firm grasp of both English and Japanese.

When Shoko was little, she read a Japanese version of Little House on the Prairie that was so far from the original that even a kid like her could tell it was terrible.

"I was thinking if I was the author, I'd be pretty mad. I felt that was really wrong. That's what I keep in mind when translating," she says.

Though she grew up watching anime in Japan, ironically her Anglo friends in America got her into it during high school. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she joined the anime club, where she met her fiancé, the club president.

Because many series were not commercially available in North America at the time, leaving fans without much to watch, Shoko and other club members undertook the painstaking process of producing subtitled anime for other fans. The fansubbing took months. They would obtain a show from Japanese laser disc, DVD or tape. Shoko would translate. Then, using computer software, they inserted subtitles and made VHS copies to distribute. Fansubs fill the libraries of many anime clubs.

"Back then there was no alternative," she says.

Of course, fansubbing is illegal. And fans have adopted a loose code of ethics and etiquette to reduce potential conflict with companies who produce the original anime. First, no cash for a fansub should ever change hands, and if it does, it should cover only the costs of a blank tape and postage. Ideally, a person looking for a fansub should send in his own blank tape and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

"The idea is that it's not legal under any circumstances, but it's more palatable if you're not making any profit off it," says Andy, who once authored an article about fansubbing ethics on-line.

Fansubbers also seem to adhere to an unofficial agreement with companies to stop distributing a title once a company picks it up for release. Some even destroy their fansubs once commercial versions become available.

Though most hard-core fans already know about fansubbing (and many probably became fans of anime by watching fansubs), ADV didn't want to talk about it much for this story. When Shoko came on an interview, Ken Wiatrek from ADV's marketing department also showed up, acting like a chaperone and killing the conversation when it wandered too far into fansubbing territory.

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