In Highest Praise
You wouldn't know by looking at Bobby Beaver that he is an anime fan. He wears normal clothes for a 31-year-old man: polo shirts and jeans, with sneakers. He works as a salesman at Conn's electronics store. He cracks jokes often, making the kind of self-deprecating comments that reveal he is painfully aware of the fact that he's a geek.
"There are two kinds of anime fans," he explains. "Those who go around wearing the T-shirts and everything, and those who don't talk about it. It's not that I'm ashamed of it. I just don't want to have to explain what it is It's not like saying, 'I work on cars.' That's a one-sentence answer. What I do takes paragraphs."
What Bobby does is make anime parodies, a time-consuming hobby that has earned him some fame within anime circles. In those circles, he's known as the guy who calls himself C-ko. C-ko, a curly-headed girl in a sailor outfit, is one of the main characters in Project A-ko, a story of three girls, A-ko, B-ko and C-ko, who just want to have fun but somehow end up leveling the city about once a week.
Project A-ko was the first anime Bobby ever saw, nine years ago, when he was still in college. And he fell in love with C-ko.
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"She's cute and she makes me smile," he says.
Hence, C-ko's Duplication Service, or CDS Productions, became the name he stamped on his anime parodies.
It all started when Bobby's friend Bill McBee suggested making a music video by putting scenes from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to Sting's "Fields of Gold." After that, Bobby put images from Kiki's Delivery Service, a story of a girl witch, to "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," by the Police. He entered that in a convention contest and won. He made nine more music videos, collecting awards along the way. But lots of people make music videos. Parodies are the real challenge.
In one room of Bobby's Angleton house (yes, he drives 42 miles each way to work in Houston) is his homemade studio, filled with all sorts of electronic equipment, screens and speakers. One evening he explains to a visitor how it all works. His friend Kevin Tumlinson, who provides some of the voices, stops by.
Bobby estimates that he's spent about $7,000 on equipment, even though much of it he salvaged himself. He built all the shelving and fixed all the VCRs in the room. In high school he started fixing TVs, just to find out how they worked, then moved on to VCRs. Broken VCRs fill the closet in his guest bedroom. When one breaks, he just fishes another one out of the closet and fixes it.
"It looks like R2-D2 threw up in there," Kevin says.
The first step to making a parody is choosing the scenes.
"The best scenes are talking scenes, not action scenes," Bobby says. "Action is just action, it's not funny."
Then he edits the scenes into a master tape and starts writing the script. Next he dubs the voices, by using a portable kit he put together himself. It fits nicely into a little suitcaselike metal box. He and his friends usually provide the voices. Finding women to voice-act is a recurring problem, though. He's managed to convince some Internet friends to lend their vocal chords. So in one video a gal from Florida talks to a guy in Massachusetts, though they've never met in real life.
These days Bobby uses a computer to digitally edit scenes and stretch dialogue so it fits the movements of the mouths, more or less. (Sometimes, though, the mouths just keep going, and he runs out of dialogue, so he throws in "and stuff" at the end of the sentence.) Computers have made his work a lot easier. Back in the old days, he and his friends would press "play" on the master tape, watch it with microphones in hand and just hit "record." If someone messed up a line, they would have to start all over.
Still, it takes a long time to make a parody, especially since Bobby does most of the work himself. It takes months, sometimes a year. Once, he brought his computer to an anime convention and finished a film 15 minutes before he was scheduled to show it.
An idea for a parody can come out of anything: a word, a joke or a current event. In Who Wants to Be an Anime Fan, Bobby pokes fun at reality TV programs. But his best, Koko Wa Otaku (otaku means "fanatic" in Japanese) is a whooping 45-minute parody about making parodies. Bobby often sneaks local landmarks into his story lines, like Planet Anime, UH and ADV Films.
Sure, he has other hobbies. He paints, kind of. He does cell paintings of his favorite anime characters, all cute females, which means he sketches on a transparency and fills in the lines with paint, so that when he turns it over, it looks like a cell from an actual film print. Framed cell paintings dot his bedroom walls. He and Kevin also turned a lawn mower into a go-cart. They made a hang glider once too.
"We make these things so we can film them," Kevin says. Everything ends up as a prop for a future movie. They dream of making a live action film.
Bobby has also salvaged some other things. In his living room, a tall rickety towerlike structure made of plywood stands from the floor to the ceiling. Precariously topping it is a heavy industrial projector, and from it, the ending credits of a movie flicker onto his wall. This he hauled from the trash bin of some chemical company.
"I might bolt it to the ceiling," Bobby says.
His best find, though, might be the satellite dish he dragged from somewhere. Now he can get The X-Files first thing on Friday mornings when the station sends the feed over -- without commercials, he says proudly.
Bobby recently got a girlfriend (shattering all stereotypes of anime geeks, Kevin jokes). He met her on the Internet. She has no idea how much time he actually spends making parodies. His parents tell him to stop watching cartoons and get a better job.
But Bobby has found something in making parodies that he can't get anywhere else.
"We're not into it for any material gain. We're into it for attention. We're all desperate for attention, so we'll do anything."
Requests for his tapes have come from as far as Russia and Australia.
"I don't even watch anime anymore," he says. "I don't have time for it."
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