Apropos of nothing except the spirit of Friday afternoon, I present the following.
As regular readers may know, in a rather lengthy comment to my compadre kevvyd’s item here, I made reference to the concept of cultural relativism. Simply put, it is the unfortunately rare ability to judge a culture, or its members, on its own merits, and not on the basis of another country’s cultural norms. The opposite of cultural relativism could therefore be called ethnocentrism.
Other cultures are different, that’s pretty much why there are other cultures. It makes the world an interesting place to live, all too often in the sense conveyed in the Chinese curse.
Japan, as a culture, has some interesting and unique qualities similar to our own, but just different enough to make us cock our heads sideways like a dog when you make a funny noise. For example, comic books are for the most part intended for adult consumption, and many cartoons are also so intended. The output of the anime culture, as it is called, is immense.
For quite a while, different business interests have made deals to bring some of these products to North America – the comic books are experiencing an unprecedented surge in popularity, for example. The cartoons have enjoyed a longer history, with Astro Boy closely followed by Speed Racer. Japanese cartoons, as a rule, have often seemed badly animated, and poorly dubbed, which is partly true: often the dubbing is a result of the stories needing to be changed to more appropriately, shall we say, North American values.
Which leads me to this: many of my generation look back with an embarassed fondness on a show called Battle of the Planets. You know, the one with the flaming spaceship. In said battle of the titular spheres, Mark, Jason, Princess, Keyop and Tiny save the world each weekday (or whatever) from the forces of the evil Zoltar, from the planet Spectra.
With me so far? Great.
Not long ago, I was excited to find at my local library a copy of the Ultimate Collection of B.o.P. (if you’ll excuse the acronym). What intrigued me, however, was the inclusion of the original Japanese episodes of the series that became, after the meaty paws of Sandy Frank was finished with them (anybody else thinking about the ‘Sandy Frank’ song from MST3K?), Battle of the Planets.
Originally, the series was entitled ‘Science Ninja Team Gatchaman’. In this series, Ken, Joe, Jun, Jinpei and Ryu battle the forces of Galactor (from somewhere on earth, not from space), represented by the evil Berg Katse. In this series, the characters, particularly Joe (the moody one), swear a fair bit, using the ‘S’ word more than once, per episode. As I said, these things were relatively easy to remove, since the dubbing process would change the language anyway.
Further to this, the show is considerably more violent – in one episode, we are shown the corpses of victims of one of the monsters, and people obviously die by the hundreds in some of the attacks on cities. This content was cut to reflect the North American culture at the time, and since it resulted in a considerable amount of material being cut, the U.S. producers hastily animated the robot 7-Zark-7 to act as a narrator and time waster.
This is going somewhere, honest.
As I watched one of the episodes, I was completely surprised by something. We open the episode in a fictional country, in which there is a large peak, Blue Mountain. Upon said mountain are carved the faces of three of the country’s past presidents (sound familiar?). The work has taken three generations to complete, and the young lady is just about to finish the fourth head, that of Jesus. Yes, Jesus.
The Gatchaman episode is, in the original translation from the Japanese, “The Magma Giant: Emperor of Hell”. One of the heads from the mountain is used by Galactor as the head for the roughly 500-foot tall lava monster. Can you guess which one?
Cultural relativism: the ability not to totally laugh your ass off at any culture in which this phrase is even possible:
500-Foot Tall Molten Lava Jesus.