Kissing cousins may bring controversy

Cartoon Network juggles controversial topics contained in the "Sailor Moon S" series

By Paul Sebert

Dubbing an anime series into English must be an incredibly difficult task. Perhaps you might remember the old "Speed Racer" cartoon where characters would ramble on and on as their voice actors would desperately try to get in enough dialogue to match the lip movements resulting in rambling dialogue that sounded like this:

"Yes, I will sabotage the Mach 5, then Speed Racer will not win the race, for he can not win the race if the Mach 5 is sabotaged, and then since he can not win the race, I shall win the Race. Ah-hahaha-hahaha!"

Judging by modern anime television shows today ranging from "Pokemon" to "Gundam Wing", the quality of voice dubbing in these shows has greatly improved. However, American production companies are still facing numerous problems with importing shows over here due to content issues. In Japan there are far fewer restrictions on television dealing with issues of touchy subjects like sexuality and religion. There are far restrictions on televised nudity and violence. This puts production companies and television stations in a difficult bind because American anime fans want these shows to be as loyal to the Japanese originals as possible in a time when teachers, parents, and politicians are constantly calling for less sex, adult themes, and violence on television. They constantly run the risk of either alienating their cult audience or facing the wrath of angry would-be censors. It's a difficult line to walk.

Cartoon Network recently proceeded to walk what may be the narrowest line in the history of animation when at the request of an extensive fan campaign they proceeded to import the third season of the popular anime series "Sailor Moon", entitled "Sailor Moon S". It was a basic example of the laws of supply and demand being place into action. The fans wanted the unseen episodes brought over here. "Sailor Moon" ranks among Cartoon Network's highest rated shows. One would naturally assume that it would simply be a matter of time before the new episodes were brought over. Why did the fans have to wait for so long?

Partially because of an economic standoff between Turner Broadcasting (which owns Cartoon Network) and Disney, who's DiC studios owned the distribution rights to the show until recently. However, the main reason that television executives have been uneasy to respond to fan response has been regarding the show's content. Two of the show's new characters, Amara and Michelle (named Haruka and Michiru in the show's original Japanese incarnation), are lesbians.

Gay characters are not uncommon in Japanese anime, even those aimed and marketed at children. Meanwhile, over here in the states, gay characters are a rarity in television in general, and almost unheard of in animation (aside from Smithers on "The Simpsons" and possibly Dr. Quest and Race Bannon).

You might remember all the hoopla that occured last year when Jerry Falwell drew up protests that Tinky Winky on the children's show "Teletubbies" was gay, based on the grounds that the character was purple and carried a handbag. However, unlike that absurd fiasco, any protests Amara and Michelle's sexual affiliation would not be without reason. They clearly are gay, series creator Naoko Takeuchi has plainly admitted so in interviews.

Not wanting to draw protests or risk losing sponsors, Cartoon Network and Cloveway Inc.'s handling of the show has understandably been rather conservative, trying its best to appease both parties. While the L-word has yet to be uttered by a single character, the gay subtext still exists. However, the two media outlets may have very well ended up shooting themselves in the foot. What could go down as one of the most dubious moments of judgment in television history occured in one of last week's episodes, when in what appears to be an attempt to draw attention away from the characters' relationship, the two girls referred to each other as "cousins".

It was an utterly surreal moment that I couldn't help but respond with a chorus of laughter. In an attempt to avoid controversy, Cartoon Network and Cloveway took a sensitive issue and actually made it even more potentially offensive by inadvertently throwing in a suggestion of incest.

However, I suppose one can't really blame Cartoon Network for trying to find a happy medium between the demands of loyal fans and would-be censors. I certainly wish that one existed.

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