Sunday, March 14, 2010

The (confusing) History of the TMNT in Japan


Foreword

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise has enjoyed a wild level of success over the past twenty-five years not only in their birthplace of America, but in countries all across the globe. Several countries have, in fact, even produced their own Turtles media exclusive to their shores, such as comic books and other products, which have never reached those of us in the United States (likewise, much of our product has never reached them).

But of all the foreign nations to embrace the Ninja Turtles, it probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that Japan (birthplace of the ninja) quite possibly went more berserk for them than anyone else. The Ninja Turtles brand enjoyed a tremendous level of success in the heyday of the 90s over in the Land of the Rising Sun, and while the more modern Turtles media has not been able to recapture that audience, the history of the brand in Japan remains a rather convoluted but fascinating one.

As someone who understands the Japanese language, I thought I’d take it upon myself to research the history of the brand in Japan and correlate my findings into an essay exploring the franchise’s run over there, from its insane highs to its embarrassing lows.


The Fred Wolf Cartoon

Japan’s very first taste of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came in the same package that most of us recall as our first Turtles experience: the 80s TMNT cartoon from Murakami-Wolf-Swenson (now simply “Fred Wolf”; screw those other two guys). However, the Japanese received the show in a rather…complicated manner.




You know how here, in the US, a single foreign media franchise can be broken up and then sold to different companies for overseas release? Like how Pioneer, Manga Entertainment and Funimation all have their own wildly different dubs of assorted Lupin III media available simultaneously? It happens.

And, in Japan, it happened to the Ninja Turtles.

The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was released across three different formats and with three completely different dubs. This gave the series some considerable coverage, ensuring that every man, woman and child in Japan would get to see the series no matter where they got their cartoons from. Unfortunately, it also meant that there were three very different versions of the same show going on at almost the same time, determined to confuse kids everywhere.

Beginning in May of 1991, the first dub of the TMNT cartoon, and the only one of the three to be branded “Ninja Turtles” (忍者タートルズ) rather than “Mutant Turtles” (ミュータントタートルズ), was released over the NHK 2 Satellite Network. The series ran for a total of 52 episodes, ending with the episode “The Missing Map”, and making it the shortest of the three versions of the series. Like all other versions of the show, the episodes were presented almost entirely out of order, making a mess of what few story arcs the series had so early on, and skipping large gulfs of episodes entirely.

Due to its short run, obscurity and overall lack of availability, it’s also the least recognized. Still, if you’ve ever typed “Ninja Turtles Japan” into a You Tube search, chances are you’ve seen this version’s theme song, the “Idol Ninja Turtles” opening. This is the version of the classic English Ninja Turtles theme song with the lyrics in Japanese (and heavily altered for the most part as opposed to a straight-up translation). The other two releases of the series chose to retain the English theme song with nothing more than Japanese subtitles to guide the kids along.



This dub is recognized for a few bizarre oddities, such as Donatello having a rather deep, gruff and manly voice (provided by Huruta Nobuyuki) while Raphael had an inexplicably effeminate tone (provided by Seisuke Kameyama…whose last name ironically means “Turtle Mountain”). Perhaps most perplexing of all, the Shredder regularly referred to Krang as “Mr. Krang”.

The second television dub, and inarguably the most popular, began its run in 1993 on TV Tokyo for a grand total of 102 episodes, ending with “Donatello’s Bad Time”. TV Tokyo is one of Japan’s major networks (comparable to NBC or CBS here in the states) and thus its programming was more easily accessible to a wider audience than a satellite network like NHK2. While the series did not complete the full US run of 194 episodes, you have to understand that a foreign cartoon running for 102 episodes on a major Japanese network like TV Tokyo is nothing short of a miracle.

In Japan, there are various rules and guidelines in place that frequently prevent foreign programming from appearing on major networks like TV Tokyo, as they wish to save their broadcasting timeslots for Japanese programming so as to stimulate jobs and what-not. These sorts of guidelines are not exclusive to Japan; it’s my understanding that Canadian networks have very similar rules. For a foreign cartoon to appear on networks such as TV Tokyo, there has to be a considerable amount of backing from Japanese companies as well as respectable ratings after the fact. These factors would contribute to the ultimate failure of the 4Kids Ninja Turtles cartoon in Japan many years later, but that’s getting ahead of myself.




Needless to say, a foreign cartoon such as Ninja Turtles running on a station like TV Tokyo for 102 episodes is, quite simply put, a monumental achievement and credence to the brand’s incredible popularity over there at the time. With the Playmates toyline being released by Takara, providing the Japanese backing the show needed, and tremendous ratings success, this version of Ninja Turtles quickly became a sensation, spinning off into Japanese exclusive comics and cartoons which I’ll get into later.

Voice-wise, this version is probably best recognized among Western audiences as the one with “that Krang”. You know what I’m talking about. But in case you actually don’t, this version gave Krang the notoriously high-pitched, whiney, squealing and all-around painfully obnoxious voice (provided by Hideyuki Umetsu) that Japanese fans know and love so very, very much. I fail to see the attraction, but whatever. It also carried several exclusive gags, such as Shredder constantly referring to Krang as a “stupid octopus” (a far cry from the “Mr. Krang” heard in the other dub), and a considerable amount of adlibbing, often to the point of having the characters speak when their lips are visibly not moving.

While I cannot confirm whether this also relates to the NHK2 dub, I know that the TV Tokyo dub also featured a few name changes. “Oroku Saki” is not a very…er…real name in Japan. So, while the “Oroku” stayed, the “Saki” was changed to “Sawaki”, an actual name in Japan. An even greater change was made to “Hamato Yoshi”, which became “Yoshihama Takeshi”. Eh, close enough. Rex-1 was also renamed “Robocop” in an act of pure trademark infringement, but the less said about that, the better.

The TV Tokyo version also ended every episode with a preview for the next one. Nothing to write home about, but they do qualify as original content and often featured the characters making “witty” comments and observations about their forthcoming adventures.




While this was going on, the series was also being released on home video by Towa Video in 1991. A total of 60 episodes were dubbed and released across 25 VHS volumes. 44 of the episodes were later broadcast for a short time on the East 60 Telecommunications Network. The second most widely available dub of the series, it’s often cited by Japanese fans as their first experience with the confusing multiple dubs. Fans often recall their enthusiasm at the video store upon seeing Mutant Turtles tapes, only to get them home and discover the voices were completely different.

Though it’s hard to decipher where the memories of disappointment end and the reality begins, many fans cite this dub as…“insufficient”, to be polite. Having watched several episodes on You Tube, I have to agree that it is far blander than the more popular TV Tokyo dub, though at the same time, more accurate in its portrayals of the characters as compared to the original English version. For instance, Krang (Isamu Tanonaka) sounded closer to a Pat Fraley impression than the hideous shrieking thing that was being used in the TV Tokyo dub.


The Super Mutant Turtles OVAs

Following the cancellation of the TV Tokyo version of Mutant Turtles in 1995, a Japanese revival franchise was quickly put together under the commission of Takara (distributers of the Playmates TMNT toyline in Japan). As a matter of fact, the series was already being “teased” during the ending credits of the TV series with images of the upcoming Turtles anime!




“Mutant Turtles: Legend of the Super Mutants” (ミュータント タートルズ 超人伝説編 …Okay, that’s not a perfect translation, since the second kanji, “jin”, means “race of people”, but you get my drift) hit the ground running in 1996, with its own toyline, comic series published by Dengeki Comics and a two-part OVA animated series produced by Bee Media. The OVA even had a theme song by Hironobu Kageyama! You know, the guy who sang “Cha-La Head Cha-La” for “Dragonball Z”? He’s very big over there. No, really.

Again, if you’ve ever spent more than two minutes on You Tube, you’ve probably found the fansubs of these episodes in revolting abundance, and if not, well, they’re pretty easy to locate. Like the Fred Wolf cartoon, the “Super Mutant” series was a tongue-in-cheek parody, only this time taking potshots at popular Japanese children’s media rather than American pop culture. Only two episodes were produced. The TV Tokyo cast returned to reprise their roles, with the only exception being Shinichiro Miki (Bebop), who was replaced with Norio Tsukui.



The first installment, pimping the Super Mutant Turtles toyline, begins with a “previously…” segment describing how the Turtles gained their Super Mutant powers (from crystals created by an ancient race of Neutrinos). A parody of the Super Sentai genre (recognized best in the US as “Power Rangers”), it featured the Turtles “morphin’” into huge, roid-raging muscle men with ridiculous special weapons (Raph uses a spinning top, for Heaven’s sake). They also had the ability to combine into the giant robot, Turtle Saint, but let us never speak of it again. The plot revolves around the Turtles and their fairy friend, Kris-Mu (voiced by Rei Sakuma), trying to stop the Shredder and his gang (who have also obtained Super Mutations) from awakening the evil fairy Dark-Mu (also voiced by Sakuma). It ends with New York City getting destroyed in a catastrophic flood, Kris-Mu sacrificing herself to defeat Dark-Mu and all the Super Mutants getting depowered. And before you say “epic”, no, it was still played for laughs.




The second installment, pimping the Metal Mutant Turtles toyline, was forged as a parody of boys toylines like “Saint Seiya” (“Knights of the Zodiac” in the US) and “Samurai Troopers” (“Ronin Warriors” over here). Splinter whisks the Turtles off to visit an ancient, secret ninja clan in Japan that he knew back in his human days. Shredder follows and eventually everybody steals a bunch of rocks off a mirror that endow them with powerful animal-themed armor. Not to spoil the ending for you guys, but the Shredder doesn’t win.




The plots for these things were pretty inane and full of every Japanese visual and storytelling cliché known to man. They’re amusing for their novelty, and better animated than 189 of the 194 episodes of the Fred Wolf cartoon, but You Tube is strictly where they belong.


The Manga

Throughout the Turtles’ run in Japan, a series of manga (Japanese comics) were produced by the folks at Dengeki Comics. A grand total of 20 volumes were produced, though 16 of them were little more than adaptations of other TMNT content.




The first series, simply titled "Mutant Turtles", lasted for 15 volumes and was drawn by the likes of Tsutomu Oyamada, Zuki Mora and Yoshimi Hamada. The series simply adapted episodes of the Fred Wolf cartoon, with two episodes per volume (so a total of 30 episodes adapted). Aimed squarely at very young children, the series featured a tremendously “cutesy” style and some pretty bland art. As a matter of fact, much of the art seemed to be a “cut and paste” effort, as stock poses and expressions for characters were consistently traced and retraced, sometimes twice in the same issue. The stories were pretty accurate adaptations of the source, albeit with some less dynamic, streamlined plot modifications to condense the story into the scrawnier printed medium. For example, in Dengeki’s adaptation of “The Catwoman of Channel 6”, when Bebop and Rocksteady are at the junkyard, rather than get picked up by a crane and dropped into a pit, they simply slip and fall into the sewers.




A single volume adaptation was also produced for the TMNT III motion picture by Yosuhiko Hachino. Haven’t been able to get my hands on that one, so I can’t tell you much more about it, I’m afraid.

Not all of the TMNT’s Japanese comics were dull adaptations of their animated adventures, though! To help promote the Super Mutant Turtles toyline, Dengeki Comics also published a 3 volume Super Mutant Turtles manga series by Hidemasa Idemitsu, Tetsurō Kawade, and Toshio Kudō, in that order. Also boasting some wretchedly cute character designs (though not to the same extent as the previous episode adaptations), the series was a goofy comedy comic full of ridiculous gags and what have you. To their credit, some of the jokes were pretty amusing. I mean, hey, the Shredder wears pajamas over his armor. Awesome.




The first volume of the OVA series followed loosely the same storyline as the manga series (Kris-Mu trying to stop the revival of Dark-Mu, Shredder being transformed into Dark Devil Shredder, etc.). Being less condensed, though, the manga sported a number of additional plotlines and adventures before the conclusion.




A final one-volume series, Mutant Turtles Gaiden (ミュータント・タートルズ外伝, not to be confused with that dude’s unofficial webcomic by the same name), was written and drawn by Hiroshi Kanno. A complete reboot of the Turtles story rather than a continuation of the cartoon universe, it re-imagined the characters and the opening arc of the Fred Wolf cartoon with a number of brand new twists. Kanno’s art style was far more action-oriented with frighteningly buff Turtles and some rather…exotic redesigns of April and Irma. The stories still retained a comedic atmosphere, though, never getting too serious for their own good.

In this series, after reintroducing all the characters, the Shredder spends the bulk of the volume gathering the technology necessary to open a doorway to Dimension X for his “mysterious benefactor” (hint: it’s Krang). The Turtles destroy his Dimension X portal in the third chapter, so the fourth and final story involves the villain going to an outrageously racist interpretation of Japan in order to steal the legendary Muramasa Blade. The volume ends with a psychotic Irma attempting to murder him with the sword.



Aimed at an older audience than the manga that came before it, the Mutant Turtles Gaiden series featured more violent imagery (blood!), skimpy outfits (no one needs to see Irma in her underwear) and at least one instance of the implied threat of rape (Bebop on April…not a pretty sight). It’s fun for what it is, though.

Lastly, and perhaps most obscurely, came a series of “story pages” published in the Comic Bom Bom magazine in 1996. For those not acquainted with story pages, they’re popular staples of Japanese cartoon and toyline magazines, consisting primarily of multi page art spreads with narrative text spattered all over the place, narrating a story. Not technically “manga”, but interesting nevertheless.



The Comic Bom Bom story pages promoted the Super Mutant Turtles line with a third telling of essentially the same story. What makes this version notable is the artwork by Takara go-to-guy, Hidetsugu Yoshioka. The man is best known for his decades of work on Takara’s Transformers line, which he continues to illustrate comics and promotional artwork for to this day. His style is heavily influenced by American comic art, the work of Derek Yaniger to be precise, and you probably wouldn’t even know it was Japanese at first glance.



Unlike the other two versions of the Super Mutant Turtles, there’s scarcely any kiddy-trappings to be seen here, with Yoshioka taking a more serious approach with the storyline. He appears to have taken much of his inspiration from the live action movies (at least the first one, anyway), rather than the goofier Fred Wolf cartoon (since the original Mirage comic has never been published in Japan, I doubt he based anything off of them, but you never know). Casey Jones is present and in a design and personality far closer to his cool and tough movie version than the psychotic nut of the cartoon, and the Shredder boasts a badly scarred face (a trait unique to his movie incarnation). Everyone gets into the act to defeat Dark-Mu and Super Devil Shredder in this version, including Splinter (who dons some samurai armor) and even April (who mutates into her catwoman form!).

While Super Mutant Turtles received a number of two-page spreads spanning several months, Metal Mutant Turtles only warranted a single one-page piece promoting the line, as the series failed to reach a major audience.

And believe it or not, but this only scratches the surface of the various Turtles comics published exclusively in Japan. TV Magazine published numerous full color story pages adapting episodes of the cartoon, which were then collected and published by Shogakukan. "Fumetti" comics were also published, and if you're not acquainted with that term, they're comics created by photographing toys in diorama settings and adding text. Some extremely wacky, almost surreal styled strips were also published in various magazines, though I've been yet to dig up the source.


The Film Series

With the cartoons, comics and toys filling up the country, it’s a surprise to no one that the TMNT motion pictures also made it to Japan. Naturally, each film was released theatrically about a year after the US theatrical premier (par for the course for American films in Japan). Perhaps unnaturally, though, was that each film boasted a completely different dub, multiple dubs in some cases, and all rotating around between the three dub casts for the Fred Wolf cartoon.

It just wouldn’t be Ninja Turtles in Japan without a confusing number of competing dubs.



The first TMNT film (released in Japan in 1991) was released to theaters with a dub using several of the actors from the Towa Home Video dub of the Fred Wolf cartoon (Yoshitada Otsuka as Leonardo, for example). Several characters were recast, though. When the movie was broadcast on Fuji TV, it offered a completely different dub, this time utilizing actors from the obscure NHK2 satellite network dub (Kenyuu Horiuchi as Leonardo, for example). Likewise, several characters were recast.




For the second TMNT film (released in Japan in April, 1992), only a single dub was mercifully produced. This one used the same cast as the theatrical dub of the first film. Then, when the third film was released (in July of 1994), they decided to go all crazy up in this joint and used a completely new cast. This one utilized several voices from the TV Tokyo dub of the Fred Wolf cartoon (Daiki Nakamura as Leonardo, for example) while, you guessed it, also recasting a number of the characters.




The fourth film, Imagi’s CG-animated flick from 2007, had a far more troubled release in Japan which tied into the equally troubled release of the 4Kids cartoon on their shores (I’ll get to that in a minute). The Imagi flick skipped theaters in Japan and went straight to video in 2008. The dub utilized the same cast as the 4Kids series (which many foreign language dubs did, actually) and basically failed to turn any heads.




And just to get it out of the way, “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” was not released in Japan. However, “Power Rangers in Space” was. And no, I’m not talking about its Super Sentai counterpart, “Megaranger”. Every American Power Rangers series up through “Lost Galaxy” was dubbed and released in Japan in an act of pure redundancy. If you don’t know where I’m going with this, I’ll just remind you that “Next Mutation” and “Power Rangers in Space” had a gut-churning crossover episode remembered only by You Tube and nostalgia countdown blogs.

The episode was indeed dubbed, mercifully giving Japan the only taste of Venus de Milo they’d ever have to endure. Just because I have a dub list sitting in front of me: Leonardo (Kouji Yusa), Raphael (Noburo Oyama), Donatello (Masato Kawanakako), Michelangelo (Kitagawa Katsuhiro), Venus de Milo (Tamari Maru).


The 4Kids Cartoon

Believe it or not, these days, most American cartoons get released in Japan. Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and all their spin-off networks (Disney XD, Boomerang, Nicktoons Network, etc.) have Japanese satellite counterparts. So, naturally, pretty much all of their in-house produced stuff gets dubbed and broadcast in Japan.




The American cartoons that do tend to fall by the wayside, at least when it comes to Japanese broadcasting, are the shows that don’t originate as in-house productions for American cable networks. 4Kids’ 2003 TMNT cartoon series was one of those American cartoons to fall by the wayside, not reaching Japan’s shores until April 2nd, 2007.

The 4Kids franchise received a moderate marketing push in Japan, attempting to recapture the magic of the Fred Wolf series that dominated the early 90s. Takara once again released the Playmates toyline (and co-financed the Japanese version of the cartoon) and the series hit the airwaves on the TMNT’s old haunt, TV Tokyo.

Going back to the whole bit I mentioned earlier about foreign cartoons on major Japanese networks, well, the 4Kids TMNT cartoon was the first to appear on TV Tokyo in quite a while. The last foreign cartoon to appear on the station was “Spider Riders”, a Japanese-Australian co-production and one of TV Tokyo’s most infamous, spectacular failures (ratings so low it was pulled after only a couple of episodes and the remainder of the series was shunted off to satellite). With that in mind, taking a gamble on another foreign cartoon was a pretty ballsy maneuver for TV Tokyo, considering “Spider Riders” was the ratings equivalent to a black widow bite. Still, fond memories of the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon’s impressive 102 episode streak and ratings success likely had a hand in fueling their decision to give the 4Kids series a fair go.

Sadly, it didn’t work out so well.




The series ran for 52 episodes (seasons 1 and 2, in America), ending with the conclusion of the “Battle Nexus Tournament” arc. The 4Kids cartoon, airing at 6am on Saturday’s, simply floundered and failed to find an audience. A special ending was cobbled together for the last episode (taking the place of the standard “next episode…” blurb) using recycled clips from previous installments. The “ending” was mostly just a fond farewell and a “thanks for watching” dealie, driving the point home that “No, sorry little Japanese children, but you won’t be seeing the remaining five seasons or the TV movie. Not like you were watching, anyway.”

From a personal standpoint, I found the dub for the series to be mostly a test of endurance. Characters like Leonardo (Tetsuya Kakihara) and Donatello (Ueda Yuji) sounded right on the money, while Raphael (Miyashita Eiji) could’ve passed for twenty years older than his brothers (admittedly, the English version bears a similar flaw). My biggest gripes came in the form of Splinter (Shouto Kashii), who sounded like a “silly” old man rather than a zen guru, and Michelangelo (Anri Katsu), who I wanted to strangle with his own nunchakus. The dude’s hilarious gimmick was that whenever he fought, he’d constantly make high-pitched Bruce Lee-esque “woo-taw!” noises. No, it was not amusing.

Interestingly, the dub team's writers seemed intent on referencing characteristics from the Fred Wolf series more than the US writers were. "Cowabunga" was used frequently as their battlecry, most notably during the "Next episode..." blurbs, where it was used to finish each. So far as any other notable alterations go, they wisely chose to remove that awful "Midnight Run" song from "City At War, Part 1", opting to replace it with a newly-created all-instrumental song. I'll give them credit, they at least got that right.

The series was edited according to the “Pokemon” laws; frames were removed or framerates slowed in order to prevent the possibility of seizures in young people. I don’t recall hearing news of any American tykes freaking and frothing over an episode of the cartoon, but hey, better safe than sorry.



For a show that only ran for 52 episodes, it featured three different theme songs and four different ending songs. While I enjoyed the initial one, “The Winds of Passion” by the Inazumi Sentai, each theme seemed to get progressively worse. Oddly, the ending animation for the fourth and final end theme featured clips from season 3 episodes of the series (namely, the “Planet Racers” episode), leading some to believe that the series was intended to go on into season 3 but was cancelled abruptly. Pure speculation, of course, though DVDs of the series were solicited and then promptly pulled without explanation, fueling the idea that the show met a rather hastily-demanded end.

The series didn’t strike a chord with its target audience, children, but the adult fans seemed to eat it up, recalling fond memories of the Mutant Turtles cartoon from their childhoods. The series even spawned a terrifying abundance of “doujinshi”. If you don’t know what that is, doujinshi are Japanese fan comics of licensed properties, printed on professional-quality paper stock and bound, then sold in comic book stores in a shocking display of “the people who could sue you into the ground are looking the other way for some reason”. Regrettably, 99.9% of all that doujinshi was gay Turtle-on-Turtle porn drawn by fangirls.

The Hell is wrong with you, Japan?


The Video Games

While I wasn't originally going to discuss these, as I didn't plan on investigating every single aspect of Turtle media to see release in Japan, I've decided to come back and add a section about some of the Mutant Turtle video games released in Japan because, well, there's some mildly interesting stuff in there.

The very first Turtles game to be released in Japan was what we in the West recognize as "TMNT Arcade". Being released in Japanese arcades in 1989, it actually preceeds the first broadcast of the Fred Wolf cartoon by two years, thus preceeding any public knowledge of the Turtles in Japan as well. As such, it was released in Japan with a dual-branding: "TMNT" in English, with the Japanese title of the game being "Super Turtle Ninjas" (スーパー亀忍者).


The second Turtles game to be released in Japan also came around in 1989, preceeding the premier of the Fred Wolf cartoon, and offered a completely non-TMNT branding. This would be the first NES ("Family Computer" or "Famicom" in Japan) game from Konami-Ultra, released in Japan without any "TMNT" label whatsoever, but instead as "Radical Turtle Ninja Legend" (激亀忍者伝). Yeah, you read that right. Granted, "激" ("geki") could be translated as any number of synonymns for "awesome", but I figured "radical" was most appropriate.


By 1991, the Turtles cartoon was on its way to Japanese airwaves, so the video games finally got their act together when it came to proper branding. The NES port of "TMNT Arcade" was released for the Famicom, but with a renumbering. In the West, we knew that release as "TMNT 2". However, in Japan, since what we recognized as "TMNT" was released under a different title for the Famicom, they opted to simply release "TMNT 2" as just plain ole "TMNT". Likewise, the next NES game, "TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project" was released in Japan as "TMNT 2: The Manhattan Project". I know; fascinating, right?

Other Turtle game releases would boast some new names. For instance, the Sega Megadrive ("Genesis" to us) game, "TMNT: Hyperstone Heist", was released in 1992 in Japan as "TMNT: Return of the Shredder". The Super Famicom (Suepr Nintendo) game, "TMNT IV: Turtles in Time" simply lost its numbering and was released as "TMNT: Turtles in Time" (speaking of which, the arcade version of "Turtles in Time" was only released in test locations in Japan and did not get a mainstream release). The three Gameboy games were also released in Japan as "TMNT", "TMNT 2" and "TMNT 3: The Turtles Make it Just in Time" (タートルズ危機一発).

Lastly, we have the Tournament Fighters series, which did get some odd branding for its release in Japan. The NES version of the game was not released over there, while the Super Famicom version was retitled "TMNT: Mutant Warriors". Strangely, the Megadrive version was released without the title change, as simply "TMNT: Tournament Fighters".

And none of the games produced as tie-in merchandise for the 4Kids animated series or the 2007 Imagi feature film were released in Japan. Meh, they didn't miss much.


Afterword

That covers just about all the basics. Hopefully, I laid it all out in a manner partly approaching coherent. The Ninja Turtles offer an interesting exercise in how American properties can both flourish and flounder in the Japanese market with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The Fred Wolf cartoon, by all logic, should have been dead in the water thanks to the confusing number of dubs and jumbled-up story arcs. Yet it took the country by storm. Meanwhile, the 4Kids production, with its deeper writing, flashier animation and single, consistent dub only succeeded in plummeting like a rock.

Still, even with the Turtles franchise being viewed as “passé” in the Land of Rice and Fish, the property still enjoys its own niche fanbase…consisting primarily of creepy, creepy girls. But hey, more power to em!

Or should that be “Turtle Power”? タートル パワー!!!


Bibliography

http://freakfreak.net/top.html (Japanese Turtle fan extraordinaire Freak-Freak’s homepage)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tmnt#Comics (TMNT article at Wikipedia…oh the shame!)

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%9F%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%82%BF%E3%83%B3%E3%83%88_%E3%82%BF%E3%83%BC%E3%83%88%E3%83%AB%E3%82%BA#.E3.82.A2.E3.83.8B.E3.83.A1 (TMNT article at the Japanese Wikipedia…slightly less shame!)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22047800@N07/sets/72157613377852732/ (The ever-generous Adam Winters and his extensive TMNT manga collection)

http://tmntentity.blogspot.com/2009/05/tmnt-manga.html (My own TMNT Gaiden manga translations here at TMNT Entity)

http://www.ninjaturtles.com/comics/manga.htm (The Official Ninja Turtles website’s manga section)

http://www.allspark.com/content/view/3681/37/ (Hydra’s TFPulp at The Allspark)

16 comments:

Adam Winters said...

I never knew there were 3 dubs of the original cartoon in Japan! I noticed you posted screenshots of the closing credits which seem to use original art/animation. Which dub were these shots taken from?

Mark Pellegrini said...

Both are from the TV Tokyo dub (only one I could find end credit video for on You Tube).

They're from late in the series, the last episode, to be precise. The end credits actually begin with all the character saying "good bye and thanks" one at a time.

That version of the end credits uses a combination of original art and some recycled stock art/video box images.

I've seen a number of the other end credits, but unfortunately those videos are no longer on You Tube. One made use of the second US intro animation while another was more stock art, then followed by live action footage of the lady performing the song. She then appears overlayed on the TMNT's lair tv and Don promptly turns the thing off.

Woulda gotten some screencaps of that, but alas, Lions Gate has been on a you tube spree, lately. Even removed the "Idol Ninja Turtles" theme song video.

Andrew Willingham said...

Thank you for this extremely education view into the overseas lives of our 4 half-shelled heroes. Well done, sir.

John Pannozzi said...

According to this site (http://we.magma.jp/~rlyeh/nihonbanamecom.htm) there apparently was another TMNT III adaptation by Haato Mikaeru.

John Pannozzi said...

Oh, and according to Japanese Wikipedia (http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%86%E3%82%A3%E3%83%BC%E3%83%B3%E3%82%A8%E3%82%A4%E3%82%B8%E3%83%BB%E3%83%9F%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%82%BF%E3%83%B3%E3%83%88%E3%83%BB%E3%83%8B%E3%83%B3%E3%82%B8%E3%83%A3%E3%83%BB%E3%82%BF%E3%83%BC%E3%83%88%E3%83%AB%E3%82%BA#.E3.82.B2.E3.83.BC.E3.83.A0) the arcade version of Turtles in Time only appeared in Japan via location test, it was never released in arcades en masse there.

Adam Winters said...

To confirm, John's statements about the manga, yes, there are two distinct manga adaptations of the 3rd live-action movie, one published by Dengeki and one published (I think) by Comic Bom Bom.

~ tOkKa said...

-->> Excellent, very educational !! Thank you..

~ t

Derek Velez said...

I have a question which I'm having a hard time finding the answer to. I see lots of sites that list all the episodes aired in Japan and their US equivalent however where can I find the list of Towa VHS that were distributed and the episodes contained on each VHS. I am trying to purchase some VHS but there is not Volume number scheme well there is on some but not all which makes it even more confusing as to what to purchase. If anyone has the answer please email me at dvelez1985 at gmail dot com please.

Anonymous said...

Raphael in the JPN dub of the original show dosn't sound effeminate he speaks with a soft-pitched voice. PROOF below > see link > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WUKGoN6W1o
also there are Japanese fanboys of TMNT in Japan, you can't proove that dominantly TMNT is enjoyed by girls just cos of Fanfiction. and as we all know Fanfictionalism is something that is apparent in the US, i.e Star Trek fanfictions. and the dude who sings the DBZ theme song ain't popular in Japan. ever heard of J-Pop? and when we're talking dubs, as a Japanese/ENG speaker i'm sure you know very well that in both the ENG dub and the JPN dub of the old show, they all sound like Old men, quit the American-centrism and be honest about the truth. there's no ''Pokemon Law'' in Japan, but ppl r more careful now. not all of the TMNT doujinshi are gay, there's straight Doujinshi aswell as Gay Doujinshi, finding a April x Turtles Doujinshi in Japan ain't that hard. and as for ' passé in the Land of Rice and Fish, the property still enjoys its own niche fanbase…consisting primarily of creepy, creepy girls'' that ain't the truth, that's a generalization. and you being a minority american yourself, why would you say something like that. remember how the Italians where treated in WW2 in the US, that's like saying Italians are all Mafias & Criminals, that ain't right.
overall Ninja Turtles is a Japanese American cultural property, though it may not be big in Japan, it's big in North America/Europe among Foreign born Japanese and Asian people. and that is the truth. BTW im not responding back to you, say what you want but its the truth. and as a grown man, for you to act so stupidious and idiotic... man.. that's just plain horrible.

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Anonymous

While I'm sorry I offended you with my comments, I think you took some of them at face value when the intention was snark. "The Land of Rice and Fish" was hardly meant to be serious.

I didn't spend 4 years learning Japanese so I could hate on their culture; I'm sorry if I came off that way. While this article was meant to be informative, it was also intended to have a tongue-in-cheek tone which I hoped would be obvious.

Re: some of your other points...

*The link you offer as "proof" leads to the Towa Video dub of the series (which the description of the youtube video even cites in English). My "effeminate" remark, if you read the complete paragraph, was regarding the BS2 satellite dub and the appraisal of Japanese fans who viewed it.

*I put the term "Pokemon laws" in quotations for a reason. No, there are no official "Pokemon laws"; frames are removed or slowed down at the network's or lincensee's discretion regarding the safety of the viewers. However, notices at the beginning of children's shows informing them to watch in a brightly lit room and away from the screen are required by Japanese broadcast standards and practices, citing the seizure incident caused by Pokemon in the 90s as the impetus for such warnings.

*If you don't think Hironobu Kageyama is currently popular in Japan that's fine, but he did enjoy a level of popularity in the 80s and 90s and continues to create new songs as a member of JAM Project. His association with television show theme songs also continues regardless of any diminishment of his past popularity. You can debate the relativity of "popularity" however you wish, but I don't think there's any arguing that the man has his fanbase domestically and abroad (and no, I'm not one of his personal fans, but I can recognize when an artist has a fanbase).

*Again, the "popular with fangirls/gay doujinshi" thing was meant in jest. You needn't interpret it so literally.

*As for the treatment of Italians, that hardly seems relevant to the point. Just because my ancestors were treated harshly doesn't mean jokes regarding stereotypes are somehow off limits. I admit that humor is subjective and tastes vary, but I would not consider any of my slight ribbings in this article as overtly racist or as offensive as you've made them out to be.

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Anonymous

Here, I found some videos of the BS2 satellite dub on Nico Nico if you would like to judge it for yourself (Nico Nico does require an account to view videos, though)

Just enter this into the search bar:

旧BS2版タートルズ

While I think "effeminate" is a bit of a stretch (that was how it was described to me when I wrote the article, as I hadn't seen the dub myself at the time), he's definitely much less gruff than in the Towa Video dub which you linked to.

Anonymous said...

@ Mark Pellegrini

A different Anonymous this time

The one video which had credits when I searched it up on Nico Nico Douga had the cast from the OVA though, also Krang(the easiest to recognise) has that horrible scratchy voice in all the videos he appeared in

Added to the fact there are more than 58 episodes tells me the search leads to the same dub the OVA has

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Anonymous

Well, if you're searching on Nico Nico and the TMNT video title says "BS2" it is definitely the BS2 dub.

Here's a direct link to one of the videos:

http://www.nicovideo.jp/watch/sm8735077

That's the BS2 dub of the Lotus Blossom episode, deep-voiced Krang and all.

Anonymous said...

Hmm yes that sounds different, Donatello and Krang spoiled it for me. How did I get the TvTokyo dub the last time I searched for it I don't know

Damn Don sounds awful and Krang is so much better than that screeching Meowth sound alike

Either way other than Don and Leo TV Tokyo dub sounds pretty bad and the Towa version sounds even worse(except for Krang, nothing sound worse than TV Tokyo Krang)

Anonymous said...

Mine is more of a question then a comment. A long time ago I remember the turtles having transformation. Into what was referred to as the Super Mutant Turtles. But unlike the anime where they turn into super heroes what happens is they get larger they grow claws, their shells gets spikes, and parts of their cloths start to tear. But when I try look it up on the internet all I find is one picture of them in that form. Those anyone else here and remember that form and what episodes they appeared in?

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Anon (3/13/2014)

You're thinking of a story arc from the final seasons of the Fred Wolf TMNT cartoon. The Turtles indeed received secondary mutations into clawed monsters called "Super Mutants".

It started in the season 9 episode "The Wrath of Medusa" and continued on for most of that season.

The idea was actually recycled from the unmade 4th live action TMNT film. I did an article on that here:

http://tmntentity.blogspot.com/2011/03/4th-live-action-tmnt-movie-that-never.html

Hope that's what you were after!