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Anime Friday: Powerpuff Girls v. PPGZ

Way back in 1992, an art student named Craig McCracken created a short film called The Whoopass Stew in which he introduced The Whoopass Girls. Two years later, the film got picked up for Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Show. This got McCracken's foot in the door at Cartoon Network, which in the mid-90's sought out original work from independent animators to help establish the cable station's unique brand. By the end of the decade, McCracken had a kid-friendly version of his creation in The Powerpuff Girls. To this day, no animated program has had a higher rated premiere. The Powerpuff Girls is a campy mix of anime and classic Hannah-Barbera cartoons. This is why it's so strange that the show got a full-blown anime makeover in 2001 with the help of a slew of big names in Japanese cartoon production. The result was Demashita! Pawapafu G?ruzu Zetto, or "Here They Are! Powerpuff Girls Z". Needless to say, a lot got lost in translation. The American original is an unabashedly postmodern mash-up of as much kitsch as possible. Its origins as a cheeky art film are evident. This Warhol-does-anime approach just doesn't make sense in the context of Japanese culture, let alone the sub-section reserved for children. Both PPG US and PPGZ had the same target audience, the coveted pre-teen toys and breakfast cereal market. It only stands to reason that most of the American version's style wasn't adopted for the Japanese take. That's not to say they didn't at least try. While PPGZ is essentially Sailor Moon with different characters, the Japanese writers attempted to bring some of the original version's odd, non-sequiter humor into the adaptation. The problem is that Japanese culture never fully grasped the aim of camp. Japanese kitsch is almost always over-the-top and thensome. It veers right past bad taste into a much weirder territory. Take the ice cream gag in the PPGZ link. The girls need to rejuvenate themselves in the middle of a fight, so they get some ice cream. Their nemesis, Mojo, does the same, right beside them. Before long, every supporting character in the show is eating ice cream, each with his or her own unique flavor. Is it funny? Sure, but it's also surreal as all get-out. That's not to say the US PPG didn't go strange. I distinctly remember a villain who was a red devil in drag with a reverb-heavy voice. Still, there's a difference between wanton weirdness and obliviously earnest failure to translate a brand. Comprehension: 9/10- Seeing as I experienced a lot of the US version in my teen years when I knew something was fishy, that mitigated the unusual qualities of PPGZ. My mind did do something of an ouroboros concerning the Japanese Mojo. If I recall, the original Mojo Jojo had something of a Japanese accent and was designed to be the prototypical anime villain, so seeing him made somehow more Japanese was just too strange. Enjoyment: 5/10- Without a doubt, Japanese animation is slick. In fact, it's too slick in this case. All the stereotypical anime tropes were really distracting, especially since it was a take on an American show. This must be the way Japanese people feel when they see crappy anime-lite shows produced by American executives. Improvement of Understanding: 10/10- The comparison and subsequent research led me to an interesting conclusion. Whereas the American cartoon industry strikes a balance between giant corporate brands and unique indie outfits, Japan has standardized its style to the breaking point. Anime has gone way beyond convention into a state fast approaching dogma. PPGZ turned out the way it did because it went through the mill of several corporate committees. I do not envy the talented upstart animators of Japan. For them, the business is utterly hopeless. The idea of some irreverent art school kid getting a major TV deal is absurd on the other side of the Pacific. Next Week: Blue Submarine #6