VHS East and West: Mewtwo Strikes Out.

Myutsuu's Counterattack, the first Pocket Monsters feature film, was released on VHS in Japan on the 12th of February in 1999. The video was very popular and sold well, however, not eight months later, a new edition was released. This second version countained several elements the original did not. Most noticable of these changes was the use of GGI (Computer Graphic Imaging). A number of alterations had been requested by the American company in charge of Mewtwo Strikes Back, and these changes were seen on the new Japanese edition released under the name of Myutsuu's Counterattack Complete Edition.This second release included a short recap feature covering the events of the television show up until the point where the film fits in the timeline; the feature was entitled Satoshi no Tabidachi Hen "The journey of Satoshi". The Complete Edition also included the made-for-TV minifilm Myutsuu to Ai "Mewtwo and Ai", (loosly based on the radio drama Myutsuu no Tanjou), American movie trailers, home video trailers and the newly altered film. This second release was more widely distributed, making it difficult to find the video with original footage. A DVD release was issued in July of the same year. Ironically, what the remaining fan base in North America is interested in is not a film that has been tailored to their perceived appetites, but the original movie

The "Special CG Edition" is what we overseas audiences saw. 4Kids and Warner Brothers chose to use only the main (and newly Americanized) film, and not any of the extras. The changes are fairly minor, but many fans complain that the CG cheapens the overall effect of many scenes. It is fairly obvious Where CG is used,. Scenes such as the castle doors opening, the Pokemon battling in the arena, and any shot with clouds are among the most blatent. More unfortunate is the "cropping" of some shots in the newer edition. The now-famous lab shot, in which Mewtwo and Dr. Fuji (Professor Smith in English) are reflected in test tubes as they speak, suffers the most obviously. There is little left to show that the shot was framed by the faces of the scientist and his creation, magnified and distorted, except the tip of Mewtwo's nose on the far right of the shot. Several scenes which were heavily shadowed in the original were lightened and made brighter, a few sequences were cropped short, and others lengthened (although these changes are extremely minimal and are only obvious when compared to the original foortage).

Despite all of this the film's overall look is not harmed immensely. Sadly, the only version available to audiences in English and French speaking countries is the altered one, as Japanese videos will not play in North-American VCRs due to a Region difference. Multi-region DVDs have been produced in China and allow the film to be watched with mandarone or english subtitles, but these are notoriously hard to find. The English VHS release closely mirrored the Japanese Special edition, though perhaps it ought to be considered "Pokemon lite": a Whitman sampler, where Asia got a full box of Lindor chocolates. Mewtwo Strikes Back opened with a short clip from Satoshi no Tabidachi Hen, in which Ookido Hakase (Professer Oak) introduces the films and is stripped by a trickey pocket monster. This was followed by the short film Pikachuu no Natsu Yasumi (Pikachu's Summer Vacation) with its end credits removed. The final addition to the feature film was the first three minutes of Myutsuu to Ai, lacking, interestingly, both of the title characters.

In Japan, Pocket Monsters has a reputation for considering its fans. English viewers catch few of the cultural in-jokes which are lost in translation. References to famous novels, current singing groups and comedians, commercials, other televisons shows and clever wordplay abound in Japanese, but in English most are reduced to poor puns. However, the cultural cleverness of the writers is not Pokemon's most impressive trait. It is their response to viewer input that has made them so enduring. For example, the original series plan called for the comedic villains Musashi, Koijiro and Nyasu to be replaced by the more threatening Yamato and Kusaburo. Fans wrote in protesting and Rocketto-Dan has remained an important staple of the series for nearly eight seasons. Similarily, Takeshi, the most blatently Asian-looking character, was replaced by Kenji, who had "bright wide eyes" in order to appeal to western viewers. This was not an appreciated move. After only a season, Kenji was retired and Takeshi returned. The reason I mention these fan-influenced decisions is because the US division finally decided to follow the example set by Jr. Kikaku. When the highly touted Story of Mewtwo's Origin turned out to be two-and-a-half minutes of Dr. Fuji narrating, fans were dissapointed. This disappointment was augmented by consistent internet rumours of a "baby Mewtwo" film, and the relative inavailability of the full featurette.stories circulated that certain DVD versions had the full feature, and, though never confirmed, this would seem to be true. Riibu's Splunkyard, a fansite and pirate tape distributor, eventually offered a full download of Mewtwo and Amber, the anglicized version of Myutsuu to Ai. Still, fans organized petitions via the internet, and wrote letters to KidsWB, 4Kids Entertainment and Nintendo of America. Despite the succes of the Save our Sailors campaign of the late ninties, it seemed unlikely that protesting would restore the eight minutes of lost footage. It had never unlocked any of the "banned" Pocket Monsters episodes in the past (though, at a later date, Holiday at Aucopauco was finally aired on the WB channel, minus the breast scene, as Beauty and the Beach) or made subtitled uncut episodes available commerically. With this in mind fans were surprised and delighted to discover Mewtwo's Origin Uncut on the special features menu of Mewtwo Returns (Myutsuu: Ware Wa Kokoni Ari), three years after the initial film's VHS release.

The decision not to air, or even release, Myutsuu to Ai has never been explained by the American companies in charge of distribution. As mentioned earlier, specific changes were made to Myutsuu's Counterattack in order to enhance its appeal to North American audiences. This included turning a dark but largely neutral character into a meglomaniacal villain. The adaptors may have felt that a short film depicting said villain as a lonely child would weaken the good-versus-evil setup of the film. The target audience of Pokemon was in the age range of eight to eleven, but a good number were younger. While Myutsuu to Ai is no more tragic than an older Disney film, young children (or more likely, the parents of young children) might have been disturbed by the themes addressed in the mini-movie; a father's quest to ressurect his only child, (especially when that father is killed ten minutes into the actual feature) and the death of a playmate both play central roles. The mini-film also details, briefly, the breakdown of Dr. Fuji's marriage -- "I loved our daughter as much as you did," we see written on a note lying next to a housekey and a wedding band "but she's gone. No one can bring her back and I can't go on watching you try. I'm sorry. Goodbye.". Interestingly, in early TV episodes, a character's mother is described as dead, whereas the original states that she has run out on her family. The adaptors chose to "kill her off" rather than address the concept of child abandonment. Here, both ideas became an issue. There were not the standard, mainstream fare of children's entertainment. Additionally,the subject of human cloning was topical and touchy when Mewtwo Strikes Back went to theaters, which may have further influenced the decision to cut the featurette. The main character may be a clone without raising too much public ire, because he is an animal and not a human being, but his companion simply cannot be the clone of a human child. Only years later, when popularity had waned sufficiently, was the mini-feature made available, and even then it was not advertised.

With the mess surrounding Myutsuu to Ai considered, any changes to the actual film seem small and unremarkable by comparison. While most audiences know nothing of the "CG Debate", there has always been an outcry over the "Dubbing Disaster". the older hard-core fans looking forward to the English release were devastated with the all-new soundtrack and child-friendly dubbing. Many lines of dialogue are added for clarification, and the ending and opening scenes are virtually rewritten. As the media juggernaut it was, 4Kids thought it unwise for the Pokémon empire to make reference to God. Despite the fact that less than one percent of Japan's population is Christian, Mewtwo is given a line in which he ponders his origin -- and asks if God has created him. In North America, a land where Christianity is the religion of choice, he was not allowed to wonder such a thing (this becomes ironic when observing the blatently Christian imagery and symbolism employed in Myutsuu: Ware Wa Kokoni Ari/Mewtwo Returns). If these lines had been left intact, maybe the angry finger-pointing right-wing religious groups would have attacked the film with less vigour. The "tears of the Pokémon" legend carefully spoon-fed to us by Miranda the Harbour Master was never uttered by Boijer, who instead reminded the trainers to use their heads -- "If you want to know the weather, just ask the seagulls on the dock! There will be no boats today!". The addition of a narrator overpowers the film's opening shots. Glaring script flaws -- "let us hear its psychic powers!"-- and sloppy character mixups (pidgeot becomes pidgeotto, Sandshrew becomes Sandslash, Scyther becomes Alakazam, etc.) cheapen the film to the point where one wonders what Warner Brothers was actually trying to accomplish. The dub also stresses that Mewtwo wishes to control the world, whereas the Japanese Myutsuu simply wanted to hurt those who had hurt him, declaring war on humanity, not life in general. At the film's climax, North American audiences were blasted by a grafted-on pop song "Brother, my Brother" where once was an intense instrumental theme. In fact, the entire musical score was unnecesserily rewritten. The last glaring edit is found in the scene in which the human characters huddle in a corner and watch their beloved pets tear each other apart -- much was rewritten to give this scene an anti-war sentiment (sometimes referred to as "Misty's Public Service Announcement"(Dogasu)) where the original script gave an explantion about the territorial nature of pokémon and the issues of identity Mewtwo is grappling with. The hypocrisy of a "fighting-is-wrong"sentiment in a film like this is blatent to even the youngest viewer

Of course, one cannot blame 4Kids and Warner Brothers for all the downfalls of the English version. Sensibilities differ from country to country, and the goal of a film in one place may not match the marketing environment of another. Sometimes, no matter how high quality a dub job is, it cannot quite match the original. In no way is this limited to anime -- Just take a look at any anglicized foreign film! The issue of things "lost in translation" is visible, or, rather, audible in several anime shows which must deal with accents. In Japan, the Tokyo dialect is the one used on television, but occasionally characters are given an Osaka dialect to make them stand out (Examples include Pokémon's Masaki (Bill) and Rumika (Jessibelle), Cardcaptor's Kerberos,and Kodocha's Fuka). Osakan-Dialect translation is usually skirted by giving the English character a southern accent. However, on this occasion, the issue wasn't an Osaka accent, but an American one! Early in the film, Satoshi is challenged by a pirate trainer. This was actually an in-joke. The musical group Suzuki-San? had worked on a number of songs for the CD collections and television series, and even the Trading Card Game! Several of its members were American, or at least English speaking. As a joke, one of the lead singers, Boston-born Raymond, was asked to voice the pirate. Most of what the pirate trainer says is in English, with some heavily accented and garbled Japanese thrown in. For Japanese audiences, this jab at gaijin (foreign demons) was hysterical. For us, it was just another fight featuring a somewhat poorly characterized rival for Ash. While it's a pity to lose one of the most humourous scenes, I can see no way it could have been avoidedt. (In reference again to the Christianity issue, the Pirate's cry of "Oh my God!" is changed to a drawn out "Oh Nooooo!")

The only other large changes were those which affect any film when it is translated and dubbed into another language -- the translation of titles, songs, names, etc. The giant CG pokéball opening is pure WB, as are the English names. The myriad of songs so painfully crammed over the credits replace the beautiful theme Kaze to Issho Ni (In the Company of the Wind), and the opening theme replaces a jazzed up Mezase Pokémon Master '98. Overall, this film suffers for being the first, the "guineau pig" and practice run that would set the mark for the following films. While Mewtwo remains a perrenially favorite pokémon, whose film popularity has never been matched in the poké-verse, the movies that followed where much more tolerable, and, indeed, adept dubs.


Bibliography

Pocket Monsters: This is Animation!
Shogakukan Inc. Japan, 1998

The Art of Pokemon The First Movie
(English adpatation of Pocket Monsters: This is Animation)
Viz Communications Inc, San Francisco, CA, 1999

Pokemon Movie Super Encyclopedia (Japanese, details unknown)
Shogakukan Inc, Japan, 1998

"Pokemon' wa naze Beikoku de Seiko shita ka"
Ronza Magazine, April, 2000
Kubo Masakazu

Why Pokemon was Succesful in America (translation of above)
Kubo Masakazu
Japan Echo Online
Volume 27, Issue 2; ISSN: 0388-0435

Sound Picture Box Mew Two -Myutsuu No Tanjou CD Drama
Pikachu Records Japan
English script provided by PMTranslations (now defunct)

Dogasu's English-Japanese Pokemon Site
http://www.bulbagarden.net/~dogasu/

Splunkyard.com
Now defunct.

Take Me Back to MSB!
Take me Home!

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