I saw the Fox Kids version of Escaflowne yesterday, and I must say that I have mixed feelings on the experience. Seeing anime being promoted as anime is a recent phenomenon for American television. If children watch Escaflowne and enjoy it, they may seek out other anime to see what it's like. Some will ignore it, some will become casual fans, and a few will join the fandom (allowing older fans to bore them with tales of how things were when the only anime available in English were dubs from Streamline). A higher profile for the series increases the chances of merchandise and other series to come. But, as a fan, I must also consider the effect on the show itself.
Gundam Wing notwithstanding, anime generally does not make it to American TV without modification. Fox must adhere to broadcast standards, but it also wants to appeal to kids, complicating matters. Apparently, the networks are concerned that children won't watch their shows unless there is constantly something flashy to look at. Things have to be exciting and cool and action-packed at every possible moment.
At Otakon this year, someone (I think it was Gilles Poitras) commented that he enjoyed anime because it was frequently understated. Things are allowed to be quietly presented without needing a big neon sign to clue in the reader. Escaflowne was one of his examples. You can see the conflict here, right?
- The first episode is gone. Too much character development and not enough sword fighting, apparently. A brief summary is inserted into the beginning of the second episode to explain important facts like who these people are and what they're doing.
- Every scene now has music. Children apparently lose interest in shows if even a second goes by without music. In fact, not only has new music been written, but large portions of the old, symphonic soundtrack have been removed and replaced with synthetic adventure music that tries to sound like original and fails.
- Even some of the sound effects are different and there's more of them. There seems to be a lot less bass, as well, but that might just have been my television.
- Digital rippling effects have been added to set off the inserted flashbacks. Escaflowne makes great use of digital effects, but to me the new stuff looks gratuitous. Maybe I'm just bitter.
- Some plot elements are being mishandled. (One character now shouts "It's a Zaibach attack!" even though the identity of the invaders was originally a mystery.)
- Merle is much less irritating in English. (As far as I'm concerned, this is a good thing. Not all aspects of anime are wonderful, and the obligatory "cute" character is rarely one of them.)
It doesn't end there, either. In the preview of upcoming episodes, they showed the usual Zaibach briefing, but with the video screen superimposing an image of Escaflowne over the image of the Emperor. It's possible that was just for the preview, but I have my doubts.
There is a bright side. Escaflowne, as far as I know, is unique in that a commercial subtitled version was available before its transition to American TV. I can't see Bandai suddenly deciding to stop selling it simply because another version exists. There is a question about how the DVDs will be produced, though. The changes to the video make it harder to simply combine the subtitled and dubbed versions on one disc. My impression is that Bandai will be selling the uncut version, which should make for some interesting times at the video store. ^_^