The year: 1960. The location: Japan. The event: Three Tales has just aired.
Little did the Japanese public know that this would act as a catalyst for a long line of events that eventually led to the creation of mouse pads with massive anime breasts on them. Overall, it was a great day for humanity.
Did I mention that it was also the first anime to be broadcast on television… Sorry, I got distracted.
The cartoon was thirty minutes long and consisted of an anthology of three different fairy tales. It was nothing like the anime that we’re used to now but we need to bear in mind what an anime really is. At its core, anime is just any piece of animation that comes from Japan. Even if it’s just your average run-of-the-mill children’s animation, it is still, by definition, anime.
However, 1964 could be considered as an even more important moment in anime history. For it was the year in which the first English dub of an anime aired in the USA: Gigantor (known as Tetsuijin 28-go in Asia). Set in the distant future of the year 2000, we follow protagonist Jimmy Sparks and his giant robot companion as they fight crime. Aside from being the first anime that the average American would have seen, it was also one of the first instances of a ‘Mecha Anime’; the kind that revolves around giant battle robots like those seen on Evangelion, Gundam, and Gurren Lagann.
These instances could be little more than a footnote in the grand history of Japanese animation; after all, I very much doubt that Crusader Rabbit is widely recognised as the main influence for The Simpsons. Nevertheless, I still find it an interesting point in history to be looked at and appreciated for what it has done.
The next important date in our history lesson is the 13th of September 1996: the day that Dragon Ball Z first aired in the US. Dragon Ball Z is probably one of the most well-known anime series out there. On its release it created an explosion of excitement and would become a staple among children and on par in popularity with the likes of Hey Arnold, Ren & Stimpy, and other westerncartoons.
The importance of Dragon Ball was that it introduced so many people to anime. Even though not everyone was aware that it was anime they were watching, they were slowly being introduced to tropes and action that was only ever seen in the East. For many this was their gateway drug to harder anime. No matter the lives that Dragon Ball Z ended up ruining, it’s easy to accredit it as the first popular anime in the west.
But wait – where does an ‘Abridged Anime’ come into this? What even is an ‘Abridged Anime’, or an ‘Abridged Parody’?
During the early years of YouTube, a specific genre of video known as a ‘YouTube Poop’ (YTP) became very popular. This style of video is a type of edit or mashup that uses a myriad of different media sources – like video games, anime, or film – all mixed together to create a whole new product for comedy or shock value.
It is a style of video that is still somewhat popular today. Now going by the name of a ‘Crack video’ they tend to cover subjects like famous youtubers or children shows (Peppa Pig being particularly popular).
YTPs have been around nearly as long as YouTube has and are an interesting piece of internet history. Watch a poop from any point in time and you’ll get a crash course in both the pop culture and humour of that period. This weird and absurd style of editing coupled with the inclusion of anime is a perfect predecessor to the Abridged Anime.
In a sense, Abridged Anime is a cousin of YouTube Poop. Creators will take a preestablished anime series and rewrite the show episode by episode – usually prioritising comedy. It has the same energy as a YTP in terms of its editing style, but rather than acting as a one off as a joke it will follow a newly made narrative.
And it obviously will be shorter than the original show, hence it being labelled as ‘abridged’.
The showrunners, if you will, of an abridged series will not only need to rewrite the show, but also cast it, record all the voice actors, edit and mix the audio and footage from the original show to follow their narrative, and potentially add additional animation and visual effects.
It’s safe to say that this is no easy job. Some major series have cast and a crew in the dozens, and even then they still struggle to release them on a regular basis.
Dragon Ball Z Abridged
One of the first, and most popular, abridged series was Dragon Ball Z Abridgedby the channel Team Four Star and was published on the 5th of June 2008. It set the precedent for what other anime parodies should do; it was funny, it made fun of pop culture, it mocked its own show, and it was self-aware. Some notable features included adding a counter for every time Krillin got defeated in battle (a nod to the character being infamously weak in the original show) and portraying main character, Goku, as a bumbling idiot and neglectful father (again an exaggeration of the character’s traits in the show).
The parody became something of a phenomenon and has since garnered the channel millions of views. Due to copyright issues, the first episode has been removed from YouTube, but a reupload of it has over 24 million views.
Despite the fact that these abridged series are very well made and funnier than their source material, none are necessarily better than the original. Where Dragon Ball Z Abridged might be a 9/10 comedy, as a suspenseful action series it is less successful. The original series, however, excels in this regard… but it just isn’t as funny. Very rarely will you get a parody that manages to overshadow the source material in every aspect.
Sword Art Online Abridged
But rare does not mean impossible and one series proves this to be true – Something Witty Entertainment (SWE) and their Sword Art Online Abridged.
Sword Art Online (SAO) is an anime based on the light novel series by Reki Kawahara. The show is famous for its slick fight scenes, killer soundtrack, blatant misogyny, and being bad. The series is infamous in the anime community for being liked by no one over the age of thirteen and has since become a punching bag we all love to hate.
The show is set in a virtual reality video game of the same name. It all seems well and good until it’s revealed that they’re actually stuck in the game, and if they die in the game, they die in real life. Shocking, I know.
Aside from just being a bit dumb, there are some genuine criticisms of the series: like how the characters are relatively flat, issues with story pacing, characters making decidedly dumb decisions for no reason other than to create conflict, and so on and so forth. Frankly, the list could go on for a while, but these are the big ones that people have issues with.
SAO Abridged is aware of these flaws and uses them to make a show better than the professional team could. The team behind SAO Abridged clearly have admiration for the show; they respect what the show wanted to do and, live up to those expectations while still being funny.
In the original SAO, our protagonist, Kirito, is your average computer nerd who loves video games, lacks confidence, and is so unbelievably powerful he may as well be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ himself; his character arc revolves around his growth as a fighter and nothing else, nothing else matters except him getting strong and getting his hole.
On the other hand, the parodical Kirito is a narcissistic asshole who cares for no one but himself; his only goal is to beat the game and become as powerful as he can. His character arc includes him learning that other people have problems, how to open up even if it means getting hurt, putting others above himself, and learning how to respect others.
I would compare love interest Asuna between her two renditions, but I don’t think the original actually has a personality. There is just no competition between the two in characterisation. What Kawahara fails to do in over six hours of screen time and two novels, SWE does in half the time and at least twice as effectively; what’s more is that they do story better as well.
There are many things in SAO that don’t make sense, one being when Kirito joins a group of fellow players to help beat the game. The first convolution that only exists to create conflict is the fact that Kirito hides his level from his new friends; his logic being that if they find out how powerful he is then they won’t want to be his friends anymore.
Not only does this make no sense, but it also puts the group at risk as Kirito being so powerful attracts stronger monsters – which is obviously a bad thing for his lower-level group. This, and the whole team sharing a single braincell between them, resulted in everyone, bar Kirito, dying. This, of course, makes Kirito sad (for a whole two episodes). The moment is meant to make us feel endeared to our protagonist, as well as insinuate that the show is not afraid to kill off characters.
But the most prominent character from the group to face this fate is Sachi. She’s a sweet and powerless girl that Kirito gets to protect (for a whole 20 minutes before her untimely death), thus fulfilling his male saviour complex. The entire point of Sachi’s existence is for Kirito to become attached to her so that he wants to protect her, and when she dies it’s doubly sad. Aside from being as useless as pencil sharpener in a pen factory, her only other characteristic is being scared of dying, which is somehow meant to make her death sadder? Like I said, the show doesn’t do character well.
Look at SAO Abridged and you’ll find that not only does the arrogant Kirito make sure everyone knows how strong he is, it’s what initially attracted the team to him. And even Sachi is done better. The joke with Sachi is that her internet connection is poor, resulting in her character glitching, but in typical SWE fashion, this is more than a joke. She worries that her incompetence, and poor ping, will result in not only her dying, but the whole team too.
So, when they all die, instead of it being a frustrating moment of ‘no don’t go behind that door you idiots, it’s clearly a trap’, it’s genuinely emotional. In this rendition half the team is made up of AI from the game, and they automatically open up chests to find what’s inside. Sachi was the one to set her team to auto-loot, so when this very function is what kills the guild off, the blame falls on Sachi; her worst fear has just come true. Worse than dying, worse than her friends dying, she was to blame for it all.
And when Kirito loses everyone, it actually has an effect on him; it only further justifies his belief that it’s meaningless to become attached to people as it only leads to hurt. Not only this but it affects him for the whole show, it impacts his decision making; he helps a young girl who he normally wouldn’t help because he wanted to protect her and sympathises with the feeling of loss. He has genuine PTSD, and the instance his friends dying has an actual impact on him and the story.
Big changes like this, and other smaller ones, all come together to make an internet parody that is better than the real TV show.
In the end, it’s all a matter of opinion. Some will still stand by the original and say that these parodies are nothing more than unfunny and unoriginal attempts at making art; their project wouldn’t even exist without the show that everyone claims is so bad. Some will say that the amount of passion and love put into these, along with the lack of network restrictions, has the potential to make the purest type of art. In my, opinion, I do believe that SAO Abridged is a genuinely great piece of media.
In 2017 the Japanese public was blessed with a feature length SAO movie – Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. In it’s opening week in Japan, the movie garnered a modest 2.75 million viewers. An impressive feat, I’m sure, but when compared to over 14 million views on the first episode of SAO Abridged, (and overall, 126 million views for the channel) it’s not that controversial to say SWE has created something that network executives would kill to be a part of.
Sword Art Online: Abridged has undoubtedly succeeded at what they set out to do. Not only has it got the figures and the fanbase to back this up, but just by watching the two series with a critical eye it is clear to anyone that the two just can’t be compared. Something I highly recommend anyone reading this to do.
Illustration by Charlie Colville.
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