Friday, November 23, 2012

Tezuka Osamu's "Adult" Anime (Revised)

Tezuka Osamu, sometimes called the "godfather of anime" and the "god of manga," is a revered figure in the pantheon of Japanese graphic artists. His anime and manga have, by and large, been treated well in English, with two significant exceptions: the two "adult" anime movies he created in the late 60s, Senya Ichiya Monogatari (A Thousand and One Nights) and Cleopatra. Marketed as "adult" cartoons (i.e., porn), both did poorly in the United States (and in Japan as well); the English-dubbed versions are considered lost. Subtitled versions have been floating around the Web for a few years, but the quality is terrible. The subtitles for Senya Ichiya Monogatari appear to be a machine translation of Chinese subtitles that were themselves a machine translation from Japanese; they are incomprehensible. The subtitles for Cleopatra were, as the group responsible admits, mostly guesses.

This year, I obtained new translations of Senya Ichiya Monogatari and Cleopatra. These have now been timed, edited, typeset, QC'd, and so on, and new versions of both movies have been released, at last. I want to acknowledge the Internet-based team that made this possible: first and foremost, convexity, who did the primary translations; ElyasRay, who also helped with translation; Corbyn and Saji, who provided QC checking; and tophf, who provided the original raws. The new versions will make it possible for an English-speaking audience to see these movies and understand the script more or less as their creators intended, rather than through the distorted lens of junk translations.

Some Initial Thoughts

These movies are not "X-rated cartoons," as their American distributors proclaimed. They're not even hentai under current definitions of the genre. If they were released today, not a single frame would need to be censored. Yes, there are lots of topless or unclothed women, but the films are much less explicit than, say, Yosuga no Sora. They're more like current ATX late-night boob-fests, such as Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai.

Also, they're not lost masterpieces. Both suffer from rambling plots, shortcuts in animation due to budget constraints, and stylistic inconsistency. Senya Ichiya Monogatari spins a meandering tale of Aladdin and his rise from water seller to King of Baghdad, plundering many Arabian folktales, and The Odyssey, along the way. Cleopatra frames the story of the last queen of Egypt inside a science-fiction story. The framing story exists only to explain how one of the characters has knowledge of modern inventions, a factor which is exploited for occasional comic effect. Cleopatra makes mincemeat of historical events and ends with Cleopatra dying for love of Antony, without ever showing that she loved him in the first place.

Finally, they're too long. Admittedly, the Arabian Nights story collection is very long, but Senya could have been much more selective in choosing which episodes to tell. When Senya time-skips fifteen years forward just past the midway point, introducing a new set of characters, the viewer's reaction is more exasperation than renewed interest. Cleopatra's satirical set pieces — the assassination of Caesar is staged as kabuki theater, for example — don't have much sting.

On the other hand, both movies are intermittently entertaining, with good comedic, action, and romantic set pieces. In Senya, the love idylls of Aladdin and Miriam, and later of Aslan and Jalis, are charming, before the action in each case turns very dark. The action sequences are fluidly animated, albeit on a small scale. Aladdin is a flawed hero, capable of selfish and irresponsible actions, but ultimately redeemed in the end, and his opponent, Badli, makes a scheming, villainous antagonist. I find less to admire in Cleopatra, but the endlessly horny leopard, Lupa, provides comic relief, which is sorely needed.

Translation and Editing Notes: Senya Ichiya Monogatari

Names - The traditional English names from the Arabian Nights have been used, e.g., Aladdin instead of Aldin.

43:57 - "Open... barley! Did I say it wrong?" The start of a long sequence in which Aladdin forgets the incantation to open the thieves' door (Open "sesame" [translated to Japanese as "goma," meaning sesame seeds]) and tries a long list of other edible seeds, barley and peanuts included.

Translation and Editing Notes: Cleopatra

Names - The traditional English names from history are used, e.g., Julius Caesar instead of Iulius Caesar, Mark Antony instead of Marcus Antonius, Octavian instead of Octavianus. Where possible, character and place names follow historical usage: Ptolemy, Pothinus, etc. However, Cleopatra's faithful attendant was a man, Apollodorus, rather than a woman, Apollodoria; and her tame jungle cat was probably Arrow (a tiger) rather than Lupa (a leopard). Lupa is used instead of Rupa, because Lupa is a Latin word meaning wolf.

5:59 - "Deces d'amant." Because Japanese pronunciation of European languages can be rather variable, it's really impossible to know what this is supposed to be. I've construed it as misprounounced French, because "death of the loved one" is the essence of the plot.

12:44 - "the Great Lord Caesar." Literally, "Lord Caesar, child of the sun."

22:57 - "The heart of finger massage..." and the following line are a well-known quote by Namikoshi Tokujirou. See

29:02 - "Great gods of the heavens." Literally, "Ah, says the surprised Tamegorou!" ("アッ驚く為五郎). This is Hana Hajime's catchphrase from a 1969-1970 TV variety show 『巨泉×前武ゲバゲバ90分!』; and Hana Hajime is the voice actor playing Caesar! "Tamegorou" is a character from a story Hana liked. See

1:17:45 - "No butts touched, no piles gained." Literally, "You can't get hemorrhoids without touching your butt." The start of some truly terrible punning.

1:17:50- "You mean, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'" Literally: "You can't catch a tiger cub without entering a tiger's lair."

1:17:52.84 - "But you still gain something!" Literally, "There's still the ass." "Ketsu" by itself means "ass." Tiger's lair is "koketsu."

1:21:20 - "I mean, mine's just a tiny subcompact." Literally, "I mean, mine's just a tiny one with a compact vehicle license," meaning the Japanese license for engines of 360cc or below.

1:21:24 - "Caesar's was a huge 100-ton dump truck." Literally, "Caesar's was a dump truck with a special license."

1:22:47 - "You bit my little finger" - A line from "Koyubi no Omoide" by Itou Yukari. See

1:23:42 - "The word i-impossible is not in my dictionary." A real quote from Napoleon, to match the onscreen image.

Ending song - "Guerilla, Guevera, Gewalt." "Gebaruto" means violence. To keep the alliteration, the German term for violence, "gewalt," is used.

Concluding Thoughts

Any prolific artist - the complete collection of Osamu's manga runs to more than 400 volumes - will produce a mixture of great, average, and less than stellar work, and Tezuka Osamu was no exception. Just because Senya Ichiya Monogatari and Cleopatra fall at or below average is no reason to ignore them or treat them shabbily. Both movies show Osamu developing his style at an early point in his career and point the way towards better works in the future. I hope these new translations will help make these movies more accessible to a broader audience.

(Revised 11/24/2012)

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