Abridged series and fandom remix culture

Zephra C. Doerr

Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The "abridged series" is one of the more recent genres to come out of the fan culture of anime fan subs. An abridged series is a form of fan parody in which some of the peculiarities of fan subs are mixed with the more general conventions of Internet parodies to produce a shortened version of an anime series with edited video and original dubbed-in dialogue. The abridged series is not just a form of fan translation or a humorous recap of an existing work; rather, because they are engaged in significant textual criticism, construction of independent narratives, and interaction with greater fan communities, they should be considered a unique creative genre of transformative work.

[0.2] Keywords—Anime; Fan vid; Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series; Parody

Doerr, Zephra C. 2012. "Abridged Series and Fandom Remix Culture." In "Fan/Remix Video," edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, fans of Japanese animation in countries without a significant import market, including the United States, began creating what are now known as fan subs—amateur translations superimposed as subtitles on anime episodes, using imported or pirated raw video and home editing equipment. These fan subs were not considered by the creators to be a commercial venture but instead were circulated personally between fans through mail, at anime conventions, and by screening them at local anime clubs. As the anime medium increased in popularity outside of the Japanese market, and as fans had greater access to Japanese cultural products and their audience through the Internet in the late 1990s and 2000s, this kind of work expanded to include major fan sub sites hosting dozens or hundreds of translated anime and live-action drama series, scanlations of Japanese print comics and fan-created comics, and recapping and screen capping blogs that mix humorous or critical summaries of series with still images (Jenkins 2006).

[1.2] One of the more recent genres to come out of this fan culture is the anime abridged series. An abridged series is a form of fan parody in which some of the peculiarities of fan subs, such as loose or inaccurate translations, on-screen glosses, and translator commentary (Díaz Cintas and Muñoz Sánchez 2006), are mixed with the more general conventions of Internet parodies to produce a shortened version of an anime series with edited video and original dubbed-in dialogue. First appearing in 2006 with the series Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series by online creator LittleKuriboh, in subsequent years, the genre has proliferated, with a number of high-profile creators and dozens of popular series. The abridged series is not just a form of fan translation or a humorous recap of an existing work; rather, because they are engaged in significant textual criticism, construction of independent narratives, and interaction with greater fan communities, they should be considered a unique creative genre of transformative work.

2. Narrative criticism for creative reinterpretation

Video 1. Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, episode 7, "Cliffhanger," by LittleKuriboh, August 2006.

[2.1] Most series use a number of different parody techniques to actively engage with and reinterpret their source material. Abridged series tend to draw their source from two overlapping groups of shows: series that have a significant Western fan base, usually as a result of having been dubbed for international television, and series that rely heavily on the genre conventions of children's fantasy and action stories, sometimes to the detriment of narrative quality. As a result, the humor of these parodies often derives from a critical reading of the source material, highlighting the plot holes and stylistic quirks, the irrational behavior of secondary characters, and the failures of in-world logic that the creators notice in the original shows. Looking at the video above, the seventh episode of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, we see multiple examples of this kind of critical humor even within a brief 4-minute clip. The opening sequence satirizes the overdramatic previous-episode recaps by framing them as an American soap opera. At 1:10, Yugi Muto's incredulous question, "Are you trying to tell me that Kaiba came back from the dead just to play a card game with me?," pokes fun at the entire premise of the anime series, which is that all matters of life and death can be resolved by playing a trading card game, while Kaiba's question at 2:00, "How the hell did I climb up the side of a cliff while holding a briefcase?," highlights a visual plot hole in the episode. At 2.59, LittleKuriboh pauses the narrative so that he can reshow several clips with the original dialogue to demonstrate the overuse of a gag line.

[2.2] The characters are even given a metaknowledge of their own status as narrative objects, making them free to push on the fourth wall in a way impossible for their original incarnations. When Kaiba describes his own actions at 1:55 as a way of redeeming himself in the eyes of his fans, he is certainly describing the authorial narrative purpose of the cutaway scene, but this is not something the character himself is meant to be aware of. Often in an abridged series, the characters and the parody creator team up as an allied force, working against the perceived failures of the show's writers and producers. These parodies rarely passively accept the canonical material and its authors; although the creators are generally affectionate to their sources, they treat it as something that can be teased, prodded at, and taken apart as needed.

[2.3] Aside from this kind of pointed critique, abridged series also provide space for creative reinterpretation of the source material. Rather than trying to reproduce a direct point-for-point abbreviation of the original shows, many abridged series creators opt for a looser adaption in which repurposed footage illustrates an alternative narrative arc.

[2.4] The pilot episode of the Death Note: Abridged series by Team Dattebayo, for example, presents us with the character of Light Yagami (Death Note: Abridged, episode 1, In the original anime, Light comes into the possession of a notebook that allows him to kill people, and he decides to begin mass executing criminals. In this abridged series, Light is determined to become the most popular anime character in the world by killing off the characters of other series, beginning with a character in Dragonball Z. Subsequent episodes expand on this plot, splicing in death scenes from other shows and news broadcasts about character deaths and programs being canceled. This is not a one-off joke by the creators, but a substantive plot arc developed over multiple episodes of the series, in which the motivations and actions of numerous characters and the structure of the fictional world are altered and called into question.

Video 2. Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, episode 50, "Joey Wheeler Ace Attorney," by LittleKuriboh, October 2010.

[2.5] Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series has for the most part stuck to the major plot arcs and conflicts of the original series. After it was removed several times from YouTube for copyright violations, however, the series rewrote several episodes into an encounter with a mysterious organization revealed to be the media company 4Kids Entertainment—the company responsible for the English-language dubs of Yu-Gi-Oh. What had been simply a filler arc in the original series becomes instead a scathing critique of the company, culminating in episode 50 with an eloquent defense of fair use and the value of fan works. The creator repurposes a courtroom scene from the anime to allow him to put the series itself on trial, using the characters to justify their own existence by arguing that the abridged series is produced out of a love of the original work. This has resulted in a much larger fan base for the show. By refuting the claims of copyright infringement with an in-universe video, the creator establishes the abridged series as a truly transformative work, drawing on the canon source but able to enter into an independent dialogue with it.

3. Alternate character interpretation

[3.1] This element of reinterpretation is obviously not limited to the plot. Abridged series often also play with canon characterization in a number of different ways. Character traits from the original show may be comically exaggerated—the Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged Series by Lanipator, for example, takes the canonically dimwitted tough guy Kuwabara and makes him so stupid he doesn't recognize what a book is. One-off jokes may undergo memetic mutation and develop a life of their own. In video 1 above, a secondary character introduces himself with the phrase, "Attention duelists, my hair has abducted this small child." This recurrent line started in an earlier episode as a brief gag and was popular enough with the fans of the series that it became his defining character note, reappearing as late in the series as episode 50, long after the character himself had disappeared from the original anime. More popular jokes may be adopted by fans to use for macros (humorous images with captions posted in online discussions) and even commercialized; the Web site hosting Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series includes a store in which fans can buy buttons, posters, and T-shirts imprinted with their favorite lines from the series.

[3.2] Creators may also choose to discard canon characterization and construct their own versions. They may build off fan-popular readings of the characters, take existing character details and subtext in a new direction, or just arbitrarily assign humorous character traits. In many series, this takes the form of a queer reimagining of character relationships. For example, in episode 14 of Death Note: Abridged, the two protagonists of the series, Light and L, get into a fistfight while handcuffed together. The abridged series takes a scene that already contains a significant amount of homoerotic subtext in the original show and gives it a new context by having already established in earlier episodes an ambiguous sexuality and mutual acknowledged interest for both characters (Death Note: The Abridged Series, episode 14, Homoerotic moments are frequently called out and mocked in Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged Series, such as a dream sequence in which two of the male characters kiss for plot purposes. In Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, the explicitly romantic relationship between the villains Bakura and Marik is frequently referenced, and nearly all of the main characters have had at least one moment of expressing interest in the same sex. Although it is often treated as nothing more than a joke, this queer reading of the character interactions does represent a radical reinterpretation of the source material.

[3.3] These alternative character interpretations can be quite popular with the fan base. LittleKuriboh's version of the villain Marik in Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, although radically different from his canon characterization, caught on well enough that LittleKuriboh produced several spin-offs with him, including villainous sitcom parodies, musical episodes, and a parody of the Let's Play genre of YouTube video game commentaries in which Marik plays the game Vampire: The Masquerade. At this point, Marik of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series can be said to have an existence separate from his canon character, with his own character traits and a unique fan base. As abridged series and their characters gain popularity in this way, they begin to push the boundaries between derivative series and creative works. For many series, fan participation and requests are significantly influential in the direction the creators take their parodies and side materials, and a number of the most popular series have come to be treated as independent creative products, with their own fan communities and reremixes.

4. Abridged series and the fan community

Video 3. "Literal Pants" music video, by LittleKuriboh and Kirbopher, 2010.

[4.1] Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series is one of the better examples of an abridged series being accepted as a fictional universe in its own right by its fan base. To illustrate some of the various implications of this idea, I use video 3, a fan-made music video featuring the Abridged Series version of the Yu-Gi-Oh character Marik. To start, it should be noted that this video is a recursive remix, combining several genres of fan works at once. It is presented in the title as a literal music video, a YouTube-popularized genre in which a singer describes what is literally happening in a music video to the tune of the original song. The song that this is a literalization of, however, is not an original song itself, but a LittleKuriboh parody of the Lady Gaga song "Bad Romance" titled "Leather Pants." And, of course, the characters are not the original canon characters, but fan-animated versions of fanon characters from a parody series. Some of the visual humor in "Literal Pants," and the original parody it is based on, draws from canon events from the original show, but just as much of it is self-referential, based on mocking the fanon characterization of Marik, shout-outs to other creators, and callbacks to jokes and events from the abridged series. While the original abridged series is made for an audience made up of fans of Yu-Gi-Oh, this and the numerous similar music parodies LittleKuriboh has produced are made for an audience who are fans of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series; they are engaging in it as a nominally original fandom.

[4.2] This identification of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series as a creative work can also be seen in a more negative way in the creator's interactions with the larger anime fan community. The series frequently draws on this community as a source for their humor, making jokes about rabid, boy-obsessed fangirls, anime fans, and the prevalence of fan fiction about the characters. In episode 40, for instance, one character describes a location as one where "spirits of the damned roam freely and every second is like living in a wide-awake nightmare"; another character responds that this sounds like an anime convention (Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, episode 40, Although many of the jokes directed toward the fan base are fond and even at times self-deprecating, there is often a subtext of scorn and derision for their obsessions and actions, and this pattern of fan-based jokes is carried out through many other popular series. This can come across as more than a little disingenuous because it is the interplay between the creator, the source material, and the fans that enables them to engage with the original series on this level. However, it is also a way for the creators to distance themselves from the audience as fans, creating the implication that there is something fundamentally different between works like fan fiction or anime music videos and their work. The separation between abridged series and other fan-created works suggests that the creators, as well as the fan base, are thinking of them as a creative genre in their own right.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] Anime abridged series are a frequent target for media corporations. Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series is on the fourth iteration of its YouTube account, and at one point changed its title to Yu-Gi-Oh: The Cancelled Series to reflect the difficulty of keeping the episodes online. As derivative works, abridged series occupy the murky legal ground of fair use, with the copyright holders challenging them as illegal infringement and the creators arguing that they constitute allowable parody. In this work, I have outlined some of the major components of an abridged series—humor as textual criticism, radical rewriting of story and character, and a direct creative engagement with the fan base. These qualities support two conclusions: first, that abridged series are indeed truly transformative works in their approach to their source, and second, that they can be recognized as a unique genre of creative fan work in their own right.

6. Works cited

Díaz Cintas, Jorge, and Pablo Muñoz Sánchez. 2006. "Fansubs: Audiovisual Translation in an Amateur Environment." Journal of Specialised Translation 6:37–52.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. "When Piracy Becomes Promotion: How Unauthorized Copying Made Japanese Animation Profitable in the United States." Reason, December.