Abridged Series Where Less is More

Author’s Note: Yes, I realize “Abridged too Far” was low-hanging fruit so far as pun-based titles go, but it sounded like the opposite point I was trying to make here. And no, that doesn’t take the sting out.

a-bridge-too-far

Author’s Note 2: I’m still using it for the title picture, though, because Sir Sean Friggin’ Connery.

For those not in the know, an abridged anime series is more or less what it sounds like. You take an existing series and shorten it in one of two ways. The first of these is to cut out filler strictly for the purpose of streamlining it. (The only two examples I can think of were both done by the same studio as a means of fixing a broken series – “Evangelion” and “Dragon Ball Z.”) The second, objectively better way is to cut the show in such a way that it’s essentially a different, more hilarious show.

An abridged series isn’t just a very short series, like “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.” Although, that show was very short. And frankly, hilarious.

But as I’m so fond of saying by way of teasing future columns, that’s a whole other thing.

For the sake of completeness, I’m going to talk about four here – half of the first variety and half of the second. Of course, there are many more than just four of these, but you should understand that these are almost exclusively fan works. Thus, their overall quality often varies somewhere between the low end of mediocre and the lower end of MS Paint.

Dragon Ball Z Kai. Despite getting into other anime in high school, I didn’t watch Dragon Ball Z until about two years into college. I still remember to this day the conflicted feelings I had over watching Vegeta and Cell scream at one another for two entire episodes on the way to Vegeta’s ultimate decision to stop fighting entirely.

As far as places to get into Dragon Ball Z go, it was probably the worst imaginable. It showcased the worst flaws in the fight scenes while accomplishing nothing at all, all with essentially no outcome. And given that it was an episode central to the main plot, I couldn’t even give it the “filler pass” I tend to give scenes where Goku wants to learn to drive or when Gohan wants to date some random girl just to pad out time.

When I heard about Dragon Ball Z Kai, I was cautiously optimistic. It offered a tighter story presented with more modern animation techniques. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, the voice actors could realize they’ve been doing the same voices for roughly eighty years and totally phone it in.

Okay. So I realize that’s both harsh and untrue. These are people who love the series, I’m sure. Nobody was just coming in for a paycheck, at least as far as I know. But after so long of yelling the same attack names (and just plain yelling), it’s understandable that their performances (and vocal chords) would start to get a little tired.

Especially when this was literally Dragon Ball Z again – just shorter. No new plot points. No new anything. It ended up being more or less exactly what was promised, delivered in such a way that almost no one was happy.

DBZ Abridged. I didn’t discover this series on YouTube until about a year ago, but trust me when I say it was well worth the wait. As much as the creators of the original series might hate to hear it, I honestly consider this the definitive way of getting from one end of the series to the other with you interest still intact.

Most of the plot points are actually untouched, meaning you could watch the entire series in maybe a quarter of the time and still know almost everything that happened. (Almost as if it’s some sort of abridged series. Gasp!) Sure, Goku is an idiot, Vegeta is constantly furious and Krillin is just plain pathetic, but most of the character changes are exaggerations rather than outright changes.

Except for Popo being a vaguely racist masochist, which in my opinion is an improvement over his bland, forgettable performance in the original.

The dialogue is snappy and memorable. It’s infinitely quotable. And except for its nasty habit of being hit with legal claims by the original copyright holders every few weeks, it’s probably one of the best things not on television right now. Like, seriously, top three. You need to go watch it right now whether you like anime or not.

In an extremely meta joke, here’s Dragon Ball Z Kai Abridged – an abridged abridged series.

Rebuild of Evangelion. For those of you who haven’t watched the original Evangelion series, I want to spoil this for you. And no, that wasn’t a typo. I would love to spoil this for you. The only trouble is, nobody knows how the hell it ended.

Evangelion is essentially the anime version of an Olympic runner falling in the home stretch after absolutely dominating the competition. Or it would be, if that Olympian failed so badly that his greatest fans went on to petition for his execution the next time he tried to run a race. It starts out as a coming-of-age story involving teenagers dealing with their own problems. Also, they save humanity from giant monsters-of-the-week by piloting equally-giant mechs. And if anything, it’s even better than it sounds…until it just crumbles before your eyes.

There are a lot of rumors about what happened with the last two episodes. Money problems. Studio meddling. The director wanting to create a giant middle finger to the fanbase that would live on long after his mortal flesh decayed. Either way, it was about fifty minutes of flashing pictures and giant naked girls in space while the main character loses his mind and everyone turns into puddles of orange liquid.

Interspersed with some admittedly awesome mech battles, but still…

Many people were thrilled when they heard the series was being remade in four  movies that condensed down the plot. Finally, it meant we could put all the ugliness behind us and see the story we’d wanted to see from the beginning. And then it fell apart again. In exactly the same way.

The first two movies are admittedly gorgeous. And I think I prefer them to even the solid original work. But episode three starts in a weird dystopian future after the world ended and nothing quite makes sense anymore. Episode four seems to be on indefinite hold and may or may not ever be released. Either way, the sudden shift of the narrative in exactly the same direction as the first time it got screwed up suggests it doesn’t really matter. Jesus Christ giving a piggyback ride to Hayao Miyazaki couldn’t save it at this point.

After all these years, it seemed a remarkably odd choice to tear down the wreckage of the original, shrug and then rebuild the same pile of wreckage all over again.

SAO Abridged. There are a lot of ways you could compare SAO Abridged to DBZ Abridged. Both are fan remakes of popular shows. Both were tweaked to offer a more humorous take of their original source material. The main difference between them was that Dragon Ball Z was good, whereas Sword Art Online was a dumpster fire.

It’s one thing to take a good series and make it better. It’s one thing to take a good series and make it worse. But turning Sword Art Online into a pleasant watching experience is nothing short of lead-to-gold-level alchemy.

This, however, does come with two small caveats. The first and worst of which is that I think you actually benefit from watching the original series beforehand. It’s certainly not mandatory. I just feel like I gained an entirely new insight from watching them one and then the other. Of course, your mileage may vary. I fully understand if watching twenty-six episodes of the original is a bit too much of an investment to squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of the abridged follow-up.

Especially when it starts to slide into weird slug hentai around episode eighteen for no particular reason whatsoever.

The second caveat, though it may go without saying, is that it’s a far less faithful adaptation of the story. The overarching stories are the same, though the characters and episodes are just plain different. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, especially when the dull, half-dimensional characters from the original didn’t give them much to work with. I’m just saying that they’re essentially two different series that just happen to have the exact same footage.

In the best possible way.

I should also note (as caveat two point five) that SAO Abridged does have the same problem when it comes to copyright holders. Despite Fair Use being fairly clear on parodies, each and every episode has been taken down thus far for as long as month while Sony Music (of all copyright holders) files suit. But as long as you catch it immediately after uploading each new episode or don’t mind a little wait, it’s not much of a problem.

Since I don’t have anything shorter to preview…I don’t know. Just watch the first episode.

There’s no real conclusion to this, though it kind of has me wondering if there are any other quality abridged series out there. I may have a look around. Assuming I find anything worth posting, I’ll be sure to include them in a followup.

Suggestions, naturally, are welcome.

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