This is so wrong…
Seriously, making an adaptation to another culture is a hard thing to do. Especially one which was originally a parody of the exact culture it is adapted into.
Powerpuff Girls Z (PPGZ) is the retelling of the homonymous American cartoon (I’ll just call it PPGA), the silly adventures of a trio of supergirls as they protect their world from all sorts of criminals and monsters. Instead of just stopping to a dubbed version for reasons that I only imagine being fan pleasing, Japan decided to have its own PPG series, made from scratch. And boy, did they change a lot…
This is not exactly new in the industry. Since as far as the 80’s America and Japan make their own versions of the same story. Famous examples are Macross/Roboteck, American-only sequels to Voltron Defender of the Universe, an American-only OVA conclusion to the Saber Rider and the Starsheriffs, several Japanese-only sequels and spin-offs to the Transformers. The thing is, all those shows were 90% identical or easily recognizable to be of the same franchise. PPGZ is way too different to PPGA to the point it feels as a different show. And unfortunately, it is far, far worse as well. I will explain why by comparing both shows to one another in each section.
ART (PPGA: 8, PPGZ: 5)
PPGA was using a rather simple to draw and animate artwork which looked very 2-dimensional. It was also made to be a tribute to both the pop-art movement, superhero comic books of the 60’s, as well as a parody to several Japanese anime stereotypes. That made it look special and unique in a way, even if there are several series that were made the same way, like South Park, Dexter’s Laboratory or Ying Yang Yo. It was still somewhat different from the typical cartoon, which packs a lot more animation, 3D effects and lip-synch.
PPGZ on the other hand looks way too typical. If you have watched several anime, you can easily see how average its animation is, with its jerky motions, frozen panels and repeating transformation clips. I’m pretty sure it costs more to create 3D effects and fluid animation but at the same time it looks far less captivating. It has no in-jokes to comic books and the anime jokes are not working that well, since mahou shoujo parodies are abundant in Japan but not in America.
I don’t blame studio Toei for animating it like this, since it follows their recipe of how to make a nice children’s show to the letter. It’s just that it was too safe to be given to them and not to, let’s say GAINAX or SHAFT, which would definitely have done a lot more experimenting and would have produced a far more uncommon result.
SOUND (PPGA: 8, PPGZ: 5)
In a somewhat similar fashion we have the music score and the voice acting. Although both versions have perky voices and funky beats, it is again the American version which brings out better the humorous feeling of the setting. The dialogues felt a lot more childish and stupid in the Japanese version, while the pop song opening is just preparing you to see a mediocrity.
STORY (PPGA: 3, PPGZ: 3)
Although both shows are based on short stand alone missions, it was the variety of the American version that made it look slightly better. It was at moments quite ingenious in what was going on with the scenario, dealing with some rather heavy to the mind ideas. For example, in the American version Mojo Jojo would create doomsday devises or hoards of ugly mutants would invade the city. In the Japanese version Mojo’s plans would be totally retarded and wouldn’t go further than stealing candies from little kids, while most monsters are way too silly looking. Then again it was PPGZ which had a sense of progress, as the story seems to have a loose plot that heads towards somewhere. That makes both cases to be equal, although the show was never serious and thus in need of an overall plot to begin with. In fact, it was the short 15 minute missions of PPGA that were going to fast to get tired, while the dragged to double or more duration of PPGZ was easier to be bored, without really being more complicating or captivating than the American version.
CHARACTERS (PPGA: 7, PPGZ: 3)
Here is were the most drastic changes were made and shows easier how far inferior this version is. Here is a quick reference:
PPGA: Created by a chemical accident, kids, very powerful, don’t need to transform in order to fight, hand to hand battles.
PPGZ: Given powers by accident, teenagers, not too powerful, need to transform in order to fight, using weapons in battles.
In all aspects, the original is better. Being created makes them feel not human and thus excuses their huge eyes and hardship in fitting with society. Being kids brings out their innocence and how easy it is to be tricked all the time. Being very powerful means that the villains would need to use cunningness in order to escape or win, making the story more intelligent. Not in need of transforming means that their powers are part of who they are and not some cheap gimmick anyone can easily steal or suppress. Fighting hand to hand means that they are not defined by their accessories and the story focuses more on their personalities.
The remake takes a whole different approach and makes the whole thing feel less special. Being normal girls who are given powers means that they are not any different than any other mahou shoujo show and takes away the unearthly feeling of their nature. Being teenagers means that they are now wasting a lot of time on hitting on boys or running away from them, becoming objects of lust and not of affection for their kind hearts and will to help their world. Being not very powerful means that the villains could use anything to escape or win, making the story less in need of strategy on the part of the bad guys (on the other hand the girls need to smarten up for the same reason but we don’t see that much since most villains are just idiots who steal candies from babies). In need of transforming and weapons means that their powers are gimmicks, just extras anyone can easily steal or suppress. Fighting with weapons means that they are mostly defined by their accessories and not their personalities.
If you think about it, the American version is using all the elements that made Superman very famous in his early career (in fact they are a parody of him). He was the first superhero to be born with powers and not from Earth and that alien feeling is what made him special when compared with others of his era. So ok, I like Batman more but remember that he was more of a silly clown during the 50’s (Adam West anyone?) and it was only after his new persona as the Dark Knight kicked in (which was closer to his original conception of the 30’s but oh well) that made him far more interesting. Superman’s interest as a character was a plus while he was so alien in origin and all the other heroes were blunt archetypes, but as soon as they all started to have darker sides to themselves (Watchmen anyone?) and Superman remained stuck to his usual self, they are now more interesting than him.
And here is where the remake failed. Making the girls more humane in nature without making them more humane in character. They feel equally silly as their American counterparts but way less interesting as characters… As well as more pedo-bait; I mean they are cute looking girls doing cosplay while looking at you all perky. I could never see the American looks of the girls as sexy with the silly way they were drawn (and don’t show me the fanfics because I have seen those as well; I find them disturbing and not sexy).
VALUE & ENJOYMENT (PPGA: 7, PPGZ: 1)
Bottom line, the original is special and unlike anything else ever made in America. You can’t confuse it with another cartoon, even other works the same team made. The remake on the other hand is carbon-copy of a thousand other similar shows; place it next to them and you might as well be looking for Waldo. At the same time, the humor worked just fine in the original because the combo of visuals, comic-book looks and anime parodies was unique, whereas the remake is one of the same old stuff we have been watching since Sailor Moon (and with even far less context than it). Thus PPGZ is a poorly made series that has nothing to offer to the fans of the original and hardly anything new to the natives of the Rising Sun.
AVERAGE SCORES: (PPGA: 6.5, PPGZ: 3)
p.s. American derived Madhouse works suck and Marvel trying to anime-ize its heroes sucks harder.