Abridged Series: A Short History
The anime fandom has produced countless derivative works over the years. One of the most common is the anime music video (AMV), which features clips of a particular anime playing over a song in the background. There is also the fandub, which is just what it sounds like–a fan-made dub of an anime. But perhaps the most popular fanwork in recent years is the abridged series, a particular type of fandub that strives not to perfectly capture the spirit of the original Japanese script, but rather to poke fun at the series. Expect flaws in the original show to be referenced here, and characters to be reinterpreted.
This article will explore the origins of the abridged series, their growth over the years, and what a quality abridged series looks like.
Depending on your definition of the term, it’s debatable what the first abridged series is. True, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series was the first to use the abridged series label, but before it was uploaded to YouTube, there was the ADV dub of Ghost Stories, which was released in 2005. The original Japanese dub of Ghost Stories was apparently so bad that the localizers turned what was supposed to be an innocent children’s show into a raunchy, comedic show aimed at adults, making a joke out of the original material.
However, various gag dubs of cartoons and films were floating around the Internet years prior to the release of Ghost Stories. Movies like Mortal Kombat and The Matrix Reloaded were humorously dubbed over by an artist named Knox on Newgrounds.com in 2003. A profanity-laced parody (very NSFW and contains jokes about sexual assault) of the 1990s X-Men cartoon was released in 2005. Fensler Film’s gag dubs of the GI Joe PSAs predates both of them, surfacing on the net in 2003. All of these productions were reasonably popular and fulfilled the criteria for what an abridged series is.
It’s not as though these other videos are forgotten embarrassments of a bygone era in digital entertainment. Fans of old still remember these GI Joe parodies and celebrate them to this day. Sites like Hollywood.com have interviewed Fensler following his success, while others have compiled “best of” lists. Re-uploads of his videos on YouTube have amassed millions of views–some surpassing even that of YGO:TAS.
So why is YGO:TAS different? Why is this series credited with inspiring an entire genre? Why are these other series not talked about? In order to answer this, we need to examine the differences between creators Eric Fensler and Martin Billany (LittleKuriboh).
Who The Creators Are
The GI Joe parodies are the brainchildren of Eric Fensler, who was at the time a semi-professional filmmaker. He had already created some short films before, like a short called “Printer Jam.” This short, and other films he released on YouTube and Vimeo in the years following were clearly not meant for the average Internet denizen. Fensler’s content was screened at film festivals, 1 among other places. To him, the GI Joe parodies were nothing special, a mere side-project that he’d shared to his friends. He only uploaded his parodies to the Internet to make it easier to show people his content. There weren’t any major video sharing websites when he uploaded the parodies though, and he apparently had to contend with a broadband connection. He had to create his own webpage, convert his videos to a web-friendly format, and upload them. 2 It was an arduous process that few others were likely to repeat at the time.
Meanwhile, YGO:TAS was created by a man named Martin Billany, who goes by LittleKuriboh on the Internet. He made a name for himself prior to uploading YGO:TAS by writing fanfictions. At some point in 2006, however, LittleKuriboh was interested in making a bigger splash in the Yu-Gi-Oh! fandom and wanted to make a YGO-related video. AMVs were popular during the time, but LittleKuriboh felt that he didn’t have the skills to make one. So instead, he just made a parody of the first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! that was essentially a condensed redub, doing all of the voices himself 3. It was a modest, low-risk experiment that he worked hard to create. He did not attach his real name to the project YGO:TAS–he simply maintained his alias. The Internet would only know him as LittleKuriboh, that fanfic writer.
While neither creator believed that their shorts would be as big as they turned out to be, Fensler and LittleKuriboh were very different people. Fensler was a man who wanted to come off as (and was) a serious filmmaker. In the grand scheme of things, the GI Joe parodies were not great artistic undertakings for him. However, LittleKuriboh was an amateur with no experience at producing content. This is not to say LittleKuriboh’s content is bad–far from it–merely that it is clear that he was a fan motivated by an earnest desire to entertain his peers. He proved to the world that anyone could make a parody like he did. There was no need for sophisticated editing software or an expensive microphone. All you needed was a computer and passion for a show.
If there is one word that can describe the style of the GI Joe shorts, it would be “absurd”. The most popular scene in the GI Joe parody was one of a man running towards a house fire, shouting the words “pork chop sandwiches”, to nobody in particular. It made about as much sense in-context as it does out of it. The point is, Fensler successfully turned these cheesy (but memorable) PSAs into utterly nonsensical shorts that were about as far divorced from the source material as possible. This is probably because Fensler wrote these shorts after watching the original PSAs without any audio, pondering ways to distort the footage as much as possible. 4 It’s likely that Fensler took this approach because he had no great love for GI Joe–only some vague sense of nostalgia.
Meanwhile, YGO:TAS employs more parodic jokes that make fun of how ridiculous the show’s plotlines and characters were. As such, it follows the storyline of the original series very closely, only differentiating when the characters make reference to the flaws plaguing the plot. For example, in the first episode, main character Yami Yugi bests Kaiba using very rare cards, just like he does in the original series. However, in the abridged series, this exchange takes place:
Kaiba: Aggh! Exodia! It’s not possible! Nobody’s ever been able to summon him!
Yami Yugi: Really? Is that because it’s so rare?
Kaiba: No, it’s because this game doesn’t make any sense. Nobody could figure out how to do it.
The difference between this style of comedy and Fensler’s is that LittleKuriboh’s humor was coming from a very obvious place, making it easier for others to emulate.
It wasn’t long before other abridged series began popping up on YouTube. Vegeta3986 and MasakoX wanted to make a Naruto parody together, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it until they saw YGO:TAS. So, they worked together to create Naruto: The Abridged Series. 5
Another early user, Hbi2k, was a writer who wanted to create a short story after realizing he lacked the patience for writing a novel. Later, he discovered the abridged series format that LittleKuriboh had created and decided to make one of his own: Berserk Abridged. 6
Lanipator started his abridging career after receiving a rugby injury, and used the free time he had to watch YGO:TAS. He found that others, like the aforementioned Hbi2k, MasakoX and Vegeta3986 also made some, so he figured that he’d throw his hat in the ring with his Yu Yu Hakusho Abridged. 7
Those mentioned above were reasonably well-known and prominent abridgers that debuted from 2006-2007. However, abridging didn’t really take off as an art form right away–it would be a while before any abridged series eclipsed the popularity of YGO:TAS. The first wave of abridgers were considered mere imitators. In fact, Hbi2k’s Berserk Abridged opens up with two of the characters discussing this very sentiment.
“So, did you see those abridged series that are all over YouTube?”
“Yes I have, and they’re crap!”
“Yeah, I thought the first one with Yu-Gi-Oh! was cute but the rest are just lame imitations! I mean, seriously! Think of your own idea already!”
What brought abridging to the next level was collaborative efforts. Most early abridgers worked alone, doing all of the writing, editing and voice acting themselves. That began to change when abridgers started to get in touch with one another after discovering their shows. It started to become commonplace for abridgers to make cameo appearances in each others’ series by early 2008. As time passed on, though, and as abridgers became better acquainted with each other, a more in-depth collaboration came to fruition: Dragon Ball Z Abridged. It was released under an account called Team Four Star, an abridging team that’s still producing videos to this day.
By abridging standards, DBZ Abridged was the one and only star-studded abridged series at the time. Everyone who was involved with the project was already an established abridger. MasakoX and Vegeta3986 of Naruto Abridged were in starring roles, while Lanipator, Takahata101 (G Gundam Abridged) and KaiserNeko (Lupin III Abridged) shared writing credits. Even Megami33 (Sailor Moon Abridged) and Hbi2k had cameos. This wasn’t the result of an aspiring editor dipping his feet into new waters–these were seasoned creators, organized with assigned roles and delegated duties. Coordinating the project would have to be done entirely in cyberspace, since creators were spread around the USA and the UK. Furthermore, these creators had to have led busy lives–on top of creating this series, they were already working on abridged projects of their own, and they had to work full-time at their jobs (nobody was doing these projects for a living at the time). Although such an endeavor is commonplace in the abridging community today, such an undertaking was unheard of at the time.
The series was so successful that nearly every other prominent abridger has worked with Team Four Star. Big names in the abridging community such as WhiteAsh002, xthedarkone, PurpleEyesWTF and even LittleKuriboh himself made appearances.
DBZ Abridged was the first series that eclipsed the popularity of YGO:TAS, raising the bar of quality for the genre. Gone were the days where abridgers could get away with voicing all of the characters themselves. Sure enough, there were some who maintained this practice but such abridgers did not receive the same level of recognition that hbi2k and Lanipator did in 2007. Everyone’s standards were collectively raised.
However, it could be argued that this innovation was able to raise the abridging community to even greater heights, rather than making it more inaccessible to newcomers. In the latter half of 2008, abridgers and aspiring abridgers alike began to seek voice actors for their series. Sometimes they’d post YouTube videos asking for people to audition, or flock to forums like VoiceActingAlliance. Although this certainly put more strain on the creators of the series (listening to every audition, potentially dealing with unreliable talent, etc.) this new trend allowed more people to participate in the phenomenon, causing the community to grow.
To record the history of abridged series post-2008 would be nigh-impossible. Not just because of the sheer number of series and one-shots that have appeared over the years, but because many of them have been lost to history. The only evidence that some abridged series even existed are long-forgotten forum posts, that link to an account that has long since been deleted. Sometimes fans have re-uploaded episodes on YouTube so future viewers may enjoy it, but not always. For example, the only evidence that Nowacking’s Bobobo Abridged even existed is the fact that it’s mentioned in her abridged wikia page. As such, it is difficult to catalogue every single abridged series and quantify their relevance and influence.
Instead, here is a list of several abridged series that have proven to be successful in the years following.
There have been a great deal of Code Geass abridged series that have come and gone, but for a while there wasn’t a definitive series that anyone could point to. Perhaps the reason it was so hard to abridge was because of the main character, Lelouch vi Britannia. Lelouch was a beloved icon in his time, known for his unparalleled intelligence and cunning. How does one poke fun at some one with no discernable flaws?
Code MENT delivered the answer: change things up. PurpleEyesWTF stated that he made Code MENT because he thought it would be funny to reinvent Lelouch as an idiot. 9 Now, changing the very nature of a character wasn’t exactly a new concept in the abridging world. LittleKuriboh did the same thing with Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s Tristan, turning a relatively bland side character into a childish simpleton. However, changing teritary character was one thing–it was another thing entirely to subvert the personality of the series’ lead. Code Geass centered around Lelouch devising ingenious schemes and subtle manipulation to overthrow his tyrannical father. If he becomes an idiot, then the whole show has to change to fit that premise. For example, if Lelouch is a dolt, then obviously everyone under his command has a screw loose if they accept his leadership. If everyone on Lelouch’s team is kind of stupid, then the enemy can’t be that competent either.
The humor didn’t come from pointing out the shows innate flaws–it came from how the very nature of the series changed. This is an important advancement of the genre because an idea like this could only work as an abridged series. Pretty much any other abridged series that came before it could have worked as an animated Flash parody or sketch video since the jokes mock plotlines and characters–the humor wasn’t stylistically different from any other form of parody. However, Code MENT needed to be an abridged series because its humor is derived from the juxtaposition of the original series’ visuals with an outrageous dub.
Friendship is Witchcraft
A rare example of a successful non-anime based abridged series, Friendship is Witchcraft was a surprise success when it came out. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was beloved by a great number of Internet citizens; enthusiasts flocked to YouTube, not just to watch episodes, but to watch reviews, analyses, and of course, parodies, including abridged series.
However, making MLP an abridged series isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst series you could pick to abridge. The majority of abridged series were. and still are, based off of serialized shows, with a clear sense of continuity and a progression of events. Those shows are easier to abridge because the episodes can blend together–you could use two or three or more episodes. As such an abridger could get material from an episode from two, or even three or more episodes from a serialized show, but wouldn’t be able to do the same with an episodic show. Furthermore, MLP is already a fairly comedic show, putting into question how you can make fun of a show that already cracks jokes.
Enter Friendship is Witchcraft, probably the most unique abridged series to date. FiW turns the perfectly innocuous inhabitants of Ponyville into occult practitioners, war veterans, and even robots. It didn’t merely subvert the series the way Code MENT did–it created an entirely different show, with its own in-universe lore. In FiW, Rarity and Applejack are veterans of some war, which left the former in a vulnerable state, allowing Fluttershy to manipulate her into joining her cult.
The series’ Patreon page dubs it an “avant-garde” abridged series, a label that suits it perfectly. Unlike Code MENT, however, the series wasn’t fast-paced and didn’t employ seemingly “random” humor. FiW was slow and deliberate, as if the series isn’t focused on cracking jokes as much as just establishing a surreal environment.
Furthermore, it didn’t have a linear format. The first episode of the series used the tenth episode of the season as a basis. There is no expository dialogue introducing the characters–in fact, it doesn’t even matter which episode of FiW you watch first. You’re meant to watch these characters on your own and draw your own conclusions about the story.
Despite being one of the most popular abridged series to date, FiW remains in a league of its own. No one has attempted to make anything quite like it, which isn’t all that surprising considering its influence is mostly limited to the brony fandom, rather than the anime fandom. It’s a shame–FiW is cancelled, and is in need of a spiritual successor.
Although he’s not really known as an abridger, Gigguk delivered an excellent one of the Neon Genesis Evangelion films. EvAbridged mocks NGE in all the right ways: Rei is given a snarky personality to compliment her calm demeanor, and Misato is a drunken wreck. The characters are all flanderized versions of themselves, rather than reinterpretations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Shinji Ikari’s portrayal. He is depicted as an unapologetic coward who just screws everything up. Although in the original series his blunders had more grave consequences, in EvAbridged they’re played up for laughs. EvAbridged never evoked the same dread that the original series created, as is befitting of a comedy.
Although very funny, EvAbridged was not particularly revolutionary. The style of humor was very similar to YGO:TAS, and ends up cracking the same kinds of jokes that you’d expect from an abridged parody. It was a well-edited and well-acted parody, but it wasn’t game changing.
That is, until the last episode.
In the finale, an Angel appeared that could wipe out all life of Earth (just like the original film). This fact is not given any levity or comedic undertones. Characters are actually scared, unsure if they’ll be able to survive. The episode is given a dramatic score to compliment the grave atmosphere. Abridged Misato gives Shinji an inspirational speech to convince him to pilot the EVA, in spite of the immense danger he’d be putting himself into–one that wouldn’t be out of place in the original series. And when Shinji is finally able to conquer his inner demons and defeat the Angel, it’s portrayed in a genuinely triumphant light.
Yes–Gigguk ended his parody series by displaying the same epic thrills that the original series provided. In a way, the abridged ending was far more exciting. It did such a stellar job establishing itself as a parody that you’d never expect to actually feel dramatic tension.
Of course, as a parody, it still needed to have a comedic ending, but the serious tone wasn’t lost on the audience. When Faulerro tackled the horror anime Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni a year later, he retained the horrific atmosphere the series utilized while still cracking jokes. Perhaps it is for this reason that Faulerro declared Higurashi Abridged the best video he’s ever created.
Until EvAbridged came along, abridged series always seemed to have had a mocking tone. Sure, it was clear that the abridgers paid close attention to the source material and enjoyed what they were spoofing, but they believed the original material was undeniably flawed. Such is the nature of any good parody. But by the end of it, EvAbridged comes off not as a parody, but a tribute, as a reason why so many people loved Evangelion. Even if Shinji is a whiny brat, even if Misato is an inept commanding officer, even if Rei is cold and distant, the series is still great, and Gigguk understood that.
Unfortunately, few other abridgers have experimented with making their series more dramatic, but hopefully it’s a trend that can be seen in the future.
Almost ten years after the release of YGO:TAS, the genre is still going as strong as ever. LittleKuriboh and Team Four Star continue to entertain millions of fans, with countless others maintaining sizable followings. The format has become so popular that even other forms of media, such as video games, are being adapted into abridged series. It’s clear that this phenomenon isn’t some fad that people will grow tired of after a while–as long as the Internet exists, abridged series are here to stay.
- Beyond, Chris. “The No-Fi Interview with Eric Fensler Short Film Director and American Hero Re-Editor.” No-Fi Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2016. ↩
- Semigran, Ali. “Those Hilarious Dubbed ‘G.I. Joe’ PSAs Are 10 Years Old: A Chat With Creator Eric Fensler.” Hollywood.com. Hollywood.com LLC, 29 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Jan. 2015. ↩
- LittleKuriboh. “Kana’s Korner – Interview With LittleKuriboh (2010).” Interview by Jackie “Kanashimi” Florian. YouTube. YouTube, 20 July 2015. Web. 3 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP6ijZB89C0>.
- Semigran, Ali. “Those Hilarious Dubbed ‘G.I. Joe’ PSAs Are 10 Years Old: A Chat With Creator Eric Fensler.” Hollywood.com. Hollywood.com LLC, 29 Mar. 2013. Web. 3 Jan. 2015. ↩
- MasakoX. “The Abridged Interview- Masako X Part 1.” Interview by Nathangraves989. YouTube. YouTube, 16 Mar. 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui_knZvcDLQ>. ↩
- Hbi2k. “The Abridged Interview- Hbi2k Part 1.” Interview by Nathangraves989. YouTube. YouTube, 24 May 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHEQX-ZjOhg> ↩
- Lanipator. “The Abridged Interview – Lanipator Part 1.” Interview by Nathangraves989. YouTube. YouTube, 6 Apr. 2008. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. ↩
- “The Abridged Series.” TV Tropes. TV Tropes, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2016. ↩
- PurpleEyesWTF. “T.A.C. Interviews Ep.26: PurpleEyesWTF [1 of 2].” Interview by The Abridged Community. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdXkdNtNIJk>. ↩
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