Article 3 - Americanization

February 26, 2009

In translating any TV show, movie, etc. into a new language, some things are sure to be lost in translation. The translators have gotta account for cultural gaps, common phrases/euphemisms, and several other things. The Littl' Bits originally comes from Japan, but fortunately, we've had it translated into English to air on television. But did the English translators go just a littl' bit overboard? (Ugh, yeah, terrible pun, but I say it's more appropriate in this context than any other)

Hitting up the names again

First things first: Let's get this show's original name out in the open: Mori no Yōki na Kobitotachi: Berufi to Rirubitto or Cheerful Dwarves of the Forest: Belfy and Lillabit. That's quite a mouthful, eh? Seems like lots of Japanese media features really long titles bordering on full summaries. So of course we've gotta shorten this. How so? Well, the general consensus of quite a number of countries around the world has been that Belfy & Lillibit is the best name to give. Good enough, yeah? Belfy and Lillibit do seem to be the main characters of the show. But in English, we get this name, The Littl' Bits... Ok, so I guess this is a title focusing more on the "cheerful dwarves" part rather than the "Belfy & Lillibit" part. That's not much of a stretch...

BUT

They don't stop there. I can take them calling this race of people Littl' Bits. It's fitting enough and pretty charming. I know that in French they're referred to as lutins (a sort of pixie/imp reputed to live in the woods and sometimes cause mischief) and in Spanish they call themselves fanits (not sure about this one... Maybe it's a made-up name?), so it's not like there's any real conformity to follow... But they took this theme, ran with it, reached the finish line, and continued for several more miles.

HAY GUYZ IZ DIS DAT SHOW LIEK TEH SMURFS? LOL SMURFS ROX

This is what we get from the exploits of the Americanization that took place in The Littl' Bits. Many people now associate this show with The Smurfs and similar shows, not because it resembles them in essence, but because our translators clearly made a special effort to mimic the conventions of The Smurfs in their publication of the show. I mean, sure there are similarities... Race of tiny people living in a secluded part of the woods and all, but it's clear that our translators went to some special effort to add even more resemblances. You know that whole naming scheme, right? Papa Smurf, Brainy Smurf, Smurfette, Smurf Smurf Smurf, it's in every character's name (based on their appearance or their habits) and is practically every other spoken word. Same with The Littl' Bits. We get Willibit and Lillibit (these just being common names with the addition of "bit") but also others like Bakeabit, the baker, or Browniebit, the kid who wears a partly brown outfit, or Elderbit, the elder (who'd have guessed?). Originally, the only character with a name ending in "bit" was Lillibit (Willi in English) and I'm guessing that this is only by coincidence.

In other languages, the characters have unique names, not thought up based on who the character was meant to be. Belfy, Lillibit, Napoleon, Chuchuna, Mr. Rongi, Margie, and others. If we could've had this set of names rather than the Smurfish scheme we have now, it might have helped to distinguish The Littl' Bits among other shows on television.

It's also worth noting that there is an occasional injection of the phrase "Little bit" in characters' dialogue, but not really so much that it gets intrusive. For example, in one episode Willibit nearly accidentally hits his baby sister Teenybit during a game, and Lillibit cautions him "She's just a little bit, y'know!" The phrase does come up kind of often in normal conversation, and whenever it's heard in the show, you just know the American publishers wanted to emphasize it there.

Censorship

Whaaaat? This is a kids' show! Family friendly! What could possibly have been in a kids' show that required censoring? Well if you ask me, I'd say there's nothing that needs censoring, but I'm personally pretty lax on censorship in general. Buuut, if you want to know what the American media considers inappropriate for a child to see (or at least considered in the early 90s):

Alcohol use
Ever wonder why they call Belfy's uncle Snoozabit in the English show? Let's just say he's no narcoleptic, and that's not dandelion juice (yes, it is actually referred to as such by his niece). In the Spanish version of the show, it's pretty common for her to call him a drunkard, both on joking and serious occasions.

It's a little strange in some English episodes when she's trying to keep him from drinking, eh? What's she trying to do, make him die of thirst?

Violence
Eh, this one isn't censored very often in the show. In fact, I can only really recall one instance: One episode involves the kids playing hockey, and one of them hits browniebit in the face with a hockey stick, very much intentionally. In the English version, they show him skating up alongside the guy who would hit him, then it cuts to him sliding across the ice, probably having more of an implication that he just got shoved or that he tripped or something. In reality though?

Square in the face

That might be blood in the picture, but it may just be coloring in his nose & cheeks. It's hard to tell because the only (uncensored) copy of this episode that I have is in Spanish, and my Spanish collection, though complete, is of poor visual quality.

Full
Frontal
Male
Nudity

Not even exaggerating here. Not only is there an appearance, but actually multiple appearances (once taking about half the episode) where the male kids (excluding Browniebit) are playing and swimming around wearing nothing but their hats. Obviously the reasoning for this is that nudity, especially with kids, is not so stricly forbidden in Japanese television as it is in some other countries. The thing that lots of people don't understand is that there's a difference between nudity and sex.

In this picture you can actually see the country of Japan standing next to the country of America.

Some final thoughts

In the future, I'm sure I'll be going into much more detail about specific episodes containing heavy censorship, especially when it's totally unwarranted. Another part of the Americanization process was crafting Willibit into the upright "Golly-gee whiz" after-school-special moral-lesson-spouter. At the end of the day, I think probably 99% (perhaps all) of the changes made by the American publishers could (and should) just be done away with. For this reason, throughout these articles I'll likely say Lillibit instead of Willibit, Belfy instead of Lillibit, and Belfy & Lillibit instead of The Littl' Bits. Actually... I'll probably say "The Littl' Bits" to refer specifically to the English version, and "Belfy & Lillibit" to refer to the show in general.