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Mr. Michael Haigney Interview (4Kids)

By David Rasmussen
12th Feb 06

David Rasmussen avatar

Rasmussen : Good day, could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do?
Mr. Michael Haigney : I’m Michael Haigney and I write and produce the English-language versions of foreign animated series for 4Kids.

Rasmussen : Tell us a bit about your work on Sonic X. What's a day in your life like working on a series like that?
Mr. Haigney : Well, we’ve actually finished production on the show. For the last several months, Michelle Dunn was producing it. I’m currently working on a new series called “Chaotic,” which will be on 4KidsTV next Fall.

But we generally would edit and punch up the adaptation scripts written by our writers early each week. At the same time, our director, Julie Rath would be working with the actors, recording the scripts completed the week before. (We try to complete two shows per week.) About midweek, we’d review the music our very talented music editors cut for each show, and give notes. A day or so later, we’d listen to the new pieces and approve the underscore for two shows. Wednesday and Thursday, I’d listen to the new dialogue and give notes, and possibly discuss casting of new roles for upcoming shows. I’d also review our editor Jordan Podos’s reformat of the next week’s shows, making sure that material forbidden by Fox Standards and Practices Department is eliminated or changed. I’d review Ron London’s sound mixes for one or two shows either Friday or Monday, and the whole process would begin again.

Rasmussen : What can you tell us about 4KidsTV's upcoming Fall 2006 series
"Chaotic"? I know you can't reveal much since it's probably going to be hush
hush for the time being, but is there anything you can tell us about it?
Mr. Haigney : It's based on a Danish fantasy role-playing card game that will have a big online component. It's a co-production with Gonzo, a Japanese animation company I'm sure you're familiar with. We're working on the designs, characters and stories now. It'll be produced in Japanese and we'll translate into English.

Rasmussen : Now bouncing over to the topic of music. When you talk about talking to the music editors (about the BGM for each episode) and giving notes, what does that imply? Also, how does your input affect the musical score, and in turn the musical score affect and compliment the writing approved for each week's episodes?
Mr. Haigney : When we re-score a series, we usually have one or more composers take a
shot at creating major themes. Many times, we're looking for a certain kind of signature sound or type of music we want for the series (orchestral, "futuristic," etc.). It usually takes a few composers a few tries to produce either what we've been wanting or to surprise us with new ideas we like.

Rasmussen : Another music question. Why replace all the original Japanese BGM for each episode? What is it about the music that makes it unusable for American audiences? Also does it seem culturally insensitive to do such a thing (if, for instance, the original soundtrack featured Japanese vocal singing for example)?
Mr. Haigney : We replace it for both artistic and commercial reasons. I don't think it's any more or less insensitive than dubbing.

Rasmussen : In a recent interview I did with Darren Dunstan (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) he spoke of additions and changes that were made to the series, including lines being re-written and so forth. Is there any work like this done on Sonic X or series similar to it, and if so how does that work out?
Mr. Haigney : Sonic X was a Japanese production, as are many of 4Kids’ shows. We get a translation of the original script along with the show. We rewrite all the dialogue, which is a big challenge, especially when there are a lot of Japanese puns and cultural references that would be meaningless to a U.S. audience. replace all music and create many new sound effects. Trying to match the characters’ “lip flap” is also a major part of the job.

Rasmussen : Ok, the Japanese cultural references. Why remove it? Should not some remain? Wouldn't it be more culturally acceptable to keep some (with the easiest explanations) and explain the cultural significance of these things? Why does 4Kids think that children are not capable of grasping at least some of the simple cultural nuances of Japan? (At least stop calling riceballs "doughnuts", a throwback from the early days of the Pokemon series.)
Mr. Haigney : As you know, many references do remain. Some, however, are quite obscure (in my judgment) and the shows don't particularly allow for explanation of many of these references. It doesn't seem to be the case that the creators of most of the anime series we air are intentionally trying to make "Japanese" series. Just the opposite. But certain references and behaviors that are strange to U.S. viewers are in these series simply because they are part of the collective experience of the Japanese creators who, most times, intend to create "universal" characters and situations, albeit for, primarily, Japanese viewers. I have nothing against this, but my job is to remake these series for a mass U.S. audience.

Rasmussen : In one part of my recent Darren Dunstan interview he mentioned that other 4Kids series had to be revised for various reasons, mostly due to violence or adult content. Is Sonic X one of these series that had to be revised, and if so why was it revised?
Mr. Haigney : I know that many fans of the Japanese series vilify 4Kids for changing the content of the original shows. What they may not realize is that Fox Broadcast Standards and Practices forbids things like smoking, firing realistic weapons and, generally, any kind of violence that would be easy for kids to imitate. That’s because the FCC has rules and regulations governing broadcast. I happen to dislike realistic violence in the context of kids’ cartoons, but the changes we make in the original shows have nothing to do with a capricious desire to “ruin” or “destroy” them, as some “purists” seem to feel.

Rasmussen : For readers unfamiliar with it, could you give us the rundown of what is unacceptable (forbidden) by the Fox Standards and Practices Dept.? Besides the aforementioned ban on smoking, guns (you all remember Keith "threatening" Pegasus with his finger in Season 1 of Yu-Gi-Oh don't you) and violence what else is on the banned list? Also have you seen anything on the banned list that made you take a doubletake on it? (Anything that seemingly didn't make sense to be on the list?)
Mr. Haigney : It would be best to contact Fox on this one. As for double takes, not really. They're doing a job that's different from mine or the creators of the series. Our sensibilities can be different from the Japanese. The U.S. is a larger, more culturally diverse country with more, varied sensitivities to contend with.

Rasmussen : In relation to the above question, when it comes to Sonic X is there any rule when it comes to deciding on content and if there needs to be any changes made to certain content of such and such an episode? Also what kind of content in an episode would be considered too strong for TV (i.e., meaning the entire episode would have to be scrapped altogether or put into an "uncut" release of uncensored episodes?)
Mr. Haigney : We haven’t had that kind of a problem on Sonic X, but we did on Kirby Right Back at Ya! An entire episode dealt with Escargoon having bad teeth. He went to the dentist who drilled away and Escargoon screamed in pain. There were some dentist “horror” scenes and a good bit of the story hinged on this terrible dentist experience.

The Standards & Practices woman at Fox felt that the whole show dental care in a terrible light and that airing it might discourage children from going to the dentist. Actually, Escargoon had to go to the dentist because he had taken terrible care of his teeth, so there was a positive message in the show, but in a kind of negative way. (The Japanese have a very different sensibility in some things.) I saw the woman’s point, though the show was obviously (I hope) a comedy. After some back and forth, we decided to release the unaired show as a bonus on one of the Kirby DVDs.

Rasmussen : Really… maybe the Japanese episode writer had a… (eh)… “bad experience” with a dentist… (blinks)… kind of like how the creators of Animal Crossing seemingly had a bad experience with a talkative companion on the commute to work, which probably goes a long way to explaining the existence of “Rover”. Change of topic, how did you first become involved in the series?
Mr. Haigney : I wrote and directed the first couple of seasons of the U.S. version of Pokemon. Eventually I joined 4Kids...and the rest is mystery.

Rasmussen : …uh… ok… anyway are you familiar with any of the previous incarnations of Sonic, including the video games, comics and previous animations? What is your
impression of these works?
Mr. Haigney : I’ve never played the game, seen the series or read the comics.

Rasmussen : Several 4Kids series have recently come out on the GBA (featuring watchable 2 episodes per cart that can be played on the GBA), including the Sonic X series. How does that work? (How are episodes digitized down for playing on GBAs)? Also who decides which episodes are ported to this format, and what has been the reaction to this release in terms of fan response and sales?
Mr. Haigney : I have no idea. Sorry.

Rasmussen : Are you interested in Japanese Anime and/or Manga? If so what are you into right now?
Mr. Haigney : I am interested in Manga as a concept. But I was never into comic books or manga.

Rasmussen : When you say that you are interested in manga as a "concept" what does that mean, exactly?
Mr. Haigney : I find the history and origins interesting, along with the visual conventions.

Rasmussen - The new Fall episode lineup is coming. Without saying too much can you tell us what we can expect from 4Kids for the 2005/2006 season in terms of new and returning animated series that you recommend?
Mr. Haigney - I guess it’s too late for that. Sorry! But watch for Chaotic next season on 4KidsTV!

Rasmussen : Any parting words for our readers?
Mr. Haigney : I know some hardcore anime fans hate the fact that 4Kids doesn't simply air the original Japanese series with "literal" subtitles. I understand their feelings. I'd just ask them to remember that 4Kids has probably brought more anime to more viewers than any company in the world. It may not always be in the way some fans would like, but I think 4Kids has contributed greatly to the interest and availability of anime worldwide. Maybe that counts for something in their eyes.

-- David Rasmussen 12th Feb 06