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Interview: Team Four Star Co-Founder KaiserNeko

MyAnimeList spoke with one of the co-founders of Team Four Star about abridged series, Team Four Star's experiences, and new projects coming in 2019.

by Shymander
Feb 12, 2019 12:19 AM | 40,644 views

Abridged series: "a fan-made parody using footage from the original series, filled with comedic dubbing and non-sequitur dialogue."

Ever since LittleKuriboh's Yu-Gi-Oh The Abridged Series took the internet by storm in 2006, many parodies have attempted to replicate the abridged formula to varying success. Nowadays, you can find abridged series for almost any major anime.

Team Four Star, creators of the iconic Dragon Ball Z Abridged and Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, are an influential force in the abridging world with 3.37 million subscribers (the most of any major abridger) and over 1 billion total views on YouTube at the time of writing. Many of them have even gone on to do official voice roles in anime: Nick "Lanipator" Landis and Scott "KaiserNeko" Frerichs played two of the three members of Sylph Labyrinth in Fairy Tail (2014), for example.

I had the opportunity to talk with Scott "KaiserNeko" Frerichs, co-founder of the renowned group; we discussed their work and abridged series in general, and gained a sneak peek into their future plans.

For our users who don't know who you are, could you please introduce yourself and what it is you do?

Hi, I'm Scott "KaiserNeko" Frerichs from Team Four Star. I'm one of the co-founders, but I'm technically COO right now. I'm the director, the editor, one of the voice actors, and one of the writers for Dragon Ball Z Abridged, which is probably our biggest project. I also work on a couple of other shows; I was a writer and one of the editors for Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, and I basically help run the company.

How did Team Four Star come about?

It came about from all over the world, actually. Before there was a centralized studio for everybody, everyone was just spread across the United States, the UK, and two of us ended up in Korea at the time. Yeah, you have a bunch of us from a bunch of different places working together via Skype.

The reason it all happened in the first place was because of LittleKuriboh or Martin Billany's Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged. He inspired a lot of us to make our own shows. Lanipator, one of the other owners of the company, who also is a writer and [does] many voices for Dragon Ball Z Abridged, used to live in Minnesota. He was working on Yuu☆Yuu☆Hakusho Abridged, I was in California working on Lupin III Abridged, and the next thing I knew... we were fans of each other's work. We started mentioning it in little interviews and started sending messages to each other and saying "hey, I like your work," and I was like "oh hey, that's awesome because I'm also a huge fan of yours." The next thing that happened – I brought up "hey, wouldn't Dragon Ball the show be awesome to work on?"

We all were like "yeah, that does sound kinda cool!" Eleven years later, here we are.

What would you say is the appeal of abridged series?

One of the great utilities of the abridged series is that you get to take the footage, the scenes that people remember, and you get to muck them up. You get to take the piss out of them, and that's what people love.

They love seeing the things that they've already seen, but now in "clever" retakes of the scene, either mocking it or even sometimes completely rewriting it for new jokes. The interesting thing about that is that you're familiar already with the setting and the characters. It's one of the reasons that adaptations from books to movies, TV shows to movies, or anything to a movie usually happens. Or why so many sequels happen. Once you have this established franchise, people already have that sense of familiarity. They know exactly what they're getting into when they see those characters or see a scene that they're familiar with.

So that's kinda the cool part about abridged series – you get that familiarity and you get to just run with it. You get to hit the ground running. No matter how you change it up, there's always gonna be that one key part of it that's drawing those people in. I think that's kind of why Dragon Ball Z Abridged took off so well. Everyone was familiar with this material and they were ready for people to just go wild and have fun with it. They were like "yeah, Goku is not a great dad! Piccolo is his real dad! And yeah, Bulma's kinda whiney and Krillin's a loser!" And we were like "oh yeah, we can milk those jokes for all they're worth."

What is your favorite part about making an abridged series?

My favorite part? It's getting the chance to explore my different kinds of writing.

With a show as long as Dragon Ball Z Abridged, you might notice as you watch it that it changes over time. That was us experimenting and trying new things because the fact of the matter is that you can't stick with the same formula for too long. It just doesn't work.

Sooner or later, you've made the "Goku is a bad dad" joke [too] many times – how are you going to do it differently now? Or you've had all these characters that are like "I'm basically a quote machine, my name's Nappa and you're going to quote everything I say!"

But what if we tried for more character-styled humor? With our latest season, our focus was more on character and less on making jokes about the scenes themselves. We still obviously made sure to do that, but our real emphasis was "okay, we've developed these characters over the last several years, so why don't we focus on them? What if the humor came from them specifically?" And that's my favorite part – being able to explore and experiment.

Also, I love being able to direct my cast, like getting the chance to sit down with them. And we have some brilliant people on the cast, so I definitely want to give them a shout-out.

What is the biggest challenge in creating and producing an abridged series?

Honestly, it's like I said before – it's keeping it fresh.

There are times where we sit down with a scene and we're thinking to ourselves, okay, how do we make another joke about fighting? How do we make another joke about Goku or the things surrounding him? There are just so many times where you've worked on a show for so long that you just don't know what new jokes you can make, so you've really got to dig deep and try new stuff.

It's really scary too because when the show started, we were basically just going with whatever — we threw everything at a wall and saw what stuck. And now, it feels like we don't have much of a chance to try new stuff without getting it right because if we screw it up too badly, if we take that chance and we really mess it up, then what happens? We could lose our audience, we could lose standing with the people who have followed us.

That is definitely the most challenging part, but again – it's also the part that I love. It's that part that challenges you and makes you rethink how you're going to approach things. It helps you develop as a writer, as an actor, and as a director.

Recently, you confirmed that you would be moving onto the Buu Saga in your ongoing Dragon Ball Z Abridged series. If you can say, what progress have you made so far?

We're actually laying out the framework of how we want to pace everything because the next arc is going to be handled a bit differently. It's going to be shorter form than our earlier seasons. At least, that's our plan.

We want to write all of those episodes out — I'm going to give you a completely arbitrary number... but like 10 episodes? We want to write 10 episodes out, voice them, edit them, and then start releasing them on a scheduled basis – unlike what we've been doing [before], where it's write it, direct it, edit it, put it out, then start on the next one. That process has led to some rather frustrating burn-out because, during those times, I can't focus on anything but that.

With this new setup, I can focus on other projects while that one's going on in the background. It doesn't have to be the only thing that I'm working on.

In regards to how far in we are with the Buu Saga… not very. We're actually currently working on Kai 3, Bojack, and the Other World Tournament that we're planning on being its own little thing because it's this interesting mini-arc that happens between Cell and Buu. We thought to ourselves, "maybe we can not make that the Buu Saga," because the Buu Saga doesn't properly start until after it's done and we didn't want to cut it out entirely because there are people who are fans of Pikkon and the Other World Tournament itself. Those things will have to be finished before the Buu Saga officially begins.

Are there any moments in the Buu Saga that you are looking forward to abridging?

Yes! Funnily enough, the part that I'm looking forward to the most, most, most, most is all of the stuff with Videl and Gohan. That's actually the stuff that I've been focusing a lot on as of late. The stuff with Buu is a lot of fun and we've actually got an interesting direction that we're going to take him as well as an actor picked out already – but I don't want to mention his name because that could change between now and then. He's a little bit high-profile, and if he ends up being too busy to do the character, I'd be so sad.

But yeah, I would definitely say that the high school stuff is the stuff that I'm most looking forward to right now. After that, if we're talking about Buu Saga proper, I'm very much looking forward to the Goku-Vegeta stuff. What I'm looking forward to specifically is Bobbity's ship. There's a lot to mine from there.

You've recently wrapped up Hellsing Ultimate Abridged, which you started over 8 years ago. Have you considered picking up another abridging project to take its place at any point?

So we've been talking about this in some places, and I think we finally need to make that announcement that the last abridged things we'll ever work on are the things we are currently working on. So Final Fantasy Machinabridged and Dragon Ball Z Abridged, those are the only abridged series that we are going to focus on, and they'll be the last things that have "abridged" in the title as far as we're concerned.

Actually, that's technically not true, because there is another series with "abridged" in the title. But you'll have to wait for that one, and it's not what you think. That one's live-action. It's exciting, and I can't wait to show you more.

In 2016, you ran an abridged series tournament called the Tenkaichi Ironman Budokai Abridgathon. How did the idea come about, and do you ever plan on running it again?

Let me answer that second question immediately – no. Never, ever, ever again. It was fun, it was challenging, it was new, but it also didn't pan out as smoothly as we wanted it to. There were lot of issues, and there were a lot of problems. And ultimately, we'll take responsibility for that one 100%.

The way that it came about actually was Takahata101, or Curtis Arnott, voice of Nappa and one of the co-writers for Dragon Ball Z Abridged. [He's] currently working on his new semi-animated series AWF which you can look forward to later this year. He actually brought forward the idea of "hey, the abridged community is suffering. It's not as popular as it used to be. There aren't a lot of people in there anymore, and the ones that are there are pretty good. But wouldn't we like to shake things up and get more people to try some new things?" And we were like "you know what, that kind of sounds like fun and would be really enjoyable." We all agreed to put this together and it was a doozy. So many entries...

You were tasked with officially dubbing the 2008 movie Hells by studio Madhouse. How did this occur and how did you feel about it?

I was contacted by Brady Hartel from Discotek on Twitter via DMs. He was amazed that I had my DMs open. Of course, I do because I'm an idiot... and he approached me saying "hey, so – crazy idea. I've been talking to the other guys at Discotek about this movie that we basically finished the subtitles for and are about to release the DVD/Blu-ray for. It's called Hells, it's from Madhouse, it's from 2008, and… it doesn't have a dub." And he asked, "would you guys be interested in that?"

To which my response was "oh my god, yes, please, I'll do whatever you want." So he basically sat down with me on Discord, talked to me about all the details. It had to be a 100% legitimate dub, which I was totally okay with. I prefer that when official material is put out, it has a legitimate dub. Unless it's a Ghost Stories situation, but that was a different scenario with a Japanese company that was like "this show sucks, do what you want." In which case, I would happily do that any day of the week.

I talked to Sound Cadence, which is actually the studio that dubbed it properly. Though they contacted Team Four Star first, we ended up giving the project to them to do the mixing and recording. I was the main writer – adaptational writer, obviously, and one of the casting directors. But after that, my involvement was not as heavy as say Amber Lee Connors, who was the main director, and Howard [Wang], the head writer. Now, the head writer basically takes the writing that I did and [says] "alright, I'm gonna go over this with a fine-tooth comb to make sure there are no redundancies, etc."

It was really a collaboration with Team Four Star and Sound Cadence because we made sure that the Team Four Star people were in the casting pool, which was our priority. As it turned out, a majority of the cast is Team Four Star people. The main cast is made up of people who have worked on Dragon Ball Z Abridged or are familiar with our studio, so it was really exciting to be able to work on an official dub of an anime with our names in there. We even showed it off at a holiday party at the Alamo Drafthouse, which is a local theater, and invited everyone in and showed the film. It was really exciting.

Shymander: And now thanks to that, you're actually in our site's database because you're registered as the voice actors for that movie. It means you've made it!

Funnily enough, almost everyone in Team Four Star has done legit voice work outside of our company for Okratron, Funimation, and a bunch of Vancouver studios — all over the place!

Are there any other abridgers that you'd recommend or look up to?

Oh, absolutely positively. The Something Witty guys who make Sword Art Online Abridged are phenomenal. In fact, I would say that, pound-for-pound, their stuff is even better than ours. You know, remove the "even" because they're just fantastic. They're splendid, they're wonderful. I love all of the creativity that they've put into reinterpreting Sword Art Online, they're just remarkable and I love those guys.

Beyond that, there's LittleKuriboh which obviously we've always had a great fondness for. The Log Horizon Abridged has been a fascinating little show full of a lot of talent and passion. Faulerro. Logan Laidlaw, TheAzureCrow, has been putting in a lot of work over the past several years. There's some very talented people out there. Very talented, very driven, very passionate. I definitely think they all deserve ops, and I'm pretty sure there's people out there [with splendid] stuff I've never seen before...

I just don't spend a lot of time nowadays watching many abridged series because my schedule is so hectic. My media intake has to be limited to [make room for] some of the higher priority stuff.

So what's on the horizon for Team Four Star in 2019?

This year, we're looking at a couple of new series from us. One of them is AWF like we said, and we've shown off a bit of a teaser. The filming for that should be done by some time in March, I believe. So hopefully, we'll have something to show for that even by late summer or winter at the latest. That show is going to be phenomenal, I am very excited about it. It's very different from anything that we've done. It's a lot of very hard work by Curtis "Takahata101" Arnott.

We also have another show, I'm not sure if we've mentioned the name… It's called Unabridged — it's a live-action series from us and it's already shaping up to be a lot of fun and I cannot wait for people to see more of it.

We also have our gaming channel which is continuing to evolve and change, and we're trying to get more people involved on a regular basis.

Besides that, we also have some stuff that we're not ready to talk about yet, one of them in the very same vein as abridging but not quite. It's gonna be really exciting to see if we can get it off the ground.

Now, to end this on a more casual note – what was your favourite anime from 2018, and what have you got your eyes on this year?

Gosh, my favourite anime of 2018… let's see... that's actually a little bit difficult, because for me… what was in 2018… I can think of a bunch of different anime, but I'm pretty sure "oh no, that was from 2017," and then I'd be wrong. I know that, A Place Further Than The Universe is technically in 2018. That is one of my favourite shows of all time. I positively loved that show with all of my heart.

Beyond that, obviously, I'm still a really big fan of the current guard: JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has been continuously splendid, and so has My Hero Academia. Actually, maybe the funniest anime I've ever seen in my life happened in 2018, and that was Hinamatsuri. Hinamatsuri, way up there. Aggretsuko, way up there. Aggretsuko may be one of the most relatable anime I've ever seen.

And a special shout-out to Gridman. Gridman scratched a bunch of inches. It is also just beautifully made, and I just love it.

The shows I'm looking forward to this year… that's tough. I haven't seen a whole ton coming out so far, and I've been sorta busy. Mob Psycho is continuing and that's just… oh my god, it's been so good. This season already started off way, way splendid. Beyond that, I'm not sure what 2019 is going to give me in terms of anime.

Disclaimer: MyAnimeList's moderation team would like to recognize the contributions of abridged series creators to the anime community, while also making note that some Japanese companies view abridged series as copyright infringement material. Fair use laws in the United States consider parodies as one of the few acceptable uses; however, it remains a legal grey area.

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