Every Saturday morning, Super Dave, jut-jawed daredevil extraordinaire , and Fuji, his loyal assistant, battle dastardly villains who threaten the safety of the Free World in the Fox cartoon series "Super Dave."
But a prominent Asian-American child psychologist and member of the Fox Children's Network advisory board has had a less-than-super reaction to the animated Fuji, calling the character an offensive stereotype that recalls caricatures of Japanese people in World War II cartoons.
Kenyon S. Chan, chairman of Asian American studies at Cal State Northridge, said in a letter to Fox executives that the character's short stature, protruding lip, "slit eyes" behind enormous glasses and heavy Asian accent were demeaning and a throwback to the "worst stereotypes I have ever seen in the media."
Chan's criticism, which was also voiced at an advisory board meeting last Saturday, has provoked Fox Children's Network officials to make revisions. Fuji will most likely be voiced by a different actor next season, and will look different than this season's rendition, executives said.
Although all this season's episodes have been completed, Margaret Loesch, president of the Fox Children's Network, said the network will soon start shooting new live-action opening sequences for the cartoons, which airs at 10:30 a.m. The sequences, which will air this season, will feature Art Irizawa, who voices Fuji.
Irizawa uses an exaggerated accent with the cartoon figure for comic effect, Loesch said.
"The purpose of these new live sequences is to show the audience that Fuji is not a buffoon but is based on a real actor who happens to speak this way," she said.
Acknowledging that the animated Fuji is highly exaggerated and caricatured, she said, "children will see how he really looks, and that the drawing is an exaggeration of his personality, not a stereotypical portrayal."
The character will be revised in episodes next season, said Stephanie Graziano, the network's director of animation. She said that she, Irizawa and Bob Einstein, who plays "Super Dave" in the cartoon series, would be meeting this week to discuss voice and drawing revisions.
Irizawa, an Japanese-Canadian, also appears as Fuji in the "Super Dave" live-action series starring Einstein on which the cartoon is based, which airs on Showtime.
Chan's objections were the key to making the changes, Loesch said. "Frankly, we were concerned that he was concerned. He explained to us that even if the cartoon is an exaggeration, it would be a slap in the face to Asian-Americans. We just wanted to solve a problem before it became a real problem."
Chan said Monday that he was pleased with the changes.
"Fox did what I thought it needed to do," said Chan. "They clearly understood that they blew it. They are working hard to make amends. . . ."
Chan insisted that he had never wanted Fox to eliminate the Fuji character from the series, which is produced by DIC. "I just wanted Fox and the producers to humanize the character," he said. "Fuji can be funny without being insulting."
He said he first became annoyed at the Fuji character when he saw storyboard drawings earlier this year. He said he complained to Fox then, but did not realize that Fuji still had what he called "offending characteristics" until he saw recently aired episodes.