Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Dub.DVD - The Complete Third Season
Unfazed by the two year gap between seasons, Shin and the crew return for another twenty six episodes of radically re-dubbed kindergarten nonsense. This time they pal around with Shin's randy grandpa Gin, Mitzi's globetrotting sister Bitzi, and a eugenicist mutant who also happens to be their recess teacher.
It's been two years since Funimation dubbed their last batch of Shin-Chan. (Or at least it was two years at the time that the sets that make up this collection came out). We know this because the characters point it out, also pointing out that somehow everyone is in the same grade and hasn't aged any. Which also tells us that Funimation's approach to the series—irreverent, self-referential, largely divorced from the original Japanese version—hasn't changed either. And that means that the show's appeal, and its drawbacks, remain largely the same. With one notable exception: the novelty has long since worn off. After three seasons of diminishing returns it's a lot easier to see the series' problems, and a lot harder to forgive them in light of its spotty comedic success.
Unlike most shows, Shin-Chan is its English dub. In part that's because it doesn't include a Japanese track. And in part it's because the show is a hideous affront to the art of animation. Its characters look like roadkill and its animation makes Hanna-Barbera look like Studio Ghibli. Heck, even its music is kind of shoddy (something that the show itself pokes fun at). You can only watch the show for its badinage. And the only badinage there is, is in English. But that's not the whole reason that Funimation's dub dominates the show. The enjoyment you get from the show is very much tied up in the high-wire act of the dub's rewrites. The dub is a complete retrofitting of the original, to the extent that it wholly alters characters, invents nonexistent off-screen subplots, and radically re-interprets the on-screen action. With Funimation's dub attached, Shin-Chan is in a very real sense a totally different show than Crayon Shin-chan.
And watching how that new show is fashioned from the old, the cleverness—and all criticisms aside, the dub is very clever—of the writers as they twist the show's visuals to their own warped ends, gives the show a lot of its entertainment value. Perhaps even most of it. The show is funniest when some stereotypically anime thing gets into the hands of Funimation's writers and they turn it into some demented joke about kindergarten sadomasochism or kinky May-December sex. As in the sub-episode in which the writers turn Shin's household games into an extended riff on Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. The device itself is rather strained, fitting ill with what's happening on-screen. Until, that is, Shin's little sister raises her fist in that “ba-boo, ba-boo” move that anime babies sometimes do, and instead of “ba-boo” she shouts “sieg heil!” Whenever the dub pulls a move like that, you really have to appreciate its perverse genius.
The problem is that we've been seeing that perverse genius for 78 episodes now, without any real support from the things that usually make 78 episodes of something tolerable. Things like evolving characters or involving relationships. To be sure, the show has its own brand of sick character development. It has ongoing jokes about Bitzi's battles with addiction (acquired while under the sway of an evil African warlord), bespectacled teacher Miss Polly's relapses into group sex, and Principal Ench's past as a panda-slaughtering magician, among others. But those are designed more to get mean laughs than to inspire any form of involvement. And in the meantime the Mad Libs enjoyment of the vulgar, pop-savvy rewrites has been growing ever thinner, the delight in its reinterpretive high-wire act blunted by the act's unending repetition. The laughs, even the mean ones, get fewer and further between as the show starts to repeat the characters' depraved shtick and its own re-writing tricks. Which just leaves you with a lot of hip cultural references and even hipper transgressive gags, all of which come across as way too arch and self-aware without a good comedic payoff to excuse them.
And as the laughs thin out, the dub's shortcomings get ever more obvious. Among the more minor are all of the technical glitches that crop up: times when what characters say and what their body language says don't match up; times when actions and dialogue seem at odds. Don't dismiss them because they're minor though. Small though they are, together they contribute to a pervasive…offness, as the intent of the show and the intent of the dub fail to mesh. Similarly, sometimes an episode or a portion of an episode will prove difficult to corrupt, forcing the dub either to contort itself to a ridiculous extent in order to make the episode match the show's new tone or to cleave too close to the original. The former results in episodes with weird premises and conspicuously poor visual support, like the Inglorious Basterds episode or the True Blood episode (in which an annoying, sickly man is rewritten as a deluded vampire). The latter results in even weirder episodes, where some of the Japanese version's earnest affect leaks into the English dub, sitting there like a Frank Capra scene in a Saturday Night Live skit.
None of this means that the show isn't funny. As said before it can be pretty hilarious when the dub dovetails in some unexpected way with the visuals. And it doesn't mean that the series hasn't other charms (left over, one suspects, from the original series). Over the course of the show, Shin acquires a lunkheaded charisma that can be surprisingly charming, especially when he's inadvertently helping people. There's also Gin, whose antics demonstrate exactly where Shin gets his bad behavior. And little Penny's crush on the eugenicist recess teacher manages to be kind of sweet despite all the flavors of wrongness that the dub invests it with. As much as you may enjoy parts of it, however, the hard truth remains that by this point, with its freshness fast staling, Shin-chan is at best a second-rate diversion, and at worst a past-its-prime curiosity.
Overall (dub) : C
Story : C+
Animation : D+
Art : F
Music : C-
+ When the wildly inappropriate English script meets the show's bargain-basement anime visuals just right, it can still be very, very funny; new characters help freshen up the humor a bit.
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