Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
It's 9:00 AM Saturday morning, the clouds are belching a frosty mixture of rain and snow, and I've just joined a huddled line of about 30 people outside of the AMC Boston Common Theatre. Shortly I am briefly joined by my pal, ex-MIT Anime president and current anime blogger Jennifer Fu, before she jumps ahead to join her group, who had arrived even earlier than either of us. We're here for a 10:00am screening; doors won't open until 9:45, so everyone in line is bundled up and settled in to wait. Many of the people here are nerds. Not all of them, but a lot - I can spot my people a mile away. Here's a scraggly beard and ponytail combo; there's a homemade My Little Pony cellphone strappy. Hey, that dude is wearing a fedora at a jaunty angle - and oh look, here comes a tall, portly man wearing shorts, sneakers, and a COOL STORY, BRO t-shirt. In the snow. The crowd balloons to 50, then 100, then hundreds of people. Soon my brother and his two sons arrive - it's a family affair, because we're seeing a family movie, Studio Ghibli's The Secret World of Arrietty.
I won't go into great detail about my thoughts on the movie - whomever of ANN's Review Crew has been assigned the movie will do that job later this week. Actually, if you're that curious about the movie, go ahead and read our own Andrew Osmond's review. He saw the other dub, though. Because hey, sometimes? There are other dubs! Interesting, huh? I think so!
In some ways, I am a purist - I tend to frown on editing or alteration of any material - but when it comes to animation, I'm rarely that particular about language. When I settle in to watch an episode of one of Ellipse/Nelvana's fantastic Adventures of Tintin TV series, I'm equally at home with Colin O'Meara's boyish take in English and Thierry Wermuth's original French performance, a more macho reading of the title character. I loved watching the German dub of Spongebob Squarepants, retitled Spongebob Schwammkopf, when I went to the 2006 World Cup. And I devoured a few episode of the Japanese dub of Avatar: The Last Airbender with gusto; interestingly, despite being animation, the show's voice cast features stage and TV actors who are good at dubbing foreign material, rather than established seiyuu stars. And so naturally, I often find myself really enjoying English dubs of anime - so much so that I've amassed a collection of a few hundred "lost" productions, old dubs that got only passing exposure on TV, home video, or at the movies.
When I find a dubbed pilot episode that has only reached a limited audience (Harmony Gold's 17-minute Dr. Slump pilot, for example) I'm fascinated. I'm even more fascinated, though, when I find something that's been dubbed, in its entirety, more than once. This actually happens more often than you'd think. One of the earliest examples in my collection would be the various versions of the 1979 film Lupin the 3rd: Secret of Mamo. I discuss the film in more detail in my Lupin column. That great old movie (which you can currently watch, in the US at least, for free on Hulu!) was dubbed no less than four separate times. That's an extreme example, though. A somewhat more typical example would be 1979's Galaxy Express 999 movie. This film was such a roaring success in Japan that it drew the attention of one Roger Corman, a producer both beloved and infamous among film buffs for his variety of weird, daring, low-budget productions. Corman acquired the rights to the movie for his New World Pictures studio, and in the summer of 1981 tossed it out to theatres - cut to 91 minutes, of course, and featuring some new music and a number of bizarre and humorous changes. Protagonist Tetsuro Hoshino is now known as Joey Hanakanababakananda Smith (yes, really) and the cameo-ing Captain Harlock is redubbed "Captain Warlock," and speaks with a deliberate John Wayne drawl. In a 1990 interview by Gregory Solman, Corman was asked about a claim frequently ascribed to him - that he's never lost money on a film. "Well," Corman commented, "I have lost money several times, but I'd say over 90% of [my] films have made money." There's no hard financial data on Galaxy Express out there, but I'm tempted to guess that it'd go in that rare former category.
Of course, the story doesn't end there. Fifteen years later, Viz Video snapped up the rights to both Galaxy Express 999 films, which had recently been remastered in Japan and looked better than ever. Their subsequent VHS release featured a brand new dub - a very good dub, in my opinion, both natural-sounding and accurate. Scott McNeil's portrayal of Harlock remains my favorite; to me, he stands out among the dozen or so (yes, really) actors who have portrayed the character in various English-language adaptations. These dubs went out of print as the sun set on VHS, and for a few years, they occupied that weird space where you could only get them for forty or fifty bucks on Amazon. Happily, Discotek Media not only rescued both films for reissue on DVD, they were able to acquire and include the dubbed versions - the only thing that's missing are the actual English production credits, much to the annoyance of Toshi Yoshida and Trish Ledoux, the former Viz folks who got that dub made. Oh well, you can't have everything.
After Corman's dubious experiment with releasing anime, it'd be a few years before the medium found its way back into a US theatre. When it did, it would inevitably be courtesy of New World Pictures. But this was in the summer of 1985 - by this time, Corman had sold the company so he could concentrate more closely on incubating future cinema classics like Chopping Mall and Barbarian Queen. But hey, everything was alright, because New World got the rights to Hayao Miyazaki's hitmaking wonder-movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind! With their finely-tuned PR machine and mountain of cash they made from the previous year's C.H.U.D. and Children of the Corn, they were sure to
wait a minute, what the hell is that
Yes, the poster is amazing. I won't even talk about it, because so many sites have commented on its bizarre inaccuracies so extensively. Our own Todd Ciolek does a good job on his personal site. Suffice it to say, Warriors of the Wind was a remarkable failure - with changed names, rewritten dialogue, and cut footage, it outraged Miyazaki himself so much that he made sure future licensees were contractually forbidden to edit his films. I guess that's a net positive. If you're at the library, a fun thing to do is to dig around in newspaper archives from 1985, because most critics were fairly dazzled by the animation, and completely unaware of just how bowdlerized the movie was. And why should they have been? We didn't even have a word for anime in 1985! At least, not one that sounds as cool as "anime." Anyway, we know how this one ends - Disney ended up signing a deal with Tokuma Shoten that entitled them to distribute Studio Ghibli movies here, which meant that the old dub, with Sounds Like June Foray Lady as Nausicaä--er, ZANDRA, and Sounds Like Fred Willard Guy as Lord Yupa would be replaced by real movie stars like Alison Lohman and Patrick Stewart. Warriors of the Wind remains an interesting curiosity, but I'm not exactly sad that Disney used the history eraser on the original dub.
When anime came back to the big screen the next year, it was in the form of one of the most infamous lost dubs in history - Cannon Films' Robotech: The Movie! This movie, rewritten extensively by Carl Macek under the auspices of Cannon, is ostensibly an adaptation of Megazone 23 Part 1. You can see why they chose this to adapt - the OVA is great and looks decent blown up to film, and the Mikimoto/Hirano character artwork and Shinji Aramaki mecha design "fits" with the Robotech look. But after Macek rather cleverly wedged the film into Robotech continuity by renaming everyone, running the story out of sequence, commissioning a jaw-dropping new ending that changes the nature of Megazone 23's story completely, and tossing in a couple of Three Dog Night songs, Cannon countered with a demand for MORE ACTION. In the end, the late, great, Uncle Carl compromised by slotting in some stock footage from Robotech Masters, the Southern Cross segment of the series. The TV-quality footage contrasted horribly with Noboru Ishiguro's slick-looking OVA, and test audiences in Dallas reacted with complete confusion. The movie was shelved, only to be released on video in the UK.
The thing is, Carl Macek himself really liked Megazone 23 Part 1. He saw the potential in the title, and when he and Jerry Beck founded Streamline Pictures, it was one of the productions they acquired for home video release. After a new, more faithful dub (amusingly, however, with many of the same actors as the Robotech cut), Megazone 23 Part 1 fared a lot better. But what of Part 2, you may ask? Why, "what" indeed! Part 2 was dubbed, for reasons unclear (many speculate that it was to help Japanese nerds learn English, as the dub was only released on Japanese laserdisc, but I haven't see anything that really confirms this). It was dubbed at Intersound, so lots of late-80s Los Angeles regulars like Tom Wyner and Michael McConnohie appear in the cast. Interestingly, Barbara Goodson plays female lead Yui in both this version and the Streamline dub of Part 1, indicating that Carl Macek himself may have been involved. This dub is pretty entertaining, but it takes a lot of odd liberties and changes names - the best has got to be protagonist Shogo being renamed Johnny Winters - hearing it, I kept expecting the character to bust out a reso guitar and start playing "Dallas!" That only leaves Part III - and hey, guess what? It didn't get released in North America initially (I've seen a taped segment from Anime Expo 1994 wherein Carl Macek, upon being asked about Megazone 23 Part III, rolls his eyes and comments, "Oh come on, does ANYBODY want to see that?"), but for some reason, Manga UK put it out there on VHS, despite the total absence of parts I and II from the UK market. I haven't seen this dub, but I plan to soon. So there you have it, some old dubs - old dubs that have been forgotten because ADV Films redubbed the entire series when they released Megazone 23 in its entirety some years back. That's right, even the awful part III, with its jaw-dropping animation mistakes, got dubbed in its entirety twice. This makes sense - the original dubs of Parts I and II are servicable but don't match up, and I'm sure ADV's head fanboy, Matt Greenfield, relished the opportunity to have a crack at one of the great OVAs of the 80s.
In the following year of 1987, we'd go one step beyond infamy and into downright obscurity. 1987 was the year that GAINAX, bankrolled by Bandai Visual, released their magnum opus, Royal Space Force aka Wings of Honneamise. This movie is beautiful to look at, mature, ambitious - it's got everything a great animated movie needs. It's also a bit mercurial, which means that it completely missed the Japanese public's interest and wasn't successful. Kicking the movie to the international market would make it easier to recoup some of that lost budget, so an English dub was commissioned and this new movie, with execs from Bandai and Gainax in attendance, was screened at Mann's Chinese Theatre. Redubbed Star Quest, this movie was adapted rather freely by its uncredited western dubbing team - Shirotsugh Lhadatt became Randy Wilson, who narrated the prologue of the movie as if it was all a fever dream. When I met Toshio Okada, the former Gainax general manager, in 1995, he described an interesting scene - the Japanese audience weren't quite able to detect what was wrong. Only he, who spoke English fairly well, could follow the new dialogue. "As the movie progressed," he commented, "I sank lower and lower in my seat." Next to him, anime/manga translator and industry pioneer Toren Smith regularly burst out in barely-repressed, silent laughter. I won't attempt to describe the end product - actually, you know what? Here's a video with some clips from what I'm talking about, here. A video has to be worth at least four thousand words, right?
As everyone who listened to the Carl Horn ANNcast a few weeks ago knows, Honneamise eventually got a more faithful dub, albeit one not completely without flaws. It got a brief theatrical run, it got the home video treatment by Manga Entertainment. Some years later, Manga would release it on DVD, in a banded, smeared, badly-authored edition. True fans of the film like myself held our noses and bought, hoping for better things to come. Eventually, boutique label Bandai Visual USA (also known as, of course, Honneamise) issued the movie, complete with the Manga dub, on an attractive and somewhat overpriced 2-disc DVD/bluray set. (It also came out on DVD/HD-DVD. Did anyone buy that version? Anyone?) That one is still pretty easy to find, and if you love anime's ambition and potential, I urge you to check it out. Star Quest, however, remains MIA.
It's good that I brought up Bandai Visual USA, actually, because they also "rescued" a couple of other old Manga Entertainment releases - namely, the first two Patlabor movies. The thing is, most of the examples in this column are productions that were dubbed a second time either because the originals weren't available or because there were problems with the adaptation that needed fixing. Not so with Patlabor, though. I'll grant you, the original Manga DVDs were mediocre letterboxed affairs. We can bitch about BVUSA's pricing all we want, but their Patlabor special edition releases are marvelously lavish, with big chipboard boxes and massive, fully translated production books. However, they had a new dub created - one by Elastic Media, the guys you go to when ZRO Limit and Bang Zoom are just too expensive. Their dub isn't bad, but that's the best that can be said about it - which is kind of annoying. The original Manga UK dubs, featuring Peter Marinker absolutely killing it as Captain Gotoh, are better than good. The new ones aren't. I guess that's a risk you take when you decide to redub something from scratch.
I can only imagine that Richard Hayworth is pretty damn bored with Rurouni Kenshin at this point. We all know him as the voice of Kenshin Himura, aka Rurouni Kenshin himself. He played the character for the show's entire 95-episode run. The funny thing is: he did it twice. Hayworth wasn't just Kenshin in the Media Blasters DVD version, which aired in Cartoon Network's Toonami - he was Kenshin in the somewhat older, weirder Sony dub - the one that was infamously retitled Samurai X and shipped to every English-speaking territory in Southeast Asia! The one that does weird stuff with character and attack names! The one that has Reba West as Kaoru instead of Dorothy Elias-Fahn! If you don't believe me, watch the entire goddamn thing on Crackle! I don't know the particulars on the deal that landed Rurouni Kenshin in Media Blasters' lap - it's entirely possible they were offered the Samurai X dub and turned it down. I don't blame them - the dub isn't totally awful, but it's got some script and performance problems. The funny thing is, though, that if you look for information on the series online, you'll find posting after posting from fans in the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia who are frustrated that they keep finding clips from the newer dub. Warts and all, the Samurai X dub is "their" Rurouni Kenshin, so that's the one they want!
In 1997, Manga Entertainment got the home video rights to Street Fighter II V. This made perfect, ironclad sense - the show's not all that great, but the prior animated movie had been a blockbuster in the home video realm, and the demand for more was clearly there. So the company farmed the dub out to ZRO Limit/Animaze in Los Angeles. Lia Sargent reprised her role as Chun Li, while most of the rest of the characters were recast. That's fine, right? It's an alternate retelling of the game's backstory. Meanwhile, in Texas, ADV Films acquired the home video rights to Street Fighter II V - for the UK. See, back then, ADV was riding high on Evangelion money, and were expanding to take advantage of other markets. They saw the acquisition of the UK rights as the perfect opportunity to beef up their ADV Films (UK) presence. So they set to work dubbing the series - at home base, in Houston. Not only were there two separate Street Fighter II V dubs, they were being produced within months of each other. This wrinkle -different companies with different rights for different regions - is the most common reason anime gets dubbed and redubbed. I'll talk about the phenomenon a bit more a few paragraphs on.
Of all of the dubs and re-dubs I touch on in this column, I think Ushio and Tora has to be the weirdest one. I say this because the first two episodes were dubbed twice - by the same principal cast, at the same studio, for the same publisher. In 1998, ADV Films got to work dubbing Ushio and Tora. A VHS tape of the first two episodes was made, featuring Randy Sparks and Brett Weaver as the titular demon hunter and his monstrous sidekick/adversary. Then, the series was abruptly abandoned, only to resurface in 2003. This new DVD version was a complete collection, with Sparks and Weaver reprising their roles - but with an entirely new recording for those first two episodes. Why were the original first two episodes papered over? I'm friends with Brett Weaver, so I asked him, and even he doesn't have a solid answer. I've heard some vague stories about odd behavior from the show's original ADR director, Tristan MacAvery, but the thing is, there was nothing really wrong with that original dub. I've got a copy, it's fine. Tora's speech patterns are kind of weird (MacAvery rewrote the script to make his dialogue alliterative, because Tora does have odd speech patterns and that's how the director chose to render them in English) but there's not a lot there to complain about. Thus, the original dub of those first two episodes has been obscured, for no particular reason. It's a funny old business.
Ever seen Richard Epcar at an anime convention? He's a fun guy - big and tall, big voice. He's not a huge anime guy, but he's a James Bond nerd, so he understands us. At Anime Boston 2007, I got the opportunity to hear Epcar talk about some of his favorite roles in his long, long career as a voice actor. He spoke at great length about Batou, Ghost in the Shell's beefy, thoughtful first mate to Major Kusunagi's sharp, gutsy cyber-cop captain. Epcar has voiced this character in almost every single adaptation on record - he was Batou in the original film, in the Stand-Alone Complex TV shows - even in the video game, he was Batou. The thing is, when Dreamworks released Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence on DVD back in 2004, they did it without a dubbed version. Manga UK eventually got in touch with him to get a dub produced for their UK release (Epcar's a directing vet as well), and the guy literally put everything aside and created a company specifically to dub the picture. That's dedication - as he stated at Anime Boston, Epcar is so attached to the character that he feels he "owns" the role of Batou and is prepared to go to great lengths to ensure that he's always the guy voicing the character. I imported the UK DVD, because I'm one of the three or four people who really, really liked Innocence. I think it worked even better in English! So, apparently, did Bandai Entertainment, who sublicensed the movie from Dreamworks' parent company, Paramount, and needed a dub for their 2009 DVD/blu-ray release. They liked what Epcar had done for the UK version, but there was a major technical problem - the video master for the UK release was 25 frames per second, to fit the PAL video spec. But the US version was created with a 24fps film master. What this means is that the UK dub was the teensiest bit too fast for the US master, so Epcar, Crispin Freeman (as Togusa) and company redid the whole thing, only with a larger budget and more actors. Bandai Entertainment, in their wisdom, included the UK dub on their R1 releases anyway, very slighty (and very strangely) slowed down. It's... interesting, to say the least.
Wasn't it neat when Bandai Entertainment started rolling out the cast of K-ON!!? The casting seemed note-perfect, with a bevy of musically talented actresses - the team of Stephanie Sheh, Cristina Vee, Shelby Lindley, and Cassandra Lee even put on a number of at-con concerts as a U.S. version of the show's band, Houkago Tea Time. The thing is, though: they weren't the first K-ON! Cast. Red Angel Media, a dubbing studio in Hong Kong, adapted both seasons of K-ON! for airing on Animax Asia, Sony's juggernaut of a regional cable channel. The dub is quick, dirty, and clumsy - but surprisingly watchable. There are a number of older dubs that were made "on the cheap" in Asia (Fantastic Children and Zipang are two that come to mind) that are generally awful, but K-ON! never really reaches those lows. If you're really jonesing for the show in English and are out in the cold now that Bandai have ceased new production, maybe seeking out Red Angel's dub will tide you over? Nah, probably not.
I first started noticing a lot of these Asia-produced English dubs a few years ago, and I was initially shocked - not only that they existed, but that there were so many of them. There are dubs of fare that never saw releases here like Twin Spica, Comet-san, and ZZ Gundam, and alternate dubs of a huge number of shows that have come out here - not just mid-tier fare like Kaze no Stigma, there's an Asia-only English dub of Fullmental Alchemist: Brotherhood! I guess I fell right into the trap of thinking of my nation as the center of the English-speaking world. That's hilariously stupid of me, because the English-speaking world is enormous, and everywhere people speak English, there'll be local versions of anime. There are similar phenomena to what I've described in the Spanish-speaking world, too - head to YouTube and pull up clips of great favorites like Super Campeones (Captain Tsubasa) and Captain Harlock in Spanish to read heated comments about whether the Spain version or the Mexico version is superior!
But let's bring this little study home: What about Arrietty? What about the movie I saw at the theatre, which I also saw on UK DVD, only with a totally different cast? Well, it turns out it wasn't just a different cast - it was a different approach. Optimum's UK dub is very clinical and careful - it's good, solid actors with good voices playing it safe and sticking to the script. The American dub is a pretty fascinating contrast, because everything about it is loose. Lip-flap is looser than usual. Dialogue is very naturalistic - the characters' patter sounds genuinely unplanned and spontaneous, filled with uhs and ums. Mark Strong, the best-known actor among the UK cast, is quite good as Pod, Arrietty's staunch, deadpan dad - but for my money, he's done in by comedian Will Arnett, who completely disappears into the role - not an easy task for a guy in a $6,300 suit. The biggest difference? The Disney dub takes the adaptation further than Optimum, changing some of the names (Sho becomes Shawn, Haru becomes Hara). To some purists out there, this is gonna be like nails on a chalkboard; it doesn't bother me much. I like both dubs and am happy with each of them, but I think the Optimum one is a bit more respectful of the source material, and the Disney one is a bit more fun. If you're in the UK, I hope you've enjoyed Optimum's release; if you're in the US, make sure you see Arrietty next weekend! And finally, when the opportunity comes, see if you can check out the other region's version, and enjoy the other dub.
Man, if you want to talk about this subject, there's a lot of material! Akira is the most obvious choice - when Geneon pulled it out of the weeds years ago, they gave it a much more faithful but less interesting new dub. Maybe you want to compare and contrast Streamline and ADV Films' Dirty Pair casts? Which version of Shin-chan do you think is better, the Fox Kids one, or the Funimation version? How about Dragon Ball - do you pine for the old Ocean dubs, or do you like the new Funi hotness? Let's talk about it in the comments!
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history