FLCL Interview with Marc Handler

by Zac Bertschy,
This is the first in a series of interviews regarding Synch-Point's upcoming release of Gainax's new OVA series, "FLCL". This installment focuses on Marc Handler, the ADR director and writer and for the English language version of "FLCL".

Anime News Network: In comparison with your other projects, how difficult was translating "FLCL" for an American audience?

Marc Handler: It's really difficult, a labor of love. While it's joyous, FLCL is a difficult; far more literary and complex than most. Like working with a piece of literature. Not true of most animation projects. But, that's what made it fun and exciting. Very challenging. I was working on a simpler show; something very typical, and moved to FLCL. I wanted the challenge. That's what drew me to the series.

ANN: Would you say the final product is a localization or a direct translation?

Marc: It's a direct translation. Our mission was to take what was there and bring it to an American audience as faithfully as we possibly could. We never made a choice where we just said "let's change it." The first 3 days of recording, Sudamaki-san was in the booth with us. He gave us line by line feedback, telling us what his intention was with the scene. For me, it was a first.. I've worked on so many of these kinds of shows, where you're guessing what the director wanted. With FLCL, I was able to get the director's input.

ANN: What can you tell me about the voice cast for this?

Marc: I was really thrilled with the actors.. every one of them. I guess that's the kind of thing you say for an interview, but I was really thrilled. What happens is, frequently you cast and you get into the series and you think, "I made a mistake.." but with these guys, they really got into the characters. We had Barbara Goodson play Naota, and she did a fantastic job. She was a major character on Power Rangers; she played Rita Repulsa. Kari (Haruko) was absolutely new. She walked in to interview and did a terrific audition. We all looked at eachother afterwards and said "What has she done?" Nothing. "Who knew her?" no one. Kari was so precise and so clean, as far as her interpretation of the character. She was completely new to the field of ADR recording, too. She'd come in early to prepare and get it down, but as it turns out, she didn't need any additional help. She picked it up right away and provided us with a perfect Haruko. She was just terrific.

ANN: I'm sure you're aware what a huge success FLCL is already with fans; many of them are curious as to just how something this complicated is going to be brought into English. Were there any specific areas of the series that provided a particularly difficult obstacle?

Marc: Oh, yes. I hope they're forgiving about this; they're a lot of word play in this. It's impossible to translate that. If it's a double entendre, a play on words.. if you do a direct translation, you've lost the joke. We'd try to find an English word that would provide a similar joke; it's typical that you might have a joke where you'd need a new joke. But it isn't typical that you have extended wordplay, like FLCL has. In fact, fans who have only read the subtitled version, they're missing the wordplay completely. I've had to sit there with Japanese speakers, and have them explain the wordplay; I'd ask how we could possibly do this in English.

ANN: How are the "manga" sequences being handled?

Marc: We loved them. They were so fun. I think they came out great. I think we really captured the spirit of them. They're very manic; they're a great example of the wordplay humor found in the series. I thought it came out very well.

ANN: Are translation notes going to be necessary for this project?

Marc: I had extensive translation notes on this, which are rare; there's a lot of cultural stuff. Stuff that's so obscure, we had no idea. But they provided us with complete translation notes. The whole thing with sour drinks, there's a Japanese market nearby that had the sour drinks. We were all drinking them during the production. Some of the things we changed, because they'd have no meaning to American audiences. For instance, Haruko lists Japanese rock bands. For the US release, we're renaming them to American rock bands. Gainax and Production IG made all these choices for us; we didn't do anything without their consent. Maki Terashima was with us almost every recording session, almost every time. She's a representative of Production IG / IG Label.

ANN: Finally, what's your take on the meaning of this series?

Marc: There are several different ways to approach that question. You know, I can say a little that when I first saw it, the first time or two I saw it, it was in Japanese; I thought it was just a bunch of hip Japanese artists screwing around. The way it plays with contrasting styles; I thought this was really cool, but I didn't see any depth. Once I got into the story, I needed to read the translations. It really has a very deep story and really is very affecting. I guess really what it's about... well, for me, it's about, being at that age where you're just.. Naota is a really alienated kid. He's cranky, doesn't like anything, and his brother's gone. He's just at that age where he's having sexual impulses. He doesn't know what to do with it. He kinda hates it, and wants it at the same time. You'll notice Naota is disgusted by adult sexuality. It seems to me that Haruko is a manifestation of Naota's sexuality. She says things like "I am an illusion". At one, she's real, she's an alien; at the other, she's really a manifestation of his own sexual impulses and feelings. Clash between ordinary and extraordinary. On one hand, you have the Iron; the little thing that clues Haruko is a little zipper ring. Very ordinary thing; on the other hand you have these cosmic events. Galactic wars, and so forth. The way he combines these is very interesting. So you end up with Naota, using a guitar like a baseball bat, it's a very interesting contrast.

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