Grave of the Fireflies
The story begins about a year before the end of World War II. Fourteen-year-old Seita and his little sister Setsuko are seemingly-normal Japanese kids, trying to survive amidst the regular air raids and bombings by American forces. When their mother dies and their home is destroyed, they are forced to move in with a rather thoughtless aunt and her family. When her endless nagging and resentment at having to take them in finally push them over the edge, they decide to go out on their own. But surviving outside of the system is not easy, and survival becomes a real struggle, as they deal with malnutrition, poverty, and finally, Japan's defeat.
If you've never seen Grave of the Fireflies, you're missing a true classic. A 1988 double feature with My Neighbor Totoro, this is Studio Ghibli at its finest: a tragic, touching story of two youngsters trying to survive during War-stricken Japan.
Years ago, when I was just getting onto the anime scene, it was a running joke that Central Park Media would eventually dub Grave of the Fireflies. Ignoring their brief agreement with Manga Entertainment to share dubbed projects, CPM's English Language versions were and still are consistently sub-par. It truly boggled the mind what their talentless dubbing staff would do to this fine film.
Now that they finally have released a dubbed version (produced for bilingual DVD purposes), I have to admit that it could have been a lot worse.
While other films have told the World War II story through the eyes of children (AD Vision's "Rail of the Star", Streamline's "Barefoot Gen", and "Who's Left Behind?", to name a few), none have so successfully captured the horror and despair as Grave of the Fireflies. Some Japanese people have told me that older relatives cannot even sit through the film, since it is just too emotional and comes too close to real life. This is an anime that you can show to anyone, should you need to prove that not all anime is gory violent oversexed Akira spin-offs.
The film has so many touches that make it all the more magical... The tentative brown lines used for outlining instead of the traditional black... The old scratchy recording of "There's No Place Like Home"... Jo Hisaishi's amazing musical score... None of these things have been altered, and for that reason, the dubbed version still maintains much of the feeling and quality that the original Japanese had. The only thing besides the original acting that has been omitted is the opening title: in order to remove the Japanese title screen, about five seconds of the opening has been trimmed out, and the remaining footage has been slowed down, resulting in a frame rate about half what it should be. The timing is also thrown off. Almost none of the credits have been translated, and the ones that have are presented in a huge, ugly non-scrolling font. (If it's like this in the DVD version, I will not be happy.)
The dubbing, while not bad, isn't good either. The English screenplay is nearly unaltered from their earlier subtitled version (this is a good thing), and the parts are well-cast overall. Seita's acting is by far the best, and only two characters really stand out as really horribly acted. Unfortunately, those characters are Setsuko (who sounds like an old lady on valium, unable to express any sort of excitement at all), and the aunt (who just overacts).
While the dub is acceptable for those who absolutely, positively, can't stand subtitles, everyone else should probably forego this version in favor of the subtitled one that has been available for over five years now.
Overall : B
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