Friday, April 13, 2007

Dubs Gone Bad (with special mention for Eisner's Disneycorp)

Well, I wasn't planning on posting this so early, but I found myself ranting about Disney dubs sooner than I thought. This from, home of Hiyoko no Gao - my favorite scanslation group.

Certainly the newer releases have improved in quality, possibly because of the growing demand for anime / manga in the west. Another probem with the dubs is there seem to be a limited number of voice actors out there, with distinctive voices (Crispin Freeman, Carrie Savage for eg) so a character speaks for the first time, and all you have is an image of te last character they played...
Yeah, that's part of it, and most of the rest of it is that so often the VAs don't have any range. Most seyuu can usually manage two or three distinct voices that don't sound anything like each other except for the sex of the speaker. Crispin Freeman always sounds like Crispin Freeman, which frankly ruins the dubbed Chobits, for example, because he sounds, um, rather expressive/foofy to be a farmboy from Hokkaido (which is kind of the Japanese analog to Michigan). The original Seyuu, Sugita Tomokazu, by comparison, does a good gruff-but-earnest farmboy - it comes through even if you don't know any Japanese. Even though he's the same seyuu who does Kyon in Suzumiya Haruhi and Yuuichi in Kanon (2006), he manages to not sound exactly the same in all three parts. If only...

Even if the VA has range, the dub directors never seem to bother to use it. Somebody has to actually really watch the anime with subs and listen to the Japanese voice track. Whoever does that should write character voice bios (say a paragraph each) for each character. Dubbing can be done well, but it seldom really is.

Probably the very best dub I've ever heard is (oddly enough) the French language Disney dub for Tonari no Totoro. The inflections match well, and the French is very good. The English dub, by comparison, uses Disney stable 'star' talent with no range. The guy who plays the father is OK, but nearly everybody else is too generic sounding. Using sisters to play sisters sounds like a good idea, but the problem is that the Fanning sisters sound too much alike, which really adds a dissonance to the parts where both are speaking. The Japanese had no such illusions and cast two excellent and different-sounding seyuu to play Satsuki and Mei.

The latest make-me-grit-my-teeth dub moment for me was another Disney gift. The Disney dub of Nausicaa has Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa, who is OK, but misses the venerable strength of the part, and Olmos's Mito is OK, I guess. The one that pissed me off was Kurotawa, who is done by Chris Sarandon (momma's little boy?), and sounds like an effeminate English pouffe. Specifically, he reminded me of Errol Flynn or Cary Elwes in fruity mode. (note - I'm not a homophobe - I don't care if people affect particular (non-sociopathic) speech or behavior patterns, I just think that dub tracks should reflect the character accurately, which is profoundly not so in this case).

Guys, The character is an experienced warrior and commander who was responsible for the successful reduction of Pejite, which, we later see, was an imposing and well-defended walled city. Just because the he has the usual warrior's philosophy about the changing fortunes of a soldier's life doesn't mean he catches instead of pitching. Watch a Kurosawa movie or two, sheesh! Or just look into history - Patton wrote (bad) poetry, but was about as far from effeminate as they come. Macarthur, however, was in fact a momma's boy. But then he looked and acted like one, too.

It really undercuts the deadliness of the situation when Kurotawa is having his soldiers hold the valley dwellers at gunpoint and gives some pouffy command. The sad part is that this is nowhere near the worst they've done to Ghibli movies. I guess they just can't stand being out of the running for best animation studio, or maybe they just think everybody's products are as hacked-together and undeserving of respect (at least since 1992) as theirs are.

My second-least-favorite Disney treatment of a Ghibli movie (haven't seen them all, yet, so there's room to move) is the dub track for Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyuubin - better translated as something like "Broom Express," or "Witches' Airmail Express." They added lots of dialogue. Everywhere. Any place there was a beautiful Ghibli vista and some flying footage, they had Jiji and Kiki chattering at each other where there was little or no such dialog in the original. It wouldn't be so bad if the lovely as usual soundtrack weren't being walked on as well. I'm sure they focus-grouped it on sugar-crazed four year olds and found that the attention spans weren't long enough for ten seconds of movie without dialog... Earth to Disney: Four year olds don't buy Ghibli movies. Mommy and Daddy do. They do it because they can stand to hear and see them played over and over again, unlike most of the crap you guys make. Mess up the Ghibli goodness and you will hurt sales.

But that's not the worst thing Disney ever did to a Ghibli movie. That unique award goes to two excellent films that Isao Takahata directed: Omohide Poroporo (usually rather weakly called "Only Yesterday" in English), and Grave of the Fireflies. In "Only Yesterday's" case, they couldn't bring themselves to release it in the US, even after they bought the rights to do so. It's a hard movie to find in the US as a result, which is sad, because it's both pleasant and, in some ways, more adult than most Ghibli films. Apparently families bathing together and talk about menarch in middle school girls scared them off. Strange - the family bathing scene in Totoro doesn't bother them. Fireflies, at least, got a sufficiently cold shoulder from the mouse that Central Park Media was allowed to pick it up, so you can at least get it here - if you know what it is. Normally, I'd say that Disney didn't want to sully their reputation for "quality family entertainment" in passing it over, but, frankly, there's just as much violence in Nausicaa as there is in Fireflies.

The problem is one of perception. Somebody (or a lot of somebodys) in the management hierarchy at Disney can't see animation as anything other than "kids stuff" not worthy of serious attention by adults. Guys - it's just a way to make a movie! If any movie can be worthy of serious attention by adults, then an animated movie can. Certainly the ideas treated in Nausicaa and Howls Moving Castle, in particular, are as serious as anything that has won at Cannes in recent decades. Most of Ghibli's work is art, and deserves more respect than Disney grants it. It doesn't hurt Miyazaki, Takahata, or Ghibli when you do a bad job on a US release - it only hurts you. And the American fans.

Putting more effort into the dubs for these movies woudn't hurt their salability as kids stuff. Releasing Omohide Poroporo wouldn't hurt anybody, and it would certainly make more money than it cost to dub and dupe. Likewise, getting the rights to and releasing Grave of the Fireflies with a proper publicity push would be just fine as long as you put a PG-13 rating on it. You might actually get some adult cred for the first time since Beauty and the Beast. I'll remind you that adults earn the money and buy things - shares of stock in particular...

No comments: