Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kids on the Slope, dubbed

By and large, I prefer to watch anime dubbed rather than subtitled. Most of the stuff I've seen, especially when I was running aNIme, was on DVD and I watched it dubbed first, so that's the voice I associate with the character.1

That's changed a lot since I began my Crunchyroll subscription, however - I've not seen anything for the first time dubbed in years.

I've previously written about how brilliant Kids on the Slope is, and having rewatched it through once (as well as revisiting my favourite episodes - 1, 7 and 12 - on multiple occasions) it's still firmly in the "best show ever" slot.

So it was with some trepidation I put the dub on today. I'd always had trouble imagining it in English, and the announcement of Steven Foster as the ADR scriptwriter and director wasn't reassuring. Foster has always been a polarising element; he's known for playing it a bit fast-and-loose with translations, which makes him great for comedy scripts, but not such a steady hand for drama.

The script is generally uneven as a result; some of the lines are tweaked to add slang and (jazz) references, but others are awkwardly formal. Narration, which is open for the broadest reinterpretation without animation to match, is often frustratingly literal.

The cast, by and large, are solid2; Chris Patton is a predictable but reliable choice for Kaoru, but I'd not heard much of the other leads' work before this show. Rebekah Stevens is unreservedly great, but I'm still warming to Andrew Love. Sentaro was always going to be a tough one to get right, and while I think there are elements of Love and Sen that match up it doesn't quite gel.

Part of the problem is the direction; in Japanese, Sentaro has a pretty thick accent and doesn't have great diction, slurring consonants at the end of sentences. In English, he's far too well spoken, with the exception of some contractions which sound obvious and forced as a result.

There are also a few irritating mispronunciations, with Kaoru's name getting the brunt. The vowels sound like they've been swapped in his first name, so Ritsuko sounds like she's given him the nickname "Coruscant"; the wrong syllable is emphasised in "Nishimi".

I'm not sure how many of these problems I'd have if I wasn't so familiar with the Japanese cast, though. If I'd been used to the dub for several months before hearing it in Japanese, maybe there'd be bits of it that bug me just as much.

I can't help but feel disappointed, though. The dub strikes me as rushed; I'm sure the affection I have for the show is influencing my opinion, but I really think it deserved a more measured approach - or at least someone to read over the script before recording.

1 At the beginning, I would watch both language tracks for reviews, but eventually came to the conclusion that people who only watch subtitles wouldn't care how good the dub was, and if you're watching it dubbed then you probably aren't bothered by them.

2 The only horrific mistake in the cast - although this, again, comes down largely to Foster's uneven direction - is what they've done to Seiji Matsuoka. There's a hint of camp in the Japanese actor's performance, but it's cranked all the way to uncomfortable stereotype in the dub.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Last of Us

My new year's resolution was to get through the year buying only one game. That one game is The Last of Us, which came out on Friday last week; I completed it late on Saturday with a total playtime of just over thirteen hours, and it's been stuck in my head ever since.

Part of that is because of the haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla (which I'll be torturing my wife and neighbours with as I fail to learn it over the next few weeks), which constantly sparks flashes of the people, places and events from Naughty Dog's post-apocalypse.

The critical acclaim the game has collected so far is not unearned; while bits of the game do feel derivative and there's maybe too much emphasis on combat - I'd prefer fewer, tougher enemies and more sudden, brutal confrontations than the squads of opponents - the atmosphere and characterization is, I'm fairly certain, unequalled in gaming.

Spoilers follow.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cowboy Bebop

At the end of last month, a one-off event in Edinburgh brought the director of Cowboy Bebop, Shinichiro Watanabe, to Scotland for a screening and Q&A session. There are few anime fans who've seen Bebop and dislike it, but it's getting pretty old by now and despite listening to Yoko Kanno's soundtrack albums fairly regularly I'd not seen it in a few years.

There were two episodes shown, both selected by Watanabe - Session #6 Ballad of Fallen Angels and Session #22 Cowboy Funk. According to the question-and-answer session afterwards, Watanabe picked the most serious and least serious episodes - and remarked that it's difficult to believe they're from the same series.

I often feel like anime series' are trying to split the difference between super-serious and slapstick; recent shows in particular, like Gargantia or Oreshura have really interesting setups that get regularly sidelined by wacky adventures. If they were just comedy or just drama I'd enjoy them a lot more, but sitting on the fence often just highlights the weaknesses in both elements of a show.

But it's a testament to how great the characters, atmosphere and design in Cowboy Bebop are that it not only manages to pull off such disparate storylines, but I can't imagine either the comedy or drama being removed from the show. I think it comes down to the personalities of the characters; they're such believable people that having a laugh makes sense. They get on each others' nerves, tell jokes, fight and work together in a way that makes sense.

Two episodes wasn't really enough. While I've not found the time yet to start a rewatch - I might wait for the Blu-ray release at the end of next month - I'm really keen to give it another run through.

The photo at the top of this post is of my now most prized posession. The cel cost me a few hundred dollars when I bought it eight years ago; I'm sure it's probably worth a fair bit more now. I was originally planning to ask Watanabe to sign Moanin', by Art Blakey, but realised I'd only bought a digital copy of the album.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Attack on my Patience

Oh, Attack on Titan, you started off so well. Despite the shonen trappings, tropes were falling left and right - culminating in the wonderfully shocking end of episode six, the ultimate "fuck you" to my, and no doubt many of your audience's, expectations.

You even followed it up with two episodes that seemed to keep that middle finger firmly raised to the predictable nature of anime shows with a clear hero, ignoring the events for an entire installment. I dared to hope that you were going to leave the knife twisted.

Then came the end of episode 8. Cracks appeared in my optimism, as the single best thing you'd done was suddenly and irrevocably undone. Then the end of episode 9 fucked it into a cocked hat, ensuring I can never be surprised again by your antics.

And now, after the tenth episode, you're back on familiar, even predictable territory. The storylines set up in the last 22 minutes have such obvious outcomes that I'm not sure I care if my assumptions are correct.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

So this has gone well

This whole post-a- day thing took a pretty severe rumble of a cliff. Knew that the first day I let myself skip it would be dangerous.

I've even has stuff to post about - meeting Shinichiro Watanabe, for instance, or the new YoYo Games office - but actually writing has been difficult to commit to.

Must try harder.

Starting tomorrow.