Goku vs. Javert: Voice, Performance, and Interpretation

I’m not big into musicals, but after watching the Les Misérables film and seeing all of the criticism of Russell Crowe’s Javert (especially in terms of the quality of his singing), I began looking into the Javerts from Broadway, most notably Philip Quast, who was used for the 10th Anniversary performance. While Quast is clearly a more powerful singer and better at acting through his singing (as opposed singing along with acting), what stood out to me was the sheer difference in Crowe’s and Quast’s interpretations of the character of Javert.

Quast’s Javert is supremely confident in both himself and his sense of justice, with the idea that, as the story progresses, he begins to lose his philosophy of absolute righteousness. Crowe’s Javert, in contrast, comes across as someone who is constantly at war with himself, fighting against the fact that he is “from the gutter too.” What amazes me about this, as perhaps someone who’s spent arguably too much time with anime and manga and not enough with other media, is that the same lyrics, the same script and dialogue, could result in such different characters.

In thinking about this in terms of recorded media, I have to think about the position a particular work has to have in order to get to this point where multiple interpretations of a character can exist based on the same core script. Sure, remakes happen, whether it’s anime, film, or something else, and American superhero comics are known for re-inventing characters through the different minds of new creators who revisit or take on older properties, but it’s not quite like having a stage play (or a movie that tries its hardest to be faithful to a stage play), where having new actors, new people to give their voice and mannerisms to the same character and script, is expected.

Dragon Ball is one of the most famous manga and anime ever, and between Dragon Ball Kai, Dragon Ball Super, Resurrection ‘F,and more, its characters have been coming back stronger than ever. In fact, Kai had all of its dialogue re-recorded even though the story was Z’s. In a way, that idea of having different interpretations despite the same script happened, only most of the voices were the original cast, and it’s more seeing how experience has changed them.

Where the “actor interpretation” idea might exist in anime is, perhaps, the act of dubbing. For most who grew up with the English voices of Son Goku (most famously at this point Sean Schemmel), Nozawa Masako’s original Goku portrayal is extremely jarring, her shrill voice sounding much less masculine than their image of Goku. Because Dragon Ball is so internationally successful, that also means that it and similarly popular works (Pokemon, One Piece) all give these potentially very different experiences due to how the same (or similar) script is communicated through dozens of languages. English-language Goku and Japanese-language Goku are in a way very different, and I can only imagine that Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic Goku are all going to bring variations even though they share the same basis.

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