I’ve previously made it known that I’m a fan of Dragon Ball Super. Now, I’ve wrote a post about why I think the latest arc, the Tournament of Power, is something quite special. Check it out on Apartment 507!
In a recent blog article, I wrote about how the character of Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z is portrayed differently in Japanese and English, and how this has resulted in something of a divide among fans. The article was a surprising success, quickly becoming one of my most popular posts in recent memory, and the numerous responses I received (especially on Twitter) prompted me to think more about how Dragon Ball Z (and the Dragon Ball franchise in general) is perceived differently depending on how a person came across it.
Is Dragon Ball a gruff fighting series, or a heartful adventure? How big a role should comedy play before it goes too far? Many factors go into how the series is viewed, including whether or not someone started with adult or kid Goku, but I came to realize another influence: theme songs. On some level, I believe that the core difference between how Dragon Ball can be summed up in the contrast between “Rock the Dragon” and “Chala Head Chala.”
Before I delve more deeply, I do want to say that, while I prefer “Chala Head Chala,” my taste in music is not important here. Nor is the fact that “Chala Head Chala” came first. Tthe anime is based on the manga, which has no actual sound at all, let alone opening and ending themes. “Being the original” is not a sound argument to make. What I will be focusing on is mainly, how do each of those themes make its viewers feel?
“Chala Head Chala” feels fairly light-hearted, with quite a few odd lyrics (“If I discover a dinosaur in ice, I want to balance it on top of a ball” ???), yet there’s also a quiet sense of gravitas thanks to Kageyama Hironobu’s warbling voice. While the theme does suggest action and excitement, it emphasizes more a sense of “adventure” and “discovery,” though perhaps not to the same extent as the Dragon Ball opening, “Makafushigi Adventure.” Most of the visual imagery in the opening is concentrated on movement—flying and running. Motion is the key.
“Rock the Dragon” is all about heavy use of electric guitar riffs. The song puts all of its emphasis on high-octane thrills, and the the lyrics (as repetitive as they are) further push to the forefront the idea that this is not just a series with action, it’s the action series. Instead of the first image being a rotating dragon ball, it’s the dragon itself in all of its majesty and glory. All of the footage aside from that is fighting, fighting, and more fighting.
If I had to greatly simplify, I’d say that “Rock the Dragon” is more about “body and spirit,” and “Chala Head Chala” is more about “heart and soul.” They both introduce the same overall series, about Goku and his allies taking on ever-increasingly powerful threats to the Earth, but one revels in the fighting and the other suggests fighting as a means of expressing character. Because of this difference, I think it cements different core images of Dragon Ball in people’s minds, and this affects how subsequent works (Battle of Gods, Dragon Ball Super) are received as well. Looking ahead, the opening of Dragon Ball Super, “Limit Break x Survivor,” is actually a kind of middle point between “Chala Head Chala” and “Rock the Dragon” with a dash of “Makafushigi Adventure.” Could it be the theme that unites Dragon Ball dub and sub fans once and for all?
Amidst the announcement of Dragon Ball FighterZ, a Guilty Gear-esque 3-on-3 fighting game based on the popular Dragon Ball franchise, one of the old debates between fans has cropped up: do you play with the Japanese voices or the English ones? Frequently, choices have to do with familiarity (what did you grow up on?), as well as the divisiveness of Nozawa Masako’s performance, which some fans see as not fitting for Son Goku’s masculine appearance.
Because of this, I began diving into old sub vs. dub threads, and to my surprise I found that quite a few people were also not big fans of Horikawa Ryo as Vegeta. On the occasions that commenters preferred Christopher Sabat’s Vegeta, it frequently had to do with Sabat making Vegeta sound more gruff and “badass.”
English and Japanese Vegeta have a lot in common. They’re both extremely arrogant and prideful, and even their caring sides will be expressed through anger. However, I find that each of them brings a different feel as well. If both of their performances could be likened to boulders (big and powerful), then Sabat’s Vegeta would be rough and jagged, while Horikawa’s would be smoothed and polished.
I’m beginning to wonder if the Horikawa-style Vegeta is somehow “lost in translation,” as if the effect doesn’t come across properly. The reason I’m considering this at all is that I also see other cases of similar characters coming across differently in English performances.
One example is Meta Knight in Smash Bros., who sounds more like a noble knight in Japanese but has a deep baritone in English. (In the dub of Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, they went for an odd Spanish accent, but that’s more a directing choice than anything else.) Would the effect Horikawa has as Vegeta work better if a voice akin to English Smash Meta Knight’s was used?
Another example is Kaiba Seto in Yu-Gi-Oh! In Japanese, Kaiba’s performance is more curt than anything else, like he has no time to waste on being nice or courteous. In English, Kaiba sounds more actively mocking and malicious. Would the former have not been as memorable? All of these different performances (as well as different scripts) can change people’s impressions to the point that they can almost be viewed as different characters.
I’d like to believe that it’s possible to successfully translate the feel and intent of a character at least for the most part when dubbing a series, but I have to consider whether or not cultural context actually changes how a given voice “sounds” to a person. It’s not uncommon to see dub anime fans complain about all the “high-pitched voices” in Japanese, but fans of Japanese voices might lobby the opposite criticism towards dub actors making high schoolers sound like 40-year-olds. It’s almost impossible to get an “objective” opinion on how a character sounds across different languages, especially because the actors themselves will slowly evolve their performances over time.
If dub Dragon Ball Z was ever able to perfectly adapt Horikawa’s Vegeta to English, would it actually have garnered him a somewhat different fanbase than he possesses now among English-speaking fans? Does the core character of Vegeta transcend voice, or is it a major factor in defining how the character lives?
Surprising even to me, it turns out Dragon Ball Super is actually really good. I’ve written a small post detailing how Dragon Ball Super has improved upon its predecessors. Take a look!
How much does time pass when the mighty Star Platinum punches an enemy Stand in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? There are many factors to consider, such as how much time has passed in the show itself, as well as how time is being manipulated within the series’ universe itself. Another important element is the fact that the anime is an adaptation of a manga, where the flow of time is abstracted by manga’s existence as a 2-D paper medium.
As far back as Tetsuwan Atom, adaptations of manga have been a common mode of anime production. Manga act as a spring of new stories to present, and the jump from the comic book format to animation opens up many opportunities. An anime can try to forget its own path through interpretation or divergence from the manga (such as both the Ghost in the Shell films and Stand Alone Complex), or they can faithfully attempt to recreate what exists in the original. However, while the latter cases might often appear to be “direct transplants” of the manga to the screen, the act of having to take a physical and spatial image such as a panel and assign to it a finite amount of time can greatly change the impact of a given scene in spite of the desire for faithfulness to the source material.
In a general sense, having to time dramatic beats for an anime often requires playing around with the contents of the manga. For example, in an episode of Dragon Ball Z, filler sequences (such as the infamous minutes-long powering up spots) not only save budget, but can also be a way to make sure the episode ends on a cliffhanger. On a broader multi-episode scale, Initial D: Fourth Stage does something similar by reversing the order of the final two opponents. Originally, the manga has protagonist Takumi race against a man known as “God Hand,” while his teammate Keisuke races against “God Foot” afterward. In order to make sure the series ends with a climactic battle for its hero, the show has God Foot go first instead.
One consequence of this is that there can be moments when a series feels as if it’s dragging. Sometimes it’s successfully padded out or rearranged so that nothing feels particularly off, but in other instances it is possible to sense an uneven rhythm or pacing.
This notion also extends to the transform of panels into time. Consider that there is generally no specific amount of time that is said to pass in a given panel in manga, or indeed comics in general. What makes a panel feel “fast” or “slow” is partially about how long one’s eyes linger on a panel, and it’s dependent on the amount of content there and the flow of the page. But because time exists differently in manga, things that seemingly pass quickly on the page take much longer on the screen.
A common example of this would be the frantic explanations of special moves in an action or sports series. Because we tend to read more quickly than we speak, it is possible to believe that an elaborate speech or thought is being made within the span of a ball being passed from one player to the next. However, commit that to concrete time in an anime, and suddenly you begin to wonder why no one is doing anything as they talk for 30 seconds. To appreciate those moments, it requires a viewer to understand that time portrayed is not literal. This is the case even with series not adapted from anime. It does not “really” take Voltes V two or three minutes to combine together, or for Erika to become Cure Marine.
So when what is a single, snappy panel in manga gets stretched out into an extended scene in an anime, it can dramatically effect how a person can feel about a particular title. I find this to especially be the case with comedy series. Take Azumanga Daioh, a four-panel series. In the manga, there will be a comedic moment that lasts for only one or two panels, such as Sakaki rolling on the floor while holding a wild Iriomote cat. In the anime, this becomes a full-on extended display of non-stop rolling with musical accompaniment. A small moment becomes a big one thanks to time. A more recent title would be Nichijou, where the staccato presentation of the manga’s gags are the equivalent of sharp, quick jabs. In anime form, however, the characters’ movements are exquisitely animated and exaggerated, and the result is a series that is in a way much more physical and almost “luscious” in a sense. While the Nichijou anime pretty much takes things directly from the manga, the two turn out to be pretty different experiences.
My belief is that the unusual handling of the (broadly speaking) space-to-time transition of manga to anime is a likely culprit of why someone might love a manga but hate its anime (or vice versa!) even if the adaptation process is largely faithful. It’s kind of like when an actor is cast in a movie based on a book; what was once a nebulous image reliant upon visual/mental interpretation becomes a little more solid and finite.
When the words “purity in anime” come up, I think the typical association is with sexual purity. Between past stories of fans being angry at individuals both fictional (Nagi from Kannagi) and real (Suzumiya Haruhi seiyuu Hirano Aya) for not being virgins, to the idol industry’s forbidding of relationships for its stars, there is a valuing of chastity that is often tinged with the desire for someone’s virginity to be in a state of limbo: always on the cusp of losing it, but never going to do so. At the same time, however, while sexual innocence is one form of purity, it’s not the only kind, and often it takes the form of a “naive perspective,” a “pure heart,” or a “child-like desire.”
To shift the discussion away from female characters, I’d like to talk about perhaps the most famous character in all of anime: Son Goku. Suffice it to say, he needs no introduction, but one recurring trait of the character is that he is pure-hearted. It’s what allows him to ride Kintoun (Flying Nimbus). When confronted with the Devilmite Beam, an attack that turns one’s negative thoughts into damage, Goku is completely unaffected. Even as he fights planet-crushing adversaries, has two kids, and generally grows into an adult, Goku is still portrayed as innocent of mind. His love of fighting is genuine, and even sex doesn’t really change him.
Looking at more recent titles (unless you count Dragon Ball Super), a character like Nagisa in Clannad is supposed to be an epitome of innocence and purity, but by the time of After Story she’s married and is no longer a virgin. Even though her tragedy quotient shoots way up (as tends to happen in Key works), Nagisa is much like Goku in that sex doesn’t actually impact the sense of purity her character exudes. In terms of child-like desire, Haruka in Free! views the act of swimming similar to to how Goku approaches fighting. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the simple joy of the activity itself, whether that’s swimming to feel the thrill of the water regardless of competition, or wanting to test one’s strength against strong opponents. It’s as if the ultimate purity is one that maintains itself no matter the circumstances.
I can’t forget that there is a double standard when it comes to sex. Girls, be they fictional or real, are subjected to the issue of being “ruined” or considered “sluts” in a way that goes well beyond the limited world of idols where both sexes are subject to scrutiny. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if it’s possible for a character to be viewed as pure yet also sexually promiscuous? I don’t think it’s impossible. Perhaps even the enjoyment of sex can be portrayed innocently, even if that might not necessarily be realistic. That said, the degree to which people would be able to accept something like this is probably small in the grand scheme of industry and audience reactions, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing either. One question I wonder is how fans can reconcile a desire for purity in some cases with a strongly sexual presentation at the same time, but it might just have to do with having the option to shift responsibility, especially in the 2D realm of anime and the 2.5D realm of idols.
In the first paragraph I mentioned Hirano Aya and her fall from grace due to the idea that she had sex with her band mates. The backlash essentially sent her from being the top otaku idol to only working in anime sparingly, but ultimately it’s my opinion that this has made her voice acting career better than ever. No longer is she pushed into roles that are tailored towards keeping her as that “goddess of anime.” She can be Migi, the alien symbiote in Parasyte. She can be Paiman, the weird panda-like hero in Gatchaman Crowds. She can be Dende, guardian of the Dragon Balls in Dragon Ball Super. It’s possible to look at her full CV and see that her acting is not limited to that which is most sexually thrilling or geared towards otaku appeal qualities. By de-coupling her from the very idea of virgin purity, her acting is arguably purer than ever before.
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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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