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.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Whiplashing It: Iron Man 2 Thoughts

I watched Iron Man 2, and just to put down a quick review, it was very entertaining and a worthy sequel, though not as good as the first and the action scenes tended towards the disorienting. What I really want to talk about though is the film’s villain , Ivan Vanko.

Iron Man suffers somewhat from a lack of really memorable supervillains, with few outside of the fanbase even knowing who the Mandarin is, let alone someone like the “Iron Monger” or “Whiplash,” the official name for Ivan (though it’s never mentioned in the film). Strictly speaking, there is no “Ivan Vanko” in the original comics, and is instead an amalgam of two existing Iron Man supervillains, Whiplash and the Soviet-themed Crimson Dynamo.

What an intriguing idea! If your villains aren’t that interesting, try to take elements from at least two, and try to create a more developed character out of it. I feel like it could go a long way.

So then I think, what if we applied this to film adaptations of anime? Let’s just say, HYPOTHETICALLY SPEAKING, that there was some kind of Dragon Ball “film,” if you will. While there are plenty of strong, iconic adversaries Goku and friends have had to face over the course of their tale, I just have to wonder about the possibilities of “Whiplashing” it.

Merge the Saibamen with the Little Cells to have an ultimate team of deadly jobbers.

Incorporate elements of Android No.19 into Tullece and have a guy who looks like Goku because he is a robot.

Better yet, mix Zarbon and Bacterion into a handsome, self-centered alien whose true form is ugly and also smells.

The possibilities are endless

Who is Goku’s Greatest Mexican Rival?


Sprkng! Early Observation of Dragon Ball Kai

I don’t plan on making it a habit of blogging about Dragon Ball Kai, but seeing as I reviewed a very “special” remake yesterday, I felt I should talk a little about how the other, inarguably better remake is doing.

For those of you who don’t know, Dragon Ball Kai is an HD re-mastering of the original Dragon Ball Z with new audio recorded (both music and voices) and, most importantly, all fat trimmed to make the show more streamlined and in-pace with the original Toriyama manga. Three episodes are out so far, and it should give a good indicator as to how the show will fare later on.

Dragon Ball Kai accomplishes in three episodes what took the original anime five, and early Dragon Ball Z wasn’t even that filler-laden! At the pace they’re going, the show may end up feeling it’s never dragging. That is, unless perhaps the manga dragged in certain areas as well. It’s an interesting conflict, being “true to the manga,” because should you be true to it, bad parts and all? Probably the main difference in pacing that will be seen is that in the manga powering up hardly takes any time. It’s the classic cliche of Dragon Ball Z that entire episodes are spent “powering up,” and it’ll be funny to see that stereotype smashed. It’ll be even funnier when the Namek saga takes significantly less time, and the inevitable jokes will occur which go, “Are they still on Nam- oh…I guess not. Carry on!”

Unlike that other thing, there’s really no point to discussing whether or not Dragon Ball Kai is true to the spirit of Dragon Ball. While this is clearly going to make them massive piles of money to roll around (and to sleep on top of with lots and lots of beautiful women), it’s still, I feel, a labor of love to a certain extent, even if it’s simply a repackaging of old material to seem new and fresh. I’m cool with that.

I just have to wonder if this mean that for all the young kids who are watching Kai before Z, will they be unable to ever watch the Z anime when a superior alternative exists?

The Best Argument for Creationism: Dragonball Evolution

Dragonball Evolution, what can be said about it? Well,  I can certainly call it a “movie.” It is a series of scenes placed one after the other on a film strip and shown in a sequential order. Dragonball Evolution: People involved in a production to put a form of entertainment in theaters.

Upon first hearing that a live-action Dragon Ball movie was being made, I had an image in my head full of cheesy lines and attempts to bring stories full circle, revisions to existing aspects of Dragon Ball designed to make it seem “cooler” and less “cartoony,” unfaithfulness to the source material’s characters and their personality, and awkward special effects. When the first trailer was released, and then the second, this prediction still appeared to hold true. Now, after having seen the whole thing, I can say that the movie was exactly what I expected it to be.

Where to start with this, “Evolution” of Dragon Ball as it wishes to be known? Well, how about the way in which it relates to Charles Darwin’s theory, or rather the attack on it by certain religious groups?

Proponents of Intelligent Design commonly state that there is evidence in the bedrock that shows that the Earth’s history is not a continuous chain of events, and that there are mass extinctions and sudden increases of certain types of animals, as if the history of the Earth and its wildlife are a series of islands connected by a higher power. This is in fact how Dragonball Evolution feels. You know it’s a story mainly because you’ve been told that it’s one, but while the events of the movie follow a chronological order, there is almost nothing which smoothly connects one scene to the next. Master Roshi will claim that going to the tournament is vital to their quest to defeat Piccolo. Then no one will participate in the tournament and then we never find out what going to the tournament actually accomplished. Yamcha and Bulma hate each other in one scene and in the very next they’re already falling in love. There isn’t even at the least a generic scene where Yamcha catches Bulma while she’s falling or something. Goku is in high school for some reason, and he gets picked on by jocks. He meets Chi Chi there. Then high school is never ever mentioned again. Master Roshi, the narrator, and Piccolo will all mention that Piccolo was responsible for nearly destroying the Earth until he was sealed 2000 years ago, but now he’s free and looking to enact revenge on humanity. How exactly did he break free from his confinement? Apparently NOBODY KNOWS OR CARES, at least not enough to tell the audience.

That’s not to say EVERYTHING is bad about this movie. Characters are occasionally true to their manga portrayals in certain ways. Goku is always naive, gets one or two nice lines to show how dumb he is. Master Roshi’s introduction feels very much like Master Roshi except in every scene after that he turns into generic old master. Also, sometimes the action scenes make it feel like a generic action movie, which is to say not super awful. Also my friends and I burst out laughing practically every minute at one bad line after another until we lost count.

An interview with the people who made Dragonball Evolution has members of the cast and crew defending the production, saying that the director succeeded in keeping the spirit of Dragon Ball alive and adapting it just enough to appeal to a wider audience. The problem is that they’re totally wrong and Dragonball Evolution is not faithful to the spirit of Dragon Ball at all. I can go into the many reasons why this is the case, but I’ll just give one: the core of Dragon Ball is represented by its main character Son Goku and his personality: goofy, often very dumb, loves to fight, and has a strong sense of justice when it comes down to it. There’s a certain kind of whimsy and humor that never leaves the series even when planets are being destroyed and limbs are being chopped off. That is to say, Dragon Ball is all about having serious fights never be too serious because it’s always been about the comedy as well. Dragonball Evolution throws all of this out and decides to be an action movie and coming-of-age story like so many others out there. Even if it succeeded in being a well-constructed story with brilliant direction, it would still not be Dragon Ball.

Watchmen is/isn’t Watchmen Enough

In discussing the Watchmen movie, I  feel that I should first describe my own personal situation with Watchmen, as I’ve seen how a person’s level of exposure to the original comic can really color the way a person sees the movie. I read the comic once a year or two ago, and enjoyed it, but never really re-read it or looked at it again between then and the time I saw the Watchmen movie. So I am familiar with the story, and the characters, and I know how it all goes down, but particulars and small details and possibly even visual cues are things I don’t remember particularly well.

The strongest impressions I had of Watchmen were its pacing and its visual style. For the pacing, I noticed somewhere in the middle of watching that it did not feel like it had a typical three-act movie structure.  Does this mean the movie had poor pacing, if it didn’t follow what movies are “supposed to do?” I’m not sure myself, but what it boils down to is that this is definitely the result of converting a comic book directly into a movie, instead of just converting the general theme as they did with Iron Man for example.

As for the visual style, 300 already established Zack Snyder as having a keen sense of action and the glorification of violence, though it’s debatable whether or not it was appropriate for Watchmen. Many I think wanted Watchmen to stick close to the visual style of the comic, which is this sort of ugly and dirty look where characters are all pathetic in their own way, but I don’t know how well the audience would have reacted to such. We’ve seen how viewers and critics react negatively to the very blatant anime-esque feel of Speed Racer, often seemingly not even noticing it was supposed to be like pages from a manga but with real people and bright colors. I personally think the violence was just a tad overdone, but the striking and brutal nature of the fights while perhaps overly stylish I think were good for establishing how the characters were, even if it was different from the comic.

I enjoyed Watchmen, though even now I can’t get a firm grasp on my feelings on it. It was at the very least not boring, and half the actors were fantastic, especially Billy Crudup with his serene  Doctor Manhattan voice, Patrick Wilson playing up the middle-aged and insecure Nite Owl, and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach who captured the character to a tee. No money was wasted in seeing this movie.

Ultimately, what I feel people’s views, including my own, boil down to in regards to the Watchmen is how do you adapt a work like Watchmen? It does not have an extensive history like Spider-Man or Batman from which you could cherry pick while keeping a basic sense of what makes them effective stories. Watchmen is just one book, and its strength lies in how every part comes together from the writing to the art to the characters and their motivations to the little bits here and there and everywhere. Something has to be lost in the transition to the big screen, and there will be endless debates as to whether the choices were right, especially as people themselves prioritize different parts of the comic. And then you have those who didn’t read the comic at all, and then the debates as to whether that makes for a “better” viewing experience or not, to not be chained by the original.

Adaptations are a funny thing going from any medium to the other, and it can be difficult to tell what is a “smart” change that will help unfamiliar people get into a story, or what will be a “stupid” change that is robbing the work of its core and dumbing it down. I’m sure the people working on Dragonball Evolution didn’t go in intentionally sabotaging it. They probably thought that the parts of the manga and anime they changed were changed for the better. Who wants to see a weak girl who can’t fight in Bulma? Give her guns! Who wants an ugly old man playing Shang Tsung the Turtle Hermit? No appeal!

The funny thing about the Watchmen movie is that you have people now complaining that a superhero movie stuck too close to the original source. Years ago, people would have dreamed of being able to have a misgiving like that. The fact that we now have a Hollywood that can produce honestly decent superhero movies on a somewhat regular basis is testament to true change.

Reminder that Shounen Jump’s Special Anime Streaming is About to End

I’m here to remind everyone that January 31st, 2009 is the last day you can see the three  exclusive Shounen Jump anime specials airing on their official website.

I already wrote a review for their Dragon Ball special, so check it out.

The One Piece special is an isolated episode, but it’s the fun and wonder you’ve grown to expect out of One Piece. Even if you’ve never actually seen One Piece before it’ll be all right as long as you’re not afraid of spoilers, as the Straw Hat Pirate crew is pretty far along by this point.

This is Letter Bee’s first anime, and it’s really nice to look at. Kind of atypical for a shounen jump series, Letter Bee feels a little more subdued than expected, which I can only call a good thing.

I’d write longer reviews but I realized that by the time I wrote them, it’d be already too late.

So go forth, young anime fan!

Dragonball: Evolution Trailer is More Disappointing the Second Time Around

Let’s face it, the Dragonball: Evolution trailer is exactly what we thought it would look like when he saw the words “Dragonball” and “Hollywood” together. That darkish color scheme, that voiceover, that trying-hard-to-be-cool-and-relevant feeling, it’s all there just as it was there in our minds. No one should be surprised. Disappointed yes, but not surprised.

When I first watched the trailer I wasn’t paying full attention and there was a scene where a vehicle transforms. Originally I heard Goku say, “Boom,” and I thought, “Hey that’s a pretty clever reference to those comical clouds of smoke that said “BOMB” in big block letters whenever anyone used a Capsule Corp. Capsule in the original material.” Maybe there was an inkling of hope after all.

But no, he actually said, “Cool.”

I’m still gonna go see the movie anyway.

And then hope that James Marsters manages to pull a good performance out of it, like Raul Julia as M. Bison.

Giving Shounen Jump Fans the Bird

Weekly Shounen Jump is celebrating its unbelievable 40th anniversary, and as part of the festivities Shounen Jump has all-new episodes of three of its series. By downloading their own proprietary media player, you can actually watch these episodes subtitled for free until January 2009. One of the titles is One Piece, another is Letter Bee (which I know nothing about). I’ll get to One Piece and Letter Bee’s exclusive episodes another time; this is all about perennial favorite Dragon Ball.

Akira Toriyama’s most famous work is by far the most popular Shounen Jump properties of all time, its worldwide success is rivaled by few other. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that there hasn’t been any new Dragon Ball anime for a long, long time. Even in America the final episodes of GT aired years ago. But some would argue that at some point the Dragon Ball series took a bit of a detour and lost some of its original spirit. Among these critics might be Toriyama himself as this new Dragon Ball anime special feels very much like a return to form, and it’s written by Toriyama too. “Yo! The Return of Son-Goku and Friends!!!” is like a combination of everything that made Dragon Ball popular throughout its incarnations rolled into one.

The story is about Mr. Satan opening up a new hotel to celebrate his victory over Majin Boo and inviting Goku and Friends over for a sumptuous banquet. Some new characters show up, stuff blows up and things get eaten. Really, the story is just a flimsy excuse to get everyone together and for chaos to happen, and it’s the type of chaos which combines the fighting of Z with the humor of the original. Kamesennin is back to wearing his old turtle shell and making lewd comments towards Chi-chi, Goku powers up to Super Saiyan just because, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance but not really. It’s just a single-episode adventure dedicated to the fans and it really shows.

The most notable addition is the introduction of Vegeta’s little brother, Tarble. I’ll let the pun sink in for a second before I move on.

Man, Toriyama.

Tarble would be a spoiler except he’s right there on the front page and in the character descriptions, so he’s fair game. Tarble was sent away long ago by King Vegeta because Tarble lacked any sort of fighting prowess. Having avoided much of the events of Dragon Ball, Tarble even still has his tail. With the existence of Tarble now revealed, it just makes me think that every time Vegeta said something like “WE ARE THE LAST SAIYANS IN THE UNIVERSE KAKARROT!” he was murmuring under his breath, “exceptforthatotheronehrmrmrmr.”  Well Dragon Ball was never super big on maintaining canon anyway so it’s no big deal. It’s just another way of humanizing Vegeta just a little because you’d have expected him to fly over to Tarble at some point and punch him in the face for being so weak. Then again, Vegeta might respect the fact that Tarble tries to fight even when he sucks at it. I’m thinking too much about this, but how could I not when I now know that Vegeta is also Reinhard Von Lohengramm?

If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, I really don’t have to tell you to go watch this, but go watch this. If you’re not a fan of Dragon Ball, or you’re the kind who complains about powering up taking too long, keep in mind that this is just one 20-something minute episode and there’s no time to waste on powering up excessively and standing around. There isn’t even an deserted area in the middle of nowhere to fight and blow things up in! There’s only Mr. Satan’s hotel.

Poor, poor Mr. Satan.

The Idiotic Protagonist

I’ve been taught that the most dramatic stories come from having protagonists who have to do what comes most difficult to them with a fervent desire to accomplish their goals, and lacking intelligence is one way to stack the deck against the main character. You want your hero to struggle, to earn his progress. Protagonists in manga, particularly shounen manga, are often designed to not be the sharpest tool around. Be it Naruto, Goku, or any number of heroes who act before they think (or omit the second part of that combo altogether), the reason why they’re made to be dumb is to make them more of an everyman, to tell its readers, “Hey, this could be you.” However, with some readers an opposite effect occurs, and you’ll often see people gravitate to the supporting characters on account of the heroes being, at least in their eyes, bland or possessing little merit as characters.

In trying to make the hero an everyman, authors run the potential risk of making their hero a no-man, someone to whom the reader simply cannot relate, but I don’t think that’s the problem at hand. I have this feeling that some readers do not wish to see certain negative traits in a story’s most important characters. Sometimes it’s because they’re passive, other times because they’re idiots, and other times because they are totally moe.

There’s a division of sorts when it comes to making this kind of shounen-esque protagonist. Should you have a protagonist that acts as a stand-in for the reader, to allow the reader to be immersed in the world, to feel as if he or she is the one saving the day? Or is it more important that the hero be someone who is already skilled, someone the reader can look up to? Both are paths for readers to live out their fantasies through protagonists, both are forms of wish-fulfillment, but each is different in the types of interaction required by the reader, and people may prioritize one over the other.

I have to wonder if age of the reader factors into this division of stand-in protagonist vs larger-than-life protagonist. The stand-in protagonist is something that I think appeals more to that crowd of boys 12 and under who run around in the school playground pretending they can fire lasers. Meanwhile, the larger-than-life protagonist seems to appeal more to the rebellious teenage crowd. A magazine like Shounen Jump has readers well beyond its originally intended audience of young boys, and disagreements as to what makes a good main character in a shounen series may simply be a result of different groups reading the same story.