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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The Day the Angel Fell…IN FLAAAAAMES

The 2012 Les Misérables movie was my first experience with the story in any format, and while watching it I had a thought that was probably the last one anyone would have: What if Gundam AGE were more like Les Misérables?

(Warning: Gundam AGE spoilers. Also for Les Miserables, but maybe that’s less of an issue because the book is quite old.)

flitoldyoung

I have a couple of reasons for comparing the two works. First, Gundam AGE, like Les Misérables, is a generational tale with a large cast of characters essentially centered around one strong-willed protagonist. Second, Flit Asuno, the hero of Gundam AGE, is extremely devoted to his quest to crush the enemy who has taken his family and his home, and over time it gets to the point that “eliminate the enemy” becomes a near-dogmatic mantra that he’s created for himself. His unerring path had me drawing parallels to Inspector Javert and his single-minded pursuit of Jean Valjean, while Javert’s personality that would have him rescue a man from robbers and then arrest the same man for not paying taxes further reinforces this comparison.

Gundam AGE suffers from not being able to properly bridge its generational shifts. The choice as to which characters remain and which ones leave (either by death or simply by never being on-screen again) feel rather arbitrary in that show, and so it loses the momentum that a work like Les Misérables manages to keep right until the end. So, if it were possible to revise Gundam AGE, I would make it more like Les Miserables but centered around Javert, with Flit of course being in that role of the straightforward devotee of justice, also reworking the enemy Vagans to be multiple characters playing the role of Jean Valjean-like antagonists, characters who challenge Flit’s black and white world view. However, I would also keep the element from the original Gundam AGE where Flit has a child and a grandchild who eventually rescue him from himself in his old age, so that his life doesn’t end as tragically as Javert’s. I’ve not read the book, but I know it is much more complex than the musical, and I could see a proper story existing somewhere between the two, depending on the audience desired, as well as other factors such as where exactly the broad strokes of the story should be focused.

Of course, there’s one last question to consider: would this version of Gundam AGE have singing? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.