Tag: voice actors

Anime Pet Peeves

inuyasha

I’ve recently had the opportunity to watch more anime and it’s been good for the soul. It brings me back to simpler times in college when I had only $133 to my name but no real expenses to speak of after food. Hence, anime was the flaming garbage can I chose to dump a lot of my money into.

Over time that sort of lifestyle started to become increasingly unlivable. I mean, there was more and more money after I graduated (for reasons entirely unrelated to the diploma I received, I assure you). But the idea of spending three-quarters of my available funds on buying anime started to become more and more pathetic as I started making larger and larger amounts of money.

Not to mention the huge amount of debt (for reasons very much related to the diploma I received) I had to pay off every month.

But now anime is pretty much free to stream. (Cough, plug for Crunchyroll, cough.) So aside from that small cough, things are good here.

On the other hand, anime is a bit of an emergent property – a larger whole that isn’t obvious from its smaller pieces. Adorably stupid characters become infuriating after thirty episodes. Overpowered characters are obviously going to be the solution to any problem after you see them do just that for the tenth time. In short, you may want to think twice about binge-watching anime. Like cheese, what’s pleasant in small chunks might become essentially indigestible in large enough amounts.

Anyway, you know the drill by now. Bold first sentences. Supporting evidence. Let’s do this.

Relationships that never progress. Pretty much every series feels obligated to have a relationship these days. Even in cases where an ancient evil is on the verge of breaking out of its magical seal and bringing about the end of the world. I mean, we need to reach the top of the Mountain of Spirits in the next four hours or else fire will rain from the sky until the end of time, but you know…let’s have a filler episode where the girl takes the hero shopping and she’s not sure whether it’s a date or not.

I’ve made my peace with these, no matter how tacked on they feel. But you’d think there’d occasionally be some sort of resolution. Nope. For the most part, any time a couple seems to actually be progressing there’s some misunderstanding or a one-episode villain who steals a kiss or a fog that gets everyone drunk and they’re so embarrassed of confessing their true feelings that it sets them back again. And we’re stuck in a holding pattern until the main character’s undead ex-girlfriend dies all over again.

I actually started that paragraph speaking in a general sense, but by the end, I’m pretty sure I was just talking about “Inuyasha.” Wow. Through almost 200 episodes and four movies, the closest thing we got to romantic progress was a non-canon movie kiss.

Granted, depending on your interpretation of the ending, Inuyasha and Kagome eventually got married, but that was a pretty long walk for a thirty second payoff.

And speaking of not knowing how to resolve things…

Series that don’t know how to end. Maybe they knew how in the beginning. Maybe they had a good idea where they were headed. But by episode 800, it’s pretty clear that their actual intent is to wait until the Sun goes red giant and vaporizes the Earth, thus ending it all for them.

I don’t mind long series. In fact, I’ve rather enjoyed a number of series with an upwards of 26 or 52 episodes of very rewarding story. Both the “Fullmetal Alchemist” series were over 50 episodes. “Yu Yu Hakusho” was pretty great, too, and that was well north of 100.

“Case Closed,” on the other hand, is currently sitting around 832 and is as close to ending as it was fifteen minutes through the first episode. (The creator mentioned having an ending in mind, but that was in 2007 so I’d take it a grain of salt.) Even if it ended tomorrow it’s build itself up so far that no outcome could be worth the wait. It would be like your parents giving you nothing for Christmas for 17 years in a row. By that point you’d probably just give up on the whole mess or (more likely) assume you were Jewish.

Series with a perfectly good ending and then they just kept going. I get it. Money is a thing. And writers and artists tend to get more by continuing a series than they would by stopping and holding out their hands to random passersby on the street.

The classic example was “Dragon Ball Z.” Depending on who you ask, it was originally planned to end earlier or much, much earlier. As a result we slogged onto a few different planets, through a few more enemies who absorbed people to become stronger and what felt like seven or eight years of “Dragon Ball GT.” And say what you want about the material that followed, it’s always best for a series to end on its own terms on a high note than to be run into the ground.

A more recent example (specifically of the “running into the ground” variety) was “Bleach.” Despite having a perfectly good ending after our hero gave up his powers to defeat the enemy-turned-god-turned-butterfly-turned-god-again, they decided to head into another long training arc where he regained his power on the way to continuing his adventures. Only…he didn’t. Sure. I mean, he got his powers back, but with the sudden end of the series immediately after, it was a lot of run-up for a very short jump.

Or, maybe more accurately, a stumble directly onto its face.

Oh, and this crossed my mind while I was writing this, so consider it a bonus. It’s not technically a problem with anime itself. But it did come up an awful lot while I was trying to finish a few of the longer series that hadn’t finished getting dubbed yet.

Starting a series in one language, then switching to another. This isn’t a question of whether the original Japanese or English voice actors are better. Like the reddish stream running behind the local Pepsi bottling plant here, that’s an argument I just don’t feel like wading into at the moment.

(For me personally, it depends. Having a kid means it’s nice to watch subtitled anime when he’s around during the occasional flurry of f-bombs. And other times, well, if I wanted to read I’d get a book. Or, more likely, I’d get an audiobook so history’s most pleasant British people could read it to me.)

In any case, there’s something just fundamentally wrong with the characters switching voices in the middle of a series. Recently I tried watching “Cowboy Bebop” in the original Japanese. After listening to Steve Blum nail Spike Spiegel over the past twenty years, it’s weird to hear some other guy’s voice coming out of his mouth. It would be like your mom suddenly having a new voice when you woke up one morning. And also, she was speaking Dutch.

Unless she started out as Dutch and…well, you get my point.

Since I’ve been watching a lot more new anime as it comes out recently, I tend to watch more of it in Japanese first with English subtitles. And yes, it’s just as weird the other way. I tried watching some of it translated and it feels like everyone is talking in slow motion or something.

Also, people scream differently in English versus Japanese. You’d think being terrified would have the same sound no matter where in the world you were. Then again, you’d be just as surprised looking at one country’s list of animal sounds compared to another’s. What does the rooster say? Kikiriki? Like hell he does.

In the grand scheme of things I realize it’s a minor nitpick, but aren’t they all, really?

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Abridged Series Where Less is More

Author’s Note: Yes, I realize “Abridged too Far” was low-hanging fruit so far as pun-based titles go, but it sounded like the opposite point I was trying to make here. And no, that doesn’t take the sting out.

a-bridge-too-far

Author’s Note 2: I’m still using it for the title picture, though, because Sir Sean Friggin’ Connery.

For those not in the know, an abridged anime series is more or less what it sounds like. You take an existing series and shorten it in one of two ways. The first of these is to cut out filler strictly for the purpose of streamlining it. (The only two examples I can think of were both done by the same studio as a means of fixing a broken series – “Evangelion” and “Dragon Ball Z.”) The second, objectively better way is to cut the show in such a way that it’s essentially a different, more hilarious show.

An abridged series isn’t just a very short series, like “Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.” Although, that show was very short. And frankly, hilarious.

But as I’m so fond of saying by way of teasing future columns, that’s a whole other thing.

For the sake of completeness, I’m going to talk about four here – half of the first variety and half of the second. Of course, there are many more than just four of these, but you should understand that these are almost exclusively fan works. Thus, their overall quality often varies somewhere between the low end of mediocre and the lower end of MS Paint.

Dragon Ball Z Kai. Despite getting into other anime in high school, I didn’t watch Dragon Ball Z until about two years into college. I still remember to this day the conflicted feelings I had over watching Vegeta and Cell scream at one another for two entire episodes on the way to Vegeta’s ultimate decision to stop fighting entirely.

As far as places to get into Dragon Ball Z go, it was probably the worst imaginable. It showcased the worst flaws in the fight scenes while accomplishing nothing at all, all with essentially no outcome. And given that it was an episode central to the main plot, I couldn’t even give it the “filler pass” I tend to give scenes where Goku wants to learn to drive or when Gohan wants to date some random girl just to pad out time.

When I heard about Dragon Ball Z Kai, I was cautiously optimistic. It offered a tighter story presented with more modern animation techniques. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, the voice actors could realize they’ve been doing the same voices for roughly eighty years and totally phone it in.

Okay. So I realize that’s both harsh and untrue. These are people who love the series, I’m sure. Nobody was just coming in for a paycheck, at least as far as I know. But after so long of yelling the same attack names (and just plain yelling), it’s understandable that their performances (and vocal chords) would start to get a little tired.

Especially when this was literally Dragon Ball Z again – just shorter. No new plot points. No new anything. It ended up being more or less exactly what was promised, delivered in such a way that almost no one was happy.

DBZ Abridged. I didn’t discover this series on YouTube until about a year ago, but trust me when I say it was well worth the wait. As much as the creators of the original series might hate to hear it, I honestly consider this the definitive way of getting from one end of the series to the other with you interest still intact.

Most of the plot points are actually untouched, meaning you could watch the entire series in maybe a quarter of the time and still know almost everything that happened. (Almost as if it’s some sort of abridged series. Gasp!) Sure, Goku is an idiot, Vegeta is constantly furious and Krillin is just plain pathetic, but most of the character changes are exaggerations rather than outright changes.

Except for Popo being a vaguely racist masochist, which in my opinion is an improvement over his bland, forgettable performance in the original.

The dialogue is snappy and memorable. It’s infinitely quotable. And except for its nasty habit of being hit with legal claims by the original copyright holders every few weeks, it’s probably one of the best things not on television right now. Like, seriously, top three. You need to go watch it right now whether you like anime or not.

In an extremely meta joke, here’s Dragon Ball Z Kai Abridged – an abridged abridged series.

Rebuild of Evangelion. For those of you who haven’t watched the original Evangelion series, I want to spoil this for you. And no, that wasn’t a typo. I would love to spoil this for you. The only trouble is, nobody knows how the hell it ended.

Evangelion is essentially the anime version of an Olympic runner falling in the home stretch after absolutely dominating the competition. Or it would be, if that Olympian failed so badly that his greatest fans went on to petition for his execution the next time he tried to run a race. It starts out as a coming-of-age story involving teenagers dealing with their own problems. Also, they save humanity from giant monsters-of-the-week by piloting equally-giant mechs. And if anything, it’s even better than it sounds…until it just crumbles before your eyes.

There are a lot of rumors about what happened with the last two episodes. Money problems. Studio meddling. The director wanting to create a giant middle finger to the fanbase that would live on long after his mortal flesh decayed. Either way, it was about fifty minutes of flashing pictures and giant naked girls in space while the main character loses his mind and everyone turns into puddles of orange liquid.

Interspersed with some admittedly awesome mech battles, but still…

Many people were thrilled when they heard the series was being remade in fourĀ  movies that condensed down the plot. Finally, it meant we could put all the ugliness behind us and see the story we’d wanted to see from the beginning. And then it fell apart again. In exactly the same way.

The first two movies are admittedly gorgeous. And I think I prefer them to even the solid original work. But episode three starts in a weird dystopian future after the world ended and nothing quite makes sense anymore. Episode four seems to be on indefinite hold and may or may not ever be released. Either way, the sudden shift of the narrative in exactly the same direction as the first time it got screwed up suggests it doesn’t really matter. Jesus Christ giving a piggyback ride to Hayao Miyazaki couldn’t save it at this point.

After all these years, it seemed a remarkably odd choice to tear down the wreckage of the original, shrug and then rebuild the same pile of wreckage all over again.

SAO Abridged. There are a lot of ways you could compare SAO Abridged to DBZ Abridged. Both are fan remakes of popular shows. Both were tweaked to offer a more humorous take of their original source material. The main difference between them was that Dragon Ball Z was good, whereas Sword Art Online was a dumpster fire.

It’s one thing to take a good series and make it better. It’s one thing to take a good series and make it worse. But turning Sword Art Online into a pleasant watching experience is nothing short of lead-to-gold-level alchemy.

This, however, does come with two small caveats. The first and worst of which is that I think you actually benefit from watching the original series beforehand. It’s certainly not mandatory. I just feel like I gained an entirely new insight from watching them one and then the other. Of course, your mileage may vary. I fully understand if watching twenty-six episodes of the original is a bit too much of an investment to squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of the abridged follow-up.

Especially when it starts to slide into weird slug hentai around episode eighteen for no particular reason whatsoever.

The second caveat, though it may go without saying, is that it’s a far less faithful adaptation of the story. The overarching stories are the same, though the characters and episodes are just plain different. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, especially when the dull, half-dimensional characters from the original didn’t give them much to work with. I’m just saying that they’re essentially two different series that just happen to have the exact same footage.

In the best possible way.

I should also note (as caveat two point five) that SAO Abridged does have the same problem when it comes to copyright holders. Despite Fair Use being fairly clear on parodies, each and every episode has been taken down thus far for as long as month while Sony Music (of all copyright holders) files suit. But as long as you catch it immediately after uploading each new episode or don’t mind a little wait, it’s not much of a problem.

Since I don’t have anything shorter to preview…I don’t know. Just watch the first episode.

There’s no real conclusion to this, though it kind of has me wondering if there are any other quality abridged series out there. I may have a look around. Assuming I find anything worth posting, I’ll be sure to include them in a followup.

Suggestions, naturally, are welcome.