krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
In a post reflecting on the anime I had watched in the first four months of this year, I mentioned how I'd made one more try at the experiment of rewatching one episode a day of Zeta Gundam, a "mecha" anime from the 1980s. I got through with no technical hitches this time, but my reactions to the series are still prickly and diffuse, and I wound up saying that the slight aggravation of days where I had to get that episode in to the exclusion of anything else left me uncertain about trying anything similar any time soon... and then, at the beginning of May, I started another experiment. Again, I was rewatching a mecha anime from the 1980s, one that accusations of "replaced music" and "imprecise translation" swirled around the form of it I first saw... and yet, one that's long been a personal favourite. Well before I had run into anything like stern declarations of it being a supreme achievement against which all subsequent works would be found wanting (which don't really show up for it anyway), I had managed to see it myself... more or less. The anime was Macross, in which a gigantic starship crashes to Earth in the distant and futuristic year of 1999 to be rebuilt just in time to face alien invaders also giant but ultimately human, which became the first part of Robotech. What was more, the experience was a little different this time around again. After seeing (all of it at last) "Robotech: The Macross Saga" in English and then watching Macross with its original Japanese music and dialogue subtitled (in a subtitle-only release), I was now experiencing a new English dub of Macross as Macross... in itself, something unusual for me.

Near the end of close to a decade of running on memories of having seen Robotech, eked along by reading its novelisations and role-playing game modules, I worked out little by little that the show had in fact come from Japan, and that there was indeed more animation coming from there. Before I could work up the courage to find and watch some of that new revelation myself, I was off to university, where I joined the anime club there. Just about everything it showed was in Japanese with subtitles: still emerging from the first years of the North American anime industry, many noisy fans had formed the impression that English dubs in general were poorly done, and communicated it every chance they got. I wasn't certain about that myself... and yet, I didn't want to become certain. By the time I started buying anime myself, DVDs had eliminated having to choose between dubbed tapes and subbed tapes, but I still made certain to switch to the Japanese track every time.

By that time, though, some anime fans were starting to push back against casual anti-dub certainty, arguing that the performances in dubs were improving all the time. Something about their determination and glass-half-full optimism appealed to me... although, for all that I kept up with their positivity, I still tended to steer clear of the English tracks. If a particular dub got particularly wide-spread praise, I might dare to try it, and I did like Cowboy Bebop and FLCL in English... As well, though, I did watch a few anime series that were lucky enough to get on television up here, and while their dubs weren't always as roundly praised, I was far from bothered by them.

The opportunity to watch the new English dub of Macross sort of snuck up on me. I needed to "ballast" out an order to get free shipping from an online store, and the first volume of the new release was on the discount list. Greatly daring, I ordered the disc and listened to the English track, and it seemed that I could agree with the positive comments of the dub fans about it... and the volume had come with an empty box that could do with filling. I wound up ordering the remaining discs when they came on sale, in the process filling up my "backlog" a little more and moving me a little closer towards deciding I would cut down on my preorders...

Was I, perhaps, better able to contemplate new voices speaking English because I had heard that language before in connection with Macross's animation? Perhaps. I do know I found myself comparing the new dub about as much to Robotech as to the Japanese dialogue of Macross. During the first few episodes (of about the first volume or so), the two performances that impressed me the most were, perhaps usefully enough, the two lead roles at that point in the story. I had already been impressed by Vic Mignogna's performance in "Fullmetal Alchemist", and I thought he also did a good job as the protagonist Hikaru Ichijo, a young stunt pilot caught up in the war. The other role was in some ways quite distinctive: Mari Iijima, the person who had first played the idol singer Lynn Minmay in Japanese, had since then moved to the United States and started a career there, and now she was playing Minmay again. She still has a distinct accent, one the dub's director excused in a commentary track by pointing out that her character was supposed to have lived in Japan where everyone else had lived on an international island, but again I thought she carried across character and emotion quite well. Some of the other roles seemed to me to be delivered with a little more force than subtlety at first, but they all seemed to grow in appeal to me with time. A few roles, surprisingly enough, I found more reminiscent of the way the characters had turned out in Robotech than the way they struck me when first listening to Macross in Japanese, but again I wasn't bothered by them. One thing that some people had tried to make a very big deal of was that everyone was pronouncing "Macross" differently from the way it had been said in Robotech, but I suppose I eventually got used to it with the thought that it could be a way to distinguish the new dub from Robotech.

As with when I first watched the Japanese-language Macross, I did find myself comparing the new dub to well-established memories of Robotech. For a long time, Robotech was a frequent target of abuse from some anime fans, whether because it wasn't the original or because Carl Macek, the man who made the largest deal of having helped to make it, had brought some other anime series to the nascent North American market in dubbed form only. As if in annoyed response to that, I developed a strong antipathy to the accusations that Robotech somehow presented a "destroyed" form of Macross. Suggesting that Macross is an even better experience than Robotech is one thing and an opening to debate, but it doesn't seem quite right to me to put down the experiences of those who saw even Robotech and became caught up in it even for a while. There are plenty of moments where Robotech and Macross remain very similar... although I suppose I do have to admit there are also plenty of moments where Robotech's dialogue tries to say something different about Macross's animation. In some ways, though, those differences don't always seem intentional. There's a "pilot dub" included as an extra in the first volume of the new release, one produced before the name of a line of imported model kits was attached to a series extended to make it long enough to sell in weekly syndication, and a good number of the changes that distinguish that episode of Robotech from Macross (for example, in Macross Earth's "reaction weaponry" destroys an enemy ship and those watching are aghast; in Robotech the enemy leaders stare at the wreckage of their own ships but ask only why Earth is using "such primitive weapons") are already there. What's more, a lot of the references to "Protoculture," a now-rare energy source with apparent applications to genetics, in Robotech are pretty much the same as the references to "Protoculture," the now-extinct species that created the aliens half a million years ago, just as if the differences had perhaps been established during what I've long heard was a rather hurried production. In any case, one of the more significant ambiguities I've felt about Macross won't change no matter what dialogue in whatever language is attached to it. The animation is very inconsistent; there are some episodes that look as good as anything other anime I've seen from the 1980s (probably helped by the character designs), and there are some episodes that have been handed off to a fourth-string animation studio, and everything and everybody looks harshly outlined, flatly coloured, and more or less misshapen.

In any case, the experience was actually kind of fun. Whole days when I wasn't watching anything with subtitles at the bottom of the screen made for an interesting change. I may, though, be just a step or two closer to a day when I'm comfortable switching betwen Japanese and English language tracks as the fancy strikes me.

Date: 2007-06-08 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reihla.livejournal.com
Woah, back up. You mean you're watching Robotech in the original Japanese? How fun! Here's a laugh. I have most of the Robotech series (the early American release) on some very old VHS tapes. :) I remember getting hooked on it when they finally took StarBlazers (my very first - and favorite - memory of Japanese animation) off my local programming menu. Wow, I haven't thought of that in forever. :) I remember I wasn't crazy about the actress who voiced Minmei.. I think her name was Reba West. I'll have to check out Mari Iijima's English version.

Date: 2007-06-09 12:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] krpalmer.livejournal.com
Strictly speaking, it wasn't the "original Japanese" I was watching this time around (that was released on DVD a few years ago now), but a new, more faithful English adaptation of it. Still, I'm glad that somebody found this post interesting.

I suppose I was a little too young to even hear about Star Blazers until well after the fact, although I do know it was a formative experience for a good number of people. I also know that a lot of Robotech fans and watchers weren't a big fan of Reba West's Minmei: some point to the performance, some to certain bits of rewriting, some to that she didn't have as many songs as in the original. The original Minmay, on the other hand, was very popular. (One particular opinionated Robotech fan declared there weren't as many differences between the two characters as everyone else thought, just that characters like her are more acceptable to the Japanese mindset... but I'm not absolutely sure I agree with everything he's ever said.) The differences in character may make the "love triangle" a bit different between the two shows... one difference I was sort of surprised to see between Robotech and Macross was that Robotech's narrator, who has a much greater role than Macross's, seems to make Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes's interest in each other explicit much earlier than it seemed for Hikaru Ichijo and Misa Hayase in Macross.

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