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Monday, January 25, 2010

Black Lagoon - English Dub - Mini Review

I've recently watched the entirety of Black Lagoon in English. Although I'll attempt to refrain from any serious spoilers, in general, this review will be mainly for those who have already seen the anime.

As I have mentioned before in my earlier review of Black Lagoon as a whole. The entire anime was meant to be spoken in English. The main giveaways being that the characters speak with English figures of speech (particularly American) and that most of the main characters have backgrounds from America. That said the transition from Japanese to English isn't much of a stretch here. I would say that it would actually be quite comfortable.

In general, you have to get used to the characters again. Pretend you haven't seen it before. Otherwise, you'll get an odd feeling when you hear the voices. Rock particularly sounds vastly different (and honestly, he should be. Not that I'm saying that Rock's voice should be different but that the tone used by the voice actors is different). Brad Swaile puts a different spin to Rock and it will take some time to get used to. He's good at his job but there will be some bias if you've heard his voice already.

Maryke Hendrikse as Revy will be a big change for everyone. Her style is vastly different than Megumi Toyoguchi's. She's more raspy and the range of Revy's emotions are somewhat wider. Toyoguchi has a more flat, jaded tone that gives Revy that almost constant feeling of a cold distant character whereas Hendrikse gives us a character that's also cold but has openings that pierce harder than the Japanese counterparts. Regardless, they both show off their skill and both pull through as one of the (if not, THE) strongest actors throughout the entire series.

Get a black guy to voice a black guy. This would be Dean Redman's only anime role so far and he does a pretty good job. Good range of emotions and solid work overall. His inexperience does often show up as he sounds too flat during tense moments. At one point, I remember him "yelling" "Get down!" only to be quite disappointed that the line was delivered with such mediocre emotion. There's a moment in the Second Barrage where Dutch swears profusely and angrily. Redman comes up with a line that sounds fairly tame. He's skilled at witty lines and dry humor and so I'm interested to see what other roles he will cover. He needs to work a bit more, but he's definitely potential and he's got a great starting point.

I've always felt that Benny was the weakest character of the series. He has history and his character shows, but with only about one to two episodes where he's a major role, it's hard to judge the actors. Regardless, Brian Drummond seems to suffer from the same problem that Redman has in that his voice lacks a sense of urgency. When he called over to Dutch to drive because the boat was being targeted by TOWs, it seemed very flat. I really don't know how else to put it. There weren't any accents on any particular word (maybe "TOW?" I mean, it's not something you expect.... right?).

Then we have the supporting cast of characters who all give flavor to Black Lagoon. Patricia Drake gives more life to Balalaika than Mami Koyama. She speaks no Russian (which is a bit that I was particularly fond of in the Japanese dub) bu makes up for it in tone. She has a few roles overall but gave Balalaika exactly what the show needed. Her voice fit the character and emotions worked well together. This is definitely one of the best matches to date. To be honest, I forgot how Balalaika sounded in Japanese. Her greatest moment has got to be when Revy is running chores with Rock and they head over to Balalaika who is filtering and editing porn. Right before the cut, you see Balalaika clearly bored out of her mind and Ms. Drake delivers the memorable line "Someone shoot me."

The first season was a great watch and I loved it, but the second season is really where the test is for both dubs and I focused more on that because it proved to be quite brutal in for me in both languages.

You see, the main problem lies in the last arc of the show where Rock and Revy head over to Japan for business. Rock is to be Balalaika's interpretor in which he has to speak Japanese for the Yakuza and here is probably the big spoiler that everyone in Roanapur was speaking English the entire time. This would also be where Toyoguchi fails and she tries to speak english. The rest of the series is fine in Japanese as one my favorite lines are in there.

For the english cast however, it seems that the entire season was painfully hard. I think I realize why Ms. Drake didn't speak Russian. Perhaps it was because she didn't feel comfortable or the director didn't. Regardless it's painfully obvious that the voice actors for Hansel and Gretel, the romanian twins, couldn't speak.... whatever they were trying to speak. It's odd. Jocelyne Lowen (Gretel) isn't particularly new. She has a major part in Galaxy Angel and while Ashleigh Ball (Hansel) didn't have much experience, he had far fewer lines which wasn't much of a problem. However, voices here didn't match very well and then there was the entire part where the director wanted the actors to give off the hints of where they were from by saying (I think) Fratellimeiu?

The Japanese dub covered this particular problem by having the twins speak normally but then Watsup ( the police officer) give the specific hint of how the twins addressed each other. In the same way they were speaking Japanese but actually English, the twins were addressing each other accordingly. They sounded perfectly normal to the viewers but to the characters around them, they were speaking a different language. Regardless, the English dub sounded very off, and it was really a pain for me to hear through all of that...

Greenback Jane arc was fine, so let's leave it at that.

Now here's the moment of truth. All wits put together to give us....
I'm not really sure what to say here.
The way this chapter was handled in English was so completely different than the Japanese one I'm not really sure what to criticize or where to start. But.... I guess I'll start off with the main sequences involving the interpretor.

One thing's certain. Brad Swaile has next to no grasp of the Japanese language and neither does the person they hired to translate. Not only is it extremely rough in tone and mellifluence but the grammatical structure itself is very primitive. Why is this a problem? Rock is Japanese. It's not going to be weird if he can't speak english properly, but it IS going to be weird if he can't speak his native language properly (Probably one of the advantages of having japanese dub anime set in Japan). You can make fun of the Japanese for not being able to speak English properly, but then you better be able to speak Japanese, cause you sure as hell have no right judge. Was it a mistake for the Japanese director to try and make Toyoguchi try to speak English? Yes... Very yes. Does Brad Swaile speak japanese. No.... Very no. The english director has made the same exact mistake. Don't try to squirm your way outta this. If someone hired a coach for Brad Swaile, that would be a whole different story.

Another thing is certain. More often than not, Japanese who speak English have an accent and people in Japan are usually uncomfortable speaking English (surprise). I'm not making fun of anyone for it, I'm looking at this from an objective stance. Here's the directional/fundamental problem here. There was a major language barrier between Ginji and Revy in the Japanese dub (well.... Revy and everyone....) because:

A. Revy can't speak Japanese.
B. Japanese can't speak Revy (English).

But miraculously in the English dub everyone can seem to communicate perfectly fine with the exception of Balalaika and the Yakuza, because either:

A. Revy IS speaking Japanese in the English dub, or
B. Everyone is speaking English with the exception of the yakuza, who speak exclusively Japanese.

Either way, something is really wrong (and B is just downright stupid).

It's quite hard to miss a plot hole like that, and it's even harder to tolerate Lalainia Lindbjerg's role as Yukio Washimine. Never (strong word here) have I heard a role so off. This isn't even a problem with direction. Lindbjerg's voice acting was something else. Never mind language barriers or plot holes, what about acting in general? Her role throughout sounded awkward, filled with an unusual tone followed by flat lines and almost a pure lack of emotion throughout. Or maybe there was emotion, but that was misplaced. What I mean is that her role as Yukio was completely amateur. Let me get this straight. I don't know who she is. Seriously. I didn't know who she was until I went over to anime news network and looked up the English cast for Black Lagoon. Apparently she was Bulma? I don't really follow DBZ at all so I can't judge her work there but her work here was atrocious. Her voice itself fits the role to some extent. It has the mature character that Yukio needs but that's really it. No one speaks like that. If anything a foreigner speaks like that (which wouldn't make sense story wise since Yukio and Rock would be speaking Japanese).

I gotta say, The Second Barrage was a surprise. Not in a good way. The first season was great, this one needs a revision or something.....

As a final side note, something that confused me was the scene between Takenaka and the Japanese tourist at the airport. It was understandable that the tourist had that weird accent when trying to ask for a light, but Takenaka can speak Japanese. His conversation with Rock proved that, so it's awkward that he'd speak English to the tourist when he's (Takenaka) the one that started the conversation. Something that I've known (almost inherently) is that people are comfortable speaking their own native language with others who can also speak it with equal comfort. It SOUNDS stupid, but apparently that doesn't prove to be true in Black Lagoon-land.

Why do I focus so much on the English dub for Black Lagoon? Because it's one of the prime examples of where English dubs can be of equal grade to those who speak english as many Japanese dubs are to Japanese. In all honesty, it's painful listening to English. English itself is a very ugly language being such a frankenstein. This is why singing in English requires many sacrifices (extend vowel sounds, negate hard K sounds, avoid "errrrrrrrrr"). So when something sounds off in English, it's a piercing tone as opposed to Spanish (or japanese, except when you get emphases wrong) or Italian. This is why English dubs need to be polished. Look at Spongebob or Chowder. They get voice actors who work with the characters and it shouldn't be any different for anime.

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