05 September 2010

Yeah, but it's the WAY you said it... (from Gamespot)

Magic Knight Rayearth for Sega Saturn

Here's where, despite not actually doing this for any sort of living, I betray my own sense of professionalism by not doing proper research before discussing a topic. During perusals of Hulu's fine selection of animation, I happened upon Magic Knight Rayearth, at one point one of the most difficult anime series to find on either disc or tape, almost as rare and hard to find as the Saturn game. In fact, the only consistently available iteration of the property is in the various printings of the original manga. I absolutely adore the manga, and even have the original Viz prints before Americanized versions of manga went to the original Japanese formats, leaving the books "unflipped" in smaller sizes and printed on cheaper paper.

For the record, I hate the change.

Granted, the publishers' reasons for doing this are understandable. At least, I understand that they wanted to preserve the original page orientations (with the spine of the book on the right-hand side instead of the left), but the smaller format and distinctly inferior (as in, one step above newsprint) paper just rub me the wrong way. Sure, these printing methods allow a volume to be sold at around 10USD instead of the typical 15 or even 18, but at least I felt like I got what I was paying for. Where once I thought 13USD for each volume of Rayearth was a good deal, I now find 10 overpriced. It's one thing for a monthly comic to be printed on cheap paper, since eventually the respective story arcs would be compiled into trade paperbacks, but with manga, the volumes are essentially the final product.

Anyway, here's the aforementioned betrayal: I know the anime series ultimately came ex post facto, but as for the relationship between the manga and the Saturn game, I'm just going to chalk it up to probably being one of those weird, circular relationships like 2001: A Space Odyssey's book and film counterparts. There's probably a Wikipedia page on it, or at least an article somewhere, but I just don't feel like looking it up to confirm chicken/egg conundrum that is Magic Knight Rayearth. In any case, I'll let someone else fill in that little missing piece of information.

As for the anime, I'd forgotten a pet peeve of mine until I started watching. On the whole, between dubs and subs, I had no real preference. In the VHS days, I generally bought dubs because video cassettes didn't technically give you the option to turn off the subtitles, so you always had irritating text genlocked onto the screen. There was also that paradoxical price hike that never made sense to anybody, wherein subtitled versions of anime series were generally about 10USD higher than dubs, despite dubs obviously being more expensive to produce. I'm sure the sales figures justified the difference, but it was still wildly unfair to those who preferred the subtitles; why not make them the same price? Fortunately, DVD seems to have completely nullified the argument, if only on the economic level. Still, there is a situation in which I would genuinely prefer to watch an anime series subtitled, and that's if I'd read the manga first.

This goes all the way back to when, even as a little kid, I dreaded the thought of there ever possibly being an animated version of Calvin & Hobbes. Don't get me wrong, I love Calvin & Hobbes; I still consider it the best newspaper-style comic strip series ever conceived. The problem is, I had my own idea of what Calvin sounded like (I never pegged down a consistent idea as to how Hobbes would sound; for some reason, Calvin just seemed more obvious to me.) and I knew that whoever would be selected to voice the little schizoid sociopath (let's face it, he was one, just look at the Transmogrifier story arc) would "get it wrong" and completely ruin my enjoyment of the comic. The same thing happened with Sonic the Hedgehog; I'd read a little promotional comic in Disney Adventures magazine prior to the game coming out, had my own idea of how the little blue blur sounded, and had that voice in my head (NOT in the schizophrenic sense, mind you) completely shattered when the animated series came out and Sonic was voiced by actor Jaleel White (Yes, THAT Jaleel White).

To be fair, I did warm up to White as well as the voice actor in Sonic Adventure for Dreamcast and all subsequent iterations following. Furthermore, when I think back to that voice I'd heard in my head reading the comic, it actually makes me laugh (Imagine one of the Chipmunks trying to do a Michael Ironside impression, and you'll have a vague idea of what popped into my head all those years ago). With anime, however, it's different, especially since the voice acting business is so small that many actors and actresses so frequently re-appear, typically voicing several characters. It was one thing when Urkel lent his voice to the world's most famous hedgehog; Like Luke Skywalker voicing the Joker, there's enough of a difference in how the actor approaches the character you more often than not don't recognize the voice (I wish I had a camera for some of the times I've told people that Mark Hamill has spent over 10 years playing the Clown Prince of Crime to capture the looks on their faces). When I recognize the voice actor (and if it's "off the mark" on how I think the character would sound), it's jarringly distracting and takes me right out of the experience. At that point, without the immersion and enjoyment, I'm left with critique and analysis of the character (I guess it's me trying to justify or otherwise deduce the casting decision), which can lead to some pleasant surprises.

Something I find interesting with dubs, from a filmmaking standpoint, is how the dubbing can actually change the entire demeanor of a character. If a name were to be given to this phenom, my vote would go to The Madison Effect. Granted, this concept has been present in dubs from day one. In fact, it goes all the way back to the silent era, when silent films had narrators (called Benshi in Japan) who would often embellish or re-interpret the events on screen. Suddenly, a love triangle becomes an overbearing brother protecting his sister from a would-be suitor, a grudge between two gunslingers centers around impressing a woman instead of a past betrayal at a bank heist, and a coded message sought by spies the world over goes from being a geographical record of missile silos to being a recipe for an egg salad sandwich (on a related note, when I first talked about Benshi for a Japanese class, my professor mentioned What's Up, Tiger Lily?, so maybe Tiger Lily Effect is more appropriate?). You get the idea. Anyway, the reason for the name Madison Effect refers to the American localization of CLAMP's own Cardcaptor Sakura (apt since we're talking about Rayearth), specifically the character of Tomoyo, renamed Madison in the English version. In the course of the show, Sakura's efforts to recapture the creatures of the mysterious book The Clow are recorded on video by Tomoyo, who even goes to the trouble of providing stylish outfits for Sakura to wear during her escapades. While this gimmick is consistent between the two versions, the motivations behind it are not. In the US version, Madison is portrayed as opportunistic and self-confident to a fault easily mistakable for callous, even, with her interest firmly rooted in the spectacle of rampaging monsters being defeated and subsequently tamed. In the original version, Tomoyo is practically a polar opposite, shy and soft-spoken, and somewhat creepily-loyal to her friend Sakura, whose costuming and video sessions were a staple of their relationship long before any of the magical creature hunting went down. Call it cynicism about Conservative America, but while this change in the character probably had to do more with cultural differences and attitudes about feminism (borderline Tomboy vs. obvious Wilting Lily) than anything else, it seems more likely the change was motivated by the simple fact that the original portrayal of Tomoyo was just downright creepy.

In the end, I don't think I'll be watching the rest of the series. I can't get past the dub, and the overall presentation, look, and feel of the show simply falls short of the energy and craftsmanship of the manga. Instead, I'm going to turn by attention toward Hulu's presentation of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, a show I have literally not seen in over 15 years.
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