Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dubbing D: The other half of my war with the Dhampir Hunter

So, after working a good 9-10 hours on the subtitles for a certain yaoi show I'm THIS CLOSE to having in my box o' master DVD's, I'm looking at another title to work on, one that appeals to an audience that doesn't expect graphic buttsex in their anime. Which is difficult when both gay and straight hentai features it.

I'm talking about the 2000 follow-up to the Vampire Hunter D OVA, KAWAJIRI Yoshiaki's VAMPIRE HUNTER D. Now, the title is an 'iffy situation, since in Japan the title was literally just "Banpaiaa Hantaa D". So what was the original 1985 OVA called? Kyuuketsuki Hantaa D. Even though the title card was in English. I know, it doesn't make any goddamn sense. Welcome to Official Japanese Spellings. So when the 2000 movie was released in America, it was called "Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust", which I will also call it, since otherwise my brain will just start to hurt as I try to differenciate both films.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust was something of a strange breed internationally. When it came out on DVD in America in 2001, it featured only the English dialogue, something that was almost unheard of at the time; featuring both Japanese and English audio tracks with optional English subtitles has (thankfully) become pretty much the standard in anime distribution in America. But the Japanese DVD had the same thing; English dialogue, Japanese subtitles. And if you had a chance to see it in Japanese theatres... well, you get the point. The simple fact of the matter is the English dub was recorded first, and the mouth flaps were... well, they were essentially generic, made to match an unfinished, essentially raw translated version of the English script.

Why would an anime - quite literally a Japanese film made for a Japanese audience - do this? The answer is simple, really; snob appeal. While Japan makes some of the most stunning and innovative Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy films, they aren't really any more popular in Japan than they are in the states. Remember that anime is literally only 2% of the total home video market in America, and while in Japan the scales are tipped to a higher percentage, the actual number of DVD's and the like sold is more or less the same. (Certainly Japan makes more profit from selling 2 episodes at $50+ a disc, but the number of crazy fans willing to actually pay for it is pretty comparable.) So, Kawajiri, knowing that making money back on an epic fantasy film in theatres would be difficult, played the snob card; the majority of Hollywood films released in Japan (which far outsell local movies more often than not) are presented in English with Japanese subtitles on the big screen, and then on DVD there's an optional Japanese dub, should you be in to that sort of thing. Despite Kawajiri not speaking a word of English (or at least not enough that he can be interviewed in it), he decided that a film that was in English with Japanese subtitles would appeal to people who had to see every "Artistic" English language film, which isn't so far off from why generally only arthouse fare is shown subtitled in American theatres. And so it was decided that Bloodlust's "original" language would be English.

But what about the home video market, you cry? Or at least wonder off handedly, or perhaps none at all. Well, Kawajiri also directed a Japanese language version of the film specifically for the DVD release. What he didn't plan on was that when the English version had both Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks ("full bitrate", as Japan tends to do) the tracks were so large that they literally couldn't fit the Japanese audio tracks on the DVD. So several months later, a second Japanese only DVD was created and released to the public. Meanwhile, in America, the film was released in English - the original language - with no subtitle options. This made sense, really; the reason you watch a film in it's original language is to see the film the director wanted it to be seen. And Kawajiri wanted you to see Bloodlust in English. But there's a basic problem with this theory: Bloodlust in English isn't all that good.

Not to say the actors are terrible. They're all professional voice actors in the US, which is to say they generally put in a better vocal performance than the average "normal" live actor. (Watch the Disney dubs for Miyazaki's films with Uma Thurman and Gillian Anderson and tell me the performances come across as natural. Go on, do it. There's a reason we have actors dedicated to training their voice alone; when you only have your voice, any subtle nuance you may have had in your mannerisms is gone.) The problem is three fold; the first is that the script wasn't "finished" when the mouth flaps were animated, thus leaving the US staff to re-write a re-written translation on the fly to make it both seem nautral in English, and actually match the flaps (serifu) the already finished animation left them. The second problem is the film in a very real sense would play to deaf ears; with the English and not-fantasy-oriented audience being the targeted demographic, rather than a handfull of hardcore fans who read the book (which is currently available in English under the title "Vampire Hunter D: Demon Death Chase"). This led to a lot of narration and changed personalities to act as walking exposition, explaining as much of the storyline and the "world" of 12,090 AD as they thought they could get away with. This also leads to narrated monoloues with Meier Link bitching about how lonely his eternal life is and of who Carmilla was - never mind that Kawajiri stole her from another novel entirely. And finally, here's the big one... KAWAJIRI DOESN'T SPEAK ENGLISH (as noted above), ergo, how the -fuck- can he judge what a "good" English language performance from his actors is?

Now let me state something here that a good number of people - probably none of them who will ever read this - don't want to hear; not every Japanese voice actor, or seiyuu, is a God of their craft. Certainly, KAMIYA Akira (City Hunter's Ryo), HAYSABARA Megumi (teh rei!!1 herself), UTSUMI Kenji (Nosferatu Zodd in Berserk), IWAO Junko (Devilman Lady), MITSUISHI Kotono (Excel Saga's title character) and plenty of others have cemented their talent and fame for years to come. But not every single Japanese actor is on that level, and a great many of them never will be. Just because they emote louder and longer than their English counterparts doesn't instantly make them any better at it. To cite a popular example from both camps, both NAKATA Jouji and Crispin Freeman make a damn fine Alucard in the HELLSING TV series. Their tone of voice and delivery on plenty of sequences is almost identical, and I sincerely think this is more a matter of both of them understanding and enjoying the role rather than Freeman just impersonating Nakata -that well-. I could well be wrong. But it's a good example of where the argument falls apart somewhat. Both of these actors are pretty damn good, and have both the tone and the skill needed to make the character come to life in whichever language you prefer. That's not to say I haven't hated Freeman in other dubs (particularly as the nasaly and irritating Nishi in GANTZ; sorry Chris, but YABE Masashi kicked your ass on that one), or to say I even prefer English dubs in general. This is just a good example to say that, sometimes, the acting on both tracks is comparable, if not almost identical. I prefer Nakata, but only slightly. Some English dubs are good, some aren't. The same can be said of Japanese dubs.

Some of the worst Japanese dubs are - unsuprisingly - in the form of hentai dubs. Particularly when certain studios decided that using AV Girls (ie; pornstars) in hentai would be easier than convincing not-adult actresses to try moaning like they were being raped by tentacle monsters. Much like the dubs produced by Nutech Digital years later that feature Jenna Jameson and Asia Carrera - among plenty of other name brand pornstars - the Japanese dubs featuring AV Girls often have great performances in the sex scenes, and wretched performances elsewhere. Urotsukidoji is mostly free of this problem, as was Gedou Gakuen (Nightmatre Campus), but the Japanese versions of DEMON BEAST INVASION and ADVENTURE KID are positively riddled with lame, whiny, horrendous performances across the board. I'm sure these were amusing to fans of the girls' pre-existing videos, but as a fan of MAEDA Toshio animation their performances are utterly grating and horrific. It's not quality, it's not amusing, and sadly it's not even sexy. It's just BAD. But in the same way that Nutech whoring that Jenna Jameson did a porno cartoon probably helped Words Worth make some dough in the US, I'm sure these god-awful performances (by girls who, admittedly, are cute as a button) AV Girls helped boost sales back in Japan.

La Blue Girl whored it's pornstars pretty hard on the video jackets too, but Miiko herself wasn't bad. Yaku the werewolf ninja girl, 0n the other hand... *Shudder*

That's not to say that all hentai dubs are bad. But when you watch a wide variety of performances - over many, many titles and several years preferably - you get a feel for who's geninely doing well and who's just sorta' phoning the performance in. Saying that SHIMADA Bin can act, for instance, is a bit like saying Bob Sapp. It's not entirely true. Bin is the MAN; he was Riki-Oh, he was Broli, he was Yuda (Fist of the North Star's deadly answer to Doctor Frank N. Furter), and in a very real sense his deep and forceful voice is the embodiment of bloody, manly 80's anime. But that doesn't mean he can do much else. When not screaming things like "I am the devil!" and "is that the best you've got?", his voice is rather... well, unimpressive. Mellow, you might say. His performances - at least those I've been privy to (I'll admit I've never heard him in things like Sailormoon or Marmalade Boy...) - are always entertaining, but they're not terribly varied, and I'd love to think that the man can act, but I've yet to hear any proof of it. He's sort of like Bob Sapp: Bob is an awesome force of nature, a shaven gorilla with a friendly disposition, but I'd shudder to call his acting (in DEVILMAN and IZO, of all films) "perfection". Infact, in Devilman he plays a nervous American newscaster and is... well, pretty awful. He puts in a compitent, high school play sort of performance, but nothing that utilizes the fact that the man is a 10 foot tall tank. But in Izo, he plays a demon - a monsterous guardian who's job it is to laugh all spooky like and throw NAKAYAMA Kazuya through walls and stomp on his head. Sapp is amazing as a walking hand of death. Newscaster, not so much. So this is indicative that Sapp isn't the greatest actor in the world, merely that he's spectacular in the right role. Which is that of kicking people's asses. Considering he's an ex-Ultimate Fighting Championship guy rather than a professionally trained actor, this isn't a big suprise. SHIMADA Bin, meanwhile, is the vocal equivalent of Mr. Sapp.

All this having been said, I'd never, ever say a less than complimentary thing to Sapp's face. Have you seen those hands? He could pop my head like a grape!

So, we've established that bad acting is a problem all across the world. Some are good, some are bad, some are made to look good, and some just plain suck no matter what you do with them. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is somewhere in the middle of both of these extremes. There are up's and down's on both language tracks. The biggest advantage of the Japanese version is that there's far LESS narration holding the viewer by the hand, explaining every little nuance and concept that they'd either figure out on their own or probably ignore in time. It's like one of those audio tracks for blind people, explaining the visuals in between dialogue so they can enjoy a movie sonically. It's not a bad thing if Bloodlust was made for the blind, but I don't think all that spectacular animation was put there by accident, so I'm going to have to go with that not being the intention. At all. On the other hand, with the English version having been made very flexible for generic dialogue flaps (known as serifu) the Japanese version ends up being the track that matches up far less for once. This is a fairly common problem with anime, truth be told, particularly on lower budget productions. Usually the voice actors watch an unfinished animatic with text that pops up saying 'serifu', and that's where the dialogue goes. When the animation is finished the mouth flaps are edited to match the pre-existing perfomances. So it's not animated specifically for the mouth flaps (as more expensive movies are, from time to time)... it's just edited to a rough approximation. Meanwhile, the English version is done at a far later date with finished animation to match up to. It definately shows in Bloodlust, and while the Japanese cast is more than compitent, there's only so much that can be done without re-writing the script from the ground up.

Some sequences and characters also come across as far more likable. For one thing, the old Barberois in the film was turned in to a homosexual in the English version, for no apparent reason. Certainly he was written as an old cook in the Japanese version, but there was no lengthy/disturbing sequences of him talking about how if he were younger he'd totally be all up in D's grill. Ew. Another character that made off far better is Leila, who on the English track is given a perhaps fitting voice that makes her sound like she should be wearing a tool belt and spitting chewing t'backey. Her character design - the usual pointy, somewhat masculine schtich that Kawajiri's good at - is unfeminine enough, and the English version just makes her in to the scariest facial hair hiding man hating dyke imaginable*. The Japanese performance is no shrinking violet either, but at least you're not expecting a penis to fall out of her jumper. It's something. Borgoff also comes across as far more natural on the Japanese track, the actor having the pipes and dedication to make the scruffy looking bounty hunter appear more like a threat to D's very existance rather than some soft-toned loser who can't talk with the cigar sticking out of his mouth constantly. None of the English performances are awful... and I've never thought they were. I just don't think they were as good as they could have been, and more often than not that's the fault of the dubbing director. Who, again, didn't speak English.

*Granted, Leila as a character is hard to pin down anyhow; maybe mean-spirited man hating lesbian is exactly what Kawajiri was going for, both in the character design and the casting process. The movie made her a survivor of a vampire attack as a child, who afterwards ran off with the Markus brothers as a sort of epic revenge angle, which works in the film's context just fine. In the original novel, she was a feminine enough character who wanted to quit the family business of hunting vampires and run off to get married. This led her psychotic brothers to kill her beau and rape her on the altar: yep, even Grove crawled on his belly for sloppy fourths of his beloved sister. And yes, she still traveled around with them hunting vampires afterwards... an easier to accept story than it probably ought to be in a world where Stockholm Syndrome exists. Maybe if this history were left intact in the film it would give her demeanor more credence, but just like Guts in the Berserk anime randomly screaming "DON'T TOUCH ME!" to his comrades it lacks the same impact when, in the original manga, we see him ass-raped as a child. Okay, I'm done talking about nasty almost corpse-rape. For today anyway.

That's not to say the Japanese track is entirely perfect either. As I've mentioned, the forced timing makes it 'look' more dubbed than the English version, which is part of why dubbing in and of itself isn't preferable. (Granted if you shoot without synch-sound and even dub the same actors back in, it often looks fake too. That's the way of the film industry.) For one thing, D is... well, he's not who he used to be. Which is no suprise, considering that SHIOZAWA Kaneto, the seiyuu who played him in 1985, is currently dead. RIP, man. His performance was something very dear to me, one that was at once youthful and mature, sorrowful without being full of itself. The new Japanese voice is simply... old. The youthful but intelligent nature of Shiozawa is simply gone, leaving D as a character that could well be 100 years old without anyone questioning the fact. It's not bad, just not what I'd hoped it would be. At least D's infamous Left Hand has remained almsot identical, though with a completely new actor behind the non-existant vocal cords. I'll also say that I'm not particularly fond of Carmilla on the Japanese track; for once the forceful bitchiness of English speaking women works in to an anime character's favor, and the original voice is left feeling very weak and unassuming in comparison. Nolt is also played very differently between the two languages, being something of a muscle bound retard in the English dub and simply a serious powerhouse in Japanese. I'm not honestly sure which I prefer, but they both have recommendable qualities.

I'm going somewhere with all of this waxing poetic, I really am. My studio - the bootleg-ish one, not the one I do freelance stuff with - is going to be releasing Bloodlust. Specifically, my first dual-layer DVD+R DL will be the Japanese language version of Bloodlust. Specs aren't 100% final yet, but here's the plan so far:

*1.85:1 OAR Anamorphic Widescreen (Progressive scan encoded and flagged)
*5.1 448kbps Dolby Digital Japanese (Full Bitrate)
*5.1 153k DTS Japanese (Full Bitrate. Hells yeah!)
*Optional English subtitles
*Still interactive menus

*Vampire Hunter D: Behind the Scenes (Japanese making-of - no subtitles)
*The Legend of Vampire Hunter D (Japanese TV special - no subtitles)
*Storyboard to Film Comparisons (3 scenes, alternate angles - no dialogue)
*Original Promotional Preview (Original US TV version - English dialogue)
*Original Soundtrack (27 tracks, 192kbps)

This may well be the very first dual-layer/DTS encoded bootleg to not be a factory pressed DVD-9 the world over. I've not compressed the film or extras any - beyond the soundtrack, which will be a menu sort of thing. You'll have to see it to understand. But I think this DVD is going to be something amazing, even more impressive than my 2 DVD special edition of the original VHD. I'd make that a dual-layer if I thought it would improve the quality in any notable way... it wouldn't. And so, Bloodlust is going to be one bad-ass mofo of a special edition.

I could morally only want to release the English dubbed version... but morally speaking, that would be quite mean of me. Urban Vision released the English version on DVD 5 years ago in the states, and as such any English dubbed copy I sell would be a lost sale for them. However, depsite having announced plans to release the Japanese version on DVD as well... nothing yet has come of it, and UV has the nasty habit of taking a year or two to actually get anything finished and released. (Of course, they also have the nasty habit of co-producing sequels to well known anime with Kawajiri - like Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll - which takes a year or two to get moving.) Should UV actually make good on their threat to release the Japanese version of Bloodlust, well... then I may have to do something else.

Regardless, the DTS track on Bloodlust - both the Japanese and English versions - are absolutely fucking AMAZING. I'm not one to buy in to the usual "DTS is teh shiznite!" arguments, having owned plenty of weak upmixes from Manga Entertainment, Anchor Bay and others that take mono films and, by splitting the sound effects up think they're improving them. But even on a $20 pair of speakers the difference between the Dolby track and the DTS version is nothing short of panties-moistening awe. I wish it were physically possible to include both the DTS tracks on 1 DVD... but it isn't. Disk limitations are a bitch, aren't they?

So, yeah. I'm releasing a dubbed version. A Japanese dubbed version of a Japanese movie. And I may stand to make a killing off of it. Does that make me a hypoctite?

Eh. Do I give a damn if I'm releasing something that's already theoretically licensed for the US market? I may have reached the point where the only scruples I live by are "make the best goddamn DVD possible and sell it with my head held high". If only "legit" anime distro's were so foolish.

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