Akemi's Anime World

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On the Pitfalls of Bilingualism

Movies are in an awkward position when it comes to bilingual characters, since of course most actors don’t do too well outside their native language and maybe an extra dialect or two. Were they only watched in the country of origin that might not be much of a problem, but of course the world is now rather flat, so unless it’s dubbed people somewhere are going to know that Arnold sounds just as bad in French as he does in English.

Anime is in a particularly awkward situation, both because Japanese people are particularly bad at English accents (doubly so American English), and because they’re pretty much guaranteed to be watched by a good-sized English-speaking audience, many if not all of whom are watching it subtitled.

It’s always weird, then, how little most anime productions seem to care about dredging up a native-speaker for quickie walk-on roles.  Seems like a non-actor pulled out of a college class with a native accent would be preferable to the blatantly-awful non-native accent they usually go with (compounded by not having a native speaker at least read over the lines for a simple grammar check). Really, you’d think that if you were going to publish something in a major magazine or put it on video in a form likely to end up in a foreign country you’d at least bother to grab a native speaker off the street and ask them if the grammar makes sense. Heck, simple pride in your work and not wanting to be laughed at by thousands of foreign anime fans would seem like it’d be  more than enough to spur at least that much effort.

It’s always a pleasant surprise when a production does go the extra mile (really more like an extra few feet), like the native-accent walk-ons and grammatically correct, realistic onscreen English text in Daphne in the Brilliant Blue (plus consistent use of translation hardware), or the Australians they found to do the kidnappers in the Kimagure Orange Road OAV Hawaii episode. They may have sounded stiff and awkward, but at least you didn’t laugh at their accents.

Then there are the series that just fudge it, like Planetes, which operates under the assumption they’re speaking English unless otherwise specified, or Best Student Council, with its monosyllabic half-American character (though I admit her dialogue was far more fun than it should have been, and the last-episode explanation was a great joke) and her incoherent, sort-of-bilingual American mom.

Blood (the movie, at least—haven’t seen the TV version) would probably be the best-case scenario; Yuki Kudoh is as bilingual as the main character is intended to be, the one other bilingual character (the base nurse) is very good, and the rest of the roles are natives in the appropriate language.

I’d been wondering how they were going to handle Ohno’s American friends in the Genshiken 2 anime. I was quite impressed that they decided to full-on go there, leaving a solid half the dialogue in the relevant episode in nearly-perfect English. Huge points for effort, to be sure, though you figure given the self-referential material they must have assumed there would be similar geeks watching the show in America eventually. Ayako Kawasumi does a perfectly believable job as Ohno, who is bilingual but could certainly have an accent that strong, as anyone who knows some foreign students can attest (heck, I know people who’ve lived in the US for years who have an accent that strong). It’s disappointing that they didn’t get a native English speaker to voice Angela, particularly since she has no Japanese dialogue at all to worry about, but Yuki Kaida does a remarkably good job at sounding American—certainly well above what most voice actors can manage (Wikipedia says she is in fact bilingual, and also speaks some French and Chinese). She embarrassingly stumbles on a couple of should-have-been obvious words with funny spelling, but that’s relatively minor.

It’s that “nearly” that’s weird, though; the dialogue repeatedly used the word “sensible” in place of “sensitive,” which given the otherwise consistent grammatical accuracy of it (and Kaida’s level of English skill) shouldn’t have gotten by even a basic proofreading if the translator understood the context at all. How does something like that get by the editorial staff? Still, a good effort is better than none at all.

The Blade Cuts Both Ways

Of course, if you flip it around, English-speaking anime fans are in an unusually awkward position with things like this. Ignorance is bliss indeed—we, unlike Japanese fans, notice the poor English whether we want to or not. We’re cursed to cringe at every mangled pronunciation, however well-intentioned, snicker at unfortunate grammatical errors, and generally get our suspension of disbelief kneecapped by even minor mistakes whenever the topic of native English speaking comes up. If anything, dub fans have an advantage there. So really, my desire to see better English in anime is an entirely selfish one—I don’t want to have my viewing pleasure tripped up by should-be-trivial bits of English.

None of this is to say that the problem is unique to Japan, of course—there’s no shortage of awkward Japanese (I’m looking at you, Tom Cruise) in Hollywood movies.

I Have Seen The Enemy, and He is Me

This is something of a non-sequitur, but I this week had the somewhat disturbing (to me) revelation that I am what I mock. See, I have a tendency to get annoyed by Americans who litter their online ranting and real-world speech with random Japanese. I’m not alone—throw a rock and you’ll probably hit a webcomic that makes at least one joke along the lines of “idiot gaijin fanboy/girl who speaks no actual Japanese.”

The revelation was that I, in actual fact, insert far more arbitrary Japanese into everyday conversation than any of these people do. Listen to Akemi and I have a conversation, and you’ll get a bizarre hodgepodge of English and Japanese that’s pretty much unintelligible to anyone but us. I did not equate one with the other, but really, they’re more similar than different—mutilated language hybrid understood by almost nobody. For her, it’s the same as all those annoying anime characters who insert random English to sound cool—the personality may be different, but the effect is the same. (She, unlike me, has been aware of this for some time, and has to work hard at not doing it when in Japan so as not to sound like a tool.)

In my defense (or perhaps not—this might be worse), I’ve long gone out of my way to pronounce Japanese names and terms (say, Tsunami or Karaoke) with a flat American accent when speaking English, and vice-versa when inserting English into a Japanese sentence. I could pronounce them “right,” but it seems somehow show-offish to break the flow of otherwise normal accent with something pointedly not that the people I’m talking to probably can’t pronounce that way were they to try. It’s also a little easier not to shift accents mid-sentence, at least for me. (I will admit to not even trying with longer titles like  Kyouran Kazoku Nikki or Urusei Yatsura, though.)

Anyway, in the name of linguistic harmony, I’ve realized the relative error of my ways, and have decided to put more effort into helping rather than sneering. I figure if I do my part to improve the comprehension of actual Japanese, that should reduce the desire to use incoherent Japanese, or, failing that, at least make it more correct.

Dokuro-chan 2 Post-viewing Thoughts

Just finished the short 2-episode Dokuro-chan 2 OAV series (or 4 half-episodes, if you prefer).  Dokuro-chan the TV series (was that actually shown on TV?) was incredibly dirty in addition to being absolutely horrifying in many other ways.  Which left me wondering what the OAV series, ostensibly without the restrictions (what restrictions?!) of the TV series, would do to top it.

Turns out I didn’t have enough imagination, because Holy Kim Jong Il in a Chicken Basket, Batman! is that series dirty.  Oh, still violent too, but man did that toss out some nasty, cringeworthy, wholly inappropriate, and just plain wrong things.  Some of the throw-away jokes (along the lines of what we briefly saw Zansu doing with a bunch of SM gear and a video camera) are so wrong that I was laughing and wanting to gouge my eyes out at the same time.  Even more than before, that is.  I must admit, it does feature what is the single most horrifying gift wrapping I have ever seen by a huge margin.  Some of the stuff is so dirty you might not even get the joke, and if you do, well, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The upshot, though, is that while it’s even more horrifying than before it’s also considerably more funny.  A slight reduction in the extreme cartoon-style character animation was another plus, since I really don’t go for that sort of thing.  Oh, and it hit the one bodily secretion that I didn’t even realize the first series missed (snot).  I actually ended up laughing pretty hard several times, albeit between cringing, groaning, and wishing for blindness.

It’s a specific kind of masochistic humor (sometimes literally), but at least it’s done well.

On a not-entirely-unrelated note, my comments on the self-fanpon in Genshiken 2 came before watching episode 5, in which Ogiue starts writing raging BL doujinshi in her head about the male members of Genshiken… which we see acted out in graphic detail by hardbodied, bishounen-enhanced versions of the thoroughly unattractive cast.  No, seriously, Genshiken offhandedly tossed out some pretty blunt comments of a sexual nature, but this episode goes there, big time.  As in “Why haven’t we faded to black or cut away yet?  Still no?  Still?!”  I think that’s the most explicit (albeit tastefully shadowy) content I’ve ever seen in a TV series.

So Genshiken has now officially not only done its own fanporn, but it’s run through almost every wholly inappropriate slash pairing and lust-crazed fangirl fantasy scenario possible (Madarame apparently bottoms in Ogiue’s head).

And it gets bonus points for having the entire concept go completely over Saki’s head (she naively assumes that Ogiue just has a crush on one or two of the guys, missing the subtext of what she’s fantasizing about entirely).

Basically good, good stuff, even if it does hurt in multiple different (TMI!) ways.

Genshiken 2 Early Thoughts

I never actually got around to reviewing the original Genshiken, but I did like it immensely.  A slice-of-life comedy about a college club for hardcore broad-spectrum geeks, it’s about as intensely self-aware as an entirely straightforward, no tricks, no breaking the 4th wall, almost completely realistic series can be.  Likable-yet-real characters, every in-joke and reference you could possibly imagine, most of which are entirely intentional since the characters aren’t just like you, they are you.  Sometimes a series like that is about insiders but really targeted at outsiders, but Genshiken I’m pretty sure is intended entirely for the people who get it.

Show me one geek who didn’t at least try to name the ringtones in the first episode before the character did (I beat him on two).  And you also no doubt tried to figure out which character’s category you best fit into (I’m probably closest to a Sasahara-type, with friends ranging from Kugayama to full-on Kasukabe).

It is also the master of the awkward pause.  Heck, that series had an entire episode consisting, without break, of Madarame’s crazed internal monologue while sitting in a room in awkward silence with Saki while she reads a comic.  Few are the series that will try something that extreme, and fewer still that can not only make it work, but make it hilarious.  The little scenes during the ending credits that referred back to earlier bits were also a kind of genius.  Frankly, if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching for that episode alone.

So now, Genshiken 2.  Having read some of the manga in the era past the “satisfying but open stopping point” end of the first series, I’ve been looking forward to this since I listened to some radio shows done as a promo for it a while back.  And really, if any series can pull off a sequel, it’s Genshiken.

Well, finally got to watching it, and a few episodes in the first thing that caught me was that it started up right where the first left off—with the club getting ready to publish a doujinshi for the upcoming comic festival.  The second thing was that it completely bypasses the introduction of violently closet otaku girl Ogiue (her addition to the cast apparently happened during the OAVs, which I didn’t even realize existed until a few minutes ago).

Any other series I would have faulted for a major character introduction in an OAV, but this series knows you, and so it has no trouble whatsoever making assumptions about the level of commitment of the viewers.  It feels comfortable with itself, and didn’t seem to have missed so much as a beat despite nearly three years passing between the end of the first series and the start of this one.

And, really, thus far it is 100% more of the same in the general sense, which is to say 100% good stuff.  More of the same, yet it feels fresh and full of new and fun character interactions and socially awkward situations.  As of episode four there’s been an impressive amount of low-key, awkwardly funny “drama” ranging from doujinshi production to table-manning to romance.

It also appears to understand that it’s milked Saki and Kousaka’s relationship sufficiently, so the focus has moved to Sasahara (who, despite appearing to be the main character in the first episode of the original, turned out to have a remarkably small part).  Ogiue hasn’t done much yet, but there’s plenty of time, and the other addition, violently unpleasant geek Kuchiki is hanging around in the background annoying everyone appropriately without hogging the spotlight enough to get annoying to the viewer.  Also, the old President, possibly the creepiest character ever, is still graduated and off being creepy somewhere else.  Thank God.

Oh, the intro and outro.  The intro is 100% pure awesome:  An overdramatic and ridiculously epic Gundam pastiche with the main characters’ heads pasted onto every jumpsuited, crazy-helmeted body.  The endings, disappointingly, are all the same shot of the club room, without the slightly-animated awesome that was the self-referential in-jokes of the first season.  However… the occasional extra bits after the credits are now on every episode, and have been lengthened and upgraded to a level of wonderful possibly better than the original series.  Again, the series of course knows you’re going to sit through the entire credits… and if you’re not, well, you weren’t enough of a geek to deserve the great bonus jokes.

Bottom line, if it can keep it up for another eight episodes, this Genshiken 2 will top the original, and that’s saying something.  I even have some degree of confidence that it will manage.

Final, random note:  The mind-breaking meta-ness of this series continues to amaze and hurt me.  The first had the anime-within-an-anime Kujibiki Unbalance, which of course had three entire episodes produced—the first, twenty-first, and next-to-last.  Three entirely straight episodes of a series that was never made, including the dramatic next-to-last episode filled with numerous straight-faced references back to past episodes that don’t exist and “big moment” character development nobody cares about because we only saw three random episodes!  That hurt me, and of course I watched all three.  That they actually did make a Kujibiki Unbalance later (with a different plot, no less) hurts even more—how does that kind of fiction-imitates-fiction-imitating-life-watching-fiction thing even happen?  And who would actually watch it?

Well, now we’ve got characters in one series producing fanporn of a nonexistant-except-now-it-exists series.  And, every time they get all cosplayed up, Genshiken is, in a manner of speaking, making fanporn of itself [note:  see later post on episode 5].  So here’s what I wonder:  What goes through the mind of a person who sits down to draw fanporn of Genshiken (which most certainly does exist—see Rule 34)?  You are, if you follow the loop, essentially drawing fanporn of yourself.

Maybe there actually isn’t any, because everyone who tried to make some was consumed by an existential singularity.  I refuse to ask Google the answer, because I already know what it will be, and I will then not want my eyes anymore.  An episode of Dokuro-chan was enough of that symptom for one day.

I’m done now.