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Harlock Saga
by U.S. Manga Corps

This is as close as you ever need come to this video. Really, people, money does have many other, far superior uses.

It's a well-worn cliché that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I suggest that a new version of this aphorism be coined with specific regard to the anime dubbing industry: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it about every five or six days.

It's disheartening yet somewhat hilarious that virtually every anime dub ever made sounds as if it could've been the first dub ever made. They make the same old mistakes, again and again. Why? Humans are supposed to be smart. If a rat kept pawing at the electrically-charged bait pedal ad infinitum, the researchers would conclude that the specimen in question, at the very least, was an almost mind-blowingly stupid animal. Perhaps someday some bored scientists will devise an experiment that involves dumping a load of voice-over "actors," dialogue directors, and scriptwriters working in the anime dubbing field into a pitfall-laden labyrinth. It probably wouldn't prove anything, but it might be fun to watch, and at least a few of them would probably never find their way out, so who loses?

With their dub/sub of Harlock Saga, U.S. Manga Corps starts fucking about right off the bat and takes us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when it was obligatory that an Englishified version be renamed. Harlock Saga: Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelungen) has now become Harlock Saga: Clash of the Bionoi-er, I mean Space Pirates, which seems to be an attempt to imply that: A. the story involves conflict between rival space pirates, which it doesn't, and B. that the story involves a great deal of fighting of any kind, which it also doesn't. After that comes the matter of the translation, which holds some predictable surprises, which of course aren't surprises at all for reasons I really hope I need not explain.

Whether or not one is watching the sub or the dub, there remains the fact that the script is laden with many, many yummy bits of sugar-frosted nonsense. The first episode contains many references to "musical radiation," which really should have been "musical emanations" or "transmissions," and not a proper scientific term with a specific connotation that is seeing some seriously silly-sounding abuse here. The captain of a ship that is about to be swallowed up in the explosion of a space colony gives the order to "jettison immediately," even though the ship jettisons absolutely nothing. "Escape." "Blast off." "Tuck our tails and flee like miserable cowards." Anything but "jettison." Do these people realize that English is a language, and not just a breed of sheepdog? And why does Mimay continually refer to the three women guarding the Rheingold as "priestesses?" The Japanese word, "otome," means "young woman" or "virgin," and certainly implies nothing of a religious or authoritative nature. Don't take my word for it; look it up yourself if you have doubts.

These sorts of errors are quite indicative of a severe lack of the horribly misnamed "common sense." Much of this kind of crap could be averted if the scriptwriters actually took so bold a move as to watch the show they were translating. The third episode has Harlock chasing a mysterious attacker to a distant, dark planet, whereupon Mimay tells Tadashi "I wanted to show you this." Since anyone who's been watching with their eyes open knows that Mimay had Jack T. Shit to do with their arrival at this planet, it's not hard to deduce, even with a total ignorance of the Japanese language, that she should have said "They (the other ship) wanted to show us this." Other errors may be less obvious, but are still unequivicolly wrong. The subtitles to the closing theme song for episodes 1-3 (there is not a dubbed version of the song, so thank God for small favors) include the word "aurifela." If you ever bump into the translator for this dub (his name is Kevin McKeown,) ask him what "aurifela" means and sit back to watch him squirm. The word is actually "aurifer," which is Latin for "bearer of gold." Manga Corps didn't know that, so they inserted a meaningless noise as a placeholder, probably hoping that a character named "Aurifela" would show up in later episodes, which of course never happened. The second closing song, for eps 4-6, was called "Druid: Wise Man of the Oak," and contained the line "Save me, Vates." "Vates" is a Roman name for a type of Druidic priest, but Manga Corps just totally threw in the towel this time, subtitling simply "Save me," even though the fact that the line is in English makes it terribly obvious that something's missing. And so on.

Translation errors are aggravating enough, but once you go and add some cochlea-savaging English voices into the recipe as well, you end up with a concoction that's quite sufficient to make the average viewer barf up their own brain, unless they're a zombie, in which case they're probably barfing up your brain, so too bad for you. Should you successfully dig your grey matter back out of the zombie's bread basket, you'll probably find it traumatized and resentful that you wasted its potential on these sorts of calculated affronts to the entire art of acting, and it will likely prefer to sit palpitating beneath the sofa rather than be exposed to any more of this pitiless attack upon the very foundations of human speech. I mean, honestly, do these people actually speak this way in normal conversation? Could one even have a normal conversation whilst speaking this way? What, I ask, what makes the legions of anime voice actors out there assume that taking on preposterous affectations is the way to sell a believable or even likeable character?

What the universe needs now...is a subtitled version. Of a better show.
Harlock voice-player Matt Hoverman, who probably can't really float despite his purposely misleading name, mentioned in interviews that he'd "never gotten the chance to play a superhero before." Let's not belabor the fact that he is still, in fact, lacking that experience; let us simply note that this comment gives a unique bit of insight into exactly why this portrayal of Harlock in English just fails to work at all. The sort of inherent smugness of a character who exclaims "up, up, and away" with no sense of irony is precisely the wrong attitude for a rugged individualist who, despite his larger-than-life image, is a normal man with no powers of a comic-booky nature, nor even a beltload of wacky gadgets in the vein of Batman. Moreover, it sadly remains the fact that Tochiro's introductory scene finds him in such an astoundingly self-amused and holier-than-everyone mood that one feels a burning desire to forcibly abate his torrential onslaught of overriding smarm by punching the voice actor squarely in his effusive face with an overripe swordfish. Afterwards, his manner tones down to something more closely resembling human-speak, but he's still obviously miscast. Then we have Mimay, who chooses to depict an ethereal manner by choosing her intonation and inflection about fifteen degrees too precisely, as if she were being played by one of those computerized phone-answering contraptions that have all but replaced human customer service reps, and one which has, for no discernable reason, been programmed to trip out on Ecstasy. Listen to her exclaim "Tochiro!" towards the end of episode one, and attempt to contain your laughter at hearing an actual woman seeming to attempt an emulation of a woman's voice. Maeter, an immortal who's probably millennia old at this point, sounds about fifteen or sixteen. Wotan, the father of the gods of Valhalla, snarls like he's recently swallowed a live badger, pretty much in the manner of every older character ever heard in an English dub. And Yattaran....

Aside from the fact that his name is mispronounced (as well as misspelled) as "Yattran," his voice is, in all seriousness, like an unholy union of Edith Bunker from All in the Family and Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter. No, I mean it! One can easily stick either "Archie" or "Mr. Kotter" after every single line he utters without it sounding the least bit out of place. His vocal stylings deny us the comfortable auditory intermediary of a blackboard and go straight for a needlessly painful semblance of fingernails right the hell in our ears, scrabbling their way brainward like those little slug thingys in Star Trek II. Why, I ask? Why the Christ is this apparently always deemed necessary? A live-action flick with this mode of acting omnipresent would be laughed out of the theaters (kung-fu films notwithstanding). Forget moments of high drama or subtlety. These people cannot even manage a simple conversational dialogue with any degree of sincerity. This overriding sense of pure artifice seeps through the fiber of virtually every dubbed anime property to be dragged wailing into existence, as if through some mutated confabulation of the bloodstream and the lower colon. Hearing this English version makes me long for even the talents of such luminaries as Casper Van Dien or Keanu Reeves instead of what we really got. And for the sake of all we hold dear, can these scriptwriters manage to conform to lip movements without having to introduce nonsensically awkward.........................................pauses into the delivery every fourth line? WRITE TWO SHORT LINES INSTEAD OF ONE LONG ONE!!! Is it beyond the pale to expect such a revolutionary concept, or should we begin to more closely inspect the opposable thumbs of these people to see if perchance they've been affixed with suction cups?

This isn't rocket science, and yet it crashes into bone-searing flame more frequently than even German rocket science ever has. Add to that the fact that Harlock Saga isn't even all that interesting to start with, and here you have yet another excuse to keep your money for, well, basically anything less vacuous.

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