Let me tell you folks a few things or two: the state of dubbed versions of those wacky foreign cartoons has changed noticeably since the whole enterprise started up. Yes sir, gone are the days when these dubs were so painful to endure that being forced to sit through one was likely to induce the viewer to gnaw out his own colon in the manner of a bear who has gotten his colon snagged in a colon catcher. It once took a very brave soul to look such a gorgon in the eye and not gag at what a stupid voice she had, because after all, who the hell wants to spend eternity as a stone statue of a man throwing up all over himself? Very few of us, I would wager, which is why it's something of a boon that we no longer have to risk such perils. Are the newer dubs of Harlock properties likely to leave us screaming for it to stop, make it stop, oh god, the pain, I can't take any more MAKE IT END!!!!!?
No, not really. They're more likely to just bore us and lead to frequent checkings of our watches.
This fascinating new development in home video technology, which the kids call "DVD," has led in turn to a new development in these sorts of translations. It now enables the consumer or enterprising bootlegger to get both the subtitled and dubbed properties in a single package, so one can choose one's own poison without the hassle of ripping and burning two entirely separate versions of the same show, because really, who has time for all that shit? It also enables one to watch the dubbed version with the subtitles on and see exactly where the scripts fail to agree. In fact, it almost appears as if this were the actual point of these discs, as "English language track on, English subtitles on" is the mode to which my copies invariably seemed to default, as if anyone other than a smartass like myself would be expected to want to view the material in this fashion.
The subtitle script itself is okay. Not great, not awe-inspiring, but okay if one does not care about the little details, which of course I do. For one, the spelling "Herlock" gets under my skin and writhes around like several hundred scorpions getting drunk and slam-dancing to some boring pop-punk poser bullshit while I'm trying to sleep. Yes, I know that's how the Japanese spelled it (this time) in the title sequence, but it doesn't change the fact that his name is pronounced "Harlock" just as ever it was, and that every damn dub featuring this character (barring the change to "Warlock" in the Corman dub of 999) has spelled his name with an "a" up until now. What's mildly more irksome is reading Internet posts (a sentence which would remain true even if I stopped it right there) by people claiming to have been longtime fans of the character expounding upon how they've "loved Captain Herlock since they were little kids, even though we didn't call him that back then and have just switched over since some dubbing company told us to and we always do what businesses tell us to do since we have no ideas of our own." Dorks. Probably listen to the same watered-down crap music those scorpions like, so they can pat themselves on the back and deem themselves "cutting edge" for the next five or six minutes.
Some of the mistakes are small, others are slightly less small. The most glaring error is in the naming of the first instant following the Big Bang as "blank time" when it should actually be "Planck time," named for physicist Max Planck, who first posited the theory. Someone, either translator Rika Takahashi (who sounds to be Japanese from the name and who therefore should know the difference between a "p" and a "b") or scriptwriter Kristi Reed, should have done the minimal research needed to unearth this bit of information; it's patently obvious that the scenes wherein this term appears contain discussions of actual science. Technobabble never sounds like real science; real science contains a lot of math, and technobabble contains lots of made-up particles and elements, and components with names like "phase interpolometer" and such crap. A similar error occurs in the mentioning of a sector of space dubbed the "El Aramein" area, which should be "El Alamein," site of the largest tank battle in World War II and a place frequently (and sometimes very pointedly, as in the case of Galaxy Express 999 episode 46, "A Voice Singing of El Alamein") referenced by Matsumoto, which anyone well versed in his various works would know. But what do they know about Matsumoto, or Harlock, or partying, or anything else? The short answer is "not enough," and never is this more clear than in the final episode, wherein Tochiro refers to his own daughter as "this girl," in the dubbed version, as if he had no idea who she was. The obvious reason is that no one involved in the production of the English versions knew who Mayu was, owing to her long absence (since 1978) from anything in the Matsumoto universe and their own lack of research.
Other errors and inconsistencies abound. The core of the Hourglass Nebula is first referred to as the "Gate of Yeldar" and then forever afterwards as the "Gate of Yedar," in both the sub and the dub. In both translations the Noo approach Tadashi Daiba shortly after he finds the body of his father and suggest to themselves that they "kill him, too." "Too?" In addition to whom? They didn't kill professor Daiba; that's the whole damn wacky twist ending, which I guess the scriptwriters had yet to see when they arbitrarily inserted the word "too" into the piece of dialogue in question. Both versions use the spelling "Ilita" for the commander, even though we see his name written as "Irita" on his father's tombstone. Mimay tells of how she "sacrificed her life for Harlock," instead of "giving her life to Harlock." Very few people who are still walking around sucking up air can legitimately be said to have sacrificed their lives. And in the very first episode, Harlock tells a group of former brigands that "his friends want to go traveling again." His friends are all in jail at this point, how the heck does he know what they might want? The term isn't plural; it should simply be, "My friend wants to go traveling again," meaning Tochiro's spirit in the computer. Anyone who's ever watched older Harlock knows that Tochiro is the one being spoken of whenever Harlock says "my friend," indicating once again from whence most of these errors stem. Amazingly enough, the dub version actually gets this part right, though it's not quite sufficient to counterbalance everything else they botched.
And just what might that be? Let's stay with the script for the moment, shall we? If the sub script was a tad, shall we say, imprecise, then the dub script is about as keen-edged as a loaf of bread being used as a razor. Most of the same mistakes are carried over, and occasionally made worse. We still get the "blank time" mistranslation, but we also get to hear it described as being "less than a tenth of a second." Uhhm, yes. MUCH less. In fact, the shortest interval of time that can be measured, which I dare say is preposterously less than a tenth of a second. A reference to Harlock being invaded by an astral body now becomes a claim that Harlock is being invaded by a celestial body, which is what those of us who went to school would hear as "a star or planet is about to crowbar its way into Harlock's ass," which I imagine would hurt like quite the motherfuck. Harlock tells his crew, or really technically the audience, since his crew knows this shit already, that his friend (Tochiro once again) held out hope for the Earth after they departed it, which gets rewritten as "my friend stayed behind," even though the very shot this line is read over shows Tochiro and Harlock standing side-by-side aboard the Arcadia, watching the Earth recede in the distance. (As an added point, this shot also throws an additional monkeywrench in the continuity works, since in Space Pirate Tochiro died mere minutes after the Arcadia was first launched from Heavy Meldar, and would have never viewed the Earth from the ship.) The Noo's space-warping gun is either the Density Serial Cannon or the Serial Density Cannon depending on whether you're watching the sub or dub, respectively. Had I known, I could've donated a pad of post-it notes to this production, so the people involved would've had the capacity to write this shit down and stick it somewhere where they wouldn't forget it. A reference to the Earth having memories becomes "Kei's memories of the Earth." Star systems that are obviously not our own are referred to as Solar systems, which is tantamount to referring to other planets as "Earths." And so on.
But what of the acting? Good question! In fact, it's probably the most significant and oft-raised question pertaining to the myriad animated properties ripped screaming from their native tongues and hurled blind and insane into the labyrinth of inverted syntax, awkward stressings and people saying "huh" that seems to comprise the bulk of the English language. I've heard it asked time and time again. What I don't think I've ever heard asked about was the lip-sync. I've never encountered anyone who, in the process of assessing the potential quality of a piece of dubbed animation, asked "so just how well do they match those velar fricatives?" One might deduce from this apparent lack of queries on the topic that perhaps nobody gives a shit. In total spite of this seeming disinterest, however, dubbers still feel compelled to stick so slavishly to the lip movements and remain so poor at structuring their clauses around them in a competent way that today, five million years along in the industry of anime dubbing, we still get dialogue filled to the point of overflowing with mid-sentence pauses that make all of the characters sound as if their brains are constantly rebooting. Virtually every dub I've ever been made to endure has had its share of these, but the overwhelming quantity of them contained within this thirteen episode series is such that if you were to lay all of them end-to-end, you would be faced with a chasm of time sufficient to include an unexpurgated reading of the complete works of J. R. R. Tolkein and still be left with enough remaining time to backpack to the moon afterwards. Might I suggest an alternative? Why don't you stop? It's easy. You just...don't.
But what, indeed, about that acting I mentioned about a month ago? Oh, yeah. It's just...eh. The cop who comes to arrest Harlock in the second episode has a slimy Snidley Whiplash voice, but most of the other voices aren't so absurd. Just...lacking. Harlock sounds mostly bored. Tadashi sounds eerily like the same guy who played him in the second ZIV dub. His dad actually sounds pretty good, so of course he dies three seconds into the first episode to make room for more crap. Kei's voice is fine in tone, but she gives a mostly one-note performance. Dr. Zero has a silly cartoon voice, and unsurprisingly so does Yattaran, who sounds like he's trying to talk around a very sick toad while his head is stuck inside a bucket of creamed corn. Not quite as irritating as his voice in Harlock Saga, but really, what is, apart from full invasive rectal surgery performed by Dr. Hedgehog Man, Phd? Mimay sounds about fifteen years old, and in her very first line, when she's greeting the doctor, her voice takes on a truly disturbing intonation that seems to imply that she wants, has yearned, indeed has desperately desired for long years to throw the old man down on a cot and and roll about with him until his feeble old bones splinter like so many bits of chalk. In a rare island of success amongst an archipeligo of wishy-washy failure, the woman playing Miss Masu actually does a good job. Too bad the show isn't mostly about her. And in an odd little sidebar, Commander Irita's second-in-command was played by the same guy who played Harlock in the Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years dub way back in 1985. It would've been too revolutionary a concept to have had him play Harlock again, I suppose, and thus Harlock continues to be in all probability the most variably-voiced character ever dubbed into some sorry excuse for English.
Watching this series dubbed didn't make me rip out my eyes and throw them at the dog, mostly because I don't have a dog, but also because for once it just wasn't worth it. Still, having comparatively little to criticize-even if at this point I've spent 2,192 words doing just that-doesn't mean that there's all that much to praise, either. The translation is iffy, the acting is bland, the dialogue is written overly precisely so as to sound exactly how real people don't, and it's far easier just to switch on the subtitles and ignore the lesser quantity of mistakes to be found there. Perhaps the studio behind this dub, Bang Zoom! Entertainment, should consider minutely altering their company name to "Bang Zoom! Entertainment?" before I sue them for false advertising under our country's irresponsibly slack litigation laws.
Oh, well. At least the dub still pronounced his name "Harlock." That's something, I suppose.