|The Definitive Vizion|
I was suspicious. I was wary. I was even a little scared. I kept my high hopes in check, and decided instead to be realistic. And so, with a deep breath, I picked up issue #1 of Viz' brand spanking new, translated-into-English-for-the-first-time Dragon Ball manga and started reading. After getting through it, I breathed a happy sigh of contentment. Someone finally got it right.
I had a feeling that this was a pretty good indication of how the rest of the series would be handled, but just to be fair, I decided to reserve my final judgment on Viz' release of Dragon Ball until I had a good, representative sampling of issues. After all, the first few episodes of FUNimation's DBZ were amazingly better, (translation, dubbing, censor, and music wise) than what came later, so I wasn't about to jump to any conclusions. Well, it's been quite some time now, and I've come to my verdict:
I can't speak highly enough about Viz' treatment of DB and DBZ.
When the news was first announced that the manga would be coming to the US through Viz, I was excited, but also fearful. I was worried that they were going to use FUNimation's dialogue translations, or their names for the characters and attacks. Imported anime has an unfortunate history of "multiplatform reversioning"; what is changed for the TV version is changed in the same way for the comic adaptation, video games, action figures etc. so as not to confuse fans, and/or to uphold some sort of "official" merchandisinng standard. This is exactly what was done to Pokémon, Satoshi is named "Ash" in all American merchandise, including the Viz comic. I also feared that they would do as FUNimation did and try to Americanize (and simultaneously de-Japanese-ify) the dialogue. Maybe they would even (shudder) censor it in order to make the story more acceptable "for all ages."
But they did none of this. They completely ignore anything FUNimation has done, and the final product turned out better than I had hoped. the dialogue is translated beautifully, Goku and Gohan have retained their surname, there's no "retouching" of the art, AND EVERYBODY DIES. Sure, the dub has come around as of Season 3 and remedied that little situation, but the Saiya-jin and early Freeza sagas will remain tainted with the "Another Dimension" stain forever, unless they are redubbed someday. But the manga has been untouched from the beginning, and oh is it a beautiful thing to behold.
I'm going to start with an in-depth discussion of the translation, and how absolutely, stunningly, incredibly good it is. Lillian Olsen has done a uniformly wonderful job from the first issue down to the ones just released in capturing the intricacies and specifics of the original Japanese dialogue, while skillfully working around the bits that just don't translate into English. I wish she worked for FUNimation. Having gone through several issues of the Viz manga while closely comparing them to the original tankobon, it thrilled me to see that this was word for word precision. You don't have to worry about missing out on any elements of the story or the characters, be they major plot points or miniscule snippets of dialogue. When you read these excellent translations, you can be secure in knowing that every word of the Viz manga is authentic, and exactly as Toriyama intended it. FUNimation's goal is simply for their writers to get the general idea, and "cut them loose" with the rest. (Yes, Gen Fukunaga actually said this.) But not Viz. They do what FUNimation failed to, and strive for excellence and accuracy in their translation. All the nuances are there, from the "hick" dialect that many of the characters speak with, to the way Buruma and Piccolo are always referring to Goku simply as "Son."
So what happens when you get to one of those "untranslatable" cultural bits that I mentioned? Let's look at one in particular. This is from the scene in which Goku and Kami are standing at Enma-sama's desk. (Please note that the literal translation is mine, with the words NOT rearranged into proper English grammar.)
(Untranslated): Naa... Ora no chotto mae ni Raditz teiu yatsu ga kita?
For those of you who don't speak Japanese, I'll explain what is happening here. In their culture, it is considered absolutely crucial to speak to those of higher status by using polite forms of speech, and to do otherwise is potentially cause for great offense. In this case, Goku's country bumpkin sensibilities aren't tuned to the finer points of language, so he uses the plain form ("kita") of the verb "kiru" (to come). "Kimashita" is the polite form of "kiru," and so what Kami-sama is doing here is trying to get Goku to use a more exalted form of speech around Enma, who is obviously a superior.
So how the heck do you translate something like this so that it makes sense to English-speaking readers who have no concept of "polite form" and "plain form" of verbs? There is simply no equivalent in our language, so something else had to be done. Kami-sama's "Don't speak to a lord like that!" is just about as close as you could possibly get.
It means a lot to me personally that Olsen didn't simply rewrite the scene, as FUNimation is so prone to do when they find themselves in situations like this. For this particular example, I must admit that FUNimation was fairly right on with the dialogue, and their own solution to this rather difficult exchange was to have Kami say "You must address him as King Yemma!" Again, though, these were the first few episodes, which were much better translation-wise than what came later. By the latter half of Season 1, FUNimation wouldn't have even bothered trying to come up with something even remotely equivalent to this, and by Season 3, they'd just have Kami say "Mondo cool!" or something. But even in this case, the Viz translation is still closer to the original intention.
But here's an instance where FUNimation didn't do so well, from the very same scene:
Heh heh. Isn't that annoying? I don't go into this much detail about dialogue translation most of the time, but FUNimation ALWAYS does weird stuff like this for absolutely no reason. I kind of like the "aliens" question... it's so simple, yet it adds just that much more to the DB universe when you hear Kami's answer about how the "dead of all worlds" come there to be judged. All FUNimation did was change a couple of words here and a significant plot point was discarded. (Also note that Goku's initial question was phrased by FUNimation in such a way that the word "die" wasn't used.)
I'll do one more example. This is one in which both Viz and FUNimation had to come up with an "equivalent" bit of dialogue for something that was difficult to translate. You tell me which one is more faithful. During the scene where Bulma has just fixed the scouter, the following exchange takes place:
Pretty funny, eh? I'll admit it. The "hop who?" thing is kinda cute, even if it isn't even trying to be equivalent to what is actually being said. But there are times when FUNimation's creative license isn't so "cute," and that's when I get pissed.
The dialogue of the Viz comic is refreshing. It doesn't talk down to the reader, and there is a depth, intelligence, maturity, at times even a poetic quality, that is sorely lacking in FUNimation's dubs. I love what Olsen has done with Piccolo in particular. She's given him this sort of elegant, grandiose way of speaking that really adds another dimension (sorry) to his character, and it sets him apart from everybody else. As a demonstration, first read the following bit of dialogue from the FUNimation dub:
"The clothes are like your dad's, but the symbol shows that you're from my camp"
Now, check out Olsen's translation of the same line:
"The same guise as your sire should serve...though the sigil should send its own message"
The meaning is precisely the same of course, but notice how different the feeling is. Again, it's that depth and maturity that I mentioned. One of my favorite Piccolo lines of all time is one that he says to Gohan before leaving him to fend for himself: "If you want to feel resentment, curse your own fate, as do I." There's a kind of lyrical beauty there, and in other lines like it, that you just don't see in the dub (this very bit of dialogue, in fact, was cut by FUNimation). Viz' Piccolo is quite a bit closer to the way that he was originally portrayed in the Japanese version. He is more distant and somehow regal than he seems in the dub, and that's exactly the way he should be.
And yes, there's even some light cursing in the comics. A "bastard!" here, a "damn" or two there. In one of the early Dragon Ball issues, they even use one of my favorite expressions: "takin' a dump." Ah, it's always nice to hear that one. And you're never going to hear Nappa calling Kuririn a "little dung-ball" on Cartoon Network, or even in the uncut videos. Overall, the swearing is exactly at the level that Toriyama intended it to be. The fact is, the characters are neither as clean-mouthed as they are in the FUNimation version, nor do they go around cursing like sailors as AnimeLabs or other fansubbers so desperately want you to believe.
Names are of course an important issue, and they are by and large flawlessly translated. With a few exceptions, this has never been a significant problem for FUNimation, but the work is a step above in Viz' case. I've only encountered one (rather peculiar) oddity in this regard: The Saibaimen are referred to as "Cultivars." I have no idea why Viz might have done this, and it stands as probably the sole instance where FUNimation was actually closer to the original word (they use "Saibamen.") Aside from this, everything as perfect, and I love the little touches that Viz has retained. For example, the Dragon Balls are actually referred to not as simply "the 3 star ball" or "the 5 star ball," but as Sanshinkyuu, Liushinkyuu, etc. That's kinda cool. And Kame Sennin is known both as Kame Sennin, and as "Master Muten," whereas FUNimation simplified things to just "Master Roshi." The fact that he is known by two different names (depending on the situation and who is addressing him) is actually rather important to his character, and I'm glad Viz didn't simply overlook it.
Attack names are in a league of their own of course, and we all know that the interpretation of them has been among FUNimation's greatest blunders since they began to dub the series. Viz tends to handle them quite well. In some cases, they simply use the Japanese word itself. For example, a Kamehameha is a Kamehameha, the Genkidama is the Genkidama. In other cases, they go for a direct (or at least close) translation. Piccolo's Makankousappou (lit. Demon Pierce Beam Kill Cannon) is interpreted as "Light of Death" since "Makankousappou" is hard enough for Americans to read, let alone say, and "Demon Pierce Beam Kill Cannon" just sounds damn silly.
Unfortunately, there have been a few mistakes in this regard. For example, Tenshinhan's Kikouhou is interpreted by Viz as "Chi Kung Blast." Why? From what little Chinese I know "Chi Kung" is approximately equivalent to "Ki kou" in Japanese, and "blast" is just fine for the "hou," but what's with the Chinese/English mishmash?? Viz interprets Kuririn's "Kienzan" by simply using "Kienzan," so what's wrong with leaving "Kikouhou" as is too? And since they decided to go that route with the Kikouhou, they might as well have called the Kienzan "Chi Razor" in order to be consistent. While I'm at it, what's with the characters using the Chinese word "chi" when the Japanese equivalent "ki" would work just as well? Strange. I suppose it's just because "chi" is more familiar to Americans. In any case, it's better than FUNimation's decision to use the rather ambiguous English word "power," which doesn't really capture the full spectrum of what "ki" (or chi) really is. These are all minor complaints though, and Viz by and large does an excellent job with the attack names.
So what other positives can I say about Viz' DB comics? Well first of all, it's not censored. I wasn't really expecting Viz, of all companies, to do any such thing, but as I mentioned near the beginning of this essay, I wasn't going to rule out the possibility. But as it turns out, the only retouching of the artwork is translation of the sound effects into English (by far the hardest job there is in the manga translation business, I hear), and one correction. They fixed the spelling on "Wellcome" over the door of Enma's temple. Other than that, nothing is changed.
I was also just tickled pink when I saw that DB and DBZ were being presented in their original, un-flopped format. I'm sure some gai-jin had trouble getting used to reading from right to left, but it doesn't take too long to get the hang of, and besides, it really preserves the integrity and rhythm of the original artwork. Many manga artists hate it when American publishers flop their art, and I must say that I do too. It took a lot of courage on Viz' part to resist conventional wisdom and common practice, especially on such a high-profile title that was bound to get a lot of mainstream attention. I guess unlike some *other* company I could mention, they don't feel that it's necessary to change things in order to make them "more accessible" to their target audience. And guess what, Mr. "other company," judging by the letters page, everyone from the youngest children to the older folks seem to like it just fine. Viz is often complimented on the non-flopping, in fact. Maybe changing things isn't so "necessary" after all, hmm?
And finally, on a personal note, I have to say that it's a true pleasure to finally read DB in normal comic book size, rather than scrunched into the much smaller tankobon format. Seeing Toriyama's art just that much bigger makes his linework all the more beautiful. You gotta hate the guy for being so damned talented. And speaking of tankobon, I'm hoping and praying that Viz does graphic novel editions one of these days. I heard that there are some rights issues at the moment, and hopefully that'll get straightened out soon.
But ya know what the best thing about Viz' Dragon Ball comics are? I'm on their links page!
Joking aside, after all of the praise, I feel that I must say at least something negative in order to balance my critique. Problems are very hard to find, but nonetheless, there are a few. First of all, the editorial comments added every now and then to help explain/expand upon certain points range from being minor annoyances to downright tacky sales pitches. I don't need to be told that Piccolo's origin will be explained eventually in the Dragon Ball series, or that it is "on sale now!" Also, for both comics the logo being used is a bit off. For Dragon Ball they are using the Z logo (just without the Z), when DB has a perfectly good logo of its own, and Dragon Ball Z is using the orange-to-red gradation thing in its logo, which is FUNimation's creation (it should be "Dragon" in red, and "Ball Z" in yellow.)
I also have to take issue with their editorial position on FUNimation's dub. In short, they fully support and justify FUNimation's actions, rather than using their high visibility to speak out against them and point to their comic as an example of the way things should be done. Here is a quote from the letters page of one issue that adequately sums up their viewpoint:
"In terms of the difference between the U.S.-published manga as compared to the U.S.-broadcast anime, we figure the difference is that we're able to keep more of the original Japanese names and cultural touches intact, whereas the broadcasters-for reasons dictated by Federal law-were obliged to "tone down" and "mainstream" their version. Call us cretins, but even if we disagree with some of the individual name choices (Krillin vs. Kuririn), we still think the U.S. anime series is great-if nothing else, think of all the new people it's brought into the fandom!"
I disagree with this of course, especially the statement that Federal law dictates that names and cultural touches must be removed. That's not true. Censoring is one thing, but there's absolutely no reason why FUNimation can't do something as simple as refer to Goku as Son Goku. As for the "think of all the new people" argument... well... that's a can of worms I'm going to open up in my next editorial.
To be fair, this may not be the stance of Viz at large, it could just be Trish Ledoux (the editor of the DB comics) and a few others that maintain this position. Don't get me wrong, I have been reading Trish's amusing editorial verbiage in such publications as Animag, Animerica, and others for nearly a decade now, and in a strange way I consider her a friend even though we have never met. But I have to disagree with her on this, and I don't understand how she can support FUNimation so easily. I do know, however, that she's from the Star Blazers generation, and maybe her lax view on the altering of DBZ is due to the fact that anime that came out back then was quite a bit worse off by comparison.
Aside from all of the "political" stuff, there is a more fundamental problem with Viz' DB comics. Pretty much everyone knows this, but I'll say it just because there are some who don't. There's actually no such thing as "Dragon Ball Z" in terms of the manga. For reasons that are unclear to me, the title change was something they did only to the TV series. The "Z" was added to the anime between Goku's fight with Piccolo and the arrival of Raditz, but the comic was known simply as Dragon Ball throughout its entire run. But Viz separated the two series' just as the anime did.
I'm not even sure if I should be putting this into the "complaint" category, I guess it's just a purist gripe. And I can perfectly understand the reasons for doing it this way. The two separate titles makes it all less confusing for fans, and also made it possible for Viz to release both series concurrently. If they had done it in a linear fashion, it would have been much more difficult to get NA fans (who were used to Z because FUNimation skipped most of DB) into the original Dragon Ball stories. Timing was a crucial factor, the early Z era would be much more distant in the memories of NA fans by the time Viz got all the way through DB, resulting in lower sales.
And without making two separate series, they most likely would have decided to release only (shudder) one issue per month, doubling the time it would take to finish the whole thing. Which reminds me...
I have heard the complaint on many occasions that the manga is being released far too slowly in America, but in actuality, it is coming out at the same rate it was in Japan. There was one new chapter a week in the original run in Shonen Jump, a total of four per month. In the US, the number is the same, it's just being done differently: 1 issue each of DB and DBZ, two chapters per issue, equals a total of four installments per month, just like the Japanese release. At this rate, Dragon Ball will be finished in April 2006, and Z won't be done until October 2011. (And you thought FUNimation was slow!) This is asssuming that Viz won't put Z on a twice-a-month schedule once DB finishes, which probably won't happen. If it does however, it'll move the end of the series back to around Fall 2008. In any case, it's going to be a while before the whole thing is done, and I myself will be (oh dear Kami...) over 30 by the end of it. That's terrifying.
I've decided to finish this (incredibly, obscenely long) editorial with a super handy-dandy chart I've prepared that details exactly where both series will be as each new year begins. Just wanted to give you an idea of where things are headed over the next decade or so, because a lot of you may not realize just how long it's going to take to get from saga to saga. Since the first issue of DB and DBZ appeared in March '98, the year/chapter marker is set at the March issue for all following years. (Does that make sense?) Also, the chart assumes that Z will not go to twice a month once DB ends.
(Special thanks to "Dragon Ball Daizenshou Book 3: Story Guide" for help in making this chart, and just for being an AWESOME book in general. I wish it was available everywhere, in English, so that those of you who can't find it, or read Japanese, would be able to enjoy this incredible tome of knowledge.)
Well, that's about it I guess! The moral of the story: EVERYONE needs to get their hands on these comics, especially those of you who have seen nothing but FUNimation's dub. Viz has done a wonderful job, and it brings me great joy to know that Dragon Ball has finally been brought to America in its pure form. They deserve to be rewarded for it.
NEXT TIME: "The dub is just fine! Stop complaining!" How many times have you heard THAT one? For me, far too many to count. Over the years, I've noticed several recurring arguments that dubbies use to support the idea that FUNimation's version is "good enough." Make sure you're here as I go head-to-head with the "US DBZ Hippies" (thanks, EX) and one by one expose the flaws in each of their most popular arguments. It's gonna be a slobberknocker!