|A Black Day for DBZ|
My friends, I come before you with a sad announcement: Dragon Ball Z in the United States is dead. Worse than that, actually. FUNimation killed it, and is now defiling its corpse.
I received the package on Thursday the 20th of May, and felt a mixture of excitement and fear, knowing that the video contained within would be the final proof of whether FUNimation had finally rescued Dragon Ball Z from the depths. I hoped that the voices would be completely reinterpreted and recast, that the Japanese music score would be put back where it belonged, and that the writing would be brought up to a respectful level. One of the two new videos would be enough, I thought, to give me a good idea of what to expect from Season Three. So "Captain Ginyu: Double Cross" (the one with four episodes) was the one I chose to be my guinea pig, and the one that the following review is based on. So I put the tape in, took a deep breath and pressed play.
Oh, the horror.
I got through one episode, and about 5 minutes into the next, when I absolutely had to turn the hellish spectacle off. It was nothing that I had hoped for, everything that I feared, and to be honest, exactly what I expected. FUNimation has always possessed the uncanny ability to make the worst-case scenario in every DBZ-related situation come to pass, but there was of course the undying optimist in me that insisted that this time things would be different. At the very least, I thought, it can't be any worse than what they've done already.
Boy oh boy, is it worse. Let's see... where should I start? The voices, I suppose. My greatest fear was that FUNimation would simply hire a bunch of actors to imitate the original VA's, hence (in their minds) creating "consistency" with the show as it was before. But then I thought, "No, that won't happen. The results would be disastrous, not to mention the fact that to do it would show a great lack of understanding and respect. And besides, didn't they take charge of the dubbing process themselves because they weren't happy with Ocean's choices?" Well guess what. They went with the old "imitation" idea. Not only that, but these new voices are atrocious. What did they do, pull them off of the street? At least the original cast was made up of professional actors with experience and talent. Now before you say that I'm going back on my original conviction about the Ocean cast, I want to clarify something. I have always maintained that I thought they were very good from a performance standpoint, it was just the sound quality of some of the voices that didn't fit. For example, Dave Ward is fine as an actor, but the voice he uses for Kaiou is all wrong. Brian Drummond is a charismatic, distinctive, and fantastic performer, but the voice he uses is just not what Vegeta was meant to sound like.
Well now not only does Vegeta still not sound right, but his lines are being delivered by an "actor" with none of Brian's charisma or talent. And Kaiou... Kaiou's voice is everything that was wrong with Dave Ward's multiplied by 10. He now has a lisp, and I can honestly say without exaggeration that this, combined with the terrible line delivery, makes him sound like he has Down's syndrome. Or Adam Sandler when he's doing Cajun Man, although that's being a little too generous. And then we come to the bottom of the barrel: Kuririn's is simply disgusting. I was truly enraged when I heard it, because it is an unforgivable insult to the character, and it singlehandedly reduces the show to utter ridiculousness. You absolutely cannot take Kuririn seriously when he sounds like Jimbo from South Park. Yes, he sounds just like that, I'm not kidding. No, wait, it's worse, at least Trey Parker can act. This is just horrible. Horrible.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what's wrong with this new cast. Thought Pauline Newstone made Freeza sound like your old grandmother? Well now he sounds even more like a woman, there is absolutely no reason for any new viewers at this point to believe that the character is male. It's unbelievable that FUNimation can do things like this and just expect the fans (or anyone else) to accept it. Ginyu? Lame. Gohan? A great imitation of Saffron Henderson (probably the closest of any of the new cast) but so what? Saffron's voice didn't fit to begin with. And don't get me started on his laugh, a truly hideous cackle that I'm assuming is supposed to sound charming. There is one scene where Gohan and Kuririn are laughing about something, and they JUST WON'T STOP. Believe me when I say it's like Chinese water torture.
So is there a bright side to all this? Well, in my opinion new Goku sounds better than Peter Kelamis, but he's still nowhere near Ian Corlett. And I wish he could do the battle scenes without sounding like he's trying to push out a huge dump. Overall though, I could get used to him. Same for Buruma. Way too bitchy, and Lalainia was better, but the adjustment to her voice was easier than any of the others. Basically, the characters whose original VA's simply used their natural voices sound at least tolerable now, and that's because there was no "trick" to imitate. But those who were already caricatures in the Ocean cast are now caricatures of caricatures in the new cast. It's easy to see why that happened. Obviously, FUNimation just took the over-the-top cartoony elements of the old performances (Vegeta's rasp, Freeza's lizardlike snarl, etc.) and tried to duplicate them. And the results are just terrible. Remember how forced Oolong sounded in the video release of "Tree of Might" when Scott McNeil (an otherwise great voice) tried to imitate Alec Willows? Well, this is even worse. These new people are trying SO HARD to sound like the old voices, and it is very, VERY distracting. Is FUNimation actually trying to fool us into thinking that it's the same case? What they should have done is completely rethink their method and approach to the acting and directing, to find actors whose normal voices sounded like the original Japanese ones, not WORK to bring back undesirable elements of the first two seasons. It just goes to show how two dimensionally they view these characters. It's more important that Vegeta do that rasping thing, (that he sound like a cartoon character in other words), than for him to sound like a normal human being and let his real personality come across. Listen to the Japanese version. You'll notice that NONE of the principal characters use anything but their normal speaking voices, and this is what gives them that sense of reality, subtlety, and believability. The "cartoon voice" mentality really needs to be done away with.
Before I move on, I'd also like to mention that there are only 10 cast members listed in the voice credits, 5 male, 5 female. Dragon Ball Z has at least 20 characters that I would consider principals, and dozens and dozens of sub characters. The vast majority are male. 5 men are all they decided was necessary??? What a nightmare this is going to be, hearing the same voices over and over and over again, each time trying to sound like a distinctly different person. This was a big enough problem in the Ocean dubs, it's going to be much worse now, especially when you consider that all it takes is a couple of bad actors to completely ruin a good percentage of the characters. Again, consider the Japanese version here. There was some overlap in the voices to be sure, but overall, it was a wonderfully diverse and very large cast. There were men and women of every age, every vocal type, most of them seasoned and well-trained. And the nature of Dragon Ball demands a cast like that. What we have now is a tiny group of twenty-somethings that have probably never acted before, and FUNimation entrusts them to bring this story to life?? I am lost for words when I think about how utterly talentless this production company is, how many bad decisions they make, and how little understanding and love they have for their property.
So we've dealt with the problem of what the new voices sound like, now we move on to that of what they are given to say. Sorry to say it folks, but the writing is still being punched up with FUNimation's wonderful "humor", mistranslated to create those easily preventable continuity errors, and yes, despite what one might assume knowing that DBZ is no longer being played during the weekend morning slot, it is still being written down to a kid's level (or at least what people in the entertainment business seem to perceive as a kid's level). But why simply talk about how bad the dialogue is when I've got some direct quotes right here? I sat and listened all the way through "Double Cross," keyboard at the ready, and came up with some memorable highlights.
Here's Goku, giving the kids an important message: "Vegeta. no! That kind of violence is pointless!" and, in another instance, expressing his dismay: "aw nuts!" And, what's this? "The pain's too strong and I can't go on!" Goku should write songs for the Backstreet Boys.
Oh! Here's a good threat, also from Goku: "That's what you think, Captain Cocky!" I actually burst into hysterical laughter at this, you've just got to hear his line delivery, the dialogue itself is only half the fun.
How about this little gem from Kuririn: "I'm locked on, and ready to kick butt!" And hey! Who could have known it? Kuririn is "down" with the youth of the eighties! He actually says "mondo cool" and "excuse me for living!" And last but not least, here's Kuririn pleading with Ginyu: "Can't we discuss this thing like gentleman? And don't we get one phone call?" Oh, HAR HAR!! ONE PHONE CALL!! I GET IT!!! HA HA HAAAHAHAHA!! I never thought the day would come where I'd be nostalgic for Terry Klassen uttering "this is nuts!" for the eight time in a single episode.
And I've gotta place Ginyu into his own special category. He gets the "What the Hell Is He Talking About?" award hands down. His dialogue ranges from the charmingly incoherent: "I've got to get the strength up in this body, or I'm done like dinner!" to the downright obscure: "I hope you're both wearing clean underwear, because you're both about to take a trip to the emergency ward!" Done like dinner? Um...... whaaa?? Is there a single one of you out there that has ever heard this expression before? Is it code? Is it some Texas thing? And that underwear threat... um... well, that just doesn't work at all does it?
Oh and that's just a sampling. Freeza is a regular Margaret Cho in this video, belting out a steady stream of one liners that will have you rolling on the floor. And Vegeta is as clever as ever: "this is going to be easier than coloring inside the lines!" Ah yes, and guess what? That expression that you never thought you'd hear again, the bane of DBZ fandom since the English version was released, the one the only...
Yes, that's right. It wasn't actually used in "Double Cross," but I have it from several sources that this despicable phrase (or a variation thereon) was indeed uttered at some point in "Assault," causing at least one fan to remove the tape immediately from his VCR and throw it into the basement, "hopefully never to be seen again." (Check out Greg's site and look under the 5/19 entry in the news section if you want to read the full story.) This is very telling, I think. How many times must FUNimation have been asked by now NOT to use this awful bit of dialogue, and yet they're STILL DOING IT? The "another dimension" issue symbolizes so much, and the fact that they haven't abolished it just shows how out of touch they are with the fans. Un-freaking-believable.
And the music. Good God, the music. The Shuki Levy stuff is gone, the Japanese score is (of course) not there either. So what are they using now? Hm, how do I put this... I said that the original dub's music was like someone pressing the demo button on a Casio synthesizer. Well if that's true, then this just sounds like a cat walking across the keys. It is absolutely the worst soundtrack I have ever heard for anything. This vile garbage makes the music from Donkey Kong sound like Beethoven's Fifth. I'd say that It literally does sound like a video game, but that's far too kind, since there are some great scores these days. This is more like an old 16-bit Super Nintendo shooter. It is achingly electronic, and I honestly can't think of any score I've ever heard that is more inappropriate for the material. And it's just plain awful music any way you look at it.
But of course, not everything about the new episodes is bad. Goku now does the "next episode" narration (a la the Japanese version) which is incredibly minor, but still very cool. I guess this is FUNimation throwing the fans a bone, and so they can say that Season 3 is "a lot more like the original version." Still, though, it was truly wonderful to see everyone bleeding (oh you know what I mean!) and very nice to hear "die" and "kill." But I've said it before and I'll say it again: It doesn't matter if all 90% of the fans in this country seem to care about is seeing blood, the censoring is and always has been the LEAST of my problems. The writing, presentation, music, and voices were my greatest concerns, and they have all fallen dramatically in quality. So in other words, it's great that they're doing uncut versions now, that's what many of us have been desperately fighting for from the beginning. But I can't help feeling that we're actually quite a bit worse off now than before, censorship notwithstanding. Even those nifty little CG animations for the episode titles are gone, now it's just simple white text. Wouldn't you know it? The one and ONLY thing that was actually BETTER than the Japanese show is no longer there. So it seems almost as if we've traded overall quality for a few shots of blood here and there, and that's not worth it for me. Not by a long shot.
Judging by the early responses that have been appearing around the Internet since the release of the new episodes, it would seem that the verdict is nearly unanimous: Season 3 sucks big time, and a lot of people are disappointed and angry. I really feel sorry for all the fans who have bought the videos and who were totally unprepared for how terrible they were going to be. I would go as far as to say that the show has been reduced to a mockery, a hideous one at that. And not just of Dragon Ball Z as a whole, but even of the first 53 dubbed episodes. Yes, that's right. These are so bad that the first two seasons seem wonderful in comparison. The show may have been deeply flawed before, but really it just needed some fine tuning here and there to be respectable. Season 3 is an abomination, and I really don't know if it can be salvaged, short of starting over from the ground up. The production values, that music, the voices. This garbage is absolutely vile! There are no adjectives in human language strong enough to describe the stomach-churning experience of watching these episodes, seeing Dragon Ball Z mangled before my eyes in a way I never thought possible. It's as bad as a fan dub! After seeing this, part of me wishes that DBZ had never been brought to the US in the first place. Certainly not Season 3, anyway. No new episodes at all would have been FAR preferable to what FUNimation has done.
I've been wrestling with something since about halfway through watching the video, and I thought I should let you guys know: After seeing these episodes, I'm not sure if I should even bother continuing with this site. I mean, what's the point? All of my hopes for the future of this show keep being smashed, and things are just getting worse and worse. I created this site partly out of a desire to get FUNimation to understand the error of their ways and to fix things, it was meant to be a persuasive suggestion that they think again and go about their work differently. I saw potential in their version of DBZ, room for improvement, hope in other words.
But they haven't listened. I'm beginning to realize that they don't give a damn what the fans think or want. They continue to ignore our requests for a subtitled version.They continue to go to the extra expense and effort to replace the original music with that horrible sludge, despite the unanimous declaration by all the fans that the Japanese score is a thousand times better. And then they unleash Season 3 on us and expect us to tolerate it. And to my dismay, there are already fans out there who are buying into it and actually supporting and defending their recent efforts. We keep "forgiving" these butchers, no matter how many grave mistakes they make. I'm just growing so weary of it all, and my patience is about used up. I don't know how much longer I can stand this ever-worsening situation. When will I be able to stop watching this unprofessional, talentless, impoverished little production company utterly and completely RUINING something I love? Once again, I am left asking the question that has been haunting me since day one: How did these nobodys manage to get the rights in the first place??
At this point, some of you might be saying that I am impossible to please. No matter what they do, I'll never be completely happy. Perhaps that's true in a way, but it's just a matter of degrees. And I can honestly say that there have been moments in the past when I actually felt satisfied, when I said to myself: "You know, this really isn't so bad!" And if Season 3 had been at the same level of quality and faithfulness to the original version as the video releases of the 3 movies, well, I could finally shut up. No censoring, the original score, halfway decent writing and acting.... There would be faults of course, but overall I would at last be content. Alas, it was not to be.
So what happens next? These episodes will be aired on (shudder) national TV this fall, but I can't conceive of Cartoon Network actually letting them be played over their airwaves,. This trash isn't fit for public access TV. We can only hope that some apocalyptic calamity will consume the earth before fall arrives, otherwise it's going to be a very tragic time. Fans are going to abandon the show in droves, potentials will be driven away by the terrible dubbing and music, and advertisers will leave just as quickly. In other words, my dear friends, US DBZ is almost certainly dead in the water, all that remains for us is to watch it sink. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that there will be no Season 4. A series of bad decisions is going to lead to a great waste of time, energy, and a whole lot of money unless something is done soon. If the voice work is moved back to Canada and the Japanese score replaced... well, then things might be OK. But nothing short of that is going to save this show.
I hope I'm wrong, of course. Who knows what might ultimately happen? The latest word from FUNimation is that they're "working out" some of the problems with the new season, and that the voices, writing and music will get better with time. Heh, riiiight. I'll believe it when I see it. Given their track record, things aren't going to get any better, and will almost definitely get worse. I am about ready to conclude that, in the words of dub Ginyu, US DBZ is "done like dinner," and the most tragic part is that it didn't have to happen.
NEXT TIME: That editorial about the comics, I promise. Man, that thing has been on the back burner for MONTHS now! It'll be nice to finally get it done.