Look What They've Done To My Show!

If watching the original Japanese DBZ is like drinking freshly-squeezed orange juice, then watching the English version is like drinking Tang. They're both based on the same flavor, but the Tang is artificial, unsatisfying, tasteless, and a cheap imitation of the real thing. Maybe it's the melodramatic voice acting and stupid dialogue. Maybe it's the wretched theme song or the synthesized,hollow, emotionless background "music." Or maybe it's just a personal thing, and I have too much invested in the original to accept ANY kind of change. But of course it's all of these things together that have added up to this new "thing" that FUNimation has dared to call Dragon Ball Z. Everytime I watch the English version, something about it just feels terribly wrong. It's like the spirit, the core, the humanity has been sucked out of it, and all that's left is an empty shell. It's frustrating for me to try to put it into words, because I can't. It's just a feeling I have.

What is that NOISE in the background?

This may sound a little strange, but the music is definetely my biggest problem with the English version, and I think the fans have been far too lenient on FUNimation for changing it. Especially since what they are using now is crap, and doesn't fit the spirit of the show at all. I don't think people realize how much of an effect music has on the overall perception of any kind of film, including TV programs, and just how important of a role it plays. To me, the music is just as important as the voices, the directing, even the animation itself. When you change the music, you change the show at its very roots.

One of the things I have always enjoyed most about the Dragon Ball series is the BGM. I don't think I have ever heard a score, television or film, that so perfectly fits. The music written for this show has a very distinctive sound, and it captures everything that DB is about. It can be quirky, it can be sad, it can be exciting, always with just a touch of melodrama, and it always manages to stay so true to the characters and visuals.

It has a strong, dominating presence, giving everything just a little more depth and significance. The style is sometimes classical, sometimes contemporary, but always decidedly Oriental, obviously very important to a story based in ancient Chinese legend. Overall, the original score gives the show a very deep sense of maturity and age, but at the same time, youth and timelessness. It is rich, vibrant, and all-natural, made up of REAL instruments, emphasizing wind (especially horns and flutes) while being strongly supported by violins and the occasional guitar. It is charming, genuine, warm, and honest music. What is most important overall is that it is performed in an old-fasioned traditional style, and a myth needs to have that kind of sound supporting it.

The new score by Kossa Mahehi and Shuki Levy, quite frankly, disgusts me. This music (and I use the term loosely) is abysmal; I have heard better pressing the "demo" button on an electronic keyboard. This garbage is not even in the same league as the original BGM, and it leaves me wondering why in the world they would replace such a rich, vibrant soundtrack with THIS. It's just so static, undynamic, and plastic. It never goes anywhere, never makes any decisive statements or produces any memorable themes. It fails to make any kind of impression on the listener, and the artificialness of it has a way of severing the viewer's emotional, human connection with what is happening to the characters. And this ultra-modern synthesizer sound does not fit with a show that, while making use of modern concepts, is still aesthetically rooted in ancient times, and thematically rooted in ancient stories.

And it never, ever, stops, either. From the moment the episode begins to the moment it ends, this dismal, uninspired crap is droning on and on endlessly in the background. They don't seem to understand the power of silence for dramatic effect, such as in those scenes where the only sound is that of the wind blowing.

It's easy to see the point I'm trying to make when one compares certain scenes of the Japanese version with the corresponding English ones. I have found that the new music shows it's true powerlessness most evidently during scenes of great emotion, such as the death sequences. I will never forget when I finally saw Chaozu's death in the original version, because I realized at that moment what an incredible injustice it, and so many other scenes, had been done in their altering. As Tenshinhan lies dying, he is flooded with memories of his friend (all cut from the English version, by the way) and this is accompanied by an absolutely heart-wrenching violin solo. The (seemingly minor) editing and rescoring of this scene in the English version robs it utterly of it's emotional power, it's almost like they were trying to ruin it. Yamucha and Piccolo's deaths were "desensitized" in a similar manner (although Piccolo's was handled a little better than the others.)

Here's just a few (of far too many) more examples to check out and compare (if you have the resources) Notice how much more you care about what's going on when the music is different:

  • (35 Japanese, 26 English): The scene where Kuririn is about to finish Vegeta off plays much differently in the original version. It's not just because it lasts almost a full minute longer, it's also the slow, gentle, and hopeful music used, which gives a certain nobility to Goku's plea that Kuririn show mercy. It also makes the agony of Kuririn's decision even more apparent, since the pain over the deaths of his friends is really brought out by the slow pace and mournful sound of the piece. You don't feel any of this in the English version, especially since, on top of the emotionless music, the scene has been trimmed down to a great extent, taking away all of its tension and importance.
  • (51 Japanese, 39 English): When Goku's friends arrive at Kaiou's and contact him telepathically. This part is so heartwarming and... significant in the original version. Just through the music and performances you can feel how happy Goku is to hear that his friends are ok, and you can sense the history and the bond between them all. In the English one, it's like, oh... wow... those guys again... hmm...
  • (Every episode) When the episode title appears onscreen. Japanese version: hopeful, inspiring, adventurous. English version: foreboding, low-key, almost threatening.

Basically, there's no reason why they can't use the original music. FUNimation might argue that since they have to trim the show here and there the music would get trimmed in those same areas and create a messy sound, but CD's of all the Dragon Ball BGM are readily available, and they could easily make their own mixes.

Rock the Dragon? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT???

And now we come to the issue of the theme song. Yes, the BGM bothers me, but this pile of musical feces is absolutely inexcusable. I have never heard a song so utterly lacking in intelligence, charisma, and lyrical relevance. This is an insult and an embarassment to Dragon Ball and its fans, as well as a slap in the face to everyone involved with the original production.

Watch the original Japanese opening and compare it with the American one. Notice the feeling of adventure and inspiration created by the music and visuals; you get a sense of hope and inner strength, it charges you with raw energy. The American opening is absolutely moronic in contrast. It is nothing but scenes of the characters bashing away at each other, set to this nightmarish, repetitive song where the same idiotic, ambiguous phrase is repeated over and over again.

Theme songs (and music in general) have an importance that is almost totally overlooked in American television, particularly children's programming. Anyone who doubts the influence of theme songs should remember that a good one can sometimes be more popular than the show itself (Speed Racer, the 1970's Spiderman animated series) The opening sets the tone for the show, and the FUNimation DBZ opening, being totally mindless, sets a tone of mindlessness. It creates an atmosphere of thoughtless, random aggression, far from what Dragon Ball Z is really supposed to be about. Considering the fact that this is such a TV violence-paranoid society, I wonder why they would replace the original opening, which is MUCH more cinematic, symbolic and pleasing to the senses than theirs, with almost all original animation and without a single act of violence, with one that is nothing more than a collection of fight scenes, recycled footage cut together from the movies. Extraordinarily tacky. When parents see how this show is presented (which is what an opening does,) it will only add fuel to their (already inevitable) opposition to it. It's rather ironic that FUNimation uses the violence of this show to appeal to potential viewers, yet this same violence is watered down to the point of ridiculousness in the program itself.

Can FUNimation honestly say that their theme song is better than, or anywhere NEAR equal to the Japanese music? Judge for yourself - Check out the lyrics to "Rock the Dragon" and compare them to "Bokutachi wa Tenshi Datta," the second DBZ ending theme.

"Rock the Dragon"
performed by some utterly talentless moron

Dragon Ball Z, HA!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Dragon Ball Z!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Come Get Me!

Dragon Ball Z!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Dragon Ball Z!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Come Get Me!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Dragon Ball Z!
Dragon, Dragon, Rock the Dragon, Come Get Me, ha!

Dragon Ball Z! Dragon ball Z, HA!

"Bokutachi wa Tenshi Datta" (We Used to be Angels)
performed by Hironobu Kageyama

Buried and drowned in time, all that's left are memories
Just as you remember too, we use to be angels then

Spreading the word from the highest of heavens
Of love and of happiness
Dropping seeds of peace to take away the pain
And loneliness

Why, tell me why blue sky
When I look at you, that's right
I feel the power of our souls, hear me call

To my friends,
We may have lost our wings with which we flew up so high
But now, even now, I can feel your true mystical tide
To my friends,
Embracing the light and building hopes for the truth and our dreams
Listen, one day you'll find what you've been searching for in your life

So you say you've lost your way in this city style
But the tears you cry still run innocent as a child

Playing in a garden high, high up in the clouds
Running wild with the moon
Loving lovers as we touch them with our hearts
That soothe

Yeah, all the dream visions
We got inspirations
All the magic to make them real, hear me call

To my friends,
If we believe in tomorrow and what it may bring
We can change this planet back into a paradise, yeah I say
To my friends,
All the pain that we learn from making this love
Never let us forget each other, forever we are friends

To my friends,
We may have lost our wings with which we flew up so high
But now, even now, I can feel your true mystical tide
To my friends,
Embracing the light and building hopes for the truth and our dreams
Listen, one day we'll find what we've been searching for we are friends

This translation comes from Suushinchuu, used with permission.

I don't think I need to say anything to compare these songs, which works out just fine since no words can describe how many thousands of times better the Japanese song is from the English.

This is a perfect representation of what FUNimation has done. This is also a perfect representation of what the fans are so frustrated about, and what they feel like they have no power to keep from happening.

It is a testament to what an extent FUNimation has willfully disgraced, and will continue to willfully disgrace, this wonderful anime, and just how much they can strip it of. It is a testament to how little they see in it, and how little they care about how much of its true intelligence is retained in the English version

I look at the Japanese lyrics over and over again, and mourn what might have been. Both of these songs bring tears to my eyes, but for very different reasons.

And all the Japanese songs are like this. They are intelligent, relevant, and full of beautiful imagery, the English theme is just... good god how I hate this song!

But I have a feeling I know where this problem comes from. The following comes from an interview in Animerica magazine with FUNimation executive producer Cindy Fukunaga:

Interviewer: Will the Japanese theme song be included at all in the US broadcast of Dragon Ball Z? If not, how did you decide what type of music would be used?

Fukunaga:No, we composed a new theme... I'm told it's of the sort that's very popular among American children now.

Later in the interview...

Fukunaga: One of the things we really feel is that [DBZ] is unique. For most American cartoons, you can look at it and say that it's just like five others, but we think that Dragon Ball is unique...

Looks to me like she's contradicting herself. First she says that they were looking for a theme that sounded like everything else on American airwaves, and then she is complimenting the show's uniqueness.

Dragon Ball Z is unique, and FUNimation should be exploiting that for all it's worth. Make it stand out from the crowd by having an opening theme song that blows away all the mindless drek out there. (And yes, unfortunately, she's right. Most cartoons these days have theme songs that sound a lot like "Rock the Dragon.") But why can't DBZ be different? Be adventurous. Set a NEW trend. Have a theme song with lyrics the likes of which no one has ever heard on a "children's cartoon." If Japanese kids are smart enough to understand intelligent lyrics, why shouldn't American kids be? Why is FUNimation encouraging the dumbing down of American media rather than fighting it with a quality alternative?

That's not really Freeza's voice is it? The Trials and Tribulations of English Dubbing

As far as the general fan population is concerned, I have gathered that most are either dissatisfied with the dubbing, or don't really mind it that much. Very few like it to any great extent, and the only people who actually prefer the English voices are the ones who were introduced to DBZ through the dubbed version.

This is one of the few areas of the English production that really doesn't bother me so much, the dubbing to me is good enough to not really be a concern, not as much as the background music, the scripting, the censoring, or the overall presentation of the show, anyway. Perhaps I've become desensitized, but I have just seen so many terribly dubbed anime that I must (grudgingly) admit that this is some of the best voice acting I have ever heard in a dub (Not in all of animation mind you, I'm strictly talking about dubbed anime). These people are professionals, and many of the actors are really very good.

Goku (Ian Corlett, Peter Kelamis) I thought Ian's voice was perfect, and I only truly appreciated what a beautiful voice this guy had once he stopped doing the voice, he really had what it takes to carry the show on his shoulders. What happened to him, anyway? He's still credited as a writer on the show, why can't he do Goku anymore?

As far as Peter is concerned... well, I really hated him at first. I absolutely could not stand him and was convinced that I would have to actually stop watching the show because his voice bothered me so much. However, maybe I'm just getting used to it, but I really liked his performance in the last two episodes of the season. His incredibly annoying accent wasn't so thick anymore, and he seems to be gaining confidence and getting the hang of the character. I haven't written him off just yet, and I'm actually starting to like his voice. He will never replace Ian, but I think he's tolerable.

Gohan (Saffron Henderson) I don't like this voice, and I never have. It's not that she's a bad actress, it's just that this voice simply doesn't capture Gohan's purity and innocence. The low scratchiness of it is just so ugly and distracting, as opposed to Masako Nozawa's brilliant portrayal. Saffron has her moments, though.

Kuririn (Terry Klassen) I got used to this voice, so it doesn't bother me as much as it used to. It must have been very hard to find a voice for this character that would match his appearance, so I'm willing to be a little more lenient for him. Terry's line delivery can sometimes be REALLY annoying though.

Piccolo (Scott McNeil) Probably my favorite of all the English DBZ voices, in some ways I prefer him to Toshio Furukawa. He gives the character a demonic sound, (which Piccolo should definetely have), and he's just a damn good actor.

Vegeta (?) When I first heard this voice, my heart almost stopped, I thought I was having a nightmare. This could NOT be Vegeta. All the other fans felt the same, and this was a fairly unanimous verdict. As the first season went on, though, I kind of got used to it, and by the time the second came around the actor seemed to have changed the voice slightly, and by then it didn't bother me any more. I still think he should sound more regal and... well... human, but you have to admit, the guy has a VERY distinctive and memorable way of doing the character, and is extremely charismatic.

Freeza (Pauline Newstone) *shiver* Just what the HELL were they thinking? No, Freeza is NOT supposed to sound like an old woman with a tracheotomy! His voice should be deep, and powerful, and MALE! WHY THE HELL DID THEY GIVE HIM A WOMAN'S VOICE?? My least favorite of all the English DBZ cast, perhaps because I love his (unbelievably cool-sounding) Japanese voice so much.

Buruma (Lalainia Lindbjerg) Doesn't bother me at all, and she seems to have a 99% approval rating among the fans (not counting my brother, boy does he HATE her voice). Perhaps my only problem with her is that her interpretation of the character is WAY more bitchy than the original was intended to be.

Yamucha (Ted Cole) One of the best voices FUNimation got for this show, without a doubt. He actually sounds a lot like the real Yamucha, and he's one of the few cast members who actually has a natural-sounding voice, (as opposed to most of them, who are overacting, or doing a "type")

Tenshinhan (?) I wish his voice sounded more mature and natural, the one they are using now is just so nasal and adolescent. He sounds too much like he's trying to be a "tough guy." I did think, however, that his performance during the battle with the Saiya-jin (especially Chaozu's death) was excellent.

Chaozu (Cathy Weseluck) Perfect. What else can I say? Actually, Cathy Weseluck is one of my favorite voices out of all the NA anime dub seiyuu. Her Shampoo is AWESOME.

Chichi (Lisa Ann-Beley) I really like the sound of her voice (I bet she's a great singer), and I hope she continues doing it, but its not quite right for Chichi, who should sound more innocent and... well... dumb. She's got the bitchiness down perfectly, though.

Kaiou (David Ward) They really screwed up on this one. The whole point with Kaiou is that he's supposed to be a wise, omniscient type, but is getting a little confused and senile in his old age - the source of his terrible sense of humor. David Ward just makes him sound like some fat moron.

Kame Sennin (Ian Corlett, David Ward) Two actors (three if you count the original Dragon Ball) have tried to do Kame Sennin, and none of them have been very successful. I honestly don't understand why they can't just hire an old man to do the voice. It would sound SO much better and more natural, and I'm sure there are hundreds and THOUSANDS of retired old men walking around out there with nothing to do. HIRE one of them! And while your at it, get one to do Kaiou also!

Narrator (Doc Harris) Don't get me wrong, Doc has an incredible voice, and he does the job well, but this "action movie announcer" sound REALLY detracts from the mythical aspect of DBZ, something that is already hurt by using that ultra-modern synthesizer music. In the Japanese version, the narrator is Joji Yanami, the same person who does Kaiou. Having an old man do the narration gives the show that essential "legend" quality.

Minor Characters I have found something rather frustrating about many of the supporting cast: their voices are generally better than the main characters! Example: Gyuumaou (Ox King) This guy is GREAT! He sounds EXACTLY like the Japanese actor! Zarbon: KICK ASS! The Aussie accent was kind of wierd, but I think they really need to use Paul Dobson more, I hope he does Cell. Buruma's mom: PERFECT! Puar: AWESOME! They did a great job finding voices for these people, why couldn't they find an appropriate voice for Freeza?

Of course, some of the minor characters also have terrible voices, the worst of whom is Karin, who sounds like a New York Jew. This Harvey Fierstein-sounding voice is just awful. Yet another character they should have gotten an old man to do.

Parachutes and The Next Dimension: The Dialogue Which Makes Us Cringe

OK, so the voices aren't terrible, I can deal with them. And the dialogue, about 70% of the time, is acceptable. It certainly isn't a dead-on translation (or even remotely close at times), but I happpen to think that its better to have dialogue that sounds good in the language that is being spoken, than to have dialogue that's embarrasingly bad, but an exact translation. So long as the same general idea is conveyed, I have no problem.

But it's that other 30% that is the problem. When not only the original meaning is completely washed away, but a different one entirely is inserted.

With the English DBZ, there are a lot of, well, really stupid-sounding lines. There is far too much (unintended) comedy, and most of this comedy is actually really bad. Once in a while there will be a joke that will make me chuckle, and every now and then, something truly ingenious, but FUNimation's batting average isn't too great. I am particularly annoyed with the constant references to North American pop culture, which not only don't make sense in the context of the show, but are TOTALLY out of place in DBZ. They make me groan with embarrassment and frustration every time I hear lines like: (Goku to Kaiou) "Somebody stop me!" or (Recoome to Bahta and Jees) "I like to watch soap operas" Please. No more of this.

And there are even occasional references to the Christian religion, (which I don't necessarily have anything against), that are just as out of place as the humor, if not more. I'm sorry, but I do NOT want to hear Piccolo (who is supposed to be a demon) saying "Obviously you've never heard the story of David and Goliath," or Kuririn, a Buddhist monk, reciting a Christian prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep..." This is just wrong for so many reasons.

Another tragic loss in the translation is something of whose importance to fans FUNimation probably has no idea: the special attacks (ki-ais), which have been totally mistranslated for the most part. Most of the time, in fact, they aren't even translated at all, and simply come out as "AAAAUUGGH!!" This is a big disappointment, as the attacks are such an important part of the fun of DBZ. Kamehameha is mispronounced (No, FUNimation, this is has NOTHING to do with the Hawaiian king, it would probably help if you actually KNEW something about DB), as is Kaiouken. And Gohan should be saying "Masenko" NOT Kamehameha, which is a technique he is not supposed to learn until the Cell saga (I'm telling you, these people REALLY need a fan consultant.) The only two attacks that have a slightly respectable translation are Goku's Spirit Bomb (Genkidama) and Yamucha's Spirit Ball (Soukidan).

Another problem with the dialogue is that there's just too damned much of it. There are a lot of scenes where the characters are not supposed to be saying anything, and it seems like whenever anyone's mouth is not shown, FUNimation will take that opportunity to have someone start blabbing away. Like the music, which never stops, neither does the dialogue. FUNimation seems to have a REAL problem with silence. I have a couple of theories on this subject. One is that perhaps their actors are paid by the line, and that they have some sort of contract to keep them talking whenever possible, or two, that they think their viewers are incredibly stupid, and need to have everything spelled out for them, without relying on the subtlety of the directing to get the point across.

Part of the problem with the dialogue overall is that it is being written down to the level of young children, or at least what FUNimation perceives as the level of young children. Again, the interview cited above is relevant here:

Fukunaga: The first Dragon Ball... was doing quite well with men, too, all the way up into their mid-20s. The story itself is actually for a higher age group than the basic audience target...


Besides, even if the audience target is very young, that doesn't mean the dialogue has to be stifled. The old Warner Brothers cartoons taught us that writing can be done at many levels, and can be accomplished in such a way that both kids and adults can enjoy it equally. By dumbing DBZ down to the lowest common denominator, they are cutting off a great deal of older potential fans.

And then there's the dialogue carefully written for that "other" purpose, which is a whole different ball of wax. I think you all know what I'm talking about. Yup, the lines that exist to sanitize the show for North American television. Including, but certainly not limited to, that bit of cop-out dialogue that DBZ fans shall forever quote with ridicule and disgust: the infamous "another dimension."

Part of the reason why this line is such an issue among fans is because it represents just how ridiculous the censoring of DBZ actually is. Death, the word that describes the most fundamental and defining truth of human existence can, according to FUNimation, not be spoken, and is, in effect, a vulgar term. What kind of sick, neurotic individuals are behind this nonsense? What kind of twisted society would make such a thing necessary?

But the worst thing about this line is not how stupid it sounds or how ridiculously ineffective it is at doing whatever it's trying to do, it is just so incredibly dehumanizing. How are we supposed to identify with a world of characters who DON'T DIE?? How dare FUNimation berate the intelligence of their viewers by trying to deny the existence of death. And what are they accomplishing anyway? Are they trying to appease parents? What you see on the screen is that an act of violence caused someone to not exist anymore. What difference does it make what WORDS you use?? The kid watching it is going to tell his friend that "Yamucha DIED in that episode" he sure as HELL isn't going to say that "Yamucha got sent to another dimension," regardless of the dialogue that was actually spoken. Who do they think they're fooling with this insanity?

And it certainly doesn't stop with this "other dimension" crap. Vegeta and Nappa land and blow up a city. But don't worry! According to the news reporter, everyone got evacuated in time! Oh sure, it took all of TEN SECONDS to evacuate an ENTIRE CITY! Just a little bit of a logic problem there. Nappa blows up a news helicopter, but everything's alright because Tenshinhan "can see their parachutes, they're ok!" I honestly came close to vomiting when I heard that line.

If they really can't say "die" for some reason, I wish they would use something, anything, besides "another dimension." That just sounds so... scientific and clinical. Once again, I must stress that this show should have a legendary, mythical quality, and they don't use physics terms in myths. Why not "next world" or "netherworld" or "after world" or even "afterlife" instead? The word "die" wouldn't actually be used, but any of these sound infinetely better.

According to FUNimation, "die" can't be said because it isn't allowed on children's programming. Well I've got news for you, they're lying. Flat out lying. I can cite SEVERAL examples of cartoons that not only use this word often, but show ONSCREEN DEATH. Batman: The Animated Series, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, Robotech, the list could go on and on. All of these shows seem to have no problem with the "death" issue, as a matter of fact, DBZ seems to be the ONLY one that does! This is VERY odd, since DBZ is syndicated, and Batman: TAS (for example) exists in the network environment, which you would think would have much more stringent guidelines for these types of things. So how do you explain this, FUNimation? Especially since the first four episodes of DBZ were chock full of the words "die" and "kill" on their first airing. Did the FCC suddenly pass a law that only you are aware of?

Or, perhaps, are you buckling under to pressure from the censors and parents, or paranoid that your precious advertisers will be scared away if you say this naughty word? It is this tendency of FUNimation to "play it safe," and to put their financial and personal interests before the artistic integrity of their property, and then LYING TO FANS ABOUT IT, that truly disgusts me.

The last thing I have to say about this subject is that I honestly don't think the show is going to go off the air if they use the word "death." The "moral majority" isn't going to like this show no matter HOW much FUNimation tries to sweeten it up. It is violent by nature, and there's no getting around that. FUNimation should be standing up and FIGHTING for the right for this show to be seen as it was meant to be seen, not being the lapdogs for the whims of every paranoid censor or parent in the country.

WOW! These guys don't have blood!

And now we come to that oh-so-clever FUNimation "digital paint" technique, with which they have oh-so tidily covered up everything that could be considered slightly offensive. This includes, blood, nudity, naughty words, and even a decapitation, at one point.

I don't have much to say about this, except for the fact that I think it's unwarranted in many instances. I've seen blood on many cartoons, but this is yet another thing that Dragon Ball Z, (and apparently only Dragon Ball Z) can not show. And of course there was the famous "Hell" episode, in which the ogre's shirts were painted over to read "HFIL." That's funny... if you can't show, or say, "Hell" on children's TV, then why did the Animaniacs visit the place (and meet Satan, no less!) on one occasion? (And I should like to mention that Animaniacs is targeted at a YOUNGER audience than DBZ.)

In all fairness to FUNimation, though, I should like to point out that even the Japanese animated series has been toned down somewhat from the original manga. For example, when Tenshinhan gets his forearm knocked off by Nappa, that thing is just GUSHING blood in the comic. In the anime, the blood is significantly lessened. And of course, in the NA series it isn't there it all. So some of these censors are actually three-tiered. It would appear that even Japanese television has standards, quite a bit more sane than ours, but they are there nonetheless.

All of that notwithstanding, I do have a theory that FUNimation uses this technique for some other reason, not just for the purposes of censoring. What that is (and why) I can only guess (To show it off? To keep the painters employed? Who knows?), but the fact is, they use it for NO REASON sometimes. In episode one, for example, there is a scene where Raditz is holding Gohan, who has tears streaming out of his eyes. Strangely enough the tears are actually painted away. I can't think of any reason why this would have been done. Just one of many mysteries, I guess.

The cutting room floor

The series, particularly the first season, has been suffering some major editing throughout its run so far. While I find this to be unfortunate, and a definite concern, this is also what bothers me least of all the problems with the English version; I think there are good aspects of some things being cut.

OK, fans, it's time to fess up. No less than 1/3 of the Dragon Ball animated series is filler material, pure and simple, and it exists out of pure circumstance. A 14 page weekly manga simply can't keep up with a 24 minute weekly television series, and a lot, a LOT, had to be added to the TV show to keep it from getting ahead. My point in bringing this up is that a great deal of this material is expendable, and if we ever want to see the end of this series on US TV, at least some of it should be done away with.

Case in point: Episode 59, 60 (46, 47 English version), the episodes where Buruma has to retrieve the Dragon Ball that has fallen into deep water. Are these episodes REALLY necessary? Does this do anything but bring the momentum of the series to a grinding halt? There are some episodes like these that have "filler" written all over them, and are better just to skip. If FUNimation had gotten rid of all the fillers in the first season, they could have shown everything that was in the manga, and still have had room to spare. Don't get me wrong, some of the filler episodes are my favorites (if they skip Piccolo and Goku's driving lesson, or Gohan's birthday party, I'm going to be REALLY upset), but the series could be sped up so well if these unnecessary filler episodes were removed.

What bothers me is when they cut important scenes, or ones that were in the original manga. I think that if they just stuck to the "only cut filler material" rule, everything would be a lot better off.

...but I guess it could be worse

After all that I've said, it may seem like I hate the English version of DBZ with a purple passion. That's actually not the case. When someone gets up on their soapbox and starts ranting and raving about something (like I'm doing now) it's easy to dismiss them as an overzealous militant without any sense of objectivity. If my criticisms are to be taken seriously, I think it's necessary for me to say something positive about the English version, if for no other reason than to show that I am looking at this situation with a fair and open mind.

In the spring of 1985, Robotech appeared on North American television and created legions of anime fans (I among them). I loved this show dearly, and it was only later that I found out that Robotech was actually a hacked-together conglomeration of three completely unrelated Japanese shows. When I finally watched the original version of Macross, I was absolutely stunned, and saw what a terrible thing the English producers had done to it. It wasn't just the names and music (breathtaking, by the way) that had been changed, but the story itself. It is only now that I truly understand how the fans of Macross in the United States must have felt when they saw it treated this way. I was lucky enough to see the original version later, as opposed to seeing it destroyed before my eyes, and I (hesitantly) forgive the English producers for doing what they did. But only because if it wasn't for this show, I wouldn't be an anime fan today.

I bring this up because DBZ fared MUCH better in the States than Macross did, and we should all be grateful that FUNimation obviously has at least SOME respect for the show. It only takes one look at shows like Voltron, Robotech, and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to see that things could have been much, MUCH worse. Some of these companies have absolutely NO respect for artistic integrity whatsoever, and I shudder to think what would have happened if DBZ had fallen into their hands.

So what HAS FUNimation done right? Several things, actually. The character's names are (for the most part) unchanged, which is VERY rare in an English translation. I like this because I think names are important amd really make a difference in how characters are known to people. The scripting and voice acting, while certainly plagued with problems, are still a cut above most dubbed anime. The story has been kept intact to a surprising degree, and the characters have retained their personalities fairly well. The dialogue is really well-done every now and then, and they've actually fixed a few things I never liked in the Japanese version. For example, In the Japanese show, Goku, Tenshinhan, Yamucha, etc. are known collectively as "The Z Soldiers." In the English version, they are "The Defenders of Earth," which I think is a whole lot better and less corny-sounding. "Z Soldiers" is actually something I would have expected FUNimation to come up with.

And there are other aspects of the overall presentation that are better than the Japanese version. For one thing, the video is greatly enhanced, vibrant and alive, and the sound is of at least 10 times greater quality. It is a rich, booming stereo, while the Japanese version has a subdued, hollow monaural soundtrack. It's the kind of thing you need a good sound system to notice, but when you do, you REALLY do. And the neat CG animations for the episode titles are often my favorite part of the episode! They've gotten really creative with some of these, and they look terrific.

Their choice of licensees is also superb, I must say. I don't know who makes the T-shirts, but they are absolutely jaw-dropping. I personally don't like to wear clothing with any kind of logos, pictures, etc. on it, but a few of these shirts in particular are so incredibly beautiful that I have been sorely tempted...

And Pioneer is doing such great work with everything (the card game, the videos, marketing, etc.) that I kind of wish they would take over the whole US production. The videos of the TV series are great, certainly more well-done than the KidMark Dragon Ball videos. And the movie releases are something else entirely, they are truly everything a fan could hope for. Great translations, unbelievable picture quality, and stunning box art, that is, for all three of the releases so far, actually better than the originals. It's worth going out and buying the Pioneer versions even if you already own the original Japanese releases, whether or not you need the subtitles. And the dubbed versions show us EXACTLY what the aired TV series SHOULD be like. The opening/ending themes are there, the BGM is unchanged, there is no censoring or editing, and the dialogue is totally unrestrained. All that's missing is English lyrics for the themes, and FUNimation would then have no excuse whatsoever not to air the TV series just like this.

The movie releases show exactly why Pioneer is such a great choice for a licensee, everything about the work they have done reflects a great love, understanding, and respect for anime, and if FUNimation had just gone with KidMark again for Z, I guarantee you that there would NOT have been subtitled versions of these movies. Actually, the fact that there's a subtitled version domestically available at all is pretty amazing, considering that nothing like that has ever been done for any other mass-marketed, nationally syndicated anime import.

As far as the censoring is concerned, I know that not all of it can be blamed on FUNimation playing it safe. There are definetely some strict guidelines out there for what can and can't be done, and I know FUNimation is under a lot of pressure. And let's face it, this show is INCREDIBLY violent compared to most cartoons out there. People are constantly being stabbed, crushed, blasted, pummelled, vaporized, blown up, decapitated, or otherwise brutalized, and I'm surprised that so many of these scenes have stayed intact.

And its not just the censoring, that must be altered, either. FUNimation has to get out there and sell this show, and explain it, and make it look "profitable" to, an endless parade of guys in suits. Network executives, toy manufacturers, censors, etc., and there are definite adjustments that have to be made to make it appear palatable to people who know nothing about Dragon Ball, or anime, or Japanese culture itself, and who only see dollar signs.

And finally, something I think all DBZ fans in North America will have to confess. The existence of the English version is probably the one thing keeping the Dragon Ball Z fandom alive here. Let's face it, both the manga and TV series are long since over and done with, and, in Japan, DBZ fans have all moved on to new things. I myself was getting a little burned out on DBZ, until the English version came along and made things interesting again. For those of us in the US, the English version is something to chew on and bitch about, and it's bringing new fans into the fold all the time. This site certainly wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the English version, and I at least have to thank FUNimation for giving me something to happily waste my time on.

Who do I blame?

The answer to this question may seem obvious to most of you, but no, it is not who you are thinking. This may sound a little surprising, but before anyone else, I hold Shueisha, TOEI Animation, and Akira Toriyama himself personally responsible for what has been done to Dragon Ball Z in the States. Before you get the rope, let me explain what I mean. When the rights to DBZ were sold to FUNimation, a contract was drawn up between the original copyright holders and the new licensee as to what could and couldn't be done with the show. I can't help believing that if the contract had been more strict, then the show probably would have fared much better. If I were Toriyama, I certainly would have never allowed the English producers to take as many liberties as they have.

For example, when Speed Racer was sold for US broadcast, it was made explicitly clear that the original background music was not to be changed. Why couldn't this have been one (of the several needed) stipulations in the US contract for DBZ? Were the parties controlling the original Japanese version weakened by all the money being waved at them by US producers? Or did they simply not care how their property would be presented outside of Japan? In either case, the situation is disappointing.

In my opinion, the contract should have included (at least) the following items:

  • The music must not be changed, including the opening and ending themes, in which the only alteration will be English-translated lyrics.
  • All the casting must be personally approved by those involved in the original production
  • No editing or censoring, except in the most extreme cases
  • The dialogue must be faithfully translated

Call me a purist fanboy, but I really don't think any of this is unreasonable, especially considering what we're talking about. The Dragon Ball series is a worldwide phenomenon, it is one of the most popular stories of all time. That being the case, it deserves special respect. This is not just any anime. To me, changing the music to Dragon Ball would be no different than to change the music to Star Wars, the censoring and altering is no different here than if the Walt Disney company decided to cut out the death scenes in Bambi. Hell, why not colorize Schindler's List while we're at it? Or change the plot of Peter Pan so that orphans are no longer the main characters (English DBZ episode 10 was not shown just because of the presence of orphans!) Dragon Ball needs to be recognized as a classic, as something important and unchangeable, it isn't just some merchandising whore that anyone can buy and alter as they will so that it can be dumbed down and made palatable to American children and their hypersensitive, violence-paranoid parents. Am I going too far when I say that this show should be treated with the same respect as the Wizard of Oz or Hayao Miyazaki's films? (which by the way, Disney will be releasing, but only under VERY strict conditions) I honestly don't think so.

What the English DBZ should be

There should only be one difference: The theme songs and dialogue should be in (faithfully translated) English, with voices that sound like their Japanese counterparts, and that's it. No censoring, no "other dimensions", no "artistic license" with the casting of voices, no stupid theme song, nothing. Just the same old DBZ we all know. There is absolutely no reason why this couldn't be done on American TV, even children's TV. Nothing has been censored (with the sole exception of the occasional nude shot) that I have not seen on other American cartoons. There has been blood and onscreen death on many shows. "Heaven" and "Hell" have been mentioned,(on Animaniacs, for crying out loud!), and the word "death" itself is said, well, on a whole LOT of cartoons. Some have even taken entire episodes to deal with nothing but the death of a character, and, I would like to point out, have been commended for it by parents.

A friend of mine once said that nothing would have gone wrong if the English version had been produced by a group of hardcore fans. That statement got me thinking, and I realized he was right. Who is more reverent of something than a fan? Who would go to those extra lengths to be certain that everything, every word of dialogue, every nuance in an actor's voice, was just right? Who would be more careful that those things that made the experience special were retained? A fan understands that it's every little tiny, seemingly insignificant detail that adds up to making the thing that they love what it is, and only a fan can know what to change when something has to be, and how exactly to change it correctly.

And a fan wouldn't alter the show so that it would "fit in" with inferior American formulae for animated shows. He wouldn't add stupid "cartoon sound effects," or cheesy humor that wasn't originally intended. He would want this show to stand out by being different, by being its true self, and to show the world why the show is so special to him.

There need to be people working on the English version who care just a little too much, who spent far too many late nights watching the show huddled in the dark, who know the characters like they know themselves, who have some kind of emotional investment. There need to be people working on it who, well, let's face it, are freaks like me who love this f***ing thing a whole lot more than they should.

What I want

I honestly think that there is still hope. I wouldn't have bothered saying all of this if I thought English DBZ was a lost cause, or if I truly believed that FUNimation didn't care. If I was a Sentai fan, for example who was horrified by what had been done to Power Rangers, I would know that that show had absolutely no chance of being salvaged.

But Dragon Ball Z is different. I can't give up on it, because it is so damned close to being the way it should be, or at least, close enough. There are only a few changes that need to be made to make it respectable, even if it still has to be censored for US broadcast. The FUNimation executive producers have expressed a desire to keep the show intact to some degree, and if that truly is the case, I want to be there to point out to them, from a perspective of a fan, what needs to be done.

Anything that, if done at this point, would create an inconsistency, I wouldn't expect (or want) them to change. For example, the names and the voices should be kept as is, it is too late to do anything about those without causing confusion among the viewers, and an incongruity in the show itself. However, there are still a few things that can be done without compromising the integrity of the English version as it exists now, namely:

  • The theme songs should be redone, or to put it more accurately, undone and changed to an English version of the originals. Also, all episodes released in previous seasons can have these new themes tacked on to the beginning and end when they are rerun. Let's make sure that "Rock the Dragon" is never heard again!
  • Same thing for the background music, use the original for all new episodes, and reinstate it into all the old ones.
  • From now on, no more of this "other dimension" crap. OK, maybe for some insane reason THIS show (and apparently this show only, it would seem) can't say "die." Fair enough. But, for God's sake, use some other term, anything.
  • All writing from here on in should be a more faithful translation of the original Japanese, without all the unnecessary added comedy. And bring back the character's attack names. I want to hear Tenshinhan scream: "KIKOHO!" rather than "AAAAAUUGGGHHHH!!!!"
  • Voices for characters yet to be introduced are to sound at least something like the originals
  • When editing is done, only edit "filler" episodes and scenes. Do not touch anything that was in the original manga.

Now, is that so much to ask?

The first thing FUNimation needs to do to bring these changes about is to get past the idea that this show has to be like everything else on the air. Once they gain the courage to exploit its uniqueness to the maximum extent, to stand up to the censors, and to have the accurate presentation of this show a priority set above all else, including pleasing parents groups, making money, and playing it safe, then they can make the first truly excellent anime for American TV in history. Then anime fans can celebrate a victory in the long, hard road of getting their art form presented to the mass audience the way it was meant to be presented.

To be honest, all I REALLY want is to know that FUNimation has read and understood this page and what I have been trying to say. A response would be even better, and if there was a reasonable and supportable reply to each of my criticisms, perhaps I could understand why things have been done the way they have. I just want FUNimation to know that I am PLEADING with them to rethink their deeply flawed decisions regarding the disrespectful and unnecessary reversioning that they have inflicted on this timeless work of art.

So that's it (if you can believe it). Problem is, I feel like I only got out about half of what I wanted to say. I guess that's the problem with trying to verbalize something you feel really passionate about, but I did my best. I just hope my thoughts will make a difference somehow.