The Ethics of Reinterpretation or, A Defense of Dubs

A word, if I may, about dubbing. I would truly like to believe that we now live in an age where near-instant streaming, dual language physical media existing as the norm, and an increased sense of globalization intermingling cultures freely with one another, means that we can at last move past the torrential debate of whether subtitled or dubbed programming is more worth watching. But I also like to think we live in a basically ordered universe powered by some manner of beneficent entity, so my idealism blinders are rather strong.

While there’s many an argument on both sides that amounts to little more than shrillness disguised as a desperate bid for legitimacy, the best case I’ve heard against dubbed performances is that they’re disrespectful to the original intent of the director or the performer. And, while I think there’s some shades of grey to the statement, it’s something I’d like to parse a bit – because while there will always be paycheck-scumming performances, there are just as many where the actor put their heart and soul into their part of the final product. Is it then disrespectful to those actors to make the original language track a sort of ‘second choice’ when the show comes to foreign shores, an extra that the casual viewer might not even think to turn to?

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Green Jacket 10 – The Practice of Cagliostro

Or: The One Where I Wind Up Doing a Character Analysis of Lupin
Or Or: The One With the Drinking Game

Want to start at the beginning?

Today’s lesson is as follows: there’s nothing like TV to prepare you for the movies, or so the story goes with this week’s episode. If you have an excess of post celebration alcohol (and are of legal age, or willing to tell me such), here’s a quick way to empty it: take a hearty shot every time there’s a visual or narrative motif that will one day be reused in The Castle of Cagliostro, and by the end of this post you’ll be so completely blitzed that  an upcoming season of yet more sequels, moe shows, and harems will cease to be such an overwhelmingly depressing concept.

“Hunt Down the Counterfeiter!” begins with Lupin and Jigen pulling off an unusually straightforward car assault, stealing a briefcase full of money from what appear to be their evil twins (it would seem that low ratings were not kind to the character designers). But alas, aside from giving them off-screen time to nab a plane (an honorary drink for Miyazaki’s burgeoning love of flying machines), the briefcase is totally useless: the bills inside are all forgeries, and not even good ones at that. Lupin vows that he won’t rest until he finds a counterfeiter capable of making perfect false bills in order to fool his current rival, Baron Ukraine (who sports an unfortunate ugly shag cut to rival the Count’s, so go ahead and drink).

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Drink! While observing the character development!

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The 2013 Liebster Awards

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We interrupt my usual pontificating to indulge in a heartwarming surprise and a bit of camaraderie. The very articulate Artemis was kind enough to nominate Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories for a Liebster Award! I had no idea what this was until I was nominated, but that just means I had the pleasant humbling pride of being complimented by a blogger I respect AND getting to do the research I’m ever-fond of. For the fellow uninitiated, here’s a rundown of the rules:

The Liebster Award is intended to give some exposure to small blogs with less than 200 followers. The rules are as follows:

1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you

2. Answer the 11 questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you

3. Nominate 11 other bloggers with less than 200 followers

4. Go to the blogs you nominated and notify them of your nomination

5. Give your nominees 11 questions to answer.

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Green Jacket 09 – Play the Bebop Blues

Want to start at the beginning?

The infallible information source Wikipedia quotes Shinichiro Watanabe as being inspired by Masaaki Osumi’s Green Jacket when he was working on Cowboy Bebop. This is the episode that sells that idea for me, and not just because I can’t bear to imagine a director I respect so much drawing strength from the Formula One episode. The title of this week’s episode, “Killer Sings the Blues,” really clinches the comparison. You know, besides the Spike-Lupin, Jet-Jigen, Faye-Fujiko comparisons. Want to watch along? Episodes are here and previous recaps are here.

They brought back the beatnick-timed-explosion combo for this week’s opening, and wouldn’t you know it? I actually found myself feeling a little nostalgically fond. Which is odd, because I spent an age dragging my feet on this recap. ‘Ugh, didn’t we just escape this guy?’ my persistent procrastination practices seemed to grumble (perturbedly). We were indeed graced just last week by newly minted head Hayao Miyazaki, but don’t let me lazy inner monologue get to you. Other than the fact that it benches Fujiko to damsel duty for pretty much the entire episode (an admittedly sizeable but), this shows a real ‘what-could’ve-been’ shine for Osumi. You can almost hear him saying ‘fire ME, will you? I’LL SHOW YOU with quality output that was missing in consistency before when it would’ve been useful. SO THERE.’

We start in the procedural style, with our guest of the week and a total stranger discussing what’s about to go down with the plot. A hitman’s hit town and is looking for Fujiko, saying his life depends on seeing her again. His name is Poon, which is perhaps the most unfortunate thing this episode could’ve possibly done. This is the guy we’re hanging the episode’s emotional hat on. I imagine you, my dear readers, might have been mature enough to go right for the sexual reference that would’ve made Monkey Punch proud. But I’m stuck some distance back, on the fact that it’s a name that makes every single character forced to speak it sound not unlike a very shrill Pokemon. Especially Fujiko, since most of her dialogue this episode calls for a plaintive and keyed-up note. Poon is not a name you can insert into serious conversation, particularly if that conversation is in Japanese. Then again, as a child I was incredibly attached to a group of characters with names based on (at best) vegetable puns, so what do I know?

Back with our main cast, Lupin and Fujiko are having a date-drive, which will increasingly seem like the only place such things are allowed in the world of Green Jacket. They’re also going around hairpin turns way over the speed limit without seat belts, but it’s cool – as we know, Lupin’s bones are made of rubber. Not to mention most cars made in the 70s were screaming metal death traps. The real purpose of this scene is to showcase what will become a more-or-less standard state for their relationship. And considering how much shit I gave Osumi for certain Really Terrible attempts at writing ‘romance’ for Lupin (in general and with His Lover Fujiko), I concede that this is an excellently done scene. Lupin makes a pass at Fujiko only to rebuffed. Then he exposits the job for the week, a heist to steal plans for a rare computer chip, and suddenly he finds his efforts a touch more warmly received. Just describing it like that, it’s pretty obvious that a betrayal is going in the mix somewhere. But the dialogue and the performance of the actors come across as genuinely sincere and touching, talking about their relationship as a beautiful moment in the present that washes away any bad blood or past betrayals. While other Lupin projects (Secret of Mamo in particular, as well as Fujiko’s Unlucky Days/The Columbus File) have played up the Lupin/Fujiko romance, they tend to frame it much more in the sense of a traditional eternity-and-declarations love story. And that has its charms, don’t get me wrong, but it never feels as genuine to me as moments like this do. Part of the joy of Lupin and Fujiko as characters is the way that they flout conventions, living outside of society’s rules in ways we wish we could. And their relationship is part of the canon’s bedrock: fish swim, birds fly, Bioware games have good writing, and Arsene Lupin loves Fujiko Mine. But they’re not so much the white picket lovey-dovey types as two waves that keep crashing into each other (and have a great time doing so). And honestly? I find their affection more endearing knowing that they can freely spend time apart or close to other people and yet still feel so strongly when they come together again. That’s unusual, and it’s worth preserving. Oh, but speaking of eternal devotion –

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Revenge of the metaphors!

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My Favorite Christmas Movie is From Japan

Around this time of year everyone has their holiday lineup. Whether it’s A Christmas Story and the nightmare inducing clay faces of the Rankin-Bass specials, whatever Chanukah films are left after disregarding the atrocity that is Eight Crazy Nights, or just raising the good old Festivus pole and perhaps rocking out to Die Hard, this is a time of year that deals in familiar faces. After all, the holidays are times we want to spend with our families (of blood or of choice), remembering good times and enjoying the safe space of familiarity while spreading kindness to all humanity. I’m a bit of an optimist, so sue me.

But that nostalgia can make it hard to bestir yourself to look into new stories. After all, there’s so many great ones already, right? And we’ve all sat through the Hallmark schlock at least once, induced in our sleepy sense of goodwill into at least attempting a warm embrace of the cash in made for TV stuff. I’ve been there, dear readers. But the point of this unusually uncoordinated missive is to give you the last great addition to my own family’s Christmas filmathon: Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers.

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My heart grows three sizes just looking at them

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Green Jacket 08 – Enter Young Hayao Miyazaki

Want to start at the beginning?

And now, one of the first works of animation spearheaded by an unknown director named Hayao Miyazaki. He and his future Ghibli-partner Isao Takahata were brought on to inject fresh life into Green Jacket’s abysmal ratings (with original director Masaaki Osumi coming back for two more episodes). I’ve been waiting for these. While Osumi’s episodes range from fascinating trainwrecks to having their own weird if inscrutable charm, watching the Miyazaki run is like seeing a master in training. They’re fun, sharply written, creative, and make the BEST use of Fujiko. And yes, maybe I will propose marriage. If you’d like to watch along, you can find Lupin III Part I on Hulu and previous Recaps under the tag. Let’s get started, shall we?

Even the episode’s title, “The Gang’s-All-Here Playing Card Strategy” sounds like the shows been dying for this moment to arrive – so much so that they had to cram as many excited words in there as possible). We open on a soon-to-be-mark in what will become the classic Lupin tradition: he’s fat, surrounded by ungainly wealth, and his head was pulled from the womb by extremely vigorous forceps. This cranially deficient megalomaniac is named Mr. Gold, which on the cleverness scale is right up there with naming your villain “Mal.” He’s counting his money and cooing over his Plot Coupon, a deck of cards that supposedly brings luck. But Lupin calls and is kind enough to warn Mr. Gold that he’ll be relieving the man of his treasure.

Get your diplomas and your cheap alcohol, because we’ve finally graduated from “thief” to “gentleman thief.” Up to now there’s been a serious lack of focus in the series, which is a mixed bag. On the one hand it allowed for spontaneity in the narrative, without the necessity of the heist formula that Red Jacket would eventually become super glued to. And on the other hand, the early stuff is so all over the place in tone, style, and objective that there’s no real reason to keep coming back. If later series and specials fall into a rut of routine then the second half of Green Jacket is that formula’s new-car smell, with the jobs spanning any number of setups or careening off into totally different paths after an initial or planned theft (as some of the best Lupin episodes do). It’s a comfort food strategy to be sure, but when competently executed a gathering of stand-alone adventures are nothing to sneeze at.

Following the title card the scene changes to the night of the heist, where an elaborate soiree is being held. Because that’s what you want to do when you’re trying to protect your valuables. Invite a lot of strangers over and house them in a room with multiple exits. And no, the police guard is not enough. Not even the guy standing on the rough in the bright red trench coat.

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Lupin is no match for the power of the Canadian Mountie

 Not to mention the fact that Zenigata now gets to be a permanent fixture in the cast, after only showing up in two of the seven preceding episodes. This will mean that his competence will eventually start taking a hit, but nothing is perfect. Except Inspector Koichi Zenigata, the World’s Greatest Cop.

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I see you’re here to ignore – is that logic? NEVER LEAVE

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It’s More than Kick Ass – Samurai Flamenco and Deconstruction

Every last work ever written is derivative of something, and the 2013 Hero anime Samurai Flamenco is no exception. The problems start when that fact of fiction-writing is flung around as an insult. The flavor of debate this particular week is of the east-versus-west variety, not unlike when The Hunger Games was accused of being a Battle Royale rip-off for sharing superficial elements (and if that argument isn’t yet dead it should be, thanks to this articulately written article). That vicious battle of nerd subcultures has been seeing resurgence as of late, but in reverse. Many are the pointed fingers accusing Samurai Flamenco of being little more than Kick Ass The Anime. And on the surface, the reason for the comparison is obvious: both start with protagonists in realistic worlds who want to be like the heroes of their childhood fiction, become Totally Not YouTube sensations, meet female heroes with a more pragmatic and violent approaches to fighting crime, and eventually wind up over their heads when a threat much deadlier than petty thugs surfaces. The case isn’t looking good, is it?

But here’s the thing. Approach is everything. Kick Ass is a unique idea that is throbbingly pleased with its own cleverness, something that shows through every frame of its execution. The film (the comic being a rather more unpleasant Take That Fanboys creation) exists as a sort of hyper-real fantasy, one that pays its dues to the violence and nastiness of actual crime but just as often revels in them as a sort of spectacular, Sin City-esque carnival of gore (microwave guy, looking at you). At its heart, the movie is a fantasy dressed up in the clothes of real life, however many people they light on fire. And, pointed terminology aside, that’s fine. It makes it a unique fusion of escapist approach in an apparently naturalistic setting. Samurai Flamenco, from the position of the nearly-halfway point, seems to be taking a more meta approach of applying the trappings of fantasy to a realistic universe. It spends one quarter of its run developing realistic rules, reactions, and considerations for its world and characters, always prioritizing slice of life conversation and character development over Masayoshi’s heroic antics. It clearly wants the mundane to be at the forefront of the viewer’s mind, and it cements it there to blow it apart. When Nic Cage shows up in a fenced Batman costume it’s what we were all waiting for. When a guillotine gorilla shows up at a drug bust, the internet has to stop its head from spinning all the way around. And I think they did it on purpose.

I debated whether I should write this essay before the show was over, since criticism in media res more often than not turns out to be partly or wholly defunct rather quickly. But with the darker turn Flamenco has taken as of late and the uncertain grumbling among viewers, I felt a dire need to step in as its defense. This all makes total sense to me, because at the end of the day Samurai Flamenco isn’t Kick Ass. It has more in common with Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

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