Dubbing cartoons is a funny old thing. All cartoons are animated from a script, and everything from body movements to gestures and lip flaps (*splutter*) reflect the words and intent of the original author. So it’s a bit of a nightmare when the time comes to release the cartoon in another territory. A great deal of stuff we watch over here is made in (or more accurately for) America, so dubbing isn’t an issue. But people in distant lands have it tough.
It would be boring to go through a whole bunch of cartoons and see how they’re adjusted for export, so instead I thought I’d choose some popular ones and, if nothing else, listen to the theme songs and see how they differ from what we’re used to. They run the gamut from surprising to plain to just plain wrong. Grab your headphones and turn it up to 11!
Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their way to the UK in the late eighties, the “ninja” was replaced with “hero”, as the censors believed that the nation’s youth would be corrupted by the violent connotations of such a word. Michaelangelo was also forbidden from using his nunchaku. I have some books that literally have his weapons erased from the artwork, so it appears he’s bravely flying into battle with only clenched fists.
Never mind the swords, sai and machine guns that the other characters used. Never mind the fact that the villain was called The Shredder and was covered in blades. Nope, the very mention of the word “ninja” would do irreparable damage to our malleable minds, and the sight of two small sticks (but of course, not Donatello’s single, long stick) would push us over the edge and spawn a generation of hardened, violent thugs.
Anyway, I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t know the TMHT theme song. So it’s unsurprising that when the show was dubbed for Germany, they kept the same music. The lyrics are a bit different but not in any way strange. So what’s remarkable about this one?
It’s the voices. Gott im Himmel, they’re bad. And there’s so many of them! You have the main singer and his backup vocals, a narrator, and then a whole bunch of random voices that I assume are meant to be the Turtles themselves.
You can just feel the enthusiasm, can’t you? The way every line is delivered in a robotic monotone that makes Stephen Hawking sound like James Brown. How many cigarettes do you think the narrator had to smoke to get his voice like that, anyway? I can hold it together until about the thirty second mark, but the entire cast chiming in with the same cheerless, mechanical voice makes the song sound like a dirge. It’s frankly hilarious, and I can only wonder how it sounds to the ears of a native speaker.
I’ve written about the Gummi Bears before, and at the time I mentioned how much I love the theme song. It’s so good, I have it on CD. So when I discovered that there was a Japanese version, I was pretty pumped! I do speak Japanese so I can understand the lyrics pretty well, and they send a little tingle down my spine every time.
As before, the music has been left untouched – it’s only the lyrics that have changed. In my experience, the Japanese do not have great success dubbing over English songs, but this time they’ve managed just fine. It’s helped a lot by the emphatic delivery and pleasant timbre of the singer – it’s a breath of fresh air after the Teenage Kranken Lobotomy Turtles.
I often sing this to myself as I potter about the house, and find that I frequently slip back and forth between Japanese and English without realising. It’s superb, and I get a little carried away until I realise that I’m singing about a group of teddy bears that live in a forest getting wasted on special Gummi Bear moonshine.
When I first heard this, I cried with laughter. Literally cried.
It was not a cruel or mocking laughter, quite the opposite. You see, the original He-Man theme song didn’t have any words, it was simply a tune played beneath the opening narration. So when I decided to listen to the Spanish/Latin American version, the very last thing I expected was the sudden outburst of a male voice. The sheer enthusiasm of the vocalist took me completely by surprise. I mean, I thought I loved He-Man, but this guy must worship him. He sounds like a Gospel singer.
It’s incredibly odd to hear words to go along with the familiar He-Man tune, but they are absolutely delightful. Translated they mean something like “The universe is now protected by the Power of Grayskull! With secret powers from this castle, He-Man will fight until the end!”
It’s also nice to see people doing something different! So far all we’ve seen in simple re-dubs, it’s nice to know that they went that extra mile.
My Little Pony
Music is a big part of My Little Pony. In fact, it’s the ‘insert’ songs that got me hooked on the show. They are used to speed the story along or elucidate a character’s predicament, and without fail they’ve always been excellent. The lyrics are always clever, backed up by wonderful instrumentation. So when the show was released in Japan, I was wagging my tail in anticipation.
However, like a dog being walked to the vet, I was in for a disappointment. I also had a wee on the floor.
The lyrics had been dumbed down considerably, and virtually no attempt had been made to make the syllables match the rhythm and verse structure. Bad show, Japan. Were it not for my collection of saucy MLP manga I would have renounced my nationality there and then. Or at least, I would have if I was ever a Japanese citizen. (I feel that after several cavity searches and CAT scans, the Japanese government is familiar enough with me that it has to count for something)
Anyway, I was lost in my funk and flicking through Twilight Sparkle’s Big Boob Daibouken when I came across a collection of French MLP dubs. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I opened up my ears – and my heart – and gave them a listen.
They’ve never won a major military campaign, and they’ve unleashed several varieties of semi-liquid filth they dare to call “cheese” on the world, but sacrebleu, the French can sing a good song! Full marks. C’est top! I know enough French to discern that the lyrics are very faithful, and the words match the music just as well as the English ones did. Incredible.
Power Rangers is almost unique in the fact that it’s largely dubbed from a Japanese live-action show. These days it’s a co-production that’s filmed side-by-side with an American and Japanese crew, but back in the early nineties they had to make some tough (yet cheap) creative decisions to re-assemble from Japanese footage a coherent show that would be acceptable to the western audience. So what was left behind?
I could write a whole other article about this, but for now we’ll stick to the original 1993 series. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers theme song. It sounds something like “Go Go Power Rangers” repeated seventy billion times. Let’s take a look at what the Japanese were watching…
Over there the show was called Kyouryu Sentai Zyuranger, roughly translated as Dinosaur Squad Beast Ranger. I gotta say, I almost wish that they’d kept that name, and the theme tune! The show had a decidedly different feel in Japan, very far removed from America’s “teenagers with attitude” living in Angel Grove. The titular Beast Rangers were supposedly cavemen from ancient times, frozen and then thawed out to defend the modern world from evil.
Were it not for my Pavlovian response to the original Power Rangers, I’d probably prefer this version. As it is though, it just gives me mixed and confusing feelings, like the Cuddle Corner at Crealy Farm.
“Damage to our malleable”