Transformers: Animated

A little while ago, I finished Transformers: Animated. I don’t know if the colon is supposed to go there. Anyway, people said it was the best thing in the series since Beast Wars, and Beast Wars was like my whole childhood, so eventually I broke down and watched it and it really was that good.

The funny thing about TFA is it got a Japanese dub. Obviously I watched the actual TFA because I am not a moron, but I did watch bits of the dub out of curiosity because I can do that (it’s on YouTube!). This is going to be about my impressions of it, independent of the show itself, because I said it was good and that’s all there is to it.

First, the really good things about the dub.

  • Ham-elemental Norio Wakamoto plays a Megatron that is very different from, but every bit as fun as, Corey Burton’s.
  • The theme song by JAM Project.

The rest are going to be in no particular order.

Also, if it wasn’t obvious, this entire post is probably a spoiler.

Names

This is not going to be about the fact that Bulkhead turned into Ironhide somewhere over the Pacific.

TFA(J) has a thing for proper nouns that TFA didn’t. The non-Grimlock Dinobots – sorry, the non-Grimlock members of Team Dinobot – got names from the get-go. All five Starscream clones got names. The group of Starscream clones, collectively, had their own name, the “Star Studs.” (Aside: They aren’t called the Star Studs. That’s something I made up that means basically the same thing but 500% classier. For those of you curious, the name is イケメンズ. Do your own research.)

Even Blitzwing’s three faces have different names, which he enumerates in one of the narrated intros to absolutely no effect. And when Prowl got his upgrade armor in “A Fistful of Energon,” everyone started calling him “Samurai Prowl.” Not as a new title, but consistently, like he had actually changed his name. I’m not sure what was up with that.

Names part 2

This isn’t a very good section. It’s separate from the other one because it’s not going to be entirely about names.

This is one of the things that makes TFA(J) feel more like a stamped-out kids’ show than TFA, though it might also just be something that makes it feel more like a Japanese cartoon than an American one, but… all the robots say the names of their weapons. It’s really weird. You can only hear “Ultra Anchor!” and “Wrecking Ball!” and (god help us) “Ratchet Magnet Powah!” so much before it starts getting silly, and that amount is any of it.

The related and not-name-based issue with this is “Transform!” ’cause in TFA(J) they say it, like, every time someone transformers. It gets dubbed into spots where someone didn’t say it because it wasn’t necessary or didn’t flow, like some of Bumblebee’s rapid transformation race/chase scenes. All this contributes to a sense that TFA(J) is really taking itself seriously as a superhero show and trying to go through all the motions, and I’m not quite sure how much of that is a Japanese thing and how much is because it’s Transformers.

I think I’m thinking about this way too hard.

Vocabulary

The robots use a different and very cheesy sort of robo-lingo in Transformers, with machine equivalents for body parts and biological events and such, that I always thought was kind of stupid but, as it turns out, really miss when it’s gone. It gives the sense, however false and fleeting, that the writers were actually involved in writing a Transformers show, and not a Saturday morning tranquilizer.

The fact that I’m even talking about this should tip you off TFA(J) did away with all this for reasons I’m sure include how busy the Japanese language already is. More on that later.

Jokes

Because cartoons have to have one-liners and stuff. Lots of them were translated very directly, which sometimes worked out all right but frequently fell flat due to either questionable word choice or questionable delivery. The bottom line is the translation phoned in the part where they were supposed to parse the joke and figure out the punchline, and again, some of that is probably culture gap. The result was that jokes based entirely on the text, and a lucky few others, got through.

Not to look like I’m way too invested in this (too late), but I really liked the “don’t ask” joke with the female Star Stud, so let’s talk about it. Literally speaking, the phrase “don’t ask” in Japanese has a very different nuance, yet writing it would have been an example of the straightforward, blind translating I kept seeing. (I think the proper way to put it in Japanese sounds closer to “It’s better if you don’t know.” Also, it’s a moot point because they took that space and used it to introduce her as Slipstream instead.)

Also, not to look like I’m way too invested in the Star Studs (too late), but the pathological liar Starscream whose name I can’t be bothered to remember occasionally throws in a “Not!” or a “True lie!” when he lies, which is kind of annoying.

Space Filling

It’s a well known habit of dubs of all sorts to insert dialogue over silence. For instance, bad or badly done childrens’ shows will add explanation or banter to fill silence or establishment shots on the assumption that otherwise children will lose focus. It’s also done to slip in either exposition that was felt lacking or stealth translators’ notes that can now merge almost-seamlessly into the product.

This is where a lot of that “Transform!” and a lot of the naming of people and weapons goes, as well as a lot of those stock Japanese drama-filler lines that those of you who were brought into animu on bad fansubbing should know all about. Megatron uses it to laugh evilly sometimes.

Character Voice

Background: Compared to Japanese, English has two advantages: inflection and vocabulary. The tone and rhythm of spoken Japanese is… I guess the best word is “standardized.” The common lexicon is also more compact and concise, which also makes it simplistic, which is probably a reason why they give up and say “hand” instead of “servo” and “defeat” instead of “kick his skidplate” and why some Japanese actress couldn’t match Tara Strong’s sassy delivery of sassy kid hero one-liners as Sari Sumdac.

Japanese does have tools to make up for all this and TFA(J) does make use of some of them. They use the cheap ones like accents and copulae (Lugnut, Blitzwing’s angry face). They do some pretty good work rewriting – Bumblebee and Sari do still get some of their moments when they’re showing off, repacked for the Japanese idiom.

And there’s some plain good acting in there, too. Wakamoto reinterprets the suave Bond-villain Megatron as a jolly, glorious ham, which is what Wakamoto gets hired to do. Ratchet has some kind of regional accent (an aspect of his character I would have thought quite secondary to the fact that he’s the Old One, which Japanese can do in spades), but his angry old coot ranting is more or less intact. Even Wreck-Gar got a reasonable approximation of Weird Al’s voice and his clowning.

Still, while I was jumping around randomly through the series, I found an example of flat delivery and literal translation for every one of chewing the scenery and idiomatic localization. Oh well.

(A lot of the more blatant accent work in the original series, like Fanzone and Sumdac, got dulled down, in contrast to the dialing up of characters like Lugnut, but meh. They weren’t that important anyway. By the way, does anyone know what Sumdac’s accent is even supposed to be?)

Changes

Bulkhead became Ironhide. I don’t care.

Apparently they did some rewriting to tie it in with the Bay trilogy. I guess I didn’t watch enough to see where all that was, ’cause it seemed pretty faithful to me.

General thoughts

It’s about on par with what you’d expect for a dub of a childrens’ cartoon. A lot of the stuff that’s associated with corporate dubbing is proud to show its face in TFA(J).

If I were to fansub this blind, the result would probably be a much more boring show than TFA, but a lot of that is related to it being Japanese and a fansub not exactly being a professional-level treatment. On the other hand, a really good re-dub (and now we’re getting into Inception territory) could probably make it about as colorful as the original. All that servo and processor and skidplate business goes a long way.

This is way too much to have written about a kids’ show. Damn it.

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One Response to Transformers: Animated

  1. “By the way, does anyone know what Sumdac’s accent is even supposed to be?”

    I’d assumed 50/50 Indian/Einstein accent.

    And more people should be willing to put this much thought into kids’ shows. Especially the writers and producers of said shows–that’s why Animated was as good as it is in the first place.

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