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What I Learned From Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 21:38

The other night, I watched Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie (劇場版 カードキャプターさくら) for the umpteenth time since purchasing the Japanese DVD way back in 2001 (my very first Japanese media acquisition).

Then I watched the dubbed Cardcaptors movie, courtesy of Geneon's US DVD release.

First thing's first: the dub is bad.  It's pretty easy to find that much on the internet.  Mania.com (formerly AnimeOnDVD.com) begs us: "For all that's holy, do not listen to the dub of this movie. Dubs like these are the ones that keep Japanese language fans from giving credit when due that there are good dubs out there."  Like the many user reviews dotting the internet, I share the frustration at the dub's poor quality.  However, I'm equally frustrated at why it's considered so bad.

Mania.com's review, like others on the internet, focuses on things like the mispronunciation of Sakura's name and changing the subject of report card talk from math class to music class.  I can't help but think it's classic missing the forest for the trees, considering: the story is totally different between the dub and sub.

Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie is a story of unspoken love transcending time to manifest itself among the heroes of the series, eventually recognized and placated through Sakura's near-superhuman ability to empathize with her adversary.

Cardcaptors: The Movie is the story of an evil magic student's vengeful spirit, seeking retribution against the "twisted" teacher who imprisoned her in a book to keep her from taking over the world.

Just a bit different, right?

I suppose I could go on about stuff like how American cartoons require the clarity of explicitly evil antagonists and simple relationships, but I also wanted to touch on the second part of this dub/sub discussion: the music.  Besides the easy gimme stuff like switching music styles from the original's jazz fusion to pop-rock with peppy vocals (jazz fusion wins, of course...), there's the issue of how and when the music is used.  Take the following scene taken towards the end of the movie.  First in English:

 

 

And now in Japanese:

 

As you can probably see and hear, there are some interesting differences between the two clips.

First: the instruments.  After the more ambient music ends, the English adaptation has some basic rock drums for the beat with middle of the road synth horns and strings on top: a fairly small virtual instrument ensemble.  The types of instruments are the exact same in the Japanese version: drums, strings, and horns.  However, the sound is drastically different.  Everything is much lighter, with the low-end de-emphasized and the high end active.  There's actually plenty of timpani and snare in the original, but they don't dominate the same way the rock kit does in the adaptation.

Second: the composition.  The adaptation features a relatively simple composition, with the beat in the foreground and the melodic instruments not executing much approaching melody.  Harmonically, it can be a considered a big ole V-i chord progression from beginning to end.  The original soundtrack is much more active both melodically and harmonically.  Despite the fairly short amount of time it had, the music established a rhythmic motif in the comping strings (one significant enough to warrant repeating toward the end of the piece) and a rather memorable melody in the high strings.

Third: the timing.  (This is actually the thing that made me want to write this post.)  In the English adaptation, there's a fairly long piece of ambient music that precedes the piece featured in the clip.  That piece of music ends and the new piece of music begins once Sakura's wand strikes the card.  In the Japanese, the music begins as Sakura throws out the card to be unleashed.

The following is kind of nebulous, but please bear with me.  I find it interesting the differences in how the event of Sakura saving herself from her watery predicament are scored.  However, I find it even more interesting how the event is cordoned off by the score.  In the English, the event is delineated solely by the physical consequence of Sakura's action of activating the card.  In the original, however, both Sakura's intent and its consequences were scored by the music.  This got me thinking about meaningful actions: actions that have sufficient intent and consequence, especially within a game context.  I've always found it interesting how Japanese game design enjoys playing with the concept of intent.  Compare the explicit obfuscation in the world of Japanese fighting games to the context sensitive face buttons in Gears of War.  The input into a BlazBlue arcade stick might seem crazy (it often is, from an abstract sequence perspective), but many can't help but look at the visual/narrative output as rather clear and considered.  Then you've got strategy games like StarCraft, where the consequences formed by layer upon layer of intentions can be absolutely bewildering... compared to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles, where the consequences are utterly predictable.

Okay, maybe it's not all that much, but I just wrote this post to say: Thanks, Cardcaptor Sakura.  I think you taught me something, even if I am stretching for it, and it's not totally clear what exactly it is.

(Also: I had no idea Kaitani Naomi (singer of the movie's ED theme, Tooi Kono Machi De) released a new album this year, and a remastered version of the movie came out in 2007...  ARGH!)

 
Comments (3)
1 Thursday, 27 August 2009 16:49
Persona
Loosely related, but it really bugs me when American dubs shove incidental music into any bgm-less gaps of sound. I mean, really? Is it impossible for kids to watch Ash walking down the forest without every second of footage being filled with innane WAH WAH WAHHH music playing?

Oh no, silence! Shoot, the kids might start thinking! Quick, jam on those keys for a bit and we'll shove it into the sequence, lickity split!
2 Thursday, 27 August 2009 21:52
Vincent Diamante
Totally agree. Actually, this particular sequence is smack dab in the middle of 7 minutes of continuous music in the adaptation. Horribly frustrated by it all.
3 Monday, 12 October 2009 13:15
SDShamshel
The more you look at Cardcaptor Sakura, the more you'll find moments such as the ones you had. It's an incredibly solid show that gives more every time you revisit it. You can tell that the people who made this show put a lot of effort into it on multiple levels.

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