Things I learnt from The Boy and the Beast: good voice-acting is important

The Boy and the Beast is a Japanese movie about a human boy who ends up in the parallel beast kingdom and grows up there.


In this post, I’m not going to talk much about the movie plot (so no important spoilers. You’re welcome). What I’m interested in is actually the long-standing sub VS dub debate.

Sub? Dub? What’s that?

Subtitled (sub): everyone in the movie still speaks in Japanese, but there are English subtitles on the screen so people can understand what they’re saying.

Dubbing (dub): instead of Japanese, everyone in the movie speaks in English.

There are pros and cons for each side, but I’m firmly on the sub side. Not only because I’m trying to learn Japanese, but some things just don’t translate well into another language.

For example.

In the movie, Ren (the boy with mochi in his hair) refuses to reveal his name to Kumatetsu (the beast that looks like a shaggy bear), but does reveal that he is nine-years-old. Kumatetsu works with what he has and names Ren “Kyuuta”, basically nine (kyuu) + generic name suffix.

After an eight year timeskip, the Japanese version of the movie (or so I’ve heard), revisits this when Kumatetsu jokes that they could call Kyuuta “Jyuunanata” (Jyuu-nana = 17). The English version doesn’t bother (I think?). And that’s good. If they tried, that throwaway line would just turn from a lame dad joke into a ‘what the…’ moment.

Of course, not all dubs are bad. In fact, dubbing can sometimes make things even better. Axel from Kingdom Hearts comes to mind. The thing about Axel is that he really, wants people to remember his name. So after he introduces himself, he follows up with his catchphrase. In Japanese, the catchphrase translates loosely into “Committed it to memory?”, which is still pretty cool, but the English dub gives us the appropriately catchy: “Got it memorized?”.

Now, back to the original reason for this post: voice-acting.

When I watched this movie in the cinema, I was told that the movie would be subbed (original voice actors in Japanese + English subtitles).

They lied.

Everyone talked in English.

I was pretty horrified, but I couldn’t just walk out of the cinema, so I stayed. And it actually wasn’t that bad. There were some parts that sounded a bit odd (but only if I compare it to how it would sound like in Japanese). Overall, it was good enough that I could actually focus on the movie.

After I left the cinema, this got me thinking. We went into the movie for the story (the cake), and voice-acting is just one of the extra things that comes along with it (the icing), but it still contributes to the overall experience. Just like how you don’t need good grammar to have a good story, but it helps if your readers don’t need to reread the same sentence ten times because it’s written so badly no one can tell what the sentence is supposed to say.

Long story short, after watching The Boy and the Beast, I learnt that even the little things (like grammar and good voice-acting) matter.


Posted on March 10, 2016, in Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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