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Being a Brief Discussion of Anime Dubs: Nerima Daikon Brothers, Volume One
By Way Jeng
December 12, 2006
Every now and then, a show comes along that attracts attention due to its sheer audacity. They dare to attempt what other shows don't. That can take many forms. Often enough it's the shock value of graphic violence or outrageous fanservice. But every so often a series attempts a novel approach on theme or format that accomplishes the exact same job. Nerima Daikon Brothers, released by ADV Films and dubbed by ADV Studios, takes such an approach by offering viewers an anime musical.
The very first issue to address when discussing Nerima Daikon Brothers is establishing exactly what a daikon is. A daikon is a radish, formally known as Raphanus sativus in scientific circles, that resembles a giant white carrot. It's a humble vegetable often used in Japanese cooking and roughly as interesting as corn or potatoes are to Americans.
The Nerima Daikon Brothers grow an endless supply of daikon on a small farm, where they also hope to someday build a concert dome and perform for screaming fans. It's an odd sort of dream for an odd sort of show. The only problem is, the Nerima Brothers don't have more than a dollar to their name. It's a classic setup for hijinks and hilarity.
Each episode on the disc follows the same loose pattern. One of the group members hatches a plot to get rich, famous, or rich and famous. This plot gets them into trouble with somebody, they request help from a mysterious figure who loans them some equipment to save the day, and somehow they lose all the money they made or might have made. The show's structure resembles old Saturday morning cartoons. Every episode has a few stock jokes, a few new ones, and at the end everything gets reset to start the pattern again next time. It's not a brilliant concept, but the silliness of the singing helps it work because musicals are inherently detached from reality. They exist in a bizarre version of reality where backup singers and dancers are available on a moment's notice, anywhere, anytime. Even serious dramatic operas and musicals rely on this basic suspension of disbelief, and musical comedies such as Nerima Daikon Brothers can use that to their advantage. The random segues and outrageous happenings don't feel as jarring. It's just all part of the haphazard fun.
It's truly unfortunate that Nerima Daikon Brothers contains so many sexual references and jokes, because it doesn't need them to be successful. Musicals are rare in anime, and the rest of the comedic material is entertaining enough that the series didn't need to go nearly as far as it does. The perpetually-broke-but-trying-their-best archetype is fairly popular, and the Nerima Daikon Brothers are as good an example as any.
That having been said, some of the sexual humor is genuinely entertaining, and removing it entirely would necessitate a fundamental change in the characters' dynamic. This is a case where the show could have toned the raunchy material down to a PG-13 rating and made itself available to a much wider audience. As it is, Nerima Daikon Brothers is completely inappropriate for young viewers and those who find sexual innuendo offensive. But given that this is the nature of the core material, the dub does a fair job of presenting the material. It certainly never shies away from the material or goes to awkward lengths attempting to write it out. If anything the dub goes a bit too far because it tends to expand jokes beyond their original scope or make them more explicit. That has positive and negative consequences. On one hand, fans who dislike edits will take issue with the changes. On the other hand, American humor tends to be more direct than Japanese and this brings the humor more in line with what Western audiences would expect.
If Nerima Daikon Brothers has a few flaws, nobody can find fault in the dub's ambition. ADV Studios has produced some of the most ambitious dubbing projects of the recent past. Ghost Stories and Milk-chan both come to mind. Nerima Daikon Brothers follows in that tradition and goes further yet. A lot of anime music isn't translated. The reasons for this vary, and often become very complicated due to the rights issues in play. It's often easier and cheaper from a logistical perspective to simply leave the songs as they are and use the original recordings for all of the songs. Unfortunately, what's logistically prudent isn't always the same as artistically prudent. The fundamental idea behind a musical is that songs take the place of many traditional story elements. In many cases we don't see emotionally moving moments, hear speeches, or watch fights because songs and choreographed dance routines replace them. Nerima Daikon Brothers adheres to that philosophy with almost religious enthusiasm. Each episode on the disc has numerous songs, and it seems like you can't go more than two or three minutes without another one starting up.
As fans we can discuss the merits of listening to original music in much the same way that fans discuss the merits of listening to the Japanese language track in general. Most of the same arguments apply, and it's easy to make an argument that viewers should listen to the songs in the original language for those reasons, but the songs in a musical can't be treated differently from the speaking portions simply because we can hear a difference between the two. The songs in a proper musical aren't a garnish. They aren't superfluous material added on to embellish or decorate a series like background music. The songs are integral parts of the plot, and the idea of the musical presupposes music as an expository device. As such it's best to limit disconnecting the songs from the rest of the show's material. Listening to all of the songs in Japanese while hearing English dialog makes the songs strange and exotic. It forces an unnatural divide in the show and undermines the musical format.
The dub takes all of this into account and goes so far as to re-work all of the songs in the series into English for a seamless experience. The actors do all of their own singing, and this is true for the core cast as well as the episodic characters. Historically, fans have had wide reactions to every instance of dubbed singing. Some fans have yet to hear a single song they like, while others enjoy nearly everything. Individual tastes always vary and that's truer of singing than any other aspect of anime dubs. It's difficult to comment one way or the other because viewers will have to hear for themselves and determine whether or not they liked it. Speaking only for myself I can say that I enjoyed the singing almost universally. There were a few awkward moments, sometimes due to the lyrics sounding forced and other times because the performances weren't quite where I would have liked them, but those moments were rare and never lasted long.
The English language songs are translated and adapted versions. In many cases they depart from the original songs significantly. Other times, for example the ending song, they share a few superficial elements but amount to essentially completely different songs sung to the same music. The songs fulfill the same purpose in every case with the exception of the show's ending song, despite the adaptations. Characters sing about the same events, and pour the same emotions out of their hearts and lungs. There are a few points where the original song fits the animation better than the English language version, but listening to the English without the benefit of knowing the Japanese isn't confusing. The songs aren't perfect, but they're pretty good and just as entertaining as the Japanese versions. The songs all fit well enough that the show flows smoothly and naturally. In some cases the English versions are more focused and sensical, and some people may enjoy them even more for it. Fans who still want to the original Japanese songs or see the lyrics should also be happy with the disc. It contains audio and subtitle tracks for both.
The speaking portions of the show all sound good. All of the core cast members sound natural and confident in their respective roles, and though the minor extras aren't quite as good they're rarely problematic. Aside from some large ensemble numbers, the Nerima Daikon Brothers cast is very small. Greg Ayres plays Hideki, the loudest and brashest of the Daikon Brothers. He's arguably the one most interested in getting the Nerima Dome built, and he's willing to do almost anything to accomplish that goal. The performance is loud, rough, forceful, crude at times, and it matches the character very well. It's been a while since Greg Ayres played this kind of character. He's better known for younger roles with softer voices. Here he operates in a low register almost all of the time, including the singing, but sounds perfectly natural. It's a good show of range and versatility, as well as solid work regardless of past performances.
Luci Christian plays Mako, a distinctly female member of the Nerima Daikon Brothers. It's a cute delivery in a high register with plenty of energy. Mako is arguably the most emotionally complex of the Daikon Brothers. She's cute sometimes, seductive others, bright and cheerful most of the time, and a little sassy when the situation calls for it. The performance switches gears quickly and effortlessly. It's also worth noting that Ms. Christian handles her character's southern accent well, and also that she tends to do her best work as this character near the top of her vocal range.
Finally, Chris Patton does an excellent job as Ichiro. This performance stands out in contrast to the other two Daikon Brothers because it's so sedate. Ichiro is unfazable and dispassionate throughout the entire series, but Mr. Patton keeps the character muted rather than bored. The singing is quite different in this regard. Ichiro almost always has the energy, enthusiasm, and pathos to match the rest of the singing. This duality makes Ichiro an incoherent character at times, but it's hard to imagine any of the musical elements working well with such an underemoted character in the mix.
Translating, adapting, and producing all of the music for Nerima Daikon Brothers couldn't have been easy, but the cast and crew make it look like it was. The show is fast, energetic, thoroughly tongue-in-cheek, and fun. It's not a series for younger viewers or those with conservative sensibilities, but fans who are interested in watching a genuine anime musical and don't mind the show's style of humor should keep Nerima Daikon Brothers in mind.
Copyright 2006 by Way Jeng