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Sgt. Frog's Dub: A Success?

As most attentive anime fans know by now, the popular comedy anime Sgt. Frog is emerging from a long limbo outside of Japan. The series’ trials have
certainly been tougher than most, with the
series suffering delays similar to another currently successful former
A.D. Vision title, Gurren
Lagann. Sgt. Frog is finally streaming online in English and
Japanese for the
U.S. and Canada, which is welcome news for those who have waited
patiently to watch those five cute, alien, diminutive frogs find new
ways to fail miserably at subjugating the world while living among us
Earthlings–er, Pekoponians. Sgt. Frog was first licensed in 2007, only
to be put in limbo after ADV’s massive downsizing in early 2008.
Fortunately, FUNimation eventually acquired it along with other titles
in July 2008. In November of that same year we were treated to a very
early test dub, with FUNimation requesting fan feedback.

 

It’s probably fair to say that at the time, it drew a mixed reaction.
Some laughed and loved it, some thought it was just okay. Others were,
at best, annoyed by certain unnecessary changes. For starters, names
were changed. Fairly or not, this tends to make a fanbase for any anime
nervously recalling the Americanized dubs of the 1990′s. For instance,
no-nonsense teenager Natsumi had been changed into the more familiar
Natalie. Most strange, however, was how the central cast of diminutive
frogs had seen their names abridged. For instance suddenly Sgt. Keroro
was just Kero, hopefully to not be confused with the obligatory cute
mascot from Cardcaptor Sakura. Furthermore, some liberties were
taken with the translation. The witty narrator was complemented by the
adorable would-be invaders referring to our Earth as “planet Wuss”
instead of “Pekopon,” a name that was both more funny and appropriately
alien. And yes, if you didn’t know, this meant that the show’s human
cast could have been referred to as Wussians while taking it
like…well, I suppose like wusses actually. Keroro’s home planet Keron
was “Frogulon”: it’s a planet of cartoon frogs, get it? Of course you
do. Odds are you’re not laughing.

While none of these small changes altered the point of the show, it
came off as unnecessary tinkering that would have vexed the fanbase
while not really offering anything new to make it more attractive to
kids. Fortunately, credit has to go where it’s due. The dub was a test
dub, and FUNimation certainly got its share of feedback–3,427 youtube
comments as of this writing. So, how is it now? Personally, speaking as
someone who was not a devoted follower going in, I would call the final
product very successful.

The show has clearly undergone many adjustments and changes in the past
few months. Many acting roles were changed (though not Chris Sabat as
Giroro, thankfully!), the narrator was altered, and all of the names
were sensibly returned to normal. What isn’t different is the
narrator’s clever wit. While this strikes me as a noticable shift from
the Japanese narrator’s straightforward comments and occasional
outbursts, it’s a fun change. The English narrator is part spectator,
part participant in the show’s humor, at times even feuding with
caption text on the screen. Text which, I might add, seems to be often
added in out of nowhere, but it’s thankfully rare enough that it’s not
getting in the way. References to other anime, such as Gundam and
Macross, are also going to be kept, whereas pop culture references are
relevant to us western folks–before I knew it, Natsumi was making a
quick reference to Christian Bale. 

Most importantly, Keroro and his companions are really brought to life.
In episode one, for example, Keroro is having far too much fun using a
vacuum cleaner and gets into a fight with Natsumi when he ends up vacuuming her
clothes. In the sub he refuses to stop his antics, insisting that he
hasn’t finished cleaning with his mighty “Sucker.” He is eventually
swayed by the prospect of beef stew for dinner if he does as he’s told
and finishes his chores at the house where he’s staying. In the dub the
same events happen, except Keroro expects to intimidate Natsumi into
obeying him and is shocked when he only succeeds in arousing her
temper. All this while he delivers lines like “Surrender your world and
make me pie!” and “Wait. No, I am serious here. You fear me!”

This is a change, but not an unfaithful one. A running joke in the
show, you see, is that Keroro was once a cunning and effective
commander that has since been cowed by everyday life on our Earth. He’s
doing chores in exchange for a place to stay, he delights in Earth
food, he’s constantly sidetracked by the distractions of modern life
and his obsession with Gundam model kits, and he has a friendship with
Natsumi’s brother Fuyuki that further interferes with the occasional
nefarious plan. So Keroro being written as going on a power trip that
ends at the first mention of food fits very well. Unlike the popular
Crayon Shin-Chan dub this isn’t made up humor, but humor that
complements what made the show funny in the first place. Meanwhile for the purists out there other adapted scenes are rather
straightforward, such the appearance of Giroro and a minor crisis that
arises when he installers humidifiers in an attempt to reawaken
Keroro’s fighting spirit with an excess of moisture (frogs love it!).

Taking the first four episodes into account, I think that FUNimation
deserves credit for the improvements to the dub, and I would call it successful. It is worth watching
even if you aren’t wild about every addition that the writers came up
with. When you get down to it the casting sounds about as good as
anything that has or will come out this year, it communicates the same
ideas as the sub for the most part, and the script is an above-average
labor of love. I would ultimately describe the dub as having more in
common with an inventive dub like what was done for One Piece or Romeo X Juliet, rather than a dub that’s preoccupied with replacing the original humor with its own.

On a final note, quite frankly, the show is just honest, silly good fun, and a welcome antidote to the over-the-top excesses of wacky comedies like Excel Saga and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. It’s a breath of fresh air, and I’m thankful that we’re finally going to get it.

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