First Look! “Tales from Earthsea” DVD Review

First Look! “Tales from Earthsea” DVD Review

ゲド戦記
Gedo Senki
Ged’s Military History
(literal transaltion)

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*MILD SPOILERS!*

Tales from Earthsea DVDThe story of Tales from Earthsea, in brief, takes place at a time when the land of Earthsea is beset by many strange occurrences, including dragons being seen fighting, livestock getting ill, and farmers abandoning their homes.  After the king receives this news, he is stabbed by his teenage son Arren, who takes the king’s magic sword and flees.  While being pursued by wolves, Arren is saved by the Archmage Ged, better known as Sparrowhawk.  Sparrowhawk convinces Arren to join him on his journey to the city of Hortown.  There, Arren saves a teenage girl named Therru from slavers but then is taken by said slavers and had to be rescued by Sparrowhawk.

The dark mage Cob is made aware of this as Sparrowhawk and Arren visit Sparrowhawk’s longtime female acquaintance Tenar, who just so happens to be Therru’s foster mother and who runs a small farm.  Sparrowhawk and Arren help on the farm but when Sparrowhawk goes on an investigative trip, Arren runs away and Tenar is taken captive, leaving Therru to deliver a message to Sparrowhawk to come to Cob’s castle as Cob as a bone to pick with the Archmage.  When Arren is also captured, Arren must learn to face his fears in order to join Therru to save Sparrowhawk, Tenar, and Earthsea from Cob.

My knowledge of the Earthsea series was almost nil when I started watching this DVD.  I know it is loosely based on some of the Earthsea novels by Ursula Le Guin with characters and story elements extracted from said novels and formed into something new.  Based on watching this anime, I do have some interest in reading the original novels just for the fun of it.

Visually, Tales from Earthsea looks pretty stunning, even on DVD.  Not only are there vibrant colors when there needs to be, but the level of detail is just amazing, starting from the castle in the second scene of the film.  One can’t help but notice the visuals such as when Sparrowhawk and Arren cross a stone bridge that was now in ruin but had clearly been a much more impressive structure at some point.  The city of Hortown was just incredible and had a real sense of a city that is full of life, yet has not been cared for as it should have been.  The detail in Cog’s castle reminded me of Castles in Europe where the stone parts still stand but the wood parts, such as the massive number of stairways, have not.  I know I’m drooling over myself, but I it is not a lie to say that this movie is not a feast for the eyes.

Audio-wise, I didn’t notice any major differences between the Japanese audio track and the English audio track.  That was pretty nice.

Even though I’m not a dub fan, I made sure to watch the dub first before watching this in Japanese.  As usual, the dub is first rate. Unlike the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind dub, which had some voice actors become minor distractions because their voices are so famous, Tales from Earthsea has only one such distraction and it isn’t that bad. Cheech Martin (Cheech and Chong), who does the voice of Hare, sometimes sounded like Cheech and sometimes didn’t.  Timothy Dalton (James Bond) does good work as the voice of Ged/Sparrowhawk.  Mariska Hargitay’s (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) portrayal of Tenar came off as somewhat stinted at times but nothing too major.  Cob is voiced by a woman in the Japanese version so having Willem Dafoe (Spider-man) do Cob’s voice in the English dub is certainly different.  My guess is that Disney didn’t want to get into gender ambiguity questions about the character.

Unlike Nausicaä, which seemed to have a fairly accurate subtitle script with only occasional embellishment of “I’m going to adapt this in a way that I think is prettier and screw accuracy,” Tales from Earthsea seems plagued with these embellishments.  I realize that laypeople aren’t going to catch these, but as someone with a little Japanese knowledge, these things tend to stand out.  I also realize that at times these might be minor embellishments, but they annoy me because it is as if the person writing the final version of the subtitle script thinks the audience is too stupid and so much be spoon fed things.

For example, there’s a scene where Tenar invites Arren to come to the table and get something to eat.  That’s how it is spoken in the Japanese.  The text on the screen is all about getting breakfast.  Now, that is the meal Tenar was serving, but that’s not what she said.  Yes, its minor but it annoys the crap out of me because I want to watch this in Japanese with ACCURATE subtitles, not the working copy of the English dub script before it gets tweaked to better serve the voice actor’s performances (that’s my impression of what the subtitles are like rather than something I know).

Anyway, there were lots of these moments and by the time I’d finished watching this in Japanese, I was really annoyed with whomever put these terrible subtitles out.  Since the subtitle script sacrifices accuracy for other things, there’s no reason for dub fans who don’t like watching anime in Japanese with subtitles to even bother.  For those who don’t know Japanese and don’t care if what they read is actually what’s being said in Japanese, it is interesting to hear the Japanese seiyuu do their thing, especially Cob.  Seriously, that character being voiced by a woman puts a whole different twist on the character.

The DVD extras include a documentary called “Behind the Studio” which has interviews with Miyazaki-sensei and other Japanese people as well as some American folk. There’s an “Enter the Lands” interactive bit in which you can learn more about other Studio Ghibli titles that Disney has licensed.

For those looking to collect anime movies from Studio Ghibli, even though this one is not directed by Miyazaki-sensei, but instead is directed by his son, you’ll probably want to buy this.  Hardcore fans of the Earthsea series may not be so enthused considering the changes made but check it out for yourself and see what you think.

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9 Responses to “First Look! “Tales from Earthsea” DVD Review”

  1. Kirbstar says:

    I believe Ursula LeGuin has outrighted stated that she hated the Ghibli adaptation of Earthsea. This was in stark contrast to Diana Wynn Jones’ praise for the Howl’s Moving Castle adaptation. Although I’m not familiar with the original novels for Earthsea yet, I should still check them out sometime.

  2. Tim says:

    You’d have to consider me one of the latter (reader of the series). For some reason, I could never get into either Earthsea, nor Howl’s Moving Castle due to the different in plot between the two mediums.

  3. AstroNerdBoy says:

    @Kirbstar — I did a bit of research and the story in this anime is simply the cherry picking of characters and situations and meshing them together into some fashion of new story.

    @Tim — I’ll be making a story review down the road a bit, probably after these are released to the public.

  4. junior says:

    I haven’t seen the Ghibli film, but I have read all four of the novels. Based on your summary, saying that the Ghibli film is “based” on the novels is like saying that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is based on ‘Hamlet’. There’s quite literally nothing recognizable in the summary that you provided, aside from some names.

    The Sci-Fi mini-series was bad enough (and it was *bad*…). But at least it was sort of recognizable. What you’re describing leaves me wondering what the script writer (I believe Miyazaki’s son was responsible for the adaption and direction) was actually reading when he wrote this thing.

  5. AstroNerdBoy says:

    My understanding is that there are five Earthsea novels and then some short stories.

    I won’t say much more here as I’m saving that for my story review, but I will say that it appears to me that Miyazaki-sensei’s son just took things from various novels and mixed them into something new.

  6. junior says:

    ——————-
    My understanding is that there are five Earthsea novels and then some short stories.
    ——————-

    Guess so. Apparently she wrote the fifth one in 2002.

    In any case, the core of the series is really the first three novels –

    A Wizard of Earthsea
    The Tombs of Atuan
    The Farthest Shore

    They were written between 1968 and 1972, which helps put a little perspective on how those three relate to the later books… (Tehanu was written in 1990)

    She’s written about a dozen other books, though the only ones that I’ve read are ‘The Disposessed’ (which explores anarchic utopianism and elements of capitalism) and ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ (a look at a human civilization in which individuals switch back and forth between genders throughout their life).

  7. Shadow_s_writer says:

    I am a long time reader of Madams LeGuin’s work, having grown upin Portand and attending Portland State. As such reading her works (especially Left Hand of Darkness) was almost a requirement to graduate. In infact I was luck enough to sit in on several of her visits to PSU’s literature classes.

    The problem with adapting an english novel to anime, is that the process requires the work be translated twice, once from english to japanese and than back from japanese to english. During both translation the cultural background of the work is scrub away, removing important background from the works that effected the story line, especially given LeGuin’s habit of using local info to color her tales. As such it quite easy to see why she dislike her story being wash of its flavor.

  8. Krono says:

    “For example, there’s a scene where Tenar invites Arren to come to the table and get something to eat. That’s how it is spoken in the Japanese. The text on the screen is all about getting breakfast. Now, that is the meal Tenar was serving, but that’s not what she said. Yes, its minor but it annoys the crap out of me because I want to watch this in Japanese with ACCURATE subtitles, not the working copy of the English dub script before it gets tweaked to better serve the voice actor’s performances (that’s my impression of what the subtitles are like rather than something I know).”

    Yeah, that’s always annoying. The latest example I’ve seen goes:

    Japanese audio: Papa
    English subtitle: Daddy
    Me: *Facepalm*

  9. […] My advance look at the DVD review can be found here.  That review focused on the DVD aspects whereas this review will be about the story.  As such, […]

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