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October 05, 2000

Sailor Ninja

In some ways, this month's show is cut from old cloth, very threadbare indeed. We
have a hapless heroine, a magical talisman, intrepid enemies and an oft-repeated
transformation scene. Sailor Ninja, anyone? But all is not as bleak as it at
first seems.

Going into this show, you think you're either gonna love it or hate it. The
American release, for instance, has the cumbersome title, "Jubei-chan, the Ninja
Girl: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch", enough to subdue any asthmatic otaku. Then
try to recite that whole mess with the first episode name:

Jubei-chan, the Ninja Girl: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch, episode 1:

The Birth of Yagyu Jubei II

It begins to sound a bit like the old children's song: there's a frog on the bump
on the log in the hole on the bottom of the sea...

About five minutes into the first episode, I was fearing that I'd be in the 'hate
it' camp. But I toughed it out, and I watched the entire four-episode DVD. In
fact, I watched it in a rather unfair manner. My daughter wanted to watch the
first episode with me, so I gave her the choice of dubbed into English, or
subtitled in the original Japanese (where I usually read the subtitles, since at
five years old, she hasn't quite worked out how to read them herself). She chose
dubbed (the traitor). Well, Kelly enjoyed it, but I was squirming, and by the end
of the episode I wasn't sure I'd want to do another.

But Kelly went to bed, and after the bedtime story I went back to the chamber of
horrors and queued up episode two. But this time I did it my way. Japanese with
English subtitles. Suddenly the show was flowing, the telegraphic, hurky-jerky
feel of the first episode had vanished to be replaced by a smooth B-grade
storyline. I was puzzled.

Was the show really such a poor starter? I fumbled with the DVD remote control
until I discovered the button to toggle from Japanese to English and back.

English: the show began to creak, my eyelids started to drop.

Japanese: a flicker of interest returned to my eyes. The voices seemed lively,
natural, if obviously theatric.

English: Theatric voices turned into lampoons. A few of the actors managed to
capture some semblance of the drama and comedy of each moment, but most of the
others seemed either limp and lifeless, or so over the top as to seem in another
show entirely.

Eureka! Having made my discovery, I left the deck in Japanese mode for the second
and third episode, then went to bed to mull the phenomenon in my dreams. The
following morning I watched the last episode with my daughter, dubbed (sob).

I admit it, I am a subtitle bigot, a member of that elite two percent of the
American populace who would rather read text on the bottom of the screen and hear
the original actors, emoting at the behest of the original director, than have my
eyes freed to gaze on the scenery while American actors do their best to entrain
their voices to the prescored lip movements on the screen. But I'm not so
enslaved to this attitude that I cannot enjoy a competent dub job.

Mononoke Hime was not bad. I saw it first in raw Japanese, then with subtitles
from a generous fan group, and finally in the theaters with American brand-name
actors lending their talents. Did I think the latter sucked? No, it was very well
done. Did I prefer the subtitled version? You bet your genlock card!

So my conclusion: the dub job on Jubei-chan is just plain bad. Folks who only
listen to dubs are doing themselves a disservice with this show. Read the
subtitles, it's much better with this show.

There. Now that I have that off my chest, let's look at the show proper. For
purposes of space, I'll refer to the show simply as Jubei-chan. The show was
created by Daichi Akitaro, who is also one of the main writers. He is responsible
for much of the unique humor in shows such as Akazukin Chacha (Red Riding Hood
Cha-cha) and Kodomo no Omocha. Since I know a number of you are fans of Child's
Toy, I'll let that speak for itself.

Character designer Yoshimatsu Takahiro (Slayers) based his designs on originals
by Mucchiri Muunii, but I haven't seen the originals, so I'd be hard pressed to
say how faithful they are. In some instances the character designs are amusing,
such as the teaching team from the third episode, but most characters seem rather
flat and indistinguishable.

The background supplied in the first episode runs thusly. Jubei Yagyu was the
leader of a school of swordsmen three centuries ago. A rival school sent an
endless stream of swordsmen to defeat him, but he always prevailed. When he
finally dies, he makes his faithful retainer Koinosuke pledge to search the world
over for his successor. In order to bestow his martial skills upon his successor,
he gives Koinosuke a 'lovely eyepatch' in the shape of a pink heart. And there's
your transformation gimick.

Flashing forward to the present day, Koinosuke succeeds in his search, finding...
Jiyu Nanohana, a schoolgirl nicknamed Jubei by her dad. After Koinosuke gives her
the eyepatch and she predictably transforms into a stylin' ninja gal, the 300
year-old opposing dojo begins launching assassins at her. I don't want to give
away a bunch of plot details, even though this is a fairly predictable show.
Suffice it to say that there are plenty of assassins in a colorful rogue's
gallery, and not one but two pretty boys to tickle Jiyu's fancy.

So where does the show rate? If Maho Tsukai Tai is a 10, and Legend of the
Goose-Stepping Heroes is a 1, I'd have to rate this a solid 6. It's worth watching
at a NOVA meeting when all the solid crowd-pleasers are done, and the synergy of
a crowd of people will bring out the silly humor much better than sitting alone
in a tv room. But it really doesn't rate the thirty bucks a DVD for four episodes,
or worse, the twenty bucks a tape for four dubbed episodes (shudder).

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dig through the closet and find a pile
of tapes in raw Japanese, to cleanse my soul.

Posted by dpwakefield at October 5, 2000 09:37 AM