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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Legend of Zorro (Movie Edit): Zorro's a Terrible Film Editor, Always Splicing in a "Z" Shape...

In JAM Project March, I failed to actually bring up Masaaki Endoh's early days & how he eventually became famous, instead focusing more on his iconic "Super Endoh Time" ability to keep a single note for insanely long amounts of time. Trust me, I tried to keep up with him during a live show once; he visibly wanted to see me go all the way, but I just couldn't. That's mainly because there isn't much to tell, surprisingly enough. After high school, Endoh debuted in the music industry in 1993 as part of The Hiptones, followed by acoustic duo Short Hopes (later Steeple Jack), but neither run really lasted much more than a year. Following that, producer Shunji Inoue signed him for anisong singing, first working as part of Hironobu Kageyama's chorus before forming the short-lived duo Metal Brothers with the man. By this point it was 1997, & Endoh made his immediate mark by singing the iconic opening theme to King of Braves GaoGaiGar, "Yusha-Oh Tanjou!". That being said, however, the final entry in the Brave Series was NOT Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme song...

Anime based on the works of non-Japanese literature is nothing surprising, as indicated by things like the World Masterpiece Theater franchise or even most of Studio Ghibli's catalog. This has resulted in works like The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, & The Count of Monte Cristo, among countless others, being made into anime at some point or another from the 70s to today. From 1996-1997, Ashi Productions (now Production Reed) worked with Toho in producing an anime adaptation of pulp writer Johnston McCulley's legendary masked warrior Zorro, 77 years after McCulley wrote The Curse of Capistrano in All-Story Weekly back in 1919. Titled Kaiketsu Zorro/Zorro the Extraordinary, the anime ran on NHK for 52 episodes & would eventually see release in various countries around the world. Today, the license for the anime, or at least its various dubs, is with Mondo TV, an Italian company co-founded by Orlando Corradi, who is most (infamously) known as being the director & producer of 1999's The Legend of the Titanic & its 2004 sequel In Search of the Titanic (a.k.a. Tentacolino)... Both of which are considered two of the most maligned animated films ever for their bizarre & mind-boggling plots (not to mention having the gall to give the story of the Titanic a happy ending).

So let me do something I haven't done in a while & review an edited, English dubbed version of an anime, specifically a movie edit. Yes, Mondo TV not only dubbed all of the TV series into English, renaming it The Legend of Zorro (I don't know which came first, this dub or the Antonio Banderas movie), but it also produced a 105-minute compilation movie version of Kaiketsu Zorro, which you can actually watch legally over at YouTube. Does it work in any way, & does it at least keep Masaaki Endoh's debut anime theme songs?

Don Diego de la Vega is returning from his studies in Spain to his home in Mexican-owned California, complete with a letter from his father explaining how the Mexican Army there has become corrupt beyond all reason, instituting laws that they themselves don't follow & making deals with corrupt politicians & businessmen. Diego decides to portray himself publicly as a well-meaning but essentially useless son of a nobleman, usually to the dismay of his Army-resistant love interest Lolita Pulido, which makes it so that no one can realize that he's actually Zorro, a masked man who fights against any & all corruption, especially those committed by Commander Ramon & Lt. Gabriel of the Army. Helping him is Bernard, a young boy who finds out Diego's secret & becomes his sidekick, Little Zorro.

The Legend of Zorro follows the basic idea that Attack of the Supermonsters & the William-Winckler-produced Gaiking movies utilized by being nothing more than a compilation of episodes, with only the vaguest of attempts to link them together as a flowing narrative. Unfortunately, this "movie" makes a giant mistake in compiling these episodes: It skips all willy-nilly without a care for establishing continuity. Overall, it utilizes 7 episodes from the 52 that were made, and starts off well enough by seemingly showing the first episode in its entirety, plot wise. Immediately after that, though, this movie spirals downward into oblivion. The second story used apparently comes at least 10 episodes later, as Bernard already knows that Diego is Zorro & a stray dog named Figaro (who, going off of episode titles, debuts in episode 10) is brought up, neither of which get previously established before they're mentioned. After that, though, the following five plots (taken seemingly at random from Episodes 20, 31, 32, & the last three episodes) aren't even fully included, instead utilizing somewhere between two-thirds to even just the second half! This results in the movie jumping from Zorro's origin to a convoluted plot involving a impostor Countess to "social reformists" to a crooked hospital to Ramon & Gabriel eventually going mad with power & attempting to kill the Governor-General in order to stage a coup & make California its own nation that they can rule over! In turn, Bernard's Little Zorro identity comes out of nowhere, characters & plots appear with the jumpiest of cuts, & trying to make sense of anything becomes an exercise in absolute futility.

Now, yes, those other two compilation movies I mentioned weren't that much more involved in their processes. What made those work, though, is that they still maintained a sense of continuity. Supermonsters was simply the first four episodes stitched together, while the Gaiking movies, though not including episodes in exact chronological order, at least followed a thematic continuity & actually showcased when plot-relevant moments occurred. Zorro never bothers to show how Bernard found out Diego's secret, or establish why the various events feel important, because the people in charge of this movie simply decided to skip those, for whatever reasons. Not just that, but the separate episodes are poorly edited together. Sure, seeing the fade-outs for when a commercial break or the end of the episode came about early on is amusing, but I'll take those in place of the sudden jumps to brand new stories once the previous one ends that become standard fare after the second story finishes. Though I'm not an experienced video editor by any means, I've dabbled in it enough to know how to make a rough transition look as good as possible, and I can easily state that Mondo's editors just didn't care.

The worst part about all of this is that it essentially masks the fact that, when you really look at it, Kaiketsu Zorro looks to be a rather neat take on McCulley's creation. Sure, it takes some liberties from what I can tell, like turning Bernard from a blind & mute servant into an energetic young boy, but there are still some nuggets of enjoyment to be found in this movie. The swordfights between Zorro & his foes are exciting & accurately fast, the characters do have some layers (Sgt. Gonzalez in the Army, for example, truly wants to only do the right thing, but has to follow his superiors' orders), & the stories do have plenty of merit behind them, complete with situations that aren't just "for kids"... It's just a shame that this compilation movie instead bothers to simply try to show off Zorro as just a well-meaning badass who does cool things, rather than a series of stories about corruption & villainy being put down by a legendary pulp hero.

Luckily, Corradi's production doesn't remove any of the original Japanese work, minus the obvious dubbing of voice overs; that being said, Mondo tries it hardest to downplay the original Japanese staff. Any Japanese staff listed in the credits at the end of the movie simply use their last names, & only a handful actually even got included. Instead, Mondo credits Corradi & his crew alongside the Japanese, if not simply acting like the Italians were the original creators; there's word that the anime was a co-production, but the Japanese credits don't indicate this at all. Those lucky few who are properly credited are art director Mitsuharu Miyamae (Baoh, City Hunter), head writer Sukehiro Tomita (Macross 7, Digimon Frontier), & a mysterious Production Organizer named "Hiranuma" that isn't even listed in the Japanese credits. For example, no mention is given to series director Katsumi Minoguchi (I Shall Never Return, Ki Fighter Taerang), character designer Hirotoshi Takaya (Zetman, Kekkaishi), or even music composer Hiromoto Tobisawa (Sonic Soldier Borgman, Captain Tsubasa), amongst too many others to name specifically. If Mondo's Mino Guti wants to say that he "directed" this movie, then he can do so, because then I can blame the choppy editing on him all I want!

In fact, Tobisawa's lack of crediting is downright insulting, because Mondo's dub maintains the original Japanese soundtrack, which also helps explain why Mondo couldn't edit this better (i.e. the music would sound obviously hacked apart). Said music is more or less fitting for the time period & location the story takes place in, with a strong focus on orchestral pieces. The only alterations to the soundtrack come in the form of the opening & ending themes, which were Masaaki Endoh's first ever anime songs; thankfully, the dub simply uses instrumental versions of said songs. Opening theme "Zorro" is actually a pretty awesome theme song, mixing together a strong Mexican aesthetic with Endoh's strong vocals for the lyrics that explain how dutiful Zorro is to his cause. Ending theme "Chikai" follows a similar route, but with a slower ballad execution to complement the opening's fast-paced excitement. Very quickly these songs would wind up being overshadowed by Endoh's work for GaoGaiGar, but his original themes here really do show how great of a singer Masaaki Endoh has always been; to their credit, the instrumental versions of both themes are also very good. Now if only I could find a full version that wasn't just an (admittedly awesome) acoustic live rendition...

Finally, there's the English dubbing itself, which seems to have been produced by Village Productions over in the UK. Sadly, Mondo's credits don't mention anyone who worked on the dub, outside of the people who adapted the script into English, with the only voice actor I can find credited anywhere online being Kate Shannon (Marian Lancaster & Will Scarlet in Mondo's dub of Robin Hood no Daibouken), who plays Bernard... And she's one of the worst performances to be found here. Really, Shannon's main problem is that she gives Bernard only one level of volume, and that's nearly shouting all the time; remember that Bernard was originally conceived to be a blind & mute person. Now, to be fair, there are some decent performances, like from Diego & Lolita, Gonzalez's actor goes for a bit of a stereotypical Spanish accent & comes out okay, & Gabriel's actor is appropriately cheesy for a villain, but the crown jewel of this dub is definitely from Ramon (which the dub changes to "Raymond"). Whoever dubbed over Ramon decided to go for this bizarre southern drawl by way of Dirty Harry, & the end result is nothing but sheer joy in how awkward it sounds for a Spanish officer; in fact, Ramon's voice gets more & more wacky as the story advances. The only other odd choice is that a lot of the incidental characters have a markedly southern drawl, even though this takes place in the West, not the South. A nurse from the crooked hospital story also has one of the most absurdly heavy Brooklyn accents I've ever heard, one that might put Daizaburo's from Mad Bull 34's dub to shame. Since I'm someone who finds great joy in stuff like this, I can't call it a "terrible" dub, because it's really not, but it's definitely a product of its location & time (whenever the hell that was).

Look, when I realized that this compilation movie was produced by the same man who produced two of those terrible animated Titanic films, I still decided to give it the benefit of the doubt; after all, he didn't make this from the ground up. In fact, I'm sure that Mondo TV's English dub of the entire 52-episode TV series for The Legend of Zorro is perfectly fine, minus some of the idiosyncrasies of said dub. However, whoever decided to make a compilation film out of this dub & then produce it in such a roughshod & shoddy fashion made a terrible mistake, because this is easily the worst compilation movie I have ever seen, bar none. While it starts off fine enough by essentially including all of Episode 1, it pretty much falls off a cliff immediately afterwards, having not a care about establishing continuity, developing characters, setting up important plot points, & simply telling a fully coherent story. Instead, this movie edit comes off as nothing more than a simple way to get Mondo's dub to more people, hence why they put it up on YouTube last year. I had originally put a link to this movie at the beginning, to help make it known & to support a legal way to see an anime most people would not have known of in North America, but after seeing this I cannot in good conscience possibly include the link, because I'd feel inherently guilty if I willingly showed people where to watch this dreck. It's a stain on the Kaiketsu Zorro anime's legacy, and just forget this movie edit existed in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. The only two episodes on YouTube that actually use Village Productions Soundtrack would be these two, and For some reason, I think Mondo World may have re-edited the episodes with the original soundtrack and forgot to credit the original composers. TBH, I actually liked Village Productions Soundtrack for the show, Zorro's Theme is EPIC, pity it's only on two of there episodes. I also like Bernard's voice too, it's not always loud and shouting, but remember, this Bernard is different than the Bernardo from the Original Zorro Stories, where in the Anime, he's a LOT more hyper.