Kiki’s Delivery Service Changes, and the “Dub vs. Sub” Debate

Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of my favorite childhood movies. I didn’t see My Neighbor Totoro (or indeed many of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s other works) until later in my life, so Kiki is to me what Totoro is to most other fans. The story of a young witch who leaves home to train for a year and finds her purpose in a new city is a treasured memory, and a film I like to go back to when I find myself lost or lacking inspiration. Beyond the coming of age narrative, it’s a story about not giving up when life throws difficulties at you, as it inevitably will. Things may change, but you will never truly lose that which make you special.

 

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Recently I purchased a DVD copy of the movie, since my old VHS has long since vanished to some garage sale, Goodwill, or ignored corner of the house. I popped in the film and was quite unpleasantly surprised by what I found there. Half of the music was rearranged and redone, and scraps of dialogue and goofy ad-libbing were completely missing! ‘What the hell?’ I thought. ‘This isn’t Kiki!’

Yes, it was. I was just late to the punch.

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It turns out that the new 2010 DVD had been redone to resemble the original Japanese version, which was very minimalist, especially compared to the English dub put together by Disney. For those who are new and unfamiliar with the terms, a dub refers to the voice overs in a language (usually one different from the original recording), while a sub refers to subtitles. To say that a version is “English subbed” implies that the audio is still in the original recorded language (for example, Japanese), but that English subtitles have been included. “English dubbed” implies that the film or show has undergone English localization, with English-speaking voice actors and sometimes fixed or edited music.

The original Japanese film had music and very little dialogue, especially when the characters were offscreen. I don’t know entirely if it was Miyazaki, the fans, or some portion of both who demanded this change, but I do know that it was not advertised (explained) very well, and I would not have bought this specific copy, had I known.

(note: there is another English version from Streamline Pictures, but I never saw it and it’s harder to find)

The dub/sub debate is a large one in the anime community. I discovered this first in high school, just looking at the divide in my Japanese language class. I would say that half of the students in that class were there because they watched Japanese animation (anime for short) and liked it, and the other half because they were strictly interested in Japanese language and culture. Both groups seemed to thumb their noses at the other, and I could never understand it because I was there for both reasons. I liked anime, and that inspired me to learn more about culture, history, language, etc. I found both equally interesting.

The divide was even greater for the anime fans. Some are interested in culture, history, language, etc., and some of those argue that the Japanese dub (or English sub) is the only version anyone should watch. It’s the original after all; the closest to the creator’s true intent. Bringing it to America or other places just pollutes it, taking out all the jokes and references foreigners wouldn’t get and replacing them with ones they do understand.

I understand this mindset, but at the same time I appreciate what English dubs can do. They’ve grown a lot over the years, getting better at pronunciation and keeping closer to the original material, while bringing the content to a wide audience. Anime has grown in popularity in America in the last two decades alone. Sure, older generations still blink and gap in bemusement at fast talking, choppy animated Speed Racer and the like, but we have beloved films and shows that still have large followings today, even the ones heavily edited by folks like the infamous 4Kids Entertainment. Look at 90’s darling Sailor Moon. It’s getting a revamping with Sailor Moon Crystal.

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So what if some people call her Serena and the rest call her Usagi? That only matters in online forums and chatting with your Japanese friends, and I personally think it’s interesting comparing and contrasting the versions. As for which one I go with, usually it’s whichever one I like better (not necessarily which version I see first, though it is certainly that in the Kiki case). I watch Black Butler, Spirited Away, Madoka Magica, and Hetalia in Japanese, but I watch Wolf’s Rain, .hack//SIGN, Princess Mononoke, and Ouran High School Host Club in English. I can watch the other versions too, but it’s just personal preference, mostly pertaining to beloved voice actors and no other rhyme or reason.

Whatever you change, heart, effort, and charm should shine through, no matter what. Changes have to be made in adaptation.

So why am I mad about Kiki again? Mostly because of the advertising of this new feature (rather than, say, having the original Disney dub and the new 2010 Disney dub available in the same package, like a theatrical and director’s cut) and the choice of doing such a thing over a decade later, at the expense of someone’s memory.

What do I mean by that last bit?

This article takes an in-depth look at the story and changes made, but let me point out a few things here for the uninitiated:

“The 2010 DVD drops a considerable amount of character dubbing. Most affected is Jiji (Kiki’s cat), for whom (Phil Hartman) had provided a number of witty ad-libs. Here, unless a character is explicitly shown to be speaking, they’re silent. The silence goes even further in few scenes that had score apparently added for the English dub; these now appear without music. Other noticeable losses include Kiki and Jiji’s in-flight and in-rain banter (particularly the latter, upon arriving in their new town), some of Tombo’s lines, and a radio report. Furthermore, some minor changes occur in the credited titles of certain filmmakers.

Film revisionism is generally something I never like, especially when an original version is no longer offered. In this case, however, we’re not talking about an original version but a dubbing. Still, the English version is definitely untrue to Disney’s original dubbing, which has existed for 12 years. While the changes bring the English version closer to the original Japanese, which sounds fair enough, anyone wanting the original Japanese probably would have simply already chosen to watch that version. Something about removing a whole bunch of Phil Hartman’s lines from one of his final movies, a project dedicated to him, also doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure how worked up anyone will get over this surprisingly thorough re-editing. I would guess that those accustomed to the dub are more likely to mind the revisions than to appreciate them. And it seems to me that if Miyazaki had objections, he should have voiced them back in the ’90s.”

~ Luke Bonanno

 

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The character who “suffers” the worst cuts is Jiji, whose voice actor was murdered. The original Disney dub was dedicated to him, so cutting half his dialogue, even if it was ad-libbing, after the project was released to the public for years feels like an insult to his memory.

Also, MAJOR SPOILER HERE:

 

Kiki seems to lose her magical ability during the second act, and regains it by the end (all but speaking with Jiji). This is the big growing up moment, as far as Miyazaki and the purist fans are concerned.

“In the original Japanese script, Kiki loses her ability to communicate with Jiji permanently, but in the American version a line is added which implies she is once again able to understand him. Miyazaki has said that Jiji is the immature side of Kiki, and this implies that Kiki, by the end of the original Japanese version, has matured beyond talking to her cat.”

~Kiki’s Wikipedia page

I can see why fans might have a beef with that line added into the ending, but I never saw the cat as Kiki’s childish side. I saw him as her companion, and her ability to speak with him as just another benefit of having magical powers. The fact that her parents don’t have any other pets, and are never shown speaking to Jiji (or any other animals) never led me to believe that they couldn’t understand him, and that only Kiki could. In fact, Kiki not being able to speak to Jiji was the first sign that she was losing her powers. Would it really make sense for her to lose one power, but not the rest?

But that could have just been poor writing/elaboration.

Maybe she should have turned from animal to human friends (as a part of growing up), but she had plenty of human friends, both before and after skipping town.

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So I have never had a problem with the line revealing that Kiki can understand her cat again; I found the Japanese ending bittersweet and sad for what felt like a no real reason. Princess Mononoke”s ending was bittersweet, but it felt earned. So did the ending for Spirited Away and even Castle in the Sky a little bit. Although, Jiji is portrayed differently there, more “cautious and conscientious” than his “wise cracking” Americanized counterpart. I can accept it if people say “it’s just you.”

Some people found Phil Hartman unfitting or obnoxious as Jiji, hating his general hamminess. I did not. But while I can’t fault those people, I would have preferred (as I mentioned above) something along the lines of a theatrical/director’s cut pairing of DVDs, not just quietly and effectively replacing the old version from the general market. Miyazaki approved the changes made to his work at the time, even if he didn’t agree with them. Now he, or someone else on his team, has pulled a George Lucas.

Miyazaki, I love you man. I respect you so much. I’ve visited your museum in Mitaka

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and it was magical.

But please don’t do stuff like that.

I can’t say which version is better, because all versions have their own values and merits. I just miss the ad-libbing, the mickey-mousing, the wonderfully fitting Sydney Forest songs I sang along with every time.

 

 

I’ll keep the new DVDs and the new and interesting features available on the second disc, but I’m determined to get a copy of pre-2010 Kiki. I advise all fans of the original Disney dub to be wary, lest you get the shocking, depressing surprise I got. For everyone else who may or may not care in this instance, look into the production of some of your favorite shows and movies. They take a lot of work to make the finished product, and you might learn some interesting things about what is and what could have been.

Like David Bowie could have played Elrond in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations.

True story.

And fans…go there ^. Or here:

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As usual, pics and other media don’t belong to me (although I personally took the photos of the Studio Ghibli Museum and the shopfront. They belong to Studio Ghbili, Hayao Miyazaki, and Disney, etc.

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7 thoughts on “Kiki’s Delivery Service Changes, and the “Dub vs. Sub” Debate”

  1. The 2003 DVD release has the original dub setup. Partially redone music, all the added lines and SFX, and the Sydney Forest songs. It has a seperate section from the newer one on Amazon.com. That’s the release I own, and am very happy with! 😀

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  2. I watched kiki for the first time ever yesterday, and Jiji is annoying me untill now. I watched the original japanese version, where he stops talking and that simply doesnt make any sense. Its not like kiki has changed, it feels like jiji is a complete different character, not only he stops talking, but he changes from a smart witch cat with personality to a dumb, uninportant cat. Ive never watched the american version, but maybe it makes more sense.

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  3. I completely agree with you 100%. Kiki was my first Studio Ghibli movie I’ve ever watched as a kid. I had it on the VHS and loved it. I can’t watch VHS anymore so I wanted the DVD version so I can re-live the nostalgia of my childhood. I got the blu-ray version and I was shocked at the change! I pretty much know each line that comes up so the second JiJi didn’t say anything in the first couple of minutes of the movie I was honestly upset and thought that the DVD was broken. I returned it and tried the non blu-ray version and got the same result. Later I learned that it wasn’t the DVDs. So I looked for the version that was like the VHS. Thankfully I found it but I wish, just like you, that the newer versions had both dubs so people can pick and choose. That made no sense in my part but at least I found the version that I love.

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  4. I promise youre not the only one who was angered by this, when i saw my friend’s dvd of this i was beyond furious, i told him to turn it off ASAP. i didn’t wanna hear it. i completely agree that it seems like a dishonor to Phil, to cut his lines like this. Hence why i wont watch it. i still have the original dubbed. and i watch it all the time.

    I feel this way about the original dubbed version of totoro. I HATE the Disney dubbed version. it sounds soooo dull like the actors didn’t know how to do voice acting which is surprising since Dakota did coraline and she did a great job of that movie.

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  5. I am also fond of the original dub. However, as you noted, this change brings the movie more in line with the original Japanese version of it. Therefore, I believe these changes were probably made at the request of Studio Gibli, as it is their right to decide what is made available on their films. I would like both versions to be available on Blu-ray too, but if this is what the director wants (and it is closer to his original intent than the original dub was), then we have to accept it. By accept it, I don’t mean “be happy about it” or “buy it,” but simply that we must acknowledge this change was made for a reason and we will not get the original dub again. Because the original Japanese version came first, and the dub is the one that altered it, the dub is the one that made the alterations in the first place. It’s important to remember that. I’m not saying we have to like it, but I understand why this was done. Miyazaki or Gibli obviously no longer want to have a version that does not reflect his intent on the market, and that makes sense to me, even if I like the altered one.

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