Sgt. Keroro is a frog from outer space on a mission to invade Earth and enslave the human race. There’s a small problem – he’s a complete idiot. His plan for world domination is cut short when he is accidentally discovered by the Hinata family after hiding out in their household. The humans quickly out wit the simple alien to give up on his plans and take care of their housework instead. And so hilarity ensues as Keroro and his alien comrades attempt to restart their quest to take over the world, only to have their plans foiled by their own incompetence each and every time.
I call the Sgt. Frog manga, “the best manga series you have never read.” On the outside, it looks like a children’s series, as the simple character designs of the amphibian aliens gives off a Hello Kitty level of cuteness that often turns off most American otaku.
But if you actually picked up one of these books and read through the first chapter, you would discover a really funny and really geeky comic. There are plenty of otaku-related jokes and enough light fan service that any manga fan could easily get into it. On top of that, the humor is random and wacky, but not as over-the-top as most Japanese gag comics are. This translates very well into English, and it seemed to me like a happier version of the American cult-classic cartoon Invader Zim more than anything else.
I love the manga series, so I had very high expectations when ADV had originally announced their acquisition of the Sgt. Frog anime adaptation. But like most recent ADV acquisitions, it eventually ended up in the hands of FUNimation. About a year ago, FUNi had released a “pilot” dubbed episode of the series onto their Youtube channel and asked for feedback from the fans.
“We took all that feedback,” says FUNimation rep Adam Sheehan to a packed room at Otakon last July, “and we made the decision not to change a damn thing.” This declaration of keeping the original funny script intact was met with a huge cheer from the Otakon audience, including yours truly.
But Sheehan was wrong. They did change a damn thing. They actually changed a lot of damn things about the original script. They changed so much of it that the overall tone of the English adaptation is far different from that of the Japanese version.
And oh my God, did they ruin this once great series! (T_T)
If there is one good thing I can say about this dub, it is that the voice actors themselves and the voices they provide are fantastic. Sgt. Frog is very cartoony in nature, so the English VA’s finally have an opportunity to let their wackiness flow in a medium that is often very dry and serious. Their animated voices fit much better with the cute character designs than the Japanese voices do, so kudos to the team on that.
However, despite the fantastic acting, the script they were reading from is not funny at all. This adaption completely throws out the original dialogue and does its own thing with the characters and visuals left over. While the original humor was wacky but subtle, the new humor feels like a snarky A.D.D. teenager thinking he’s the next Larry the Cable Guy.
Of course, there are a lot of American-specific puns and cultural references, That kind of humor is expected and can occasionally be funny. Probably once every two episodes, I found myself laughing at one of these jokes. But one occasionally good joke does not make up for the many jokes that were in the Japanese version that have been completely ignored in this translation. Instead, we got two very unwanted changes to the script that simply do not work.
The first unwelcome change in the FUNimation dub is that they have to have a new lame joke being told every second of every episode. In the original, there are the occasional moments of silent setup or non-funny, regular dialogue. As I said before, the original script is not too over-the-top in its wackiness.
But in this adaptation, the writers will do anything they can do to keep the humor and dialogue constantly going. They invented new running gags to refer back to in each episode. For example, one character would randomly speak Spanish for no reason. They’ll completely change over lines of dialogue to facilitate these new gags, occasionally going against the visuals and text that appear on the screen. They even added a narrator to interject little unfunny quips for the moments of silence in the original script.
The second unwelcome change is the self-deprecating humor poking fun at the source material. This often points out plot holes (“Hey, what ever happened to Keroro? Wasn’t he just here a moment ago?”), oddities (“Boy, doesn’t this background music seem very inappropriate at a moment like this?”), or even their dub itself (“Why does that girl randomly speak Spanish?”). None of this humor is in the original script, and it annoys me to think that this dubbing staff has the gall to make fun of a funny show that they’ve completely bastardized for this American release.
I very rarely use the word “bastardized” to describe an English anime dub, but that’s exactly what happen in this version of Sgt. Frog. Of course, you can still get all the original humor by turning to the Japanese subtitle track, and it is still just as good as the manga version you can currently buy from Tokyopop.
If they had just kept the dub adaptation in the same vein as the original script with those fantastic English voices, we could have had one of the best releases of the year. Instead, we get one of the worst R1 DVDs I’ve had to sit through.
This was painful. This was insulting. I just wanted to take out this disc from my player and stomp on it repeatedly with every lame joke I heard coming out of this dub. There’s no way I can recommend this release to anybody.
* * * *
The Good: Cute characters. Original Japanese script is surprisingly very funny and translates well into English. Dub voice actors are excellent.
The Bad: The script of the English dub adaptation is awful, just awful.
Final Verdict: FUNimation turns the subtle humor of Sgt. Frog into an unwatchable, unfunny piece of crap. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Skip it! (-_-)