Wednesday, July 2, 2014

15 - Usagi's Panic: Rei's First Date

For the most part, I've enjoyed Viz's approach to translating so far. It's less doggedly literal than subtitles often are, and makes for more natural-seeming dialogue, which is good. In this episode, though, one of the downsides of this approach becomes apparent.

The episode starts off with Ami showing Usagi and Rei a park that she visits often. She says hello to the groundsman, and this is the source of the translation problem.
See, in the original Japanese, Ami calls the groundsman "ojisan". This literally means "uncle", but is also an informal, friendly way of addressing an older man. This sounds odd in English, so the translators had Ami use his name, which sounds a lot more natural. But wait... where does the name come from? Neither Ami nor anyone in this episode actually speaks this character's name.

Well, his name is in the credits, and I assume in the scripts too. The problem with Japanese names, though, is that they can be read different ways, and without hearing the name, or seeing it written phonetically, you have no way of knowing for sure how to pronounce most Japanese names just by seeing them. You can make an educated guess, but that's it. And that's what the translators did here: they looked at the kanji for the groundman's name, which is 国立, and made a best guess, coming up with Kokuritsu.

Except they got it wrong. Thanks to the various Japanese guidebooks, which included a lot of production notes and materials, we know that the correct reading for this character's name is actually Kunitachi. Here's a scan from the first Nakayoshi Anime Album, complete with furigana showing the pronunciation of the name.
I mean, as errors go, this seems minor. It's not like the name is ever even spoken in the original episode. But having known this character's name for a long time, it's downright weird to see him referred to by a different name. And because of how Viz have chosen to translate this episode, with the name replacing "ojisan", this name shows up a lot. It bugs me.

Back to the episode - because I had more planned than complaining about a single botched name translation - the groundsman tells them that the park has been sold, and work crews are already starting to bulldoze it in preparation for a new office complex. Rei's reaction to the news is to realize she needs to quickly acquire a boyfriend in order to have a date in the park before it closes. I love her logic here, it says so much about her character's priorities. For most people, it's "boyfriend acquired, must find date spot", whereas in Rei's case it's "date spot acquired, must find boyfriend." Rei is the most ambitious of the main cast; she wants to experience as much as possible from life, and if some of that requires a boyfriend, then fine, she'll find one, but the boyfriend part isn't an end in and of itself.

That evening, Luna is walking the streets, and stops to wonder where everyone went today. Unfortunately, she stopped to wonder this in the middle of a busy road. She's almost hit by a truck, but someone makes a daring last-minute save!
Mamoru is out... uh, I'm gonna assume jogging; my nineties fashion-fu is weak... and darts across the street to rescue Luna. As the internet has proven, even the most irredeemably awful people still love cats.

Usagi, Ami and Rei show up a few moments later, and Usagi freaks out that Mamoru is messing with her cat. Everyone else sides with Mamoru, possibly because he's in the right for once, possibly because everyone other than Usagi always sides with Mamoru. Then Motoki appears. Hey, Motoki will stick up for Usagi, right? He's always been there to defend her. Oops! Turns out Motoki and Mamoru are friends, and go the same college.

In his personal creepy church in his personal creepy forest, Nephrite does his astrology act and identifies the groundsman as his next target. Meanwhile, Usagi and friends are at the arcade. While Usagi fails at the Sailor V game, Rei pumps Motoki for information about Mamoru. It turns out he's super rich, lives by himself in an expensive condo, and goes to a good college. Rei thinks this makes him perfect boyfriend material. Rei is also fourteen years old, so... well, yeah, there's that. Incidentally, though he's been around from the beginning, this is the first time we've actually heard Mamoru's real name. It's been in the credits since episode one, admittedly, but as we've discovered, that's no guarantee of knowing what his name actually is...

In the park, the groundsman watches the destruction, and wonders if there's any way to save the wildlife. Enter Nephrite as Masato Sanjoin, millionaire playboy and environmentalist, who announces, that, yes, the groundsman can save the animals. Save them with the power of evil. And you've just got to love a show that gives you lines like this:
With the power of a possessed hat, the groundsman summons the forces of nature to do his bidding and rise up against their human enemies. Unfortunately, a park in the middle of Tokyo doesn't have a lot of large animals, but damn it, he makes it work with what's available.
Watch out or they'll flap near you! Actually, these butterflies are pretty friggin' dangerous, as they can apparently destroy electrical equipment just by, uh, flapping near it. There's some poetic justice in seeing a butterfly destroy a lightbulb. While you could argue it's the Youma's essence giving them superpowers, I like to think that butterflies are actually this strong all the time. They just choose not to show it because they're pacifists.

The next day, Rei is engineering the perfect chance encounter with Mamoru. She's plotted out his route back from college, and is timing it so she will turn the corner and gently bump into him, which will of course prompt him to ask her on a date by way of apology. Rei has yet to realize that causing Mamoru even the slightest amount of pain or inconvenience will result in a stern lecture on what a terrible waste of a human being you are.

Rei puts her plan into action, but the goddesses of shoujo drama are fickle, and she trips on a loose paving stone, resulting in, well, this.
Rei says she's fine, and Mamoru, being Mamoru, hears this and just decides to keep on walking. Well, it was either going to be that or a fifteen minute lecture on clumsiness. Rei, undeterred, runs after Mamoru and latches onto him, proposing she make it up to him with a cup of coffee. Make what up to him? Why, making him step on her head. Well, if there's one thing Mamoru likes in a woman, it's apologizing for things that weren't her fault, so he accepts!

(Yes, I know I'm mean to Mamoru. I know he becomes a much more pleasant character later on. But at this point in the show, he's shown no indication of being anything other than a huge jerk.)

Usagi sees all of this unfold, and is shocked, shocked to see Rei walking off arm-in-arm with an attractive older guy. It's immoral! It's inappropriate! Where's her attractive older guy? She runs off after them to throw a spanner in the works. Strictly for Rei's own well-being, of course.

Rei and Mamoru are in a cafe, where Rei is trying to make smalltalk and generally behaving like a huge dork. Usagi spies on them, but can't go inside because she doesn't have any money. She could always use the disguise pen to pose as a waitress... But then another opportunity arises. Umino sees Usagi and wonders what she's up to, crouched down outside a cafe. Hey, wait, doesn't Umino have a crush on Usagi? Hmmmm.
Usagi asks if Umino has any money. He does! Usagi asks if Umino would like to go on a date. He... wait, what? Yes, yes he would. They get into the cafe, where Usagi spies on Rei and Mamoru while Umino behaves like a boy from the 1950s.
In the park, it seems that the construction crew all suddenly quit. The owner explains to the uncharacteristically surly groundsman that with nobody prepared to do the work, the planned construction has been cancelled, and they'll be keeping the park the way it is. Meanwhile, Ami explains to Luna how she noticed the groundsman's odd behavior, and they head to the park to investigate. After meeting with the groundsmsan, the owner mutters about those construction workers expecting him to believe they were attacked by butterflies, and tosses a cigarette butt on the ground, attracting the attention of a squirrel. Man, that is one pissed-off looking squirrel. Moments later, Ami and Luna are drawn to the cries of a man experiencing the full-on terrifying wrath of squirrels.
This might look strange, but in fact, squirrels are widely known to be badasses. I mean, just ask Doctor Doom.
While the owner flees, begging forgiveness and promising never to bother the park again, Ami and Luna take a look at the horde of possessed evil squirrels and wonder if something evil might be afoot.

In a different, less evil part of the park, Rei has taken Mamoru out on a boat. He expresses sadness that the park is going to be closed, saying that people should take better care of nature. A wind blows to signify Mamoru having said something non-jerkish for the first time ever. Usagi watches them from a secluded spot, wondering what they're talking about. And Umino, having been raised by dating sims, thinks Usagi must be totally serious about this relationship if she's taken him to this private place already, and, well, since she's going to be so insistent, he'll agree to a kiss. By the time he's done saying this, Usagi has already run off somewhere else.

Usagi meets up with Ami and Luna, who tell her about the weird things happening in the park. The groundsman sees them, and says that the penalty for trespassing in this haven of nature is death! Then his energy peaks, and is drained by the Youma in his hat.The Youma takes humanoid form, and her name is... Petasos.
This Youma apparently gets her name from a Greek term for a sun hat, that I think also refers to some kind of leaf. But it's just too perfect that a Youma created from the fervor of eco-terrorism has "Peta" in her name. Petasos commands the park's animals to attack, prompting Usagi and Ami to transform.

On the boat, Mamoru suddenly experiences a weird seizure. Hmm, where have we seen that before? Then he and Rei are attacked by birds, and end up tipping their boat over. Meanwhile, Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury are being menaced by butterflies, and Luna has a squirrel problem. Mercury casts Bubble Spray, and... this has an effect, somehow. It slows the butterflies and squirrels down somehow. I don't really get it, but hey, Bubble Spray did something useful so I'm fine with it. Petasos counterattacks, wrapping both Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury in vines.

Rei and Mamoru made it out of the water okay, but Rei detects the evil aura nearby, and runs off to investigate. Not a moment too soon! Sailor Mars uses Fire Soul to destroy the vines trapping her allies. Mercury's pissed off that the Youma took advantage of the groundsman, Mars is pissed off that her date was interrupted, and they both tell off the Youma, stealing Sailor Moon's thunder a bit. The Youma goes to attack again, but a rose thrown by Tuxedo Mask distracts her. Wait, would a rose even work on a nature-based creature? Anyway, this gives Sailor Moon a chance to use the tiara, and Petasos is destroyed.

As the groundsman recovers, a wet and confused Mamoru joins Usagi, Rei and Ami. Rei suggests that Mamoru could be Tuxedo Mask, an idea that Usagi finds horrifying. Mamoru overhears, and has apparently never heard of Tuxedo Mask, but Rei is convinced it must be him. Then Umino shows up, having apparently escaped the wrath of nature entirely, and embarrasses Usagi by asking if she wants to continue their date. The end.

Monster of the day: Petasos is pretty strong, but as a grass type she has an obvious fire weakness. She also likes to name her attacks, though the names aren't very good: "Petasos Rope" and "Hand Flower" show a distinct lack of imagination. This is why you can't be a magical girl, Petasos. That and the being evil thing.

Most valuable person: Even though a lot of time was spent with Usagi and Rei, it seems like this was really Ami's episode, and indeed, she was the first to notice that something was going on.

Least valuable person: It's a tough one to call, but Usagi spent a lot of the episode being petty and conniving, so I think she gets the award this time.

My complaints about the translation aside, this is an episode that falls pretty clearly in average territory for the show. The "victim of the week who's an unlikely friend of one of the main characters who we've never seen before and will never see again" format seems a bit more blatant than last week, but there's enough going on that it doesn't drag the episode down too much. Plus, you know, any episode with possessed evil squirrels has to be doing something right. Three stars out of five.

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