I grew up and still live in The Netherlands, the beautiful country that is hidden behind the ugly cesspool that is Amsterdam, and home to the most elegant language in the world. Naturally, when anime would air on Dutch TV, a Dutch dub would be used. This would vastly improve the quality of the anime and bring shame to the original Japanese voice cast if they were to ever hear our superior voice acting effort.
I lie, of course. This language is an abomination and I still struggle with its nonsensical grammar despite using it every day. It’s also unsuited to dramatic voice acting, in my experience. There is something unnerving about seeing these cartoon characters blurt out their lines in my native language, in a way that I don’t feel while watching English dubs despite being equally fluent in both.
As a kid, I didn’t think this was too weird. I didn’t know any other languages while I was watching Digimon and Mon Colle Knights on Fox Kids, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Cartoon voice-acting was just what it was. I do recall an episode of Pokémon, the one where they are stuck on the island with the animatronics, where Ash used a Dutch word so obscure I had to ask my parents what it meant. Even my old man was surprised with how old-fashioned it sounded.
I watched quite a bunch of anime in those days. On top of the shows mentioned above, I also recall watching a lot Yu-Gi-Oh!, Shinzo, Beyblade, and Flint the Time Detective. OH! and Samurai Pizza Cats! At the same time, I didn’t have Cartoon Network and missed out on a lot of the Western cartoons that people revere. That might explain why I am so disinterested in Western animation. What I didn’t see on Dutch TV was Sailor Moon.
Not sure if it aired on a channel I didn’t receive or I just completely ignored it because it was for girls, but I didn’t know a thing about Sailor Moon until I got into magical girl shows and every other review brought it up. Having now reviewed the show, I went searching on YouTube for clips of the Dutch version just to torture myself and it’s as bad as I expected.
There wasn’t a lot out there and what little I found was usually ancient in quality. Somebody uploaded most of the first episode and another person edited the most dramatic parts of the season 1 finale together. There were other bits and pieces, but these two paint a good impression of the overall problems with the dub and many others like it. Performances lack confidence and the script feels out-of-touch, leading to teenage characters that sound like 30-something women both in their way of speaking and in the words they use.
The season 1 finale is absolutely devastating and the dub does score points with me for keeping in references to death. Characters are getting impaled and I can see how much effort VA Marlies Somers is putting into trying to replicate the emotional distress Sailor Moon is going through as friends and enemies alike are dying alone and forgotten in a frigid wasteland. It’s just robbed of so much urgency by weird dialogue and other characters whose performances waver in quality. I am convinced that Usagi is having an emotional breakdown in those scenes, but everything else feels like I am listening to the edutainment games I played as a kid.
I also found an interesting channel that does interviews with Dutch voice talent, which includes a video with Marlies Somers. It provides fun insight into her experiences getting into voice acting and how she experienced different major roles. The video, unsurprisingly, lacks English subtitles, and she only talks about Sailor Moon for a very short fragment, part of which goes to the absolutely horrid translation of the opening song. The English OP for Sailor Moon wasn’t great, but it at least still sounded like Moonlight Densetsu. The Dutch version is the laziest shit imaginable, but I suppose kids just didn’t care.
This was certainly interesting to take a look at, even if 99% of my audience won’t have much use for this information. I briefly checked out Sailor Moon Crystal and turned on my TV for the first time in years to catch some cartoons, and half-assed dubbing efforts are still a thing, though I didn’t find anything as bad as what we saw in the ’90s. I am curious how people from across the world first got to experience anime and if they look back fondly on the dubs they got, if any were even available. Would you still watch these today or would it be too cringe-worthy?