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Hana yori dango (1996)
Classic Series that Falters Somewhat in Denouement and Localization
Some notes on this domestic release and the series in general
The video transfer feels a bit rough and the Japanese track has kind of distant sound to it compared to other series made in the same time period (e.g. eva). I had only ever seen this particular anime in real player or vcd format previously however, so I have no version of similar or higher quality to compare it to (I wonder how the Japan region dvds are?). This, along with the slightly cheesy opening and ending themes, makes the series feel pretty dated while watching it, although it's nostalgic enough for me that I can get past that. The use of classical music as the primary bgm may also contribute to this somewhat, but it's a pretty unique feature and works well in setting a certain mood of refinement in contrast (and at times collaboration) with a lot of the action and dialogue overlaying it. The Japanese voice acting for Makino Tsukushi and Doumyouji Tsukasa are still a couple of my favorite va performances ever. But the dub just does-not-work in my opinion. Tsukushi is tolerable enough, although not quite as dynamic as the original, but the F4 are all very blah and grating, especially their notorious leader (whose dumb-jock dub performance just leaves an utterly different impression of the character compared to the Japanese).
As for the translation: one of the most notable changes is the conversion of all use of last names in addressing characters to the usage of first names (along with some concocted substitutes for verbal puns and such). I don't mind this type of alteration in dubs, as I feel the purpose of those can be to make material as relatable to one's own culture as possible. However, I was taken aback by the fact that they did this in the subtitles for the Japanese as well (when you can clearly hear that's not what they're saying). A lot of nuances/ironies of intimacy are carried in who refers to each other by their first names vs. last names, not to mention that the Makino/Doumyouji appellations are just so traditional for this series. I feel like they kind of lost the purpose of what a sub is supposed to do: that is, transmit the meaning of the original wording as much as possible; whereas a dub creates a new version. I also thought it was a bit sloppy when they messed up household-name designer labels like 'Elmarni suit' in place of 'Armani suit' (unless that was due to some sort of weird copyright issue, where they couldn't use the actual brands...).
The art style of the anime is modest but charming for the most part. Be forewarned however, that is starts to go a bit off periodically around the Shigeru arc. Most notably there are the slightly queasy, washed out, deformed parts and the bizarro, crackhead, eyeliner parts like in the *ahem* final episode.
Also, as a word of warning on that note: the ending here comes off as rather rushed, and will most likely not leave you feeling particularly satisfied. The anime was completed long before the manga finished, so I guess they had to make something up, and were on a short time schedule to wrap it up perhaps (hence a boat-ex-machina "resolution")... On the other hand, I didn't really care for where the story of the manga went eventually either (ridiculous amnesia stories, and so on), so I've yet to see a fully satisfying close to the Hana Yori Dango narrative. Perhaps some of the live action dramas do it better, I don't know. I fully recommend the first two-thirds of the anime series however, before it got kind of anemic (and with some caveats for the localization). The storyline during those early parts is pretty great, and deserves a look in any one of HYD's many forms. After the milestone hair-cut partway through the narrative, however, you can pretty much take it or leave it.