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4.0 out of 5 stars Good action comedy with an okay dub, January 7, 2012
This review is from: Drop (DVD)
With Funimation best known for licensing action anime, it was only a matter of time before it ventured into the realm of foreign films, especially one as action-packed as Drop.

I've always seen casual mentions of school gang rivalries in titles like Yu Yu Hakusho and School Rumble, but Drop has been the first title I've seen to really delve into the subject. You're introduced to lead character Hiroshi, who (as the back of the box art word it) "drops out of his upscale private school and enrolls in a gritty public school." Given a premise like this, you'd think that the poor, sheltered teen would end up getting in over his head when he goes looking for attention from his new school's gang. However, you don't get much of that outside of the rude welcoming the gang gives him in one of the film's first scenes, making for something of a half-hearted, but still unique vibe--something the overall film gives off as you watch it.

As the film continues, you're slowly introduced to Hiroshi's delinquent friends, each of them with their own quirks and at the end of the day are alright people for the most part... the only exception to this being the gang's leader, Tatsuya, who comes off as cool yet bloodthirsty given the proper situation, always defending his random acts of violence by saying that humans don't die that easily. While we're given a good enough group of characters to work off from, however, we never truly get into the minds of each member outside of Hiroshi. We're never given a proper reason for why any of them decided to join a gang with the only explanation coming from Hiroshi's sister's boyfriend--apparently an ex-hoodlum himself who claims that school brawls acted as something of an extracurricular activity.

It would have been nice to see this point fleshed out better, but to have it replaced with scenes of actual school gang fights works fine, too. While watching the many well-choreographed (not on the level of 80's action movie cheesy, but not like any recent overly polished fantasy fights, either) fight scenes throughout the film, you become so absorbed in the action, that you forget the reason behind it all in the first place. But because it's so entertaining you don't really care for an explanation even though one is clearly given. In a way, I guess this serves as the insight into each gang-member's minds--they don't do it for any reason outside of fighting for the sake of fighting.

With such a meat-headed mentality behind everything, though, you'd think the movie would fall flat when it came to reaching a certain status outside of a popcorn flick. And in some respects, you'd be right. Outside of the gang, Hiroshi spends time with his sister Yuka, his sister's boyfriend Hideo, and Hideo's co-worker Ono. Naturally, his sister doesn't approve of him being in a gang, while Hideo and Ono shrug it off as a "boys being boys" type of thing. And for the most part, you tend to side with the men in the argument. The movie actually leans towards the comedic and even stylistically switches to manga-style drawings when transitioning between scenes. Most of the scuffles Hiroshi gets into early in the film are presented so comically that you don't really see the harm in the things they do half the time. So when things take a turn for the serious in the last part of the film, it's somewhat jarring and making for a rather sloppy job of saying how bad gang fighting is after building it up in such a positive light for a majority of the film. Still, it was a valiant effort in adding some drama to what would otherwise just be a comedic fighting comedy.

There were also some stylistic decisions that while probably not that big to the Japanese viewer stand out like a sore thumb for an American viewer. Besides the general Japanese lifestyle depicted in the film (schools, hot springs, ramen shops), the overall story-telling of the film comes off as clearly foreign. Without spoiling anything, a certain scene near the end of the film switches between locations with everything done not only in slow-motion, but with overly epic singing as its background music--something you don't really see in American films (though I could just be noticing it since it's in a foreign language). Throughout the movie, lead Hiroshi also tends to wear a shirt that proudly displays the words "DROP OUT," which while not all that noticeable to the typical Japanese viewer can come off as a message being spread a tad too thick for English-readers.

Funimation also had the courtesy of dubbing the film, having English as a second option if you don't want to have to read subtitles while listening to the original Japanese version. For the most part, Funimation's dubs as of late have been pretty good, only taking some liberties in some of the more extraneous dialogue. This film's dubbing, while not the least accurate I've seen, doesn't nearly stick as much to the original Japanese script as I'd expect from Funimation's latest works.

Since this is a live action film, I guess Funimation figured they shouldn't stick to their core anime fans and try to appeal to a broader audience, explaining some of the script changes in the English version. Mentions of ramen shops, nearby towns, currency, and yakuza are all brushed under the rug for more generic speak (things like "let's go out to eat," "going out of town," amounts expressed in dollars over yen, and "the mob," respectively). Even the rival gang's name is removed completely from the dub, replacing the "Devil Soldiers" to a nameless bike gang... even though the name is clearly seen (in English, no less!) on the members' jackets and flags. Thankfully, the same hasn't been done to the more nerdy bits of dialogue, referencing things like Gundam, Dragon Ball, and even the Terminator. Though there was what I could only think of as a flub on the English voice actor's part, where Hiroshi mentions the manga "Torch," while the subtitle in the Japanese version clearly states the manga being named "Touch" (the high school baseball manga, if Wikipedia serves right). There's also a noticeable re-write in a certain yakuza-gone-cab-driver's line, changing it supposedly so as not to come off as a potential molester, while maintaining his same lines later on when the female's face (and thus age) is never known. Choice in English voices for the most part works fine, too, with the exception of gang member Lupin being given a generic tough guy voice while I always thought he was rather flamboyant in the original version.

Where the dub goes from forgivable rewrite to flat-out cringe-worthy in its inaccuracy, though, is when the tone takes a shift for the more serious. While it makes sense to re-word some of the more comedic scenes to work better for English-speaking audiences, I feel like the more emotional scenes work well regardless of the language barrier and as such should have been kept as accurate to the original as possible.

As a whole, Drop is an excellent movie giving a more mainstream perspective of life as a teenage delinquent in a way that only Japan can.
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