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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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05/07/2006 Archived Entry: "Anime review: The Law of Ueki, Vol. 1 (DVD)"

The Law of Ueki, Vol. 1 (DVD)
Release date: May 16, 2006

Review by Tom Good

The Law of Ueki is about a bunch of junior high school students who have to . . . oh, go ahead, guess. Hint: there are no space aliens, dragons, or giant mecha in this story. So there's only one thing it could be, right? Yes, that's right, they have to compete in a fighting tournament. This may not sound like a promising concept, but the series definitely makes up in its execution what it lacks in originality of the premise. As one of the candidates for the position of "Celestial King," Mr. Kobayashi has to choose a student to back in the contest, and grant him a special power. The mentor whose student wins will become the next Celestial King.

Mr. K decides on Kosuke Ueki to be his champion, but Ueki is so uninterested that he chooses as his special talent the "power to turn garbage into trees." This may have limited value in a fighting tournament, but luckily for Ueki, the other kids have equally silly skills. Seiichiro Sano, who wants to win the tournament so he can create his own hot springs, has the power to change towels into iron. Another competitor can make people ugly by sticking fingers up their nose. The Law of Ueki makes fun of the fighting-tournament genre, much like Jubei-Chan parodies the conventions of the ninja story.

Behind every successful guy in a crazy fighting tournament is a strong, clever woman -- well, maybe not the boys in Worst, but you get the idea -- and in this series the beautiful, turquoise-haired Ai Mori fills that role. Her bio says her hobby is "meddling." When she first witnesses Ueki's powers she thinks he is a space alien, but rather than being scared, she confidently tells him that he'll never get away with taking over the world. Once she understand what's really going on, she sets her mind on keeping him out of trouble. Every time Ueki uses his powers to harm a non-contestant, he loses one of his talents. Though he loses "the power to be liked by girls," for some reason Ai still likes him and tries to help him win.

I recommend watching this DVD with English subtitles and Japanese audio. A lot gets lost in the English dub. The Japanese voices are quirky and full of character, and they make the English voices seem very bland in comparison. Part of the problem is the translation. The Japanese dialogue uses a lot of slang, dialect, and interesting wording; the English version captures the meaning but loses most of the flavor. For example, the people with special talents are called nouryokusha in Japanese, and this is translated as "power user" in English. But nouryokusha is a cool-sounding word, whereas "power user" sounds like someone who is really good with Microsoft Excel macros.

In one scene, the competitor Li Ho says he knows "nouryokusha no nioi." This is translated as "the scent of a power user." The Japanese phrase uses alliteration and has a fun, poetic quality that is lost in the English. If I had to translate this -- and it really is a challenge -- I would probably try something like "the stench of intense talent." Take the problems in that one phrase and multiply it by almost every line in the show, and you can imagine the drawbacks to the English dub.

That is the bad news. The good news is that simply switching to the Japanese audio with English subtitles transforms this into a really fun show that should not be missed. Even if you don't understand a word of Japanese, this is still worth doing just for the vocal quality of the Japanese voice actors.

The art has a wild, hyper-real quality, full of saturated yellows, purples, blues and oranges (Ai's hair and eyes are practically minor characters in their own right). And the opening theme "Falco," composed by Kazunori Watanabe and performed by Hitomi Shimatami, is a cool song. Though I was not especially in the mood for yet another fighting tournament anime, The Law of Ueki caught my interest and never let go. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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