Mothballs: The Future War of 198X, Decades Later

This Week: Future War Year 198X (Future War 198X-nen)

An irradiated casualty of the English dubbing anime script adaptation wars of long ago.

Future War Year 198X

As a general rule, I have only ever brought up English dub performances of an anime in select circumstances.

Cases like the Blade television series Marvel put together with Madhouse, and how the language for such a property was handled on its return trip. Or even little remarks for capturing particularly choice performances, such as casting the leading lady of Mysterious Girlfriend X. I like testing out the verbal English tracks of various productions when given the opportunity, to see how they stack up and what I like or dislike. I normally use the information just for mental footnotes or for potential re-watch choices.

Future War Year 198X is not merely a situation to consider if a script change or a different language performance alters some factors.

It is a veritable petri dish wonderland of self contained toxicity rampaging under the microscope. It forms the kind of nightmare scenarios even individuals who loathe the very concept of alternative language tracks would have difficulty dreaming up for their most acid spitting forum post rants. Knowingly or not, when bile and venom are poured out by some for line changes in a modern dub, or even more “of its era” ones like the old Sailor Moon rescripting, Future War Year 198X lurks underneath like molten rock perhaps barely above material like In the Aftermath (which even goes so far as to hatchet up parts of Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg and reframe it with live action footage).

The adapted script and its content differences becomes itself the primary subject I am nearly forced to reflect on at the very forefront of my mind.

Future War 198X Future War 198X-nen Atomic Nuclear Bomb Blast Explosion Washington DC United State Capitol Building

The actual narrative for Future War Year 198X goes exactly as one may assume a 1982 work with such a title may go.

Arguably, it was greatly influenced by Sir John Hackett’s controversial 1978 novel The Third World War: August 1985, in which the General consulted with various military and political representatives to craft a “What If…” World War III scale event and its potential ways of strategic execution in a modern geopolitical climate. That it contains the hows and why of hotly contested combat from the Cold War’s main hegemonic powers slamming their forces into each other should be of little surprise. In this case, the film weaves its scenario from a point regarding space based anti-nuclear missile defense shield programs, and the United States successfully deploying one at the start of the movie. With one global power demonstrating a perfect laser targeting and firing system, a nervousness sets in among other military and political leaders elsewhere, and what starts as a series of international espionage events begins to rapidly fall out of control.

Of note,  the real world Strategic Defense Initiative (otherwise known as “Star Wars”) program was proposed by the United States in 1983. While this came after the release of this movie, the English dub of Future War Year 198X does shift to use its associated terminology. This is understandable to me, given the delay for this release of the film from the 1982 original. It is a fitting adaptive choice to shoehorn in the SDI initiative and its vocabulary for the US project in the movie. So before I move on, in this singular choice instance, the dub arguably makes the correct decision.

The shall we say peculiar quirk with the English dub which has so far gone unmentioned is one which does not necessarily become apparent until several minutes into the movie, if the viewer is not already aware of it going in.

As of this writing, if one were to look at the Anime News Network Encyclopedia entry, the Japanese version has a suitable cast of over thirty five actresses and actors portraying a globe spanning set of characters. A reader would not find an English cast, but would perhaps assume this would be merely out of nobody yet taking the time to fill it out for all those characters and their equivalents in another language. For a film as old and potentially obscure this, it would not be unheard of.

The English language version of Future War Year 198X is voiced entirely by one man, whose name at the time of this writing I have not managed to dig up myself.

Rather than attempt to perform every character though one person (which, given, would have been quite disastrous in its own right), our lone actor is a narrator who is framed as one of the United States scientists who worked on the aforementioned orbital missile shield. In execution, this extreme cost saving measure radically alters the entire experience of watching the movie.

Near as I can ascertain, the running time and visual content is the same as the original Japanese release.This in turn leaves every person on screen, who were previously animated as characters in a drama with their own dialogue exchanges to drive the plot, flapping their lips for words we never hear from them directly. Instead, we have our narrator giving us an abridged version of what was being said, with their own flairs here and there. For instance, while not acting as them, he will tend to more angrily hiss when trying to parlay what some Soviet leaders are said to be saying. Which still leaves the movie with plenty of awkward moments and minutes at a stretch where no voice acting is occurring at all. Despite characters being on screen, and the viewer can see them speaking to one another.

There is a staggering amount of dead air in this movie, just waiting for the narration to wake up and explain what we may have been looking at for quite a while.

Future War 198X Future War 198X-nen Atomic Nuclear Bomb Blast Explosion Ocean Water Sky

The music and effects track remains active and intact however, resulting in at times surreal experiences more through gross mishandling and raw accident than I feel via creative intention.

The audience can see soldiers bodies be shot up by rifle fire, and they can hear the effects of the shots, but the visual of them yelling orders or asking for help are provided no matching audio equivalents. Cities ravaged by nuclear or conventional weapons with the debris and explosions for the eyes and ears, but hearing nothing from people screaming and running from a tank column. In a different film with proper framing and intent from the start, this could be potentially really poignant viewing material and a valid way of handling things!

But our narrator wanders his voice in to and out of scenes with seemingly no cohesive directorial vision for the tonal flow of what is going on or appropriate timing. Especially as his impact careens from removed third person re-teller of events to more active personal stances his actual scientist character may take. Amped up 1980’s rock anthems, such as “Ai no Sonata” by Poplar, blares out with a deafeningly ironic vibe over characters we never get to hear a word from, rather than the more emotional tones it was perhaps originally intended to take on as a part of a drama.

To better drive home what I mean, and how badly this dubbing style devastates the film, I need take but one scene in the movie. It will require spoiling this one aspect, but it is by no means the climax of the film.

Due to a misunderstanding in the ongoing war and a power struggle on board, a Soviet nuclear submarine launches its select atomic armed payload at the United States of America. President Gibson, angrily phoning Soviet leadership and despite being reassured it was a rogue action they never ordered, chooses to retaliate with elements of the nuclear arsenal at his command. The choice is made by the USSR leader at the time, knowing full well these missiles are being launched at their country and with limited time to act, to avoid a reciprocal strike. He would be banking on the first wave of such an assault to primarily target Soviet military facilities, and while the strike from the USA would cost his state significant damage to its national defense, to not rapidly shoot off the potentially endangered Soviet missiles would avoid an incalculable level of hellish global bloodshed.

We are provided a passive voice play by play of this exchange by our narrator. While we see the deliberations happening, we never hear the actual words and tones the characters themselves would be using actively. The tension that would be inherent to such an angry phone call. The worry, nervousness, or even potentially stout resolve that may creep through one’s voice with missiles bearing down on their nation making a choice which is going to impact millions of people one way or the other. And that applies to both leaders here, visually distraught as they are in different ways. All of its dramatic weight tossed out the window due to the English acting and narration style.

What should be in some views alarming and in others heroic action regarding nuclear missile launches to slap the viewer with all the visceral in the moment impact of a top of the hour morning weather report.

Future War 198X Future War 198X-nen Government Holiday Party Skyline Sunset Hug Embrace Balcony Wataru Mikumo Laura Gaine

I will not claim this would be hearty international politics material in its original character acting format, as again a film going so far to be titled Future War Year 198X is going to progress in a rather blunt fashion.

It is reliant right from the name for a degree of bombast. The directing duo of Tomoharu Katsumata (Mazinger Z, Cutey Honey, Be Forever Yamato) and Toshio Masuda (Be Forever Yamato, multiple other Yamato films, in addition to 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora with Richard Fleischer and Kinji Fukasaku) each went into the project with heavy duty resumes honed to deliver big theatrics and larger than life events. A prospective viewer sees a name like Future War Year 198X, envisions almost the precise movie it would be (for good or for ill), and it sells itself to the exact kind of audience who would be interested in such World War III shenanigans.

Which would still be a perfectly and one hundred percent A-ok thing. Such films can still be enjoyable, and a welcome part of ones cinematic experiences. A varied, and indeed quite human thing.

Yet even this is taken from us here.

Far more than any of the weapons launched, the one man show scripting approach taken for the English dub drains all the potential color from the world of this film.



Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.

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