Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Marnie Was There (SPOILERS, though I'm leaving some parts unspoiled)

Quite possibly the last theatrical release from Studio Ghibli, When Marnie Was There is a great way to go out. It recalls the quiet, graceful dignity and emotions of films like Kiki's Delivery Service or My Neighbor Totoro, as well as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's own Arrietty, though I think this is an improvement over that (very fine) film. The dub, produced and released by GKids, is another in a long line of excellent dubs for the studio's films. In fact, I'd say it's the best one of these we've had in quite some time. I was quite fond of The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya as both films and dubs, but outside of the glorious visuals (especially in the latter), they didn't quite strike the same nerve with me as Ghibli usually does. This, on the other hand, did, and for what reasons, I couldn't quite explain. The dub may or may not end up being a favorite of mine like, say, Kiki's, Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, but it's an excellent effort regardless from voice director Jamie Simone (who also did the Kaguya dub, and is a veteran of anime, Western cartoons and video games). The script is well-done, though I've been unable to find a credit for a writer; it sounds natural and flowing, though I couldn't say how it compares to the Japanese since the dub version is the only one I've seen so far.

THE CAST

ANNA SASAKI (Hailee Steinfeld)-Ever since her marvelous debut in the Coen Brothers' excellent remake of True Grit a few years ago, I've felt like subsequent films have really failed to take advantage of Hailee's unusual qualities as an actress, namely her quiet, intriguing stillness that hides great feeling and emotions. Her performance here reminded me that it's not really her fault; she just needs good material. At first glance, Hailee's voice seems a bit flat and monotone, but that suits Anna's morose self-loathing in the beginning stages of the film, and she manages to inject little signs of life when she tries to interact with other people, be it dutiful politeness or bitter anger. She opens up her voice and performance even more after meeting Marnie, leading to a powerful breakdown (complete with the trademark gushing tears that Ghibli is so great at animating), and then...things get better for her. Like Kiki and Chihiro before her, Anna is able to learn from her experiences, and exits the film a stronger, more mature (how she handles a potentially thorny situation is as graceful as Kiki's heroism or Chihiro's resourcefulness), and confident young woman, and Hailee reflects that wonderfully in her voice. A terrific lead performance.

MARNIE (Kiernan Shipka)-Kiernan, best known as Sally Draper from Mad Men, is no stranger to voice acting at this point, having done a fine job as Jinora for four seasons of The Legend of Korra, as well as guest spots on shows like Disney's Sofia the First. She has a light, clear voice that is both endearing and yet...suggests that there is more going on underneath the surface. This is appropriate for a character like Marnie, who hides secrets and says things that practically invite double meanings. Kiernan does an excellent job with navigating the various mysteries and intrigue of Marnie, leaving us never quite sure until almost the end of the film and its emotional twist what she's up to. She is by turns playful, remote, and wistful, often within the same scene, which seems like an acting rollercoaster. Yet Kiernan is able to make this all consistent, and the true power of her performance doesn't become clear until the very. Along with Hailee, this is probably one of the best "young girl lead" performances ever in a Ghibli dub.

KIYOMASA AND SETSU OIWA (John C. Reilly and Grey DeLisle-Griffin)-Wreck-It Ralph and Azula are married? Truly we are in strange times. Joking aside, Reilly and DeLisle are probably the highlights of the film's supporting cast, with Reilly's distinctive, jolly baritone and gruff sense of humor intact, and DeLisle bringing a cheerful optimism to Setsu (it reminded me more than a little of Osono from Kiki's). They are a good emotional anchor for Anna in the film, gently pushing her towards being more social, yet still being supportive when she'd rather draw by herself (the film does not comment on this, but the subtext seems to be that these are the parents Anna WISHED she had). Their gentle squabbling and support of Anna makes them a source of life and humor within the sometimes harsh world of the film, and so I was always glad to hear them. A+ supporting work.

YORIKO SASAKI (Geena Davis)-Barbara Maitland herself, Davis' Yoriko isn't in the film for a huge chunk of time, yet I felt she stood out as a character thanks to both the writing and the performance. Yoriko, you see, is not Anna's blood mother, but her foster parent, and receives a stipend from the government for taking care of Anna. One nice thing about all the older actresses in the dub is that they, so to speak, don't have to fake the age, and can just focus on their performances. Davis brings a loving, yet frightened and vulnerable quality to Yoriko; she truly does care for Anna, and is terrified of her finding out about the stipend because of the obvious questions that would raise. In point of fact, Anna already knows, and this is one of the major factors for her angst and moodiness throughout, but how this works out in the end is quite lovely. Geena nails the scene where they discuss this, sounding desperate and scared  yet finding the love. It may not be big, but it's still quite a memorable little performance.

MRS. KADOYA (Kathy Bates)-Well, hearing Annie Wilkes in a Ghibli dub is about the last thing I expected. Like Geena Davis or two actresses we'll get too shortly, Ms. Bates isn't in the film for long, but she manages to do well with her scenes, at first ingratiating and nosy with Anna, then comically angry when accusing her of things she both did (unkindly called Nobuko a "fat pig", which to her credit she later apologizes for) and didn't do (pull a knife on Nobuko). Strong, if brief work.

NOBUKO (Raini Rodriguez)-A friendly, yet a bit oblivious local girl, Nobuko tries to be friends with Anna but is rebuffed, and Raini does a good job with this material, as well as her leadership role during a scene where schoolchildren are picking up trash by the river, and the quiet reconciliation she and Anna have at the end of the film. Not much more to say outside of "it's good work".

SAYAKA (Ava Acres)-A young girl who moves into Marnie's mansion about midway through the film, Sayaka is an incorrigible, curious, and energetic young girl who befriends Anna as they try and learn more about just what went on with her. 10 year-old Ava Acres brings her to life vocally, and next to the leads, Davis, and the Reilly/DeLisle duo, it's probably my favorite performance in the film. It could have come across as really annoying, but Ava makes Sayaka into a real highlight thanks to her cheerful energy and comic timing (my favorite bit is probably when she insists that ANNA is Marnie, and is put out when told otherwise).

HISAKO (Vanessa L. Williams)-A local painter who knows a lot about Marnie, Hisako is a calming influence in the latter part of the film, assisting Anna and Sayaka in their search for more knowledge on what exactly happened in that mansion. Vanessa has an older-sounding, yet soothing and relaxed voice, and this suits her wistful remembrance of times gone by very well. Again, brief but good.

NAN, OLDER WOMAN (Ellen Burstyn, Catherine O'Hara)-First off: Nan is a strict, bordering-on-abusive nanny tasked with looking after Marnie, and in her brief scenes, Burstyn's brittle, harsh voice and performance suits this character well. And then we have Catherine O'Hara, credited only as "Older Woman", which struck me as strange. Burstyn's role may have been small, but it was still a named character. Why would they hire a great actress like O'Hara for a "Soldier A"-type role? And then, during the final part of the film, it hit me: she must be the older Marnie, who we see in some crucial flashbacks. If I'm wrong about this, I'd be happy to be corrected, but I don't think I am. At any rate, O'Hara (if it is indeed her) does a fantastic job with her brief scenes, be it arguing with her daughter over her life choices, and then finding the combination of love and regret as Marnie interacts with her granddaughter. Thanks to her (as well as Anna's reaction to what she learns here), it's the first time Ghibli has hit the sweet spot of "me crying in the theater" in quite a long while.

The additional voices, from the likes of Bob Bergen, Elisa Gabrielli, Hope Levy, Fred Tatasciore, and others (I'm almost certain I heard Grey doubling up as Marnie's mother), are also well done. Overall, of the GKids Ghibli dubs, it's my favorite, and while I'm sad Disney didn't decide to pick up what might be Ghibli's swan song, they did a great job. Marnie is still in theaters at the time of this writing, so if it's playing near you, I highly recommend it, for both a great dub and a beautiful film.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Digimon Frontier

Initially, Digimon Frontier was seen as the last gasp of the Digimon fandom in the United States. It had a completely different premise than any of the previous series that was more akin to Power Rangers crossed with Narnia. It was on a completely different channel with little advertising since Fox Kids was essentially dead, and Disney was in the process of purchasing Saban's kid's entertainment properties while it was airing. After it ended, we would not receive another Digimon series and the dub of it for four more years.

Honestly, it hardly seems fair. Frontier is not a perfect series by any stretch; it gets a little earnestly cheesy at points (although that can honestly be part of its charm), the beginning arc is a little slow, it abuses transformation stock footage FAR more than the other series, and there's an infamous arc near the end where our heroes get their butts stomped by characters known as the "Royal Knights" over and over again. That gets a little tedious, though it makes it all the sweeter when the heroes finally defeat these characters. All the same, it's actually held up quite well for me in terms of a kid's adventure show. I enjoyed the series when it was on, giving it a chance when many other Digimon fans didn't, but I never got to finish it. Upon a recent rewatch, I discovered that it's still very entertaining and well-done for the most part, especially the dub.

The Digimon dubs have something of a sordid history. Done in Los Angeles with that particular talent pool, they never got quite as bad as the dreaded 4Kids, but each series had varying degrees of the bad habits associated with dubbing children's anime: changing character names, completely re-scoring the show, adding music or joke lines to previously silent scenes, editing down violence or other objectionable content, or attempts to hide the Japanese culture.

Again, it never got as bad as 4Kids; the real world setting was explicitly Japan, even if they changed some cultural stuff now and then. The human names were *usually* Japanese to one degree or another, and I actually prefer many of the re-named Digimon in English. The voice acting was usually leagues better than the likes of 4Kids, Nelvana's butchering of Cardcaptor Sakura, or the enjoyably dumb Sailor Moon dubs by DiC and Cloverway, although the first two series' dubs certainly had their growing pains in that department. By the time of Tamers, the third series, I would venture that the dubs were growing towards "excellent" territory. There were still dumb jokes, violence edits, etc. but the acting was much more consistent from the get go, and a surprising amount of violence and horror imagery was left in. Indeed, some fans like to joke that Tamers was the season where the Fox censors were asleep at the wheel.

I would therefore argue that Frontier has the best all-around dub of the initial U.S. run. Tamers is still my favorite Digimon series overall, and I will probably review it here at some point, but the dub still has a few lingering issues here and there. Nothing deal-breaking, but occasionally there's a more important screw-up in terms of character or something similar. Both dubs share a number of positive qualities: the actors all hit their stride early, the writing is MUCH more consistent, the voice direction and story editing by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (who also acts in both series) seems more focused, silence is used far more frequently, violence isn't edited down  *quite* as much, and the re-scoring generally "fits" the series better.

There will be MAJOR SPOILERS; if you have not seen the series, I suggest you stop reading now.

THE CHARACTERS

TAKUYA KANBARA (Michael Reisz)-Reisz was already something of a Digimon veteran by this point. He portrayed major character Matt in both Adventure and Zero Two, and had a memorably creepy guest turn as IceDevimon early on in Tamers. Takuya is incredibly different from either of those characters, a hyperactive, impulsive yet fiercely loyal and courageous young man who gradually discovers his potential for leadership. Vocally, Reisz goes into his higher registers as Takuya, and is much more energetic in his acting. He can shift this voice to quieter, more reflective volumes and acting moments, especially in the episode where Takuya briefly returns to the human world and reflects on his experiences in the series so far. As Takuya's various Digimon forms (with the exception of EmperorGreymon, who is voiced by Dave Wittenberg), Reisz goes a bit deeper and more "growly" to signify the physical and attitude changes, and he does an  excellent job with those sequences as well, with lots of loud, energized yelling and screaming during battles. Allegedly, he point-blank refused to voice EmperorGreymon because he feared permanent damage to his vocal chords due to said screaming. It's not my favorite performance in the dub by a long shot, but it's still an excellent, funny and dramatic acting job from Reisz.

KOJI MINAMOTO (Steve Staley)-Staley is one of those actors who has a distinct, unmistakable voice that can nevertheless be used to play a wide variety of characters, including the energetic and commanding Shiro Amada in Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, creepy villains like Kadaj in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children or cold, harsh characters like Neji in Naruto. I tend to like him in roles like Koji the most, where he gets to really develop a character over the course of the series (see also: Christopher in Scrapped Princess, another excellent LA dub). And Koji goes through a number of significant changes. Initially a cold, standoffish "lone wolf", Koji doesn't actually join the main group of kids for several episodes, and Staley's hardened, enigmatic performance reflects this. As he assimilates into the group, Staley gives Koji warmer, more friendly and determined tones, as well as the angst and self-reflection Koji goes through when he discovers his long-lost brother Koichi in the Digital World, and the complications that arise from it. Much like Reisz, he goes deeper and gruffer for Koji's Digimon forms, and doesn't hold back on the fierce yelling and battle screams. It's terrific work overall.

IZUMI "ZOEY" ORIMOTO (Michelle Ruff)-Zoey, the sole girl in the main group, is a character I honestly wasn't very fond of at first, mostly because she seemed like such a stereotypical "girly girl". She's even beaten in her first Digimon battle, which is kind of sad when you think about it. There's nothing wrong with Ruff's performance at this juncture; it's bright, high-pitched and energetic, exactly what the character requires in the early going. Thankfully, Zoey grows into a much better, more capable character over time, and even into a better fighter. Ruff does a great job with this growth, especially once Zoey realizes that she herself needs to change for the better in order to make and keep friends. Unlike most of the boys, Ruff doesn't change her voice much for her Digimon forms; as Kazemon, she keeps roughly the same voice as Zoey, and as Zephyrmon, she only goes a little deeper. Still, it's good work, and indicative of Ruff's passion in the role overall.

TOMOKI "TOMMY" HIMI (Brianne Siddall)-Ah, now we're getting into some of my favorites. Siddall is one of those actresses who seems to specialize in young boys or those types of characters, and she does an excellent job of it in roles like Kenichi in Metropolis (which I have praised before), Calumon in the previous series Digimon Tamers, the robotic owl Circuit in Power Rangers: Time Force or Jim Hawkins in Outlaw Star. More than her skill at getting her voice that high-pitched, I believe Brianne's success in these roles comes from her excellent acting. She is utterly committed to believable acting in any role, male or female, young or old, and this comes through spectacularly in her work as Tommy. The youngest of the group, Tommy goes from being something of a crybaby to a fiercely courageous warrior over the course of the series, and this shift absolutely comes through in Brianne's performance. She even does a great job with Tommy's crybaby phase, making it sympathetic rather than annoying, especially in a brief, heartbreaking little scene where he sees an image of his mother in the human world and cries out to her. As Tommy's Digimon forms, Brianne keeps the same voice as Kumaon, but goes much deeper and growlier for Korikakumon; it's admittedly kind of amusing, but it still works quite well since that form is such a vast physical change for Tommy. It's among my favorite performances in the dub.

JUNPEI "J.P." SHIBAYAMA (Steve Blum)-One of my favorite male voice actors of all time, Blum is one of those actors who can seemingly do anything. He has a distinct, memorable voice by itself, but he can twist that voice to insane levels in terms of both vocal range and acting range. I have heard this man play vastly different characters in the same show, in the same episode, and even in the same scene talking to each other on occasion. He doesn't get quite as much room to move as J.P., the oldest and heaviest kid in this group who seems rather cowardly and food-obsessed when we first meet him. Blum's voice is kind of a mix between his higher and lower ranges here; he sounds believably teenaged, but can still sound quite high-pitched at times. More than that, he is excellent on every acting front for the character, whether it's as comic relief, the pragmatic voice of reason, or the brave, caring young man J.P. eventually becomes. It's not my favorite work from him, but it's definitely worthy to be on his resume.

KOICHI KIMURA (Crispin Freeman)-Jon and I have both praised this guy to the heavens when he's come up in the past on this blog. He's absolutely one of my favorite voice actors ever, and although he doesn't quite have as vast a vocal range as the likes of Steve Blum (in fact, Crispin himself will tell you this), he makes up for that by being one of the most committed, passionate actors I've ever heard. More than a lot of voice actors, Crispin is just as big a geek as the rest of us, to the point where he actually teaches classes on mythology in anime. and has an entire podcast about becoming a better voice actor. He loves it as much as we do, and all of this comes through in his work, especially here. He probably could have slightly coasted for a role like Koichi; it's a kid's show, after all, and Koichi is well within Crispin's wheelhouse. Thankfully, Crispin does not do this, and offers up as much energy and passion for this role as he would for any other. Additionally, Koichi does offer an acting challenge in that he's the hardest role to play since he starts as a villain and ends as a hero. It's a very conflicted character, and Crispin masterfully portrays every shade of the role: his initial cruel, harsh villainy as Duskmon, the fear, anger and doubt as Koichi discovers his true nature, and the repentant, gentle but determined soul he grows into by the end of the series. It is unquestionably my favorite performance in the entire dub.

BOKOMON AND NEEMON (Brian Beacock, Michael Sorich)-Aaaand now we come to both my least favorite characters in both the series and the dub. These two knuckleheads are small Digimon who accompany our heroes on their journey, providing exposition about the Digital World and "comic" relief. Unfortunately, they tend to be more annoying than funny or useful most of the time, although Bokomon does have a few crucial moments aside from being Mr. Exposition. I'll say this for Brian Beacock as Bokomon: it's absolutely the weirdest thing I've ever heard from him. Usually, Beacock plays very young, high-pitched character like Takato in Digimon Tamers or Rivalz in Code Geass. Bokomon, by contrast, sounds stuffy and faux-British, which does fit his personality, and Beacock is rather good on the acting end.

Unfortunately, while I love Michael Sorich, his Neemon is one of the most singularly IRRITATING creations I've ever heard in a dub. It's high-pitched, squeal-filled and sounds like Michael took a few too many lumps to the head that affected his brain. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's definitely the worst thing about the dub. Sorry, Michael, I still love ya.

MERCURYMON/SAKKAKUMON (Daran Norris)-The other "dark" Legendary Warriors the kids face in the series are memorably voiced and acted: Derek Stephen Prince gives Grumblemon/Gigasmon a growly Hulk-esque tone and speech pattern, Peggy O'Neal vamps it up Southern belle-style as Ranamon/Calmaramon, and Richard Cansino does his best Sylvester Stallone impression as Arbormon/Petaldramon. But the best, most memorable performance of that bunch easily belongs to Daran, another one of my favorite voice actors. Much like Crispin or Steve Blum, Daran can function equally well in different types of projects, be they anime, video games or Western animation; he's even married to Mary Elizabeth McGlynn! He brings loads of energy, crack comic timing and passion to every role, and Mercurymon is no exception. Aided by a Shakespearean speech pattern filled with "thee" and "thou" (I assume he spoke in a more formal manner in the Japanese, and this is the English equivalent they chose), Daran gets to be as ridiculously, awesomely hammy as he pleases in the role, complete with faux-British accent. It's especially fun to listen to when he's mocking our heroes; the villain lines are kind of stock phrases, but Daran makes them sound juicy. Behind Crispin and Blum, it's my favorite work in the dub.

CHERUBIMON (Paul St. Peter)-The main villain for the first 2/3rds of the series, Cherubimon is more interesting in hindsight after we learn about his past than in the present. That's not to say he isn't an EFFECTIVE villain, more that he's kind of a "generic doomsday" one who we learn was being played and manipulated by the REAL big bad of the series, who we'll get to shortly. As such, Paul's performance is...well, it's not BAD. It's deep, growling and more than a little reminiscent of roles like Frank Welker's Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. So it "works", but I've seen and heard Paul do more interesting work elsewhere, particularly in previous Digimon seasons as the likes of the noble badass warrior Leomon or the nebbishy-but-loyal Wormmon (he even has another interesting bit role this season as Koji and Koichi's father). It's good work, but he's done better.

OPHANIMON (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)-Mary has a really cool, deep voice and she uses that well to different effects here. First as the calm, benevolent leader who guides the kids and then as the more conflicted soul in flashbacks and in the present time when she confronts Cherubimon. It's solid work, though she does even better as the director of the dub.

LUCEMON (Mona Marshall)-Here's a fun performance. Mona doesn't get to do out-and-out villains all too often, so it's a real treat to hear her sink her teeth into this one. Lucemon starts out as a very young-looking character, so Mona basically uses her stock little boy voice to a more sinister effect than usual, and it works well. Then he absorbs his Royal Knights and Digivolves into an older, more powerful form. Mona actually ages up the voice, and the acting job is great too, sneering and ranting. She gets to further stretch the voice into a scratchier, more feral range when the true, worm-like form of Lucemon is revealed. Lucemon's only around for a few episodes, but Mona makes him a force to be reckoned with.

DYNASMON AND CRUSADERMON (Derek Stephen Prince, Melodee Spevack)-The infamous nearly 10-episode Royal Knights arc is easily the worst part of the series, as our heroes get their asses kicked again and again until finally turning the tables. But the Knights themselves are fun villainous personalities brought to life well by the actors. It's not my favorite Derek performance in a Digimon dub (that would be either Ken in Zero Two or Impmon/Beelzemon in Tamers), but he gives Dynasmon a nice boastful, assured arrogance. Spevack brings a more aristocratic, haughty flair, and she gets some nice moments of self-doubt once Lucemon reappears and looks to be in no mood for rewarding them for their service (interesting note: in Japanese, Crusadermon was a flamboyant man, which they could have easily replicated in English, but decided not to for whatever reason).

As with any Digimon series, there are some memorable one-shot and recurring roles. Digimon stalwart Joshua Seth (sadly retired from VA work since around 2006, though he did narrate a "Did You Know?" video about Digimon recently) pops up as a different, nastier version of Wizardmon and Tommy's stern older brother in a flashback. Dave Wittenberg plays ALL the Trailmon quite well, the noble Sorcermon and does a hilarious Christopher Walken impression for his version of IceDevimon. The late Bob Papenbrook makes for a nicely intimidating, manipulative Asuramon. Michael Sorich does double duty several times, most memorably doing an Adam West-esque Pandamon. And several actors like R. Martin Klein, Peter Spellos and Dave Mallow reprise many of their previous roles like Gomamon, Whamon and Angemon respectively. Additionally, for a good chunk of the series, Melissa Fahn (Rika in Tamers, Nene in Fusion) narrates the "Previously On" and "find out next time on Digimon!" segments, though near the end she is replaced due to Fahn's real-life commitment to the Broadway musical Wicked.

All in all, Frontier is a very enjoyable series on its own, and the dub is excellent. I'd recommend the series solely for that. Next time, I'll review my favorite Digimon series, Tamers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fate/Zero (HERE BE SPOILERS)

The prequel to the Fate/Stay Night visual novel/anime (though it's getting a new anime adaptation this year from the same production company as this show), Fate/Zero has often been described as "the Star Wars prequels in anime form." In this people mean that it shows a tragic downfall for a number of characters in an epic fantasy/sci-fi setting, and I have to agree. The Holy Grail War seen here is a massive battle between legendary figures of history and their deeply flawed human masters, which provides an incredibly compelling 25-episode yarn. The dub is quite possibly one of the best I've heard out of Los Angeles in quite some time. Lately I feel like they've been hit-or-miss, especially since Bang Zoom is one of the only dubbing studios in the area anymore. It's frustrating, because I feel like a lot of the newer actors who have come around in the past several years have a lot of potential, but don't always reach it (one exception is Madoka Magica, which starts out a little shaky but eventually grows into a really strong dub). Thankfully, they've pulled out all the stops for this series, with an utterly fantastic cast from top to bottom, mostly excellent adaptive writing, and superb direction from veteran Tony Oliver.

Interestingly, the dub features actors who appeared in the Fate/Stay Night anime such as Liam O'Brien, Grant George and Jamieson Price, but in vastly different roles (Liam played a different version of Archer, Grant was Gilgamesh, and Jamieson was Kirei, while Tony Oliver acted in the show as Lancer). Kate Higgins, who played Saber there, did not reprise her role for either this project or the Unlimited Blade Works movie, where she was played by Michelle Ruff. Hearsay seems to indicate union issues, but unless someone asks her personally, I can't say for sure. The only actors to completely reprise their roles in this series are Mela Lee as Rin and Stephanie Sheh as Illya.

THE CAST 

KIRITSUGU EMIYA (Matthew Mercer)-Matthew's been around for a good while, but it's only in the last 3 or 4 years that he's really come into prominence as an excellent VA in Los Angeles. Some of his more notable roles include Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 6, Tygra in the short-lived Thundercats reboot, and Levi in the currently airing dub for Attack on Titan. He has a low, resonant voice that suits a variety of characters, and Kiritsugu is a considerable feather in his cap. For much of the story, we're unsure of what Kiritsugu's exact motives are, especially since he relies on pragmatic, gun-based tactics to take out his fellow mages. Matthew embodies this ambiguity wonderfully, as well as the core heroism of what Kiritsugu actually wants to achieve. His performance anchors the dub, and I grew steadily more in love with it as the show went on. By the end he's knocking every line and moment out of the park (a particular favorite is his desperate howl of grief after he is forced to do something incredibly drastic in its finality).

KIREI KOTOMINE (Crispin Freeman)-Ah, I love talking about Crispin, and it's great to hear him in a heavyweight anime role again. Kirei is an unusual character in that he starts out as something of a cipher and grows steadily more villainous as the story goes on. Crispin captures that step-by-step, sounding intentionally stiff early on and then outwardly enjoying himself in sick, twisted ways. It's chilling to watch, especially since Crispin just ramps up the evil and insanity by show's end, resulting in what I daresay is one of his best performances. And with a career like his, that's hard to judge, but I fully believe this can stand with his previous heights of characters like Alucard from Hellsing or Tsume from Wolf's Rain. It's THAT good.

SABER/KING ARTURIA (Kari Wahlgren)-I can't really speak for comparisons between Kari's work here and the previously mentioned Higgins or Ruff since I haven't seen Fate/Stay Night or Unlimited Blade Works. What I can say is that Kari is completely awesome here. From her many moments of badassery, to her more vulnerable moments as she doubts both herself and Kiritsugu, to the BIG shows of emotion, Kari never manages to hit a false note here. It's easily some of the best stuff she's gotten to do in ages, and easily ranks among my favorite performances from her.

IRISVIEL VON EINZBERN (Bridget Hoffman)-Vocally and acting-wise, this isn't a huge stretch for Bridget, but she still makes Irisviel a pretty memorable character, especially in her friendship with Saber and her knowledge that she must wither away in order for Kiritsugu's dreams to come true. Her final scenes as both the real Irisviel and an illusionary one will tug at your heartstrings as Bridget milks them for everything she's got, and they end up rather powerful as a result.

ARCHER/GILGAMESH (David Earnest)-David (sometimes credited as David Vincent, and probably best known for playing the lead in Gun X Sword) really surprised me in quite a pleasant way. I was expecting this part to go to someone like Steve Blum, who can be really energetic and deep at the same time (especially since the Japanese voice is something of a over-the-top baritone). But David has a lighter sound to his voice, the kind that doesn't necessarily seem to fit the monstrously egotistical likes of Gilgamesh. Yet he manages to make it work quite spectacularly, achieving the heft and bombast of the character without seeming silly. Then we get to the scenes Gilgamesh shares with Kirei, and I suddenly understood why David was cast in the first place. In those scenes, Gilgamesh's ego is still overpowering, but he's also slyly manipulative, and very perceptive about what Kirei's actual desires are. David absolutely nails this stuff, while still finding the balance between the proud king and the savvy chessmaster. It ended up as one of my favorites of the dub, and I didn't really expect that to happen, so major kudos.

RIDER/ISKANDAR (Jamieson Price)-In contrast to Gilgamesh, this is ABSOLUTELY the kind of role where anything other than a loud, deep voice would not have fit at all, and Jamieson manages to nearly steal the entire dub away as the King of Conquerors. He has this fantastic, almost cavernously deep voice that can play a variety of characters, be they smooth or rough. Rider is far more on the rough end, but he manages to make it sound both wonderfully over-the-top and completely natural. The narrative wisely gives Rider a number of subtler, quiet moments, and Jamieson manages to do very well with these. But his interactions with Waver, his scrawny, teenage master, are what really steal the show, and he reveals an untapped gift for comic timing in these scenes. It's one of my favorite things Jamieson has ever done, and one of the most purely pleasurable performances in the dub.

WAVER VELVET (Lucien Dodge)-A relative newcomer to the dubbing game, vocally Lucien kind of reminds me of Canada's Brad Swaile, in that he sounds high-pitched and teenage without being whiny. Granted, Waver's kind of a petulant brat in the early stages of the series, but Lucien finds the likable side of this, and as said, his interactions with Rider are hilarious and touching. By the end, Waver stares down Gilgamesh of all people and manages to come out alive, and the strength in Lucien's voice and acting makes us believe it. The combination of Lucien and Jamieson ends up as the best double act in the whole tale, and I was sad to see their partnership end. I look forward to Lucien's future dubbing work, as I'm sure he has great acting in store.

TOKIOMI TOHSAKA (Marc Diraison)-Usually a veteran of New York dubs, Marc is pretty great here, giving Tokiomi an essential decency but also a certain old-money haughtiness. This is especially evident in his fight with Kariya, as he calmly explains his reasoning yet is also really condescending to the man for abandoning what Tokiomi sees as the duty of being a family mage. You get where he's coming from, but there's an unlikable edge to the performance, especially as he ends up trusting people that he really shouldn't. His death feels sad but also inevitable, and a large part of that is due to Marc's fine acting.

KARIYA MATOU (Liam O'Brien)-One of the truly tragic figures of the story, Kariya enters the war with good intentions but selfish reasons for doing them, and Liam plays it all to the hilt. His physical pain, his emotional pain, the rare moments of kindness, and even some grim satisfaction at a few points. Honestly, it's just fantastic all-around work from one of my favorite VAs. Not much else to say except to go listen to it.

LANCER/DIARMID UA DUABHINE (Grant George)-Grant is an actor who I've found to be perfectly fine in the past, but not especially memorable. He managed to seriously impress me here, to the point where I wonder if I need to reevaluate his past work. Lancer is one of the most straightforwardly noble servants, believing in honorable battle and chivalry above all else, and Grant captures that perfectly in both his voice and the acting. You truly believe this guy is the real deal, especially in scenes where he talks to characters who don't share his ideals, such as his master. But his best moment is undoubtedly his unfair, tragic death scene, where he is forced to commit suicide through Kayneth's command seal. The dialogue is already terrific, but Grant just completely elevates through his sadness and outrage, calling out everyone and hoping that the Grail will curse them all for eternity. The deaths in the show are almost all incredibly memorable, but Lancer's takes the cake, and Grant is the main reason why.

BERSERKER/LANCELOT (Kyle Hebert)-For most of the show, this character's identity is a mystery, and so Kyle is mostly relegated to agonized screams and growls, but he does a fine job with the character's final speech about why he succumbed to madness.

RYUNOSUKE URYU (Johnny Yong Bosch)-Johnny can do creepy. Johnny can do scumbag. Johnny can even do straight-up evil. But I don't think I've ever heard him give such a disturbing performance before. Playing a child killer who manages to find his way into the Grail War through almost sheer happenstance would be difficult for almost any actor, but what Johnny does is really interesting. Instead of going for more of a typically lower, more obviously creepy voice or performance, he bursts with energy and sticks to a higher pitch. And honestly? This makes it ten times more disturbing. Hearing Johnny chatter with glee about how beautiful the bodies of his victims are, or lament at his lair being burnt down with an almost pathetic whine is chilling, especially since again, it's not all that dissimilar from a lot of his more heroic roles. It's not my favorite work, but it's still incredibly memorable.

CASTER/BLUEBEARD (Dan Woren)-I was initially kind of thrown by this performance because Dan adopts a really high-pitched, shrieking cackle that could almost come across as silly in the wrong hands (it reminds me more than a little of his Igor from the Persona video games). But Dan manages to find the character in that voice, and plays it to the hilt, even managing to be subtly eerie at certain moments. One of the more sympathetic (yes, really) aspects of Caster is that he believes Saber to be his beloved Jeanne D'arc (aka Joan of Arc), and his pleas for her to remember who she is almost manage to tug at your heartstrings. Almost; this is still a guy who likes to give his child victims a glimmer of hope before brutally murdering them. Still, Dan does a great job with this stuff as well as his death scene, where he sees a heavenly Jeanne smiling down at him and seems to find some measure of self awareness at the monster he's become.

KAYNETH EL-MELLOI ARCHIBALD (Doug Erholtz)-I kind of wish Doug would get to play roles like this more often, because he's really fantastic at being the almost inhumanly smug, aristocratic asshole that is Kayneth. His voice drips with condescension, especially in scenes where he thinks he's on top (and then gets proven wrong in horrifying ways). Yet he manages to make the character almost sympathetic after Kiritsugu ruthlessly damages his "magic circuits", seeming lost and vulnerable while still being kind of an ass. It's probably some of my favorite work Doug has done in a while.

MAIYA HISAU (Carrie Keranen)-Carrie's really good at playing characters who have been hardened by past experiences, such as Casca from Berserk or Mami Tomoe from Madoka. Maiya's no exception. She speaks in a monotone but is hardly dull, and I liked the scene where she explained why she follows Kiritsugu despite him doing terrible things. Not my favorite stuff in the dub, but still very good, especially when her death scene comes around.

SOLA-UI (Karen Strassman)-I've said before that Karen has a really interesting voice that can suit a number of different kinds of characters, and Sola-Ui is no exception. She doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, but Karen makes quite memorable by adding a disturbing stalker edge. Sola-Ui, you see, is in love with Lancer thanks to a mythological curse that renders him irresistible to women, and Karen manages to capture that overpowering infatuation quite well. She also manages to convey her barely concealed disgust for her husband, who is essentially a polar opposite to Lancer in every way. Her best scene is probably where she tortures an already injured Kayneth into giving her mastery over Lancer by breaking his fingers; combining Karen's skin-crawling vocals with the character's serenely psychotic expression makes for a hell of an image.

RISEI KOTOMINE, ZOUKEN MATOU (Michael Donovan)-Michael's work as Kirei's stalwart father is good, strong work that doesn't stretch him to his limits, but is still decent. However, Michael also plays Zouken Matou, the shriveled father of Kariya, and this is where he really gets to have fun. Adopting an aged rasp, Michael is gleefully, perversely evil as Zouken, and despite its smaller size, it's easily the more memorable of his dual roles. I'm particularly fond of a moment where he says in no uncertain terms that losing the Grail War is worth it if he gets to see Kariya suffer. He does a great job of really making you hate this bastard.

AOI TOHSAKA (Michelle Ruff)-Michelle doesn't get a whole lot to do, but her initially sweet and sunny scenes contrast wonderfully with her final ones, where she confronts Kariya over the dead body of Tokiomi, and then her sad, brain-damaged tones after Kariya strangles her. Her scream of "YOU'VE NEVER LOVED ANYONE IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE!" is agonizing to hear in the best possible way.

YOUNG KIRITSUGU (Marianne Miller)-Confession time: I kind of groaned when I saw this casting because the last time I heard Marianne was in the dub of the Russian CGI version of The Snow Queen, which featured several other actors heard here, and which was kind of weak as both a film and dub. She played Kai, a young boy, and was not particularly distinguished in either voice or acting. She's MUCH better here, capturing the youthful, energetic qualities as well as his grief and anguish over the terrible things that happen to him, and the coldness that allows him to kill his own father without blinking.

NATALIA KAMINSKI (Wendee Lee)-Vocally and temperamentally, this is a lot closer to Wendee's arguably career-best work as Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop than, say, Haruhi Suzumiya (which I still think she was kind of miscast for). Kiritsugu's assassin mentor, Natalia is a weary soul, but one who still manages to find some affection for the young boy who unexpectedly fell into her life, and Wendee manages that contrast quite skillfully.

RIN TOHSAKA (Mela Lee)-Mela mainly gets one episode all to herself as Rin, and she does quite a good job with that as well as Rin's smaller moments in other episodes. She sounds appropriately childlike without being saccharine, and manages to communicate Rin's various personality traits, be they frustration or tenacity.

SAKURA MATOU (Cristina Vee)-While she applies a pretty standard child voice, Sakura is a character that's been through hell already, so Cristina applies a certain haunted, eerie quality to her performance. It's a small role, but very effecitve, and her last line is particularly unsettling.

ILLYASVIEL VON EINZBERN (Stephanie Sheh)-Stephanie's work basically amounts to a cameo, but they're good moments and a fine performance. She has good, childish energy that livens up a touching scene between her and Kiritsugu enjoying one final moment of father-daughter bonding, and then shows up again as the Grail's illusory version of her to further stab us in the heart with cuteness.

If the new Fate/Stay Night anime set to premiere this year ends up dubbed, I sincerely hope they keep most if not all of the surviving characters' actors, as their work is so good that I'd love to hear more. Truly, this is one of the best dubs of the last couple years, and one I plan to listen to again.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist (2003, HERE BE SPOILERS)

The original Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favorite shows, and dubs, of all time. This is not to take anything away from Brotherhood, the "reboot" series that more faithfully adapted the manga (keep in mind that Hiromu Arakawa, the author, specifically told the first anime's staff to do their own thing) and is a perfectly good, excellently dubbed series by itself. But by comparison, my heart completely belongs to the original 2003 series. It's one of the first shows where Funimation REALLY showed what they could do outside of series like Dragon Ball Z or Yu Yu Hakusho (mind you, I love that show and dub as well). Especially since they poured so much effort into the adaptive scripting, and director Mike McFarland (who also plays Jean Havoc) guides the performances in a way that makes it look easy. Since the show has a rather large cast, I will not be covering every single character. Instead, I will look at the main casts of heroes, villains and major supporting characters, and then talk about the more minor recurring or one-shot performances that I find to be the most memorable.

Either way, this is gonna be a long one. Strap in.

THE BROTHERS ELRIC

EDWARD ELRIC (Vic Mignogna)-This is arguably the performance Vic will be remembered for above all others, and it's not hard to see why. Along with our next performer, he shoulders the series, providing balance and weight to the deep emotions running through the core of the story. And yet Edward is a wonderful role for Vic because he's a very atypical hero that plays to his strengths as an actor. He's frequently rude, blunt and sarcastic, while also hiding a lot of deep pain about the horrible things that have happened to him and his brother. Especially since he believes a great deal of it is his fault, between the failed attempt to bring their mother back to life and what that cost them (Ed his arm and leg, Al his body, so Ed had to bind his soul to a suit of armor). Ed keeps this pain buried so deep that it comes out in huge bursts, and these moments are some of the most powerful in the show. Vic handles all of this with aplomb, even being really funny at times too, such as when people call him short and he goes off on a rant (my personal favorite: "DON'T CALL ME SMALL! I'LL BREAK OFF MY LEGS AND STICK 'EM ON YOUR HEAD!"). It's one of the best performances I've ever heard from him, and one of the absolute highlights of the show.

ALPHONSE ELRIC (Aaron Dismuke)-Nothing against Maxey Whitehead, who took over the role in Brotherhood since by that point Aaron had long arrived at a deeper, adult voice through puberty (though he still works for Funimation and is usually excellent). She does a terrific job in that show, but Aaron simply IS Alphonse to me. His then 12 year-old voice is so painfully earnest and high, which perfectly fits Al just from a vocal perspective. But it's Aaron's acting that truly distinguishes him in the role. Child actors can be difficult to judge in voice acting; there's a certain natural quality to their voices that one does not necessarily get from an adult actor pretending to be a child, but sometimes they don't quite have the acting chops to handle a complex role. Aaron beautifully averts this, always managing to seem psychologically in the moment as Al in any of his various moods and functions as a character. Al is more than the meeker brother he initially appears to be. In some ways he's more attuned to people's wants and needs than Ed, who can often undergo tunnel vision in his quest. So Al generally has to play the peacemaker, which Aaron does quite well. Yet Al has a mind and personality of his own, with feelings of self-doubt, anger and even a sense of humor. Some of his best work comes in the two episodes where Al begins to doubt if he is truly a human soul, and if Ed has simply been implanting false memories. It's material that I imagine experienced adult actors struggling with, but Aaron rarely, if ever, manages to step wrong in navigating these parts of Al. As much as I like Vic as Ed, I think Aaron's performance is all the more memorable because he has the harder role to play, and does it so beautifully.

Sidenote: They do an interesting thing in terms of vocal effects for the suit of armor Al's soul is trapped in for the majority of the series. Rather than digitally process his voice, they had Aaron record those lines while speaking into a large metal bowl (affectionately referred to as "the bowl" on the DVD commentary tracks). It adds a really cool metallic, almost haunting echo to his voice and performance. Presumably they also did this for the other souls-bound-to-armor characters later in the show, and the effect is always fun to hear.

WINRY ROCKBELL (Caitlin Glass)-The Elrics' childhood friend and massive automail (the term for the metallic prosthetic limbs in the story) gearhead, Winry is a source of light and cheer in an often grim story, and Caitlin's bubbly, energetic voice manages to be a perfect match for the character. Yet Winry has her own demons, doubts and struggles to contend with, such as when she tries to keep the brothers from fighting or leaving her behind in their search for the Philosopher's Stone. Later in the series, she comes to find through other investigations that Roy Mustang, a man she has come to greatly admire, is the one responsible for killing her doctor parents during the war in Ishbal. He was ordered to do so because they were providing aid to both sides of the conflict. Caitlin knocks this stuff out of the park, as brief as it is, and one really feels her anguish. It's not my favorite work in the dub, but she deserves massive kudos for making Winry so innately lovable.

SCAR (Dameon Clarke)-One of the few major actors who did not return for Brotherhood, Dameon's work here is so good that his replacement on that show, J. Michael Tatum, has said that he was quite nervous about taking on the part because of that. As fantastic an actor as Tatum is, it's hard not to agree with him; Dameon's performance is compelling even from the first, brief moments we meet the scarred man from Ishbal. A deeply religious man who sees murdering State Alchemists as a holy calling with his alchemic right arm, even though his religion sees alchemy as a perversion of God's natural order, Scar is already a fascinating character. His story takes him through many different trials, and Dameon just completely nails every acting challenge the series throws at him, be it his righteous declarations against State Alchemists or his torment as he remembers his brother and the woman they were both in love with (who ended up as the homunculus Lust after his brother failed to resurrect her). Some of my favorite stuff comes when Scar interacts with Al; they form a strange kinship due to both of them being younger brothers, and because Al is a kind soul who holds no grudge against Scar's actions (perhaps because he can see the logic in them). Dameon keeps a certain harshness in his voice, but is also more gentle to Al since he sees him as something of an equal. As Scar nears his final moments where he saves Al from destruction and admits in tears that he did love his brother, Dameon's work is powerful and it's hard not to cheer him on. It's absolutely one of the vocal highlights of the show.

THE MILITARY OF AMESTRIS 

 ROY MUSTANG (Travis Willingham)-For much of the story, both the audience and the other characters are unsure of what exactly drives the Flame Alchemist in his goals. As such, there's a rather marvelous, fluid ambiguity to Travis' work here, and you can sense many sides of his personality on a lot of his line readings. His voice isn't quite as deep as I had remembered or in many of his later roles, but it still has a wonderful resonance to it. As more and more of Roy's motivations come to light, such as the crushing guilt of his past, Travis gets a lot more to play with emotionally. Considering he was fairly new to the voice acting scene at this point, it's astonishing how well he pulls off Roy's dark nights of the soul, and how well it contrasts with the other facets of his personality.

Also? He's just plain BADASS in the role. A particular favorite line reading: "I don't know how long you've lived, Fuhrer, or how many times you've cheated death, but not anymore. It's the end of the line." What's great is that he doesn't force the badassery either; on this and other lines, he just calmly explains how you're totally screwed. Excellent work.

RIZA HAWKEYE (Colleen Clinkenbeard)-One of her earliest Funimation roles, Colleen does a good job with a pretty static character. She's basically there to be Mustang's badass assistant, and she does perfectly fine with that. It's not a bad performance by any stretch, but I feel like there's less to talk about it because Riza is a fun character, but not especially deep. Good work, but far from my favorite. She also voices Rose Thomas, who's a bit more emotional and varied, but it's not quite a stand-out role either.

MAES HUGHES (Sonny Strait)-Hughes is one of the most beloved characters in the series, a badass investigator devoted to helping Roy who is also a hilariously doting parent. So of course, he has to die. But this adaptation keeps him around for a lot longer, giving him more scenes and development, and only pulling the trigger halfway through the 51-episode series. Sonny's fantastic performance helps the audience fall in love with the character, capturing all shades of Hughes' personality with almost frightening ease. He can also expertly switch on a dime from serious to goofy or vice-versa, which is not always an easy skill to have (another actor who does it really well is Johnny Yong Bosch as Vash in Trigun). When the death finally happens, we are as dismayed and horrified as the characters, especially because outside of a couple flashbacks, we no longer get to hear Sonny's great work in the show.

ALEX LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Christopher Sabat)-Chris has made something of a career out of playing badass, funny scene-stealers, and Armstrong is absolutely one of his best. He's a giant, blonde muscleman who loves to loudly proclaim everything he does was passed down through his family for generations, and Chris unsurprisingly has a blast with that stuff thanks to his deep voice and great comedy chops. Yet Armstrong is no fool, and the little subtleties laced through Chris' performance are quite marvelous to behold, especially when you know he's hiding information that he would dearly like to share. The deep love he has for his friends and family is also well in evidence, especially when he treats the Elrics as equals later on in the series.

JEAN HAVOC (Mike McFarland), HEYMANS BREDA (Josh Berry), KAIN FUERY (Kevin M. Connolly) AND VATO FALMAN (Kyle Hebert)-Mustang's support team, these characters are all pretty fun, if one-note. My favorite is probably Havoc, since Mike McFarland has a lot of fun comedy moments to play, but the rest are fine: Josh does well with Breda's stalwart nature, Kevin is nerdy and enthusiastic, and Kyle is stiff and by-the-book.

FRANK ARCHER (Troy Baker)-One of Troy's first major roles, Archer is a straight-up military douchebag, only in it for himself and screw anyone who gets in his way. Troy does a superb job, with the perfect measure of slime entering his calm, neutral tones at the right moments. Not much more to say than that since he basically functions at one level, but he does get some cool metallic effects added to his voice when Archer becomes an automail cyborg near the end of the series.

BASQUE GRAND (R. Bruce Elliott)-Basque isn't around for long, but Bruce's harsh, demanding voice and acting makes him rather perfectly unlikable in his few appearances.

MARIA ROSS (Meredith McCoy)-Meredith does a good job of mixing motherly concern with a stern military attitude, and she gets some really great scenes as a result (such as when she encourages Ed and Al not to give up on their search). It's more minor, less outwardly impressive work, but no less excellent.

SHESKA (Gwendolyn Lau)-Sheska's one of my favorite characters in the show, partially because she reminds me of myself (a bookworm with lots of seemingly useless knowledge), and because the story gives her more to do than you expect. She ends up being one of the key investigators alongside Winry into the circumstances behind Hughes' death and the homunculi it involved; without her, much of the later story would not have happened. Gwen is very sweet and charmingly dorky in the role, while also possessing a hidden core of strength that she relies upon. It's fantastic, deceptively simple acting.

ZOLF KIMBLEE (Eric Vale)-Eric has one of those great smooth voices that can equally apply to heroism or villainy, and Kimblee is definitely among the latter category. A nihilistic thug whose only enjoyment out of life comes from blowing people up with his alchemy, Kimblee could have easily come off as a mouthpiece for a certain viewpoint, but Eric manages to make it seem real, as well as dangerously sociopathic. It's far from my favorite work, but it is still quite memorable.

THE HOMUNCULI 

LUST (Laura Bailey)-Born from failed attempts at human transmutation, the Homunculi are nigh-immortal creatures that serve as several antagonists in the series, and they're all fascinating creations. The first of them we meet is Lust, and the first time I watched the show I was STUNNED. Sweet little Tohru Honda is LUST? Of course, I shouldn't have doubted Laura's skill, as she has played a number of different character types throughout her career. She does an excellent job too, adopting a lower, husky register without stumbling into "femme fatale" parody territory. Lust is arguably one of the most interesting homunculi because apart from Greed (who just doesn't give a shit about anyone other than himself), she is the only one to actively rebel against their master later in the series. Laura is fantastic in the earlier, more threatening scenes as well as this later development, and her ultimate end is heartbreaking because we saw how much she struggled to regain a true sense of herself.

GLUTTONY (Chris Cason)-Chris is one of those actors who pops up a lot as extras or supporting roles, and this is probably one of his most remembered roles. He does this really cool, high-pitched gravelly voice that suits Gluttony's ravenous but childlike mentality, and even manages to tug some heartstrings in his reaction to Lust's death. It's far from my favorite homunculi performance, but it's very good nonetheless.

ENVY (Wendy Powell)-Wendy's voice is fantastic all on its own, a lower rasp that can nonetheless suit many different kinds of characters, and Envy is one of her best acting jobs. Frankly, Envy's a little shit who takes entirely too much pleasure in causing people pain and misery, so Wendy revels in that total awfulness, yet also manages to provide depth with the buried anger and resentment Envy has in spades. The bitterness in her voice when she spits out lines like "But I can never forgive you...for having that BASTARD'S blood in your veins!" or grumbling "Lousy service" to a diner owner is entirely too much fun to listen to.

GREED (Chris Patton)-I've said before that Chris is always best when there's something askew mentally in his characters, and Greed's no exception. The character fully lives up to his name, wanting everything the world has to offer, and Chris' sheer force of personality helps bring that across, while also seeming petty and vicious in equal measure. Yet he also manages to give Greed some depth as one of the only homunculi who wants to chart their own course in life, and having a certain sense of honor. His death scene manages to be really moving thanks to Chris dialing down and finding the real, uh, person inside. It's great, scene-stealing work.

SLOTH (Lydia Mackay)-Sloth is the homunculus born from the event that kicks off the story: the Elrics' failed attempt to bring their mother back to life. So because Lydia does Trisha, her VOICE cannot really be different from Sloth's, but it's the *acting* that makes this dual performance completely awesome. As Trisha, she's a great mother, compassionate and kind, yet also with some hidden sadness about her missing husband, and she milks the bordering-on-melodrama death scene for all its worth. Sloth is where the fun really begins. We first see Sloth as "Juliet Douglas", the Fuhrer's secretary, and Lydia's work here is very stoic and low-volume. Good, but she puts more subtly emotional bits and pieces into that acting as the show goes on and we learn more about how resentful Sloth is about having Trisha's memories. Her final line as she exits the show-"Nicely done, sweetheart. Clean up after yourselves, and take care of each other"-is marvelously ambiguous, and Lydia sells the various emotions buried in that line. It's some of the most nuanced work in the whole show.

WRATH (Luci Christian)-Luci's one of my favorites, and she's really excellent here as Wrath, the homunculus born from Izumi's failed transmutation of her stillborn child. When Wrath first appears, he's a bit of a blank slate personality-wise, and Luci does a great job with this initial innocence, then perfectly shifts that to a more vicious and bitter headspace when he regains his memories. Yet he does acquire a certain amount of depth through his weird surrogate mother relationship with Sloth, and his tears as she dies are heartbreaking thanks to Luci. She reprises the role briefly in the post-series Conqueror of Shamballa movie (which I will probably review in some capacity), lending weight to Wrath's redemptive sacrifice there. It's not my favorite work she's ever done, but it's an excellent performance all the same.

PRIDE/FUHRER KING BRADLEY (Ed Blaylock)-Ed has a fantastic older voice, one that I wish we could hear a lot more of in anime, though he's certainly still doing stuff for Funimation. The Fuhrer (subtle, huh?) is undoubtedly his finest role, as well as one of his largest. What's neat is that Bradley is not revealed to be a homunculus until fairly late in the game, and so a lot of the groundwork laid for that twist to be truly effective lies in Ed's performance. He's very polite, affable and encouraging for much of the show, even when he's doing things like stabbing a woman to death through Al's armor. When the gloves fully come off, Ed switches to a massively arrogant (hence the name "Pride"), savage tone that works beautifully. He's especially good in the final fight with Mustang, ranting about his superiority to humans and strangling his son in a rage. It's fantastic acting for a great villain.

OTHER SUPPORTING CHARACTERS 

DR. TIM MARCOH (Brice Armstrong)-The late Jerry Russell did a fine job as Marcoh in Brotherhood, and got more material to work with, but I have to admit to preferring Brice in the role. Vocally he's very different, sounding elderly but still very deep and low as opposed to Jerry's raspier, higher voice. But this suits Marcoh quite well, conveying the haunted, repentant nature of the man, and Brice acts the part in a very natural, low-key way. He never has to go over-the-top with grief or anguish to make it work; he simply *is* that way.

IZUMI CURTIS (Christine Auten)-The Elrics' alchemy teacher, Izumi is a tough, stern woman who can nevertheless can be motherly and compassionate. Christine captures that quite well, switching from different modes of characterization and even being rather funny at times (I love her delivery of "PISSED OFF!"). It's probably some of her better work, especially since she doesn't appear to be doing much these days.

PINAKO ROCKBELL (Juli Erickson)-Winry's grandmother, Pinako is a tough, pragmatic woman who tends to see clearer than the younger characters, and Juli's elderly but not frail voice is perfectly suited for her. She doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, but Juli always makes it count with no-nonsense acting.

HOHENHEIM OF LIGHT (Scott McNeil)-Scott's one of my favorite Canadian VAs, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear him in this. It's paradoxically a minor role (he only appears in about 3-4 episodes and Conqueror of Shamballa), yet also one of the most important. A legendary alchemist and the Elrics' father, what's most interesting to me about Scott's work is that he has a certain weary resignation to his voice and acting. Hohenheim knows that he has done terrible things, and wishes to make up for them, but also knows that he does not have much time left to do so. And yet, we do not hate this man, partially because of the writing, and partially because Scott so wonderfully communicates that. We practically cheer as he warns Dante to leave his sons alone, as his love for them is no longer in question. He even gets a great little speech about how equivalent exchange doesn't really apply, but that people can still gain things from sacrifices they make. It's one of my favorite Scott roles, and one of the best smaller ones in the dub.

DANTE (Cindee Mayfield, Monica Rial)-The master behind the homunculi and the ultimate antagonist, Dante first appears as Izumi's elderly alchemy teacher. Cindee's thin, aged voice fits these scenes well, especially since one gets the sense she knows more than she's saying. Later, Dante transfers her soul into the body of a character we had met before, a young alchemist named Lyra. Monica, who voiced this character, now takes over for Dante and makes her a wonderfully hateful, arrogant character. It's a combination of Monica's lower and higher registers, and she makes it work splendidly, especially as she begins to unravel as her plans fall apart in the final episodes.

MEMORABLE ONE-SHOTS/RECURRING CHARACTERS 


FATHER CORNELLO (Andy Mullins)-The first antagonist in the series, there's honestly not much to Cornello from a psychological perspective. He's simply a greedy, corrupt priest, but Andy manages to make him extremely memorable with a booming voice and wonderfully smug scenery-chewing, even when he's quiet. In particular I love him sneering about the Elrics' failed transmutation, and being the first person in the series to call Ed the Fullmetal Alchemist.

SHOU TUCKER (Chuck Huber)-Chuck has a great voice already, but he's also very skilled at modifying it to play very different kinds of characters. Compare his stoic Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho to the hyperactive, high-pitched Emperor Pilaf from Dragon Ball, for instance. I feel like Tucker is one of his best roles, however, because he gets to play much more with his normal voice. In particular, he gets one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, where he explains his reasoning or lack thereof for the horrible act of splicing his young daughter Nina with their dog Alexander to make a talking chimera (animal hybrid). There's a slight sense of insanity in this scene, but Chuck doesn't go over the top and makes it seem almost reasonable. When Tucker returns in a new chimera-hybrid body, Chuck drops his voice to an incredibly creepy whisper, making the alchemist's new state of mind rather apparent, yet also kind of sad. It's ultimately minor, but incredibly effective acting.

YOKI (Barry Yandell)-Barry seems to be rather good at portraying a particular kind of rich, snobbish weasel, and Yoki is no exception. His first appearance has him smugly lording his apparent superiority over everyone, and Barry makes this stuff a comedy highlight, especially when he flies into an impotent rage at being deceived by Ed. When he shows up again in the series much later, Barry balances that still-remaining haughtiness with a certain pathetic feeling as Yoki's station in life has gone down quite a bit, and it's very memorable work.

BARRY THE CHOPPER (Jerry Jewell)-A deranged serial killer who Ed first meets as a human, then pops up again later as a soul bonded to a suit of armor like Al, Barry is perhaps Jerry's most insane role. In both the character's forms, it's a wonderful mixture of hammy and creepy, and even a little sly as he attempts to make Al doubt his humanity. He's not around for terribly long in either form, but Jerry manages to dominate any scene he appears in through sheer energy.

THE TRINGHAM BROTHERS (Justin Cook, Avery Rice Williams)-One of the series' favorite dramatic devices is to compare the Elric brothers and their relationship to other characters, particularly other siblings. The first of these are the Tringham brothers, who pose as the Elrics to try and gain access to their father's research, and then show up again at a crucial moment during the series' endgame. They serve as interesting contrasts, with Justin doing his usual jerk with a heart of gold routine, and Avery providing a child voice so convincing I thought they had hired an actual kid. They're both great, with Justin in particular remaining one of Funimation's best scene-stealers.

THE SLICER BROTHERS (Bill Jenkins, Duncan Brannan)-A pair of serial killers who are bound to a suit of armor to guard the mysterious Lab 5, this is probably one of the more memorable contrasting brother relationships in the show. Bill is the brother we get to hear more, and he adopts this really cool voice that sounds more than a little like an impression of John Rhys-Davies. It fits the arrogant boasting of the character extremely well, as well as the self-loathing when he begs Ed to end their existence. Duncan isn't around for nearly as long, but he manages to sound enough like he could be Bill's brother while still having a distinct sound of his own.
 
RICK AND LEO (Jamie Marchi, Michael Sinterniklaas)-Jamie and Michael make a great team as the Ishbalan brothers who have various run-ins with the Elrics. Michael of course is a great New York VA and ADR director, probably best known for being Dean Venture on The Venture Bros., so to hear him in a Texas project is quite fun. His youthful energy is always a great boost to a dub. Jamie was the bigger surprise; she's usually so great at playing funny, sexy women that to hear her voice a young boy so well was kind of mind-blowing. Whenever they pop up, it's always great to hear them.

MARTA (Tiffany Grant)-Adopting a lower register than usual, Tiffany does a great job with the vengeful chimera who ends up befriending Al (he seems to have a knack for it). Her voice has angry energy to it, but also a sorrow at the loss of her comrades and the life she once had. Tiffany's excellent work makes the character's sudden death far more meaningful.

LUJON AND LYDIA (Johnny Yong Bosch, Carrie Savage)-Much like with Scott McNeil and Mike Sinterniklaas, it was a wonderful shock the first time I heard these two in Episode 35, "Reunion of the Fallen". Nowadays it's far more common for Funimation to use VAs from other regions, but back in 2004-2005, it was like a big name movie star doing a surprise cameo. They're both great in their roles, with Johnny being earnest and passionate, Carrie soft yet strong.

 SCAR'S BROTHER (Bill Townsley)-Bill does a great job with this character, suggesting a deep love and pain at certain times, and then an almost fanatical energy at others. It's an ultimately small role, but very important in the grand scheme of things.

SCAR'S MASTER (Grant James)-An Ishballan leader who disapproves of Scar's methods if not his intentions, Grant has a wonderful aged, deep voice that lends itself well to authority. I kind of wish we got to hear more of him in the series, but it's good work regardless.

While I plan to do a companion piece of sorts on the Shamballa movie, and even perhaps Brotherhood at some point, the dub of this show is where pretty much all of my love goes. A decade later, it's still one of the finest achievements of Funimation's dubbing crew, and I will continue to love listening to it over and over again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Princess Nine (WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS)

Princess Nine is already a great little show to begin with. The story of a girls' highschool baseball team struggling against the norm to make it big, it's full of lovable characters, good cheer and excellent sports drama. Not to mention it's very feminist-friendly, as the entire premise of the show is challenging sexism in sports, and very upfront about it (the team's very EXISTENCE is in jeopardy a few times because people in power don't like the idea of a girls' baseball team). Add in an incredibly charming dub by ADV Films, and you have a recipe for success. Directed by Matt Greenfield, it's one of my favorite ADV dubs, with a fantastic cast all across the board and clever, funny adaptive writing. Honestly, it sounds far more natural and down-to-Earth than a lot of the stuff ADV alumni are putting out today at Sentai Filmworks. On with the review!

Note: The one weird point in the dub is that the main character's name, Ryo Hayakawa, is consistently pronounced "Yo" with a silent R. I can't decide whether this was a huge, glaring mistake or if they found they could not fit pronouncing the R into the lip flaps. Either way, it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the dub *that* much, it just might annoy pronunciation purists. Fair warning.

THE CAST

THE TEAM

RYO HAYAKAWA (Hilary Haag)-Hilary is one of my favorite ADV dub mainstays. She has a wonderfully high-pitched, scratchy voice that fits her general "type" (peppy young women). Ryo fits rather well into that category, but she also has a lot of doubts and insecurities about herself since, duh, she's a teenager. Her dad was a famous pitcher, and she eventually tries to live up to his greatness with the physics-defying "Lightning Ball" as well as clear his name since he was embroiled in a game-fixing scandal (though we learn that he couldn't possibly have participated willingly since he just wasn't that kind of person).  Adding complications is the fact that the star batter of the neighboring boys' school of her school, Hiroki Takasugi (who we'll get to soon enough), befriends her and later claims that he's in love with her. There's a lot of "how could a guy this cute notice a girl like me?" vibes to the relationship, and Hilary plays that, her uncertainty about her father, the relationships she has with the other girls, and Ryo's determination/energy perfectly. It's easily a highlight of the dub.

IZUMI HIMURO (Monica Rial)-This is quite possibly my favorite performance in the dub, my favorite character, and the best work I've ever heard from Monica (who herself says that it really helped her become a better dub actress). Izumi is a fantastic character with many shades to her: she begins as an unequivocal antagonist to both Ryo and the baseball team's existence in general, then a begrudging teammate, and manages to occupy that role and a romantic rival to Ryo for Hiroki's affections at the same time (she grew up with him and feels threatened). That's quite a bit of development, so Monica adopts a bit of a lower, haughty voice for the role, and her acting is just incredible. I can't think of a single moment where she steps wrong: the early moments when she's determined to shut down Ryo and the team, the pain in her voice when she confronts her mother over a picture of Ryo's father in a locket, the easygoing friendship with Hiroki, blunt appraisals of the team's talent or lack thereof, and even some playful meanness when she tries to mess with Ryo's head. But the moment I really knew Monica would be my favorite performance in the dub is in Episode 17, where Izumi has scrambled to get to a hospital after hearing that Ryo is in a life-or-death situation. The mix of anger and sadness as she berates Ryo for giving up on life is AMAZING. It's raw, beautiful and something I've never heard from Monica before. After a scene like that, I couldn't possibly have chosen anyone else for Best in Show.

HIKARU YOSHIMOTO (Cynthia Martinez)-Cynthia's another favorite ADV regular of mine; like Hilary, she has this youthful, scratchy voice, though the hint of a (presumably, given her last name) Hispanic or Latino accent gives it an extra, quite endearing flavor. Hikaru is super energetic, very open about her opinions, and a shameless flirt. Cynthia captures all of these quite wonderfully, and she even gets a little fun with some romance as she becomes interested in Ryo's childhood friend Seishiro Natsume. The scenes they have together are really fun as a result, especially when she asks him out on a date and then plants a surprise kiss on him. It's definitely one of the strongest supporting women performances in the show.

SEIRA MORIMURA (Kelli Cousins)-Kelli is one of two main actresses in the show who doesn't appear to be doing anime dubs anymore, and that really makes me sad. She was always a highlight of dubs she appeared in, and could get into wildly different headspaces (look at her calm, measured but still very emotional Kino in Kino's Journey). Seira is the "bad girl" rebel of the team, so Kelli gets to have a lot of fun with her brash, profane and angry personality. Yet she's also quite good at handling her moments of vulnerability, such as when we learn that Seira comes from something of a broken home. It's not my favorite performance, but it's very strong, often funny work.

YOKO TOKASHIKI (Tiffany Grant)-Tiffany is another one of those actors who very rarely seems to make a wrong step in her acting choices. Yoko arguably has the most selfish reasons for joining the team: she wants to become a famous model, and sees the team as a stepping stone, so at first she has absolutely no idea what she's doing, leading some of her teammates (especially Seira) to ridicule her. Tiffany brings a funny, bratty energy to Yoko in the early stretches, yet even she gets some more nuanced stuff later on as she comes to realize that these girls have become her friends and she wants to help them do well. Tiffany handles all of this extremely well, getting some of the funniest lines and scene-stealing moments (hearing her chirp lines like "And shoe contracts!" is delightful). Very strong stuff.

KOHARU HOTTA (Kira Vincent-Davies)-It's kind of funny to me that the two times I've brought up Kira on this site, it's for affecting or playing up a natural Southern accent to signify for a US audience that this character is from a different part of Japan. In this case, it's Koharu, who's from a fishing town in Tosa on the island of Shikoku. What's interesting is that it's not just a repeat of her Osaka from Azumanga Daioh: Koharu is lower and rougher, so her accent shifts in that respect as well. She's one of the bigger tomboys on the team, and Kira does a nice job with giving that energy and life, as well as her self-doubts when Ryo initially asks her to join the team and later when her dad gets sick right before the big, final game. Not my favorite stuff, but good work nonetheless.

MAO DAIDOJI (Shelley Calene-Black)-A larger girl from the judo team who Ryo recruits to be catcher, Mao is a very shy girl for her size, and Shelley gives her a soft, quiet voice to provide that contrast vocally. Still, Mao does get to break out of her shell as time goes on, so Shelley does very well portraying that growing self confidence. Excellent, low-key work.

KANAKO MITA (Aninda Praptiningtyas)-...well, that's a mouthful. Kanako joins the team early on, but there's a problem: Her father is the principal and one of the chief opponents of the girls' baseball team at first. So she ends up disguising herself, and Aninda does a good job balancing her enjoyment of being on the team with the fear and frustration of having to play in disguise. She's inevitably found out, of course, and it's here where Aninda does her strongest stuff, first apologetic for deceiving her father, then righteously angry as she stands up to him about shutting down the team. For the rest of the show, it's solid, but Aninda achieves greatness in those two scenes.

YUKI AZUMA (Margeaux Balch)-To my shame, I initially kind of wrote Margeaux off because in a lot of the early episodes, Yuki is just the quiet oddball of the team who talks to her alien doll friend (yes, really), and so she doesn't get a lot of lines. She does those well, but it's easy to not notice as much as the high-energy antics of nearly everyone else. Then Episode 22 (out of 26) happens, and we learn that Yuki is handling with some major issues like an attempted suicide (due to girls on her previous team growing jealous of her popularity and mistreating her) and abandonment problems. Margeaux gets to go all out with paranoia, grief and then finally acceptance as her teammates reassure her that she doesn't have to face things along. It's quite impressive, though it's still mostly just solid otherwise.

NENE MORI (Jennifer K. Earhart)-Eghh. To be honest, I am REALLY not as fond of this performance as a lot of the others. Remember how I said Hilary and Cynthia were high-pitched? Jennifer is "so high pitched only dogs could probably hear it". Her work as the self-appointed team manager and sports manga junkie can be really shrill and annoying at times. Still, she gets some funny stuff too, especially when Nene has to get on the field so they have a full team and fails epically at it. Just...be warned.

SHINSAKU KIDO (Andy McAvin)-Kido is a very familiar type: the drunken coach who nonetheless has a lot of insight and wisdom about baseball. McAvin manages to breath life into this stereotype by capturing Kido's various moods: he can be cynical yet wearily accepting, a harsh taskmaster, and an absentminded fool. It helps that McAvin is just genuinely funny in the role, especially during a brief period where he attempts to stop drinking because he's attracted to Ryo's mother. Next to the team and a couple performances we'll get to shortly, he's probably my favorite.

THE SUPPORTING CAST

KEIKO HIMURO (Kelly Manison)-Kelly is another actor who hasn't done anime in several years, and I miss her a lot too. She was always good at capturing different moods for women characters, and that extends to her work here. What's interesting is that Keiko, Izumi's mother and the chairperson of Kisaragi Girls' School, is largely a very quiet, reserved person, so Kelly barely speaks above a whisper for a good chunk of her lines. Some might call this dull, but I think it's a very interesting choice, since it makes the audience work harder at figuring out just what Keiko's real motivations are for starting and supporting this team. It's very good, subtle work, and she gets to play around with Keiko's headspace a little more when we see a younger, far less calm version of her in a flashback.

HIROKI TAKASUGI (Vic Mignogna)-Next to McAvin, this is easily my favorite male performance in the dub. Vic is just so naturally sweet, charming and funny as Hiroki that you can't help but fall in love with him, even when he acts like, well, a dumb teenage boy. What I like is that while his basic personality remains the same, Vic makes subtle shifts in his performance depending on who or what he's talking about: he tries really hard to needle Ryo with the nickname "Tofu Girl" even while he's praising her, has a natural banter with Izumi, and a keen mind when he analyzes other players' moves. But my favorite scene is easily one of his last, where he unexpectedly declares his love for Ryo to an entire baseball stadium *right in the middle of the big game*. It's a hilarious, touching scene, and Vic completely tears into it. Vic has done perhaps more emotionally complex or funny roles since this early work (my personal favorites are Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist and Tamaki Suoh from Ouran High School Host Club), but that doesn't take away from the fact that he kills it as Hiroki.

SEISHIRO NATSUME (Chris Patton)-To be perfectly honest, I almost feel like this is a miscast. Chris is always at his best when there's something odd, sinister or mean about his male characters. Look at roles like Fakir in Princess Tutu, Sousuke Sagara in Full Metal Panic, Greed in Fullmetal Alchemist, or Creed in Black Cat. There's something "off" about each of those characters, and so for him to play such an ordinary guy like Seishiro threw me for a loop. He's not BAD or anything; in fact he's quite good, especially during the aforementioned flirty moments with Hikaru and a scene late in the show where he calls out Hiroki for not recognizing his part in Ryo's current misery. It's just kind of weird for me to hear him do such a straight-arrow role like this (even his male lead Ayato in RahXephon has a certain odd, almost mysterious quality about him).

SHINO HAYAKAWA (Christine Auten)-Ryo's mother who runs an oden restaurant, Shino is in many ways a standard "mother" character: very encouraging, sweet and kind. It's no great stretch for Christine, but she does quite well with it, and with later stuff like remembering her husband. A solid effort.

PRINCIPAL MITA (John Swasey)-As noted above, Mita is one of the principle (heh) opponents of the girls' team through much of the show, so John brings a deep, gruff voice and arrogant heft to the party. He does a good job softening Mita as the show goes on, especially in a crucial scene where he outlines why his mind has changed and the girls' team needs to exist. From there on, he gets some funny scenes where he becomes an embarrassing proud papa for Kanako, cheering her on at games.

VICE PRINCIPAL KODANUKI (John Gremillion)-For whatever reason, John decided to add a lisp to this little weasel of a character. I'm not sure why, but it does make his scenes a good deal funnier, especially when he is mistaken for a pervert after the girls discover him outside their locker room, or when he's gobsmacked then supportive of Mita's change of heart. It's good comedy work, and further bolstered by the fact that John also plays Ryo's father Hidehiko, where he completely shifts to be a warm, loving and honest paternal figure.

The rest of the show is quite handily filled out by ADV stalwarts like Rob Mungle, Brett Weaver, Jay Hickman, Jason Douglas, Mandy Clark, Marcy Bannor, and the late Mike Kleinhenz. Overall, in addition to being a new favorite show, this is easily one of my favorite dubs by the old ADV Films crew. Even when it sounds weird or just straight-up goofy, it's utterly charming and lovable, just like the show itself. I highly recommend the show and dub to anyone who has interest in a good sports story, or even just a show about a bunch of teenage girls who go up against the world.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Wind Rises

With the release of ANY Disney-produced Studio Ghibli dub, there are bound to be people who will love it unreservedly, or rip it to shreds, declaring it's no good and that it shouldn't be watched.  For a long time I have been in the former category.  Regardless of what anyone said about the past Disney Ghibli dubs, I have stood beside them and I always will, not even caring about how they compare to their Japanese counterparts.  But with Miyazaki's supposedly final film, The Wind Rises, for the first time I found myself taking a less than favorable side.  Of all the Ghibli-Disney dubs, this is my least favorite and the weakest.

Don't get me wrong, The Wind Rises is not a bad dub at all.  It's mostly well cast and excellently written, and there are parts that truly do excel.  Unfortunately, there are problems that do hamper the dub.  First, poor lip synching.  The previous Miyazaki Disney dubs have paid very close attention to the timing of the mouth movements so that it never felt like a Godzilla style dub.  But here there are lines that are mistimed, resulting in some gaping mouths and bits where a character's mouth starts moving but we hear nothing.  Very disappointing.

My second biggest problem is the voice cast, or rather, some aspects of it.  While Disney's past dubs have made some eccentric casting choices, the voice acting in all of them was at most very good, with nary a weak one.  Here, however, the results are mixed.  Some voices are excellent and perform their roles with gusto and life.  Others fare passably well.  Unfortunately, there are also some very flat, emotionless performances in the dub, which is a surprising first as I've never heard a Ghibli dub from Disney have monotonous performances.  I understand that the feel for this dub was to try to match the "naturalistic" tone of what is essentially a fictionalized account of a real-life airplane engineer, but I didn't particularly come away impressed with this one.  Of course all of this is just my opinion and you may feel differently, so keep that in mind as you read this review.

JIRO (Zach Callison - Young; Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Adult) — There are two different versions of the main character in this docu-fantasy.  When we first meet Jiro, he is a young, bespectacled boy who dreams (quite literally) of flying through the skies in an airplane.  Callison does a very fine job as the young Jiro, sounding appropriately young and exuberant, but also restrained.  (The casting of children for the child parts in the beginning is one of the strongest points of the dub.)
The grown-up Jiro, however, is unfortunately the performance that I liked the least in the dub.  Now in all fairness, Joseph is not eccentrically cast; the voice he has is fine for the role.  But I didn't find him compelling as Jiro; to me he sounded like he was giving a stiff, monotonous performance, which is disappointing considering that many of the leads in Disney's other dubs (eccentrically cast or not) have done well.  I don't know it's just me or if it's the style of the character, but either way, this is, I'm sorry to say, the dullest performance in any Disney dub I've ever listened to.  Chances are you may think otherwise, but I just wasn't thrilled with him.

NAOKO (Emily Blunt) — By contrast, Blunt acquits herself fairly well as Jiro's beloved.  The voice she uses is appropriate and her acting isn't too bad (she sounds especially good during her "sick" scenes with Jiro in the latter half of the movie).  Good as she is, however, it unfortunately highlights the weakness of the love story in The Wind Rises, or at least the dubbing of it.  She does put some emotion into the part, yes, but there's something wrong when her turn is solid and his is not.  Because of this,  the chemistry between the two is unfortunately nullified.  If not for that problem, Blunt would have ranked much higher.  As it is, her performance is adequate at best.

HONJO (John Krasinski) — Jiro's best friend has an appropriate and well-suited voice that reminded me a bit of Brian Cranston's turn as Shiro's best friend in Wings of Honneamise.  Very low key and down to earth, and he puts a bit more emotion into his part.  Although I wouldn't say his performance is anything amazing, he at the very least is fitting and does fairly well.

KUROKAWA (Martin Short) — This is one of the three performances that I truly enjoyed from the dub.  While the lead is bland and the previous two were fairly well, Short is awesome.  Unrecognizable from the start, he provides the role of Jiro's cantankerous boss with gusto and humor, breathing a lot of much needed life into the dub. He effortlessly steals every scene he's in, which is arguably because he has been blessed with a fun character to begin with.  Short is no stranger to voice acting, incidentally (although the past few animated films he did before this were mostly the likes of We're Back and The Pebble and the Penguin), but this is arguably one of his best roles ever.  Period.  This is a GREAT performance.

CASTORP (Werner Herzog) — The primary role that this German-accented man provides is not only to be critical of Hitler (and predict Japan's downfall, rather darkly), but to promote the romance between Jiro and Naoko.  Although Herzog didn't strike me as outstanding as Short or two other performances I'll come to in moments, I had no major problems with him.  He sounds like he's enjoying himself in the role, especially when he gets to sing a drunken song with Jiro and Naoko's father.  (On another note, the use of accents in this dub is another plus for Disney's dub; considering this is a film about a Japanese man going to different nations, Germany included, I have to commend the dubbing team for going the extra mile and pulling it off.  That was something that I really enjoyed from Monster Island's dub of Nadia, especially since this is a story that asks for it.)

SATOMI (William H. Macy) — I'm neutral about Macy's turn as Naoko's father.  On one hand he sounds fine, but acting-wise he didn't really stand out to me one way or another.  I suppose he plays the part appropriately well, but to be honest, I couldn't remember anything worth talking about his performance after seeing the dub.

KAYO (Mae Whitman) — Jiro's spunky little sister is excellently voiced, both as a child and as an adult.  After Short and Tucci, she is one of the very best performers in the dub.  The energy she provides the character is terrific, whether she's scolding Jiro, talking normally, and, even at the end, lamenting the fate of Jiro's love affair.  It helps that she's had voice acting experience prior to recording the part, hence why I liked her turn so much.

HATTORI (Mandy Patinkin) — When I learned that Inigo Montoya was returning to do another Ghibli dub, I was thrilled.  He was terrific as Louie the pirate in Castle in the Sky (the most underrated IMO of the Disney dubs), but as Jiro's second boss, I didn't find him quite as entertaining or fun.  As such, I'm much more neutral about his turn in this one.  Vocally, he sounds fine and he more or less plays it fairly well, but he's not as memorable or lively here.  Perhaps it's just me though.

CAPRONI (Stanley Tucci) — Looks like I've saved the best for last.  Alongside Whitman and Short, Tucci is TERRIFIC as the legendary airplane designer that Jiro meets in his dreams.  The Italian accent he provides the character works extremely well and he's very charismatic and charming.  It is easily the sort of exuberant performance one would expect from an inspirational genius, and that Tucci pulls it off so beautifully makes any scene he is in a genuine delight.  Excellent job all around.

The rest of the cast includes Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, and Dirty Dancing's Jennifer Grey.  While I could easily pick out the performances I outlined above, the rest didn't really stand out to me one way or another.  To be honest, I couldn't make out any of them... to the point I wondered why they were hyped as being in the film at all.

In spite of my quibbles with the lead actor and often negligible extras, I had no problems with the flow of the English script; there were hardly any lines that sounded out of place and it flows smoothly for the most part.  Unfortunately, due to the sometimes iffy lip synching there are moments that can sound a tad robotic, but that's more a fault of the ADR direction than the scriptwriting.  As mentioned, I also applaud the use of accents and the use of children for the opening scenes; it works well considering the nature of the movie.

However, the overall feel of the dub, despite the occasional lively bit from Tucci, Whitman and Short feels stoic and deadpan in places.  Perhaps part of this problem can be on account of voice director Gary Rydstrom.  He's a very talented sound designer, to be sure, but his previous dubs, which included Tales from Earthsea and The Secret World of Arrietty, although solid overall, sometimes treaded into monotonous territory, but even then, that issue was not as pronounced in those two dubs (maybe in Earthsea) than in here.  I suppose that one can only do so much considering the melancholy nature of the story, but it's a disappointing that Disney couldn't bring Jack Fletcher back to direct this one.  Considering the bang-up work Fletcher did for Kiki, Mononoke, and Laputa combined, it would have been gratifying to have him do Miyazaki's apparent swan song.

I stand behind the opinion that The Wind Rises is the weakest of the Disney dubs, but don't take this as a sign that it is a bad dub.  It's not.  The better term for it would be "average."  Perhaps I was more thrown off by the nature of the film itself than anything else or maybe I just had high expectations, but I didn't enjoy this as much as I would have liked to.

That said, take my review with a grain of salt and go see The Wind Rises; even if it is by no means my favorite Miyazaki film, the man never ceases to amaze with his craft and there are bits of the movie that truly excel (the dream sequences, for instance, as well as a powerful earthquake scene that causes a train to crash and derail spectacularly).  Chances are you may even enjoy the dub more than I did.  After all, as with any of the Ghibli dubs, however much enjoyment one gets out of any of them depends on what you bring with you to it.