Sunday, August 2, 2015

Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust

The original Vampire Hunter D was a dated and sometimes campy fan-favorite that seems to have outlived its age over the years.  On the other hand, its semi-sequel, subtitled "Bloodlust", is something else.  For one, it is a lushly animated, tightly-paced, and morally complex tale directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri.  It also has the distinction of having English as its primary language, so it may not even be "properly" called a dub at all.

This dub is the work of the ever reliable Jack Fletcher, whose excellent dubs of the first three Ghibli movies for Disney remain all-time favorites of mine.  His cast for Bloodlust consist of his usual recruits, all of who provide solid performances... even though it should be noted that they had to post-sync their lines, hence the occasional stilted line.  But this flaw is avoided for the most part, and the overall effect of Bloodlust as a dub is one that suits the dramatic action of the story without delving into camp territory.

D (Andrew Philpot) — Like Michael McConnohie in the original movie, Philpot voices the title character as an emotionally distant, sometimes monotonous-speaking loner.  However, the overall quality of his delivery is much stronger, in that he doesn't come across as a cheesy newscaster, but a strongly subdued stranger with a hint of torture.  In fact, it is eerily reminiscent of Michael Keaton's Batman, which ironically enough, the character of D himself could easily be related to!  Toward the end of the film, D gets to do some screaming and provide some restrained yet intense dialogue when he fights Carmilla, and Philpot handles that very well without overacting.  Overall, a big improvement over the Streamline dub, and very appropriate in the context of the movie.

LEFT HAND (Michael McShane) — The first thing you'll notice about D's left hand is how distinctively different his voice sounds compared to his counterpart in the original.  That's because he's portrayed by Michael McShane, who brings an amusingly smug, badgering quality to the role which serves as a great contrast to his more subdued master.  For the entire duration of the movie, McShane really gets to have fun with his character, skillfully and amusingly adlibbing at every opportunity, with impeccable comic timing.  He even owns the best line in the film, which, ironically enough, is the last:  "You're not so bad after all.  You just dress bad."  One is reminded of his similarly amusing turn as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves as well as one of the pirates from Castle in the Sky from hearing the vocal tone in his voice.  He is, without a doubt, a showstealing delight.

MEIER LINK (John Rafter Lee) — After Mike, this is also one of the best voices in the dub.  Lee lends this character with an alluring charisma that works wonderfully well with the deep voice he also provides.  He mostly delivers his lines in a soft tone, with the occasional moments of powerful drama, particularly in the scene when he is literally scalding in the sunlight.  It's also interesting to note that he does a skillful job of making Meier Link sympathetic instead of a bloodthirsty villain.  That's a testament to how strong his performance truly is.

CHARLOTTE MELBOURNE (Wendee Lee) — Although crucial to the plot, Charlotte doesn't have many lines.  Whenever she talks, her dialogue is either declarations of love for Meier Link, regret over abandoning her family, and at least one shout of "Meier!" in the first half.  That makes her a tricky role to play, but Wendee rises to the task.  Although not one of her finest performances ever, she still acquits herself well, bringing a husky-sounding but fragile quality to her dialogue.  It's almost difficult to recognize Wendee, as a matter of fact, as her vocal tone is distinctively different from other roles such as Twilight Suzuka from Outlaw Star and even Kei from the redub of Akira.  Whether that's complimentary or not is up for debate, but even so, she is otherwise very solid.

BORGOFF MARKUS (Matt McKenzie) — Aside from D, Meier Link, and Charlotte, the film's other important characters are the Markus brothers, who have also been hired by Charlotte's father and brother to track down Meier Link.  Of the four, the burly, gruff Borgoff is the self-appointed leader.  To achieve the effect of having him speak with a cigar in his mouth, Matt McKenzie recorded his lines with a pencil in his mouth.  That provides an effective and realistic approach to the character, but it should be known that most of his dialogue is delivered in a low-key manner.  He has sometimes been called the least effective of the dub cast by reviewers (e.g. Ian Drury on Banon's Roar), but this is a matter of perspective.  The scenes where he comes across as effective are the ones where he gets to open up his expressions a bit more, such as when he is freaking over one of his brothers' deaths, or even in his violent shocking final scene.  Elsewise his vocal performance is appropriate if not always outstanding.

KYLE MARKUS (Alex Fernandez) — Headstrong, brash, and argumentative, the second of the Markus brothers has a much more vibrant presence, due mainly to the voicing of Alex Fernandez.  The raspy, somewhat nasal vocal tone he uses lends itself well to the character's impulsive nature, and the scenes where he gets to shout will remind viewers of his voice work in Pet Shop of Horrors, another Jack Fletcher-produced dub of which he voiced one of the main protagonists.  It is a distinctive voice, which helps define the character's nature, particularly when he yells, "Yeah!  Come and get it, zombies!"

NOLT MARKUS (John DiMaggio) — Aside from being one of the numerous roles that John DiMaggio gets to play in Bloodlust (more on that later), Nolt is the strongest and the biggest of the Markus brothers.  His face is painted with a white cross, with a deadly spiked sledgehammer as a weapon.  Since he doesn't last much longer than the first 15 minutes, he doesn't get much of a chance to show his personality.  Nonetheless, DiMaggio provides him with a deep, guttural voice that sounds somewhat African but is strangely not distracting.  Nolt doesn't get many lines, but he delivers them fairly well.

GROVE MARKUS (Jack Fletcher) — The last of the Markus brothers, frail, vulnerable Grove, is arguably the most gentle of the four.  He spends most of the time strapped to an operating table in the back of the Markus brothers' tank; on occasion he is given an injection that causes an astral apparition of his younger self to float through the air, blasting everything in his sight... at the expense of his own life.  It's somewhat amusing that Fletcher himself is voicing this character, given that he doesn't have much dialogue.  Even so, the light tone of voice he provides is very appropriate and he acts very well, making him sympathetic and tame, which makes one feel sad for him when his fate is sealed at the end.

LEILA (Pamela Segall) — Accompanying the Markus brothers on their mission is this tough-as-nails female hunter, a bazooka-wielding, motorcycle-riding, hot-tempered ball of fire who at first opposes and competes against D, but later becomes his ally.  Segall has only a couple of moments where she doesn't always nail her lines "Get up, we're going!", but not enough to the point to bring down her performance.  Otherwise I quite liked the vocal tone that she uses for this character.  She sounds tough and restrained, and her aggressive/angry scenes are handled very well.  Only one monologue where she talks about her parents' fate sounds a bit dry at times, but many other scenes Segall is in make their mark more often than not.

CARMILLA (Julia Fletcher) — It turns out that the real antagonist of the story is the bloody countess Carmilla—or rather, a ghostly likeness of the real thing who resides as a musty corpse awaiting blood.  It is somewhat implied that she was Count Dracula's wife, but this is never made clear in the script.  Ironically, Carmilla doesn't appear until the final act, and as such, she only gets, at best, three appearances.  In spite of this, Carmilla still succeeds as a terrifying villainess, thanks in large part to the sultry vocal tones of Julia Fletcher.  Her line delivery oozes with chilliness and coldness, and she even gets to cackle and scream toward the end.  Particularly thrilling is the climactic showdown where she berates D for contributing to the extinction of vampires, torturing him all the while.  It's a very memorable piece of villainess acting that holds up well even today.

THE BARBAROIS WARRIORS—BENGE (Dwight Schultz), MACHIRA (John DiMaggio), CAROLINE (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn) — These three characters serve as hired bodyguards for Meier and Charlotte's journey to Carmilla's castle and are dispatched one by one throughout the show.  That makes it a bit tricky to evaluate their performances, but here goes:
Benge is the first of these villains to be encountered.  He's a trickster, a clown-like demon whose specialty is weaving spells and/or literally slithering in shadow, to the point where he can take out anyone by jabbing a lance into said victim's head via the reflection.  Schultz's sometimes nasally voice sounds a bit like a higher-pitched Mark Hamill's Joker, which, considering the appearance of his character, is appropriate.  He sounds like he's really enjoying himself in the part, considering that much of his dialogue is hammy villainy.
Machira is a werewolf, or at least a being with such features who can nonetheless transform into one.  It's almost tempting to subtitle this dub as "spot John DiMaggio" because as mentioned, he gets to do quite a lot of parts in the movie.  Since Machira is a rather minor role, his gruff-sounding voice is a bit nondescript but nonetheless fitting.  Whatever lines he has are either delivered low-key or whispered.  I'm a bit neutral about this performance; it's not my favorite of the dub by any means, but it doesn't strike me as grating either.
The last of the trio, foxy-looking Caroline, is a shapeshifting, chamelion-like enchantress; her primary attack is camouflaging herself into anything, whether it's the underside of a tank or a tree, using said objects as a target for firing projectiles and/or spikes.  Like her comrades, McGlynn doesn't have many lines, but she makes the most of it.  She provides the character with a sultry, seductive tone and a nasty vibe during her "action scenes.  It's a minor part, but it's done well.

OLD MAN OF BARBAROIS (Dwight Schultz) — The ringleader of the Barbarois is an ancient crone who balances himself on a unicycle, insistent on upholding his kin's reputation while simultaneously admiring D's will and resistance.  It's almost amusing that Schultz also plays this character in addition to Benge, but he does a good job making the two characters distinctive.  He provides the man with an appropriately creaky voice while exuding very understated haughtiness.  His is a much more low-key part and there are a few lines that can sound a bit stilted, but otherwise Schultz is fine for the part.

SHERIFF OF GARUCIA (John DiMaggio) — We meet this character about halfway through the film when our competing hunters make a quick stop at this desert town.  Aside from the Southern drawl, DiMaggio's voice is distinctively gruff and gravelly, which isn't much different from similar other roles, but luckily his appearance in the film is only one scene apart so that it doesn't come across like "talking to yourself" territory.

POLK (John Hostetter) — I've always liked John Hostetter as a voiceover artist, and it's pleasing to her him in this dub; it's a shame he's retired from voice acting.  He is very understated in his turn as an old stable owner, and it works well for the character.  He's especially poignant when he acknowledges D for a heroic deed that went unrewarded in the name of ignorance and prejudice.

JOHN ELBOURNE (John DiMaggio) — The worried father of Charlotte only appears at the beginning of the movie.  His role is to provide emotional encouragement toward getting D to accept the mission to procure his daughter… or bring back proof of her death.  DiMaggio does fine in the part, even though his performance is in neutral territory.

ALAN ELBOURNE (John DeMita) — Charlotte's emotional brother hires D to track down Meier Link, especially after the latter slaughters his initial hunting party.  He's somewhat underhanded, too, in that while he offers D a payment that the dunpeal hunter doesn't think is enough, he also gives him competition in the form of the Markus brothers.  I've always liked John DeMita's voice work, and while his role as this character is in one scene and mostly understated, hearing him is always a pleasure.  He doesn't overact, either, during his two brief outbursts.  Only in two lines does he sound somewhat similar to Kohroku from Princess Mononoke, but that's no negative.

PRIEST (John DeMita) — DeMita also voices the priest during the funeral scene at the film's finale.  My only quibble is that he sounds a bit like he's rushing some lines, but otherwise he's fine.

LITTLE GIRL (Debi Derryberry) — Miss Derryberry plays two similar characters in the film, both minor parts.  We first hear her in a tragic scene when Leila encounters her "younger self" in an illusion conjured by Carmilla.  Here, she is angry, embittered and emotionally shattered, and rightly so (because of a tragic incident that happened with her family).
At the end of the film, we meet a second little girl.  This pigtailed cutie is a much more sweet-natured character who recognizes D in some fashion.  Derryberry is fine in both parts, although the voice she uses may come across as grating to some people, she somehow manages to get away with it because it's not too artificial to be distracting.

As mentioned, Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust is not so much a dub as it is the "original language track" of the film as per Yoshiaki Kawajiri's intention, so I will not be making any notes about translation differences or script flow.  But I will say that aside from some lines that may strike some as a bit overused and cliche ("Now you die"), Fletcher and Sandy Yamamoto otherwise do a fine job of providing a properly timed, clean-souding script that doesn't suffer from any noticeable synching problems.

However, I do have two criticisms about Bloodlust's dub.  Although the sound mix comes across as much more crisper than the Streamline dub (which makes sense given that the sound effects/music/dialogue recording were all done in Hollywood), my biggest problem is that it feels unbalanced.  The voices are mixed a bit too low in the center channel, while the music and sound effects come across as blastingly loud, to the point where the viewer is required to turn up the volume on and off at the more quieter moments.  Perhaps a bit more consistency in the sound levels would have been welcomed, but it is a bit of a problem regardless.

My only other criticism is that Bloodlust is also guilty of mistranslating the term of D's lineage:  the Sentai rerelease of Vampire Hunter D was the first dub of any incarnation of this hero to properly retain "damphir."  The laughable Streamline version conned this term "dampiel", and this film, at least for keeping consistency with the first dub, calls him "dunpeal."  It's not a major big deal to me, but for first-time viewers who might be seeing this sequel after watching Sentai's newer redub, it will cause for confusion.

Faults aside, Vampire Hunter D—Bloodlust has otherwise aged well since its 2001 premiere, and as mentioned, is far more listenable than Streamline's initial dub for the 1985 original.  Aside from my quibbles about the sound mix, the performances and writing are solid, the synching is seamless, and the flow of the dialogue, the occasional stilted moment notwithstanding, otherwise flows naturally.  Consider this another cap in Fletcher's underrated achievements in dubbing for Anime.

Vampire Hunter D (Streamline & Sentai Versions)

Contrary to what extremists say, not all dubs are uniformly bad.  There are dubs that are superbly acted and still remain as fresh and fascinating as they were the first time around.  There are also dubs which, although not perfect, are still entertaining.  And then there are dubs which are flawed in places but still have merit... as well as dubs that may have seemed passable at one time, but ultimately lose their appeal and are hard to even listen to again without cringing.

Streamline Pictures' dub of Vampire Hunter D, a 1985 B-grade OVA based on a novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi and featuring character designs by Final Fantasy's Yoshitaka Amano, is a dub that falls into this last category.  Released around 1992, at a time when dubs were, at best, of poor quality, it does sort of stand out as being "not so bad".  Of course, this is typically what most newcomers to Anime who stumble upon this dub without hearing a wide variety of them would think.  However, after listening to many modern dubs or even some older ones that happen to hold up well, then Streamline's dub of Vampire Hunter D seems quite outdated.  And by that I don't mean that it is simply bad, but both technically and emotionally, it feels like a chore to listen to after being spoiled by so many other better ones.

The actors who participate in Streamline's dub are good voice actors.  Honestly, they really are.  Yet sometimes circumstances beyond their control, poor vocal direction or rushed takes, can cause them to turn out performances that are nowhere near the caliber of superior work.  And this is exactly what Streamline's Vampire Hunter D is:  a case of fine actors all sounding off their mark and/or not as effective as they should be.

Flash forward thirteen years later.  Sentai Filmworks, remnants of ADV, have since picked up, repackaged, and even redubbed this new classic.  So how did it turn out?  Well, I do have a few minor quibbles, but on the whole I was quite pleased with the results.  Helmed by longtime ADV Films director and scriptwriter Matt Greenfield, this redub aims to bring the movie back to its roots as a genuinely scary film with the occasional moment of humor.  With the exception of one character, the casting of the voices and the acting in the Sentai version are far superior to their Streamline counterparts.

D (Michael McConnohie, Streamline Version; John Gremillion, Sentai Version)  -- The title character of this post-apocalyptic western-themed slasher is a very tall, mysterious, and often stoic man clad in a long cloak and a tall hat.  (SPOILER ALERT:  It turns out that he's actually a half-human/half-vampire, the son of Count Dracula!)  He is devoted to rid the world of all vampires and protect the innocent.  Since D is not a very emotional and often stiff character, it's probably easier to lay off on McConnohie's portrayal.  He does have a fairly deep voice and his often monotonous delivery isn't too detrimental.  On the flip side, however, his performance often veers into "newscaster reading from cue cards" territory, particularly the scene where he's comforting Dan from crying; other times it feels like one of those cheesy old-fashioned record albums of Batman (from Power Records) in which the title character speaks in a similarly robotic tone (hence my phrase "superhero syndrome").  McConnohie also comes across as rather stilted, too, although that is more of a problem of both lackluster direction and the rather choppy animation.  In all fairness, he does manage to put more emotion toward the end for moments such as D's "death" scene and at the beginning of the final confrontation with Magnus Lee (particularly his energized "Back to the abyss... OF OBLIVION!"), but even then it feels TOO over-the-top, even for such a character.  Who knows how well he could have played the character if he was better directed?  We probably may never know, but as it stands, Mike's overall performance as D is only so-so.
Andrew Philpot defined the character a lot more in Yoshiaki Kawajiri's semi-sequel Vampire Hunter D:  Bloodlust.  As someone who demands vocal continuity when it comes to dubbing, it's a bit of a let down that Philpot didn't return to reprise his role for Sentai.  Perhaps because of this, it took me two viewings to get accustomed to John Gremillion's turn in the new dub.  His voice is a bit more "lighter" than either McConnohie or Philpot, often verging on sounding somewhat whispered and husky.  Certainly not what I would expect from a character like D.  Only when he utters lines like "I would prefer not to kill you" did I have the vision of D in my mind, but otherwise his voice is a new take on the character.  What ultimately canceled out my reservations was his acting, which warrants a shout-out.  John does a solid job of making D reserved and conflicted, refraining from overacting in his action scenes.  His delivery is much more understated and focused than McConnohie.  It helps, too, that he has better written dialogue to support him; a lot of the dialogue from D's end verged into cheesy territory in the Streamline version, and luckily, Gremillion succeeds in steering around this pitfall.  Much of the credit should also go to Greenfield for making the weakest moments of McConnohie's dialogue more believable as well.

LEFT HAND (Michael McConnohie, Streamline Version; Andy McAvin, Sentai Version) -- D's only companion is his left hand--that is to say, there is some sort of face engraved on his hand who often chides his master, but also proves to be quite an independent and powerful character in its own right.  It can inhale mist-like creatures, and gobble them up, and, when D is (temporarily) murdered by Ray Ginsay, after being cut off, it crawls back to its host and even whacks D's body to awaken him!  That leads to a major problem:  what kind of voice would you give an unusual character such as this?  I do like the idea of McConnohie voicing the left hand as well; it gives a duality to the nature of D's character.  He does so with a rather nasally, high-pitched, prissy tone.  On one level this approach can be seen as valid, as it does provide for a somewhat "creature"-like character, but his delivery is another matter.  It is literally all over the place, ranging from irritating to condescending ("You're not in LOVE with her, are you?").  He's also saddled with a vocal amplifier that not only sounds artificial, but unfortunately also emphasizes how hokey the effect of this dub is.  There are a couple of places where McConnohie does manage to evoke a few laughs (his urging of D to stir "Wake up!"), but otherwise it's not his best work by any means.
Again, I mostly prefer Michael McShane's turn as the Left Hand from Bloodlust, and so it was initially disappointing that he didn't return for the Sentai redub.  That said, I quickly got accustomed to Andy McAvin in no time.  He sounds appropriately sarcastic and thankfully not whiny.  He even gets one of the best lines in the show "I swear, this guy is SUCH a handful."  Very fitting and amusing.  The only thing I'm not quite a fan of is the electronic voice alteration to make this character sound more "creature-like".  Without it, I think the character would have been more convincing, but on the other hand, that's nitpicking.

DORIS LANG (Barbara Goodson, Streamline Version; Luci Christian, Sentai Version) -- We first meet Doris at the beginning of the movie, when she is stalking lizardly mutants in her garden.  Here, she is brave but also vulnerable.  Soon after, however, she is reduced to screaming and helplessness when Count Magnus Lee confronts her.  When we see her again, there are two puncture marks on her neck, and unfortunately this is where her personality starts to veer all over the place.  Sometimes she is tough and vicious (in moments such as when she lashes with her whip, or even fends off Grecco's advances), other times she's hopelessly smitten (with the title character), at one point defiant (when she's brought to Magnus Lee's room), and then, ultimately, more whiney, whimpy moments.  Given all this, Doris does not come across as a very consistent character, and so that does create problems for any attempt to portray her character.  In all fairness, however, Goodson does make an effort, although her performance, like the character, is a mixed bag.  When she is in her "strong" mode in moments such as telling Grecco off or even speaking normally, Goodson is decent.  However, the scene where she initially strikes D with the whip (to test his skills) does come across as stilted as not as forceful as it should.  She also overacts during most of her "crying" and "screaming" scenes--granted such moments are very demanding to pull off to begin with, but either because of poor direction or the confused nature of her character, they don't feel strong enough.  She also utters "Oh my god!" one too many times, which sometimes recalls Kate Capshaw's character in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  (It doesn't help either that her dialogue sometimes consists of lines such as "I'll bite off my tongue and bleed to death!")  All of this makes for a very uneven and sometimes stiff result, but even so, Goodson does try, and for that I have to give her points.
Sentai's new dub casts Luci Christian in the role.  At first I wasn't quite so sure if her voice was right for the part, but part of that might have been me being overly familiar with Goodson.  But after seeing the dub in its entirety, I changed my mind.  Doris is technically supposed to be around 17 years old, and Christian's voice sounds much younger and convincing.  She also puts a lot of emotion and passion into her part, and her dialogue thankfully never crosses into the aforementioned Capshaw territory.  Her aggressive scenes are handled with unbridled energy, and the tender, frightful moments Doris displays are also very warm and well handled.  In short, Christian succeeds in making Doris sympathetic, natural and more believable than Goodson ever did; her delivery is far more consistent.

DAN LANG (Lara Cody, Streamline Version; Shannon Emerick, Sentai Version) -- Very seldom are there roles which totally grate on me to the point that it takes me out of a dub, but this is one exception.  One of the more useless characters in the film, Doris' younger brother is approximately five years old.  And that is part of the problem with Cody's performance.  She doesn't even sound like a young boy, but instead falls into the obvious "little boy sounding like a woman" trap.  It's made all the more so by the feminine tone in Dan's voice.  (For a much more convincing example of a woman trying to sound like a boy, try Brianne Siddall's Kenichi in Metropolis.)  His dialogue ranges from surprisingly intelligent for his age talk to sniveling.  One particularly cringeworthy delivery is in the scene where Dan is trapped on a rock:  "Oh pleeeeeeease help meeeeeee!"  What makes it even worse is that Cody doesn't put enough emotion into that moment, rendering it both ineffective and lifeless.  Even when she's not stuck with moments like that, her "normal" scenes sound very off, both in terms of vocal tone and in delivery.  Lara has had other fine roles, but Dan ranks as one of the lowest points in her career.
Sadly, Dan is also the weakest voice in the Sentai redub, although this time it's not due to the acting.  In Shannon Emerick's defense, she does a great job of bringing toughness, spunk and life to Dan without coming across as cheesy.  And luckily the aforementioned cringeworthy bit when Dan is trapped by Rei Ginsei is delivered less so.  Oddly, even though Doris has a neutral accent, Dan, like the rest of the villagers of Ransylva, speaks with a Southern twang.  On one hand, the approach is understandable since this is a "Western" vampire story, but it feels very odd considering the differences in the style of both characters.  I'm not totally sold on her voice for the character either; as mentioned, Lara was distractingly feminine, and while Shannon is less so, I still found her vocal tone somewhat distracting; it's just not quite seamless enough to give off the illusion.  Luckily Dan has a few scenes, and as mentioned, Emerick's turn is less grating than Lara, so for that I give her points.  But this character is still my least favorite voice in both dubs.

COUNT MAGNUS LEE (Jeff Winkless, Streamline Version; David Wald, Sentai Version) -- The late Winkless' voicing of the centuries old villain fares no better than his Streamline co-stars.  Oh sure, he has an evil chuckle and a deep voice, but his performance is handicapped by many other elements.  To make him sound like a vampire, the sound engineers try to amplify his voice through some kind of "vocal effects".  Unfortunately, it only comes across as artificial instead of frightening.  The other major problem is that his dialogue is either corny or just laughable, particularly an added-in monologue at the beginning of the film that begins with the stereotypical "Permit me to introduce myself!"  This only succeeds in providing unintentional humor.  Furthermore, the delivery of his lines is obviously stilted, like he's concentrating on the mouth movements, and whatever traces of emotion he tries to put out sound either forced or nowhere nearly strong enough.  It's just too cartoonish.  That he's saddled with a phony-sounding Transylvanian accent also drives the final nail in the coffin.  (This could have been an effective if the accent were executed more fluently, but as it is here, it only provides more laughs, and that is a real detriment.)  Chalk this one up as yet another misfire on Jeff's career.
David Wald fares miles better as this villain; he has a smooth, natural baritone with a touch of regal-ness that is perfectly suited to the count's aristocratic nature.  There's much more emotion and nuance to his acting as well.  It never crosses into stereotypical evil or cheesy territory either, which is a huge plus.  In fact, at times he sounds like Keith David!  Also worthy of note is that he provides the Count with a somewhat "upper-class", light British accent, which, again, conveys the character's "noble" status and upbringing.  Every single second of his performance is a winner, his lines oozing with dripping menace and charisma.  Wald is definitely my favorite voice in the whole redub; he really steals the show here.  Kudos!

REI GINSEI (Kerrigan Mahan, Streamline Version; Andy McAvin, Sentai Version) -- If the Count comes across as a rather minor villain, Rei Ginsei is a much more effective one.  He is driven by a desire to become a nobleman, willing to go to any extreme to acquire his wishes, even if it means kidnapping.  Of course, his efforts are hampered by both D's intervention and his master's own disdain.  As such, he may not really be considered a total baddie, especially since toward the end he saves Dan from falling to his death (a surprise move considering he had kidnapped the latter earlier on) and even tries (unsuccessfully) to kill the Count.  Kerrigan Mahan provides the character with a considerably nasally yet slimy sounding tone which does convey the character's treacherous nature and "mutant" origins.  But his overall performance, while otherwise fairly decent, suffers from a lot of very stilted delivery--much of this problem is attributed to the similarly stilted lipflaps, but the sometimes choppily written script also contributes to the problem.  In his defense, he does cackle wickedly and handles his killing of D (and subsequent amputation) effectively (he also gets the best line:  "An eye for an eye, and a hand for a hand").  However, other moments such as a rather laughably delivered and hokey-sounding "Now you die" (during his first fight with D) and the abruptly harsh tone in which he says "Stop!  Release them immediately!" when his face is still cool and casual while closing his eyes work against such effective moments, especially when said reaction doesn't mesh with the visuals.  It's a mediocre performance, at best.
McAvin does double-duty not only as D's left hand, but as this villain as well.  Honestly, it's hard to tell the difference between the two other than the fact that one character has "electronic voice distortion" while the other does not.  His version of Rei sounds surprisingly more scratchy and raspy and not as "slimy".  Simultaneously, however, his acting is far more consistent and believable, and thankfully devoid of any hokey moments.  (He does utter a cliched "Now you die!" line before he attacks D, but McAvin somehow manages to nullify whatever cheesy maybe attached to it.)  When Rei Ginsei is in action mode, exuding bitterness, or making threats, McAvin sounds like he's having a blast.  Another improvement:  Rei does not tell his demon comrades to release Dan and Ferringo while speaking with Doris.  Note that his character is a bit more blunt and "rude" than Mahan, though; he's fond of shouting "Quiet!" to Doris and Dan.  The one thing I found a bit odd at first was how he handles the scene where D cuts off his hand.  Mahan went all out to the point where he screams "Damn you!  I hope you burn in HELLLLL!"  (On the other hand, it's also more unintentional humor.)  Here McAvin delivers it less aggressively, shouting in a less laughable manner "Damn it!  Do you have to be condescending as well?!"  This is a bit more closer to the translation, but it did strike me as a bit strange.  Oh well, that aside, everything else about his Rei Ginsei otherwise excels.  One final thing that I should mention is that unlike the Streamline version when Rei confronts the Count for the last time, Sentai's translation has him expressing rage over having lost his arm and friends.  This more "noble" approach is closer in spirit to the original Japanese version as opposed to Streamline's more greedy Rei, who declares that he will have his reward regardless in the Streamline dub.

LAMIKA / L'ARMICA (Edie Mirman, Streamline Version; Brittany Karbowski, Sentai Version) -- If there is any performance in Streamline's dub that emerges anywhere near close to "effective" (aside from Goodson), it's Mirman--of course, that's mainly because that her character, Lamika, is the most interesting character in the whole movie.  As Count Lee's only daughter, she is jealous of her father's infatuation with Doris and even attempts murder on the latter at one point... but Lamika is not a purely "evil" character.  Her main concern is the purity of her bloodline:  she detests the idea of having a "country girl" mating with her noble father, fearing (correctly) that it will disgrace her household.  At first she is merely acting to save her own father from his own desires, but when she is both spared by D and later learns that her own mother is not of noble birth, Lamika feels betrayed and quickly declares that the House of Lee must fall.  Mirman gives the character an appropriately sultry sounding tone and for the most part, she handles Lamika's nature fairly well, from her initially smug first appearance to her jealousy and finally her resolved resign of defeat.  This could make her the best voice in the whole dub; alas, there are four problems that cause Mirman to fall short of that mark.  The first and most obvious problem is the Transylvanian accent.  Sometimes it seems effective, but at other times it does verge into cheesy territory.  Secondly, there are places where her dialogue sounds stilted and/or not as strongly delivered as it should (for instance, her chiding of Ray Ginsay is surprisingly weak and a scream of "Kill me!  Kill me now!" sounds both forced and stilted--of course that latter problem is attributed to the animation.)  The third problem is that she sounds a bit too mature, although it isn't really clear in the movie how old her character is supposed to be.  Finally, a lot of her delivery comes across as rather monotone and lacking in passion.  Which is unfortunate, because Mirman's Lamika, otherwise, is probably the only thing that comes anywhere near close to being a saving grace.
Sentai's version retranslates the character's name to "L'armica" and her name is pronounced differently. Whether it's more truer to the Japanese pronunciation I can't say, but either way it did strike me as a bit jarring at first.  It took me a few viewings to get accustomed to.  That aside, Karbowski's take on the character is interesting.  Like her father, she speaks with an upper-class accent instead of a goofy Transylvanian one, and her voice sounds considerably younger.  She comes across like an angry teenager roughly around 16-17ish.  As mentioned, it's not clear what age the character is supposed to be, but her voice works fine.  She also brings a snide quality to her part, particularly when she approaches the sleeping Doris. "THIS is the slattern you chose to take my mother's place?!"  Finally, Brittany puts more emotion into her part, and somehow manages to make L'armica a more conflicted character with a conscious instead of an outright contemptuous villain.  Although there are places where she comes across as more aggressive than Mirman (in scenes where she's arguing with Count Lee about his misguided wedding), I didn't mind at all.  Very well done all around.

DR. FEHRING / FERRINGO (Steve Kramer, Streamline Version; John Swasey, Sentai Version) -- This character, who serves as the medical man of Doris's village, is a kindly man who sympathizes with Doris's plight and tries to offer support, only to become corrupted into a demonic monster by Count Lee.  The quavering tone that Kramer uses for the character is fine.  However, a lot of his dialogue comes across as very choppy and stilted, and as such, he doesn't get to emote as much as he would like.  Even in the scene where he's cautioning Doris about her affections for D, there is something about his delivery that feels very pedantic.  The worst moment of his performance is when he becomes a vampire; like Count Lee, his voice is given an electronic amplifying device which, again, comes across as very artificial, and his dialogue is acted laughably, particularly the guffawing and his opening line "Yes, that's who I used to be until yesterday".  Thankfully, this only lasts for a few minutes, because once he is stabbed, he returns to his "normal" tone where he begs for Doris' forgiveness before finally falling to his death.  In short, Kramer is OK during Fehring's normal moments but not great, but his "evil" transformation scene could have been much better executed.
In Sentai's dub, John Swasey speaks for the doctor with a voice that doesn't sound too different from his work in the Rebuild of Evangelion movies as Gendo Ikari.  Nonetheless, while it is a bit of a jarring change to this viewer, I soon got accustomed to it.  He sounds surprisingly more aggressive during the scene where describes the tragedy of Ransylva's interment camp which lead to a brutal slaughter on behalf of Count Lee, while Kramer was more restrained.  Otherwise I didn't have any major problems with his turn as the doctor; he sounds more down-to-earth and warm otherwise.  But the real triumph here is how Swasey handles his transformation into a vampire.  It's much more believable and less cheesy.  There are no electronic vocal effects to alter his voice, just a raspy change of vocal tone on Swasey's part.  Instead of guffawing, he gives a creepy chuckle, and his dialogue sounds like this: "Oh, I WAS the doctor, dear.  But I've changed!"  Swasey's rendition of this moment is all the more convincing because of it.  One thing that struck me as odd is his death scene; I liked that Kramer reverted to his natural voice for the doctor when he utters his last line "Doris, please forgive me!".  Here, Swasey shouts "Doris, please!" which doesn't sound all that different from his vampire one.  It's not a major detriment, just an interesting change of pace.  Otherwise, I had no major issues.

GRECO (Steve Bulen, Streamline Version; Jay Hickman, Sentai Version) -- The final major character to the story is the spoiled, arrogant elder's son from Doris's village of Ransylva.  He is sort of like Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast:  he wants Doris for himself and uses bullying to get his way (first, from informing everyone in the village about Doris's contamination, and later on, threatens to kill Lamika while blinding Doris with a blaring candle).  At one point, he is also flanked by two girls.  Ultimately, however, his role is rather small, and he gets bumped off even before the story is over.  Bulen's vocal tone for the character is a bit too wispy sounding, although he handles his "villainous" moments fairly well (particularly when he screams about Doris' condition).  Simultaneously, however, he is also handicapped with lots of stilted dialogue (including one very rushed "You want to play rough, huh?") and also speaks with a rather phony and laughable accent.  Again, it's an average performance, at best.
When I first heard Hickman's take on the character, I was surprised.  He provides Greco with a Southern drawl which I found odd initially, at least until I realized that the setting of Ransylva is in some ways, similar to an old Western town.  I soon got over that discomfort because aside from this new choice of style, Hickman gives Greco a lot more character than Bulen ever did.  His voice fits Greco's appearance just right, and he does a fine job of bringing out Greco's smugness.  He even delivers a couple of funny lines such as "I'll leave you with Fangey here" and "That kid jus' called me a stinkin' liar!"  There's a slight comical edge to his Greco that Bulen lacks, which makes the character arguably more interesting than just another run-of-the-mill suitor.

MAYOR ROHMAN (Tom Wyner, Streamline Version; David Wald, Sentai Version) -- The mayor of Ransylva only appears in one scene, and his primary role is to initially sentence the contaminated Doris to the internment camp until Ferringo and D intervene on her behalf.  Streamline's version casts Wyner in the part, and while his voice is OK, his few lines are hampered by stacatto-sounding dialogue and a vague accent, which, again, comes across as unconvincing.  It's not a BAD performance, but it's not as good as it could have been.
Wald, by contrast, gives the character a much more authoritative tone and sounds very more natural in his delivery.  Luckily, he also disguises his voice enough to the point that the viewer doesn't even realize that he's also voicing Count Lee.  One thing I initially wasn't sure of was the Southern accent, again from my over familiarness with the first version.  At least until I remembered what the setting was supposed to be.

SHERIFF DALTON (Kirk Thornton, Streamline Version; Mark X. Laskowski, Sentai Version) -- This character only has one or two lines, so I'm not sure if this really counts.  But both Thornton and Laskowski seemed fine to me; neither outstanding nor dreadful, but functional.

SNAKE WOMEN / MEDUSA (Joyce Kurtz, Streamline Version; Tiffany Grant, Sentai Version) -- When D storms Count Lee's castle for the first time, he is cast into the catacombs where he comes across this trio of beautiful, sultry women strumming lyres who turn out to be ravenously dangerous lamia.  Compared to most of her other co-stars in the Streamline dub, Kurtz doesn't come across too badly as these characters.  The low-pitched tone as the sisters works fine and she cackles with demonic relish during the transformation.  Only quibble is that sometimes she overacts and the death scream is weaker than the rest of her take.  Otherwise, she's more or less OK.
Sentai, meanwhile, makes the unusual decision to cast the woman best known as Asuka Langley Sohryu from Evangelion.  As it turns out, it couldn't have been a more fitting choice.  Like Kurtz, she gives the sisters a very sultry tone dripping with delicious evil.  Not a single moment during her brief screen time does Grant show any vocal cuing to her more better known role, which makes her unrecognizable turn all the more complimentary.  One thing she does differently is that she doesn't cackle as madly as Kurtz and whatever she does is very… understated, but she does do her death scream more convincingly, if a tad annoyingly.  Tiffany should play more roles of this type, this performance really shows that I've underestimated her as a voice actress.

The rest of the cast are mostly just minor roles in both dubs.  One thing that I will say is that Count Lee's monsters, the bat like Gimlet, the hunchbacked "spider" monster Chullah and the titanic Golem all sound less cheesy than their Streamline counterparts.  (The latter monster utters a very cheesy "GOING SOMEWHERE?!" in the former version, whereas here he simply roars his name.)  There isn't any major dialogue here, just vocal sound effects, and their respective actors in the Sentai version play them more convincingly.  

Performances aside, there are other issues with Streamline's dub.  One of them is the script adaptation, as applied by Wyner and Macek.  It is a very liberal translation with quite a lot of alterations from the subtitled script and a fair share of added-in dialogue.  I often don't have a problem with this approach for dubs like Disney's Kiki's Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky or Funimation's Fullmetal Alchemist -- mainly because all three somehow manage to still maintain the essence of the original and are executed with skill and professionalism.  With D, however, the liberal/added-in approach suffers not just in the fact the extra dialogue is either cliche or corny, but that the dialogue doesn't flow very smoothly.  As mentioned earlier, much of the script is choppy and stilted, with lines that are either forced or laughably delivered.  Of course, considering the nature of the source material, it would be difficult to imagine how it could be improved, but one listen to modern dubs and this, well, it only shows how far dubbing has come since the early '90s.

By comparison, Matt Greenfield's script is much better written and sounds nowhere nearly as stilted.  It's more faithful as well, dialing back most of the added in dialogue that Wyner's script suffered from.  Count Lee no longer talks in the opening scene, for instance, and Doris thankfully doesn't scream so much.  Fans who found fault with Streamline's treatment of that scene should rejoice.  What's also notable is that Greenfield's version restores much of the nuance and subtlety that Streamline's version misses out on.  Example #1:  the scene where Count Lee learns about the existence of D.  In the Streamline version, he acts as though he knew about D from the start and as such, comes across as monologuing to himself.  This time, Lee communicates with the shifting mist in his throne room as if he is having a conversation, and is surprised to find out about his newest foe and anticipating something to relive his 10,000 years of boredom.  Better still is the writing of that scene; it's not as "on the nose" as the Streamline version, which struck many as "dumbing down"; it sounds more fluent and less choppy. Example #2:  the scene where Doris implores D to bite her.  The Streamline version ends that scene with an exchange that is ripped off from The Empire Strikes Back.  (Doris:  I love you.  D:  I know.)  Sentai handles this bit much more closer to the translation with less corny dialogue.  (Doris:  D, please.  D:  I can't.)  The scene feels less "on the nose" and all the more genuine because of Sentai's choices.  The new dub script also bears the distinction of getting D's species right.  For the first time, the character is referred to as a "dhampir."  Both the Streamline dub and the otherwise superior Bloodlust mistranslated this term as "dampiel" and "dunpeal".  There are a few moments when Greenfield does add in lines, but luckily, they are brief and not out of character with the material.  For instance, Count Lee uttering "Behold, your hero!" to Doris when he's showing the latter an image of D being tortured by the Snake Women being one such example.  Cliche though that line may be, both Wald's natural delivery of it and the timing dilutes any potential negatives.    Likewise, Lee's additional uttering of "How invigorating!" after he murders Rei in a most repulsive manner, although not part of the subtitles, is again, brief and handled well.  The only minor quibble about Sentai's otherwise superior script is one line being undubbed, which is D telling L'armica to go back to the castle during the scene where he, Dan, and Doris all return after a frightful confrontation with Greco and the converted Dr. Ferringo.  Streamline's version, in its defense retains that line, but Sentai's doesn't.  I'm not sure if this was a case of Greenfield overlooking that line or an intentional omission to make the movie less "dumbed down", but either way, it's an insignificant, but nonetheless curious change.

Another word of note:  the opening prologue in this new version is accompanied by a sonorous voiceover, probably David Wald or Andy McAvin.  This was something that the Streamline dub didn't do, but keep in mind the Japanese version of Vampire Hunter D also had voiceover.  So this isn't a case of adding in dialogue for the heck of it, but staying true to the original.

Streamline's version of Vampire Hunter D also made a couple of minor alterations to Tetsuya Komuro's moody score.  Most of it is just stretching the music tracks from the original OST, making them longer to the point where they drift into scenes involving dialogue.  I am not necessarily vehemently against this practice, as there are times when it can be tastefully done.  However, there are two instances where the extension of the music comes across as out of place with the visuals:  1) When D falls into the catacombs and passes by skeletal corpses (referred to by his left hand as the remnants of a war ten-thousand years ago).  2) After D gores Golem to death and escapes into the forest, with Rei Ginsei on his trail, leading to the latter to do a surprise attack while he witnesses his comrade Gimlet impaled to a tree.  Here the extended tracks sound triumphant and distinctively calmer, as if the hero has escaped to safety.  The resulting changes make the scenes jarring.  Whether this was due to the music and effects track having them or a case of practices to make the movie less quiet and more "accessible", it's a curious choice.  If you're going to add more music do it properly to the point where it matches the action on screen, not just for the sake of it.  Sentai's version does away with all that, and the silent scenes are now scoreless.  This makes the two aforementioned scenes play much more effectively.

The final major nail in the coffin for the Streamline dub of Vampire Hunter D is on a technical level.  The dialogue itself has a very hollow, flat quality which almost gives the impression that the dub was recorded in a sound studio with poor acoustics.  Or perhaps with outdated audio equipment.  Either way, it results for a sound mix that is lacking in dynamic range and clarity--remixing it to Dolby Digital 5.1 as the DVD release does only succeeds in highlighting these technical faults.  Considering that the dub was made in 1992, part of this is understandable, but that is also is very unevenly synched to the mouth movements further excacerbates its overall dated quality.  The dub was originally a mono recording, and the remix itself feels very unnatural; the center channel conveys the quality of the dub in its form while the artificial attempts to remix the dialogue/music into stereo in the left and right front channels and muddy sound effects in the rear channels only succeed in making the Streamline dub sound muddy.  The Sentai dub sounds much more crisply recorded and clean by comparison; of course it helps that technology has come a long way since the 90's.  But more importantly, the music and sound effects sound fantastic and are no longer artificial.  There are even subtle reverb effects in certain scenes that Streamline's version doesn't provide, giving it a much more dramatic and "complete" presentation.

All in all, Streamline's Vampire Hunter D has not aged very well; perhaps it may have been marginally better than many other dubs made during its era, but due to the laughable accents, stiff performances and dialogue and poor sound quality, it comes across very amateurish, especially when a good majority of today's dubs have set much higher standards.  I can just imagine this dub being highlighted on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.  2001's Vampire Hunter D--Bloodlust, helmed by Jack Fletcher, is a much better effort and more easy to listen to.

Sentai's redub of this title has a couple of imperfections, too (the use of Southern accents for certain characters, for instance, one weak performance and a curiously undubbed line), but on the whole it's a very welcome improvement over the original.  It does a better job of bringing Vampire Hunter D closer to its intended roots as a serious film with only occasional humor.  As mentioned, critics and the anime community in general were not kind to the Streamline version, staking it with scathing reviews.  Time will tell how Sentai's newer version will be received (either way, old-school fans of the Streamline version will find it jarring and make complaints about how the former dub is "superior" to the newer one).  Personally, however, I am quite pleased with the end results of Sentai's version and for me, it enhanced a mediocre movie into a flawed minor classic.  I still maintain Bloodlust is superior, but Sentai nonetheless deserves kudos for dusting off the original Vampire Hunter D and providing a fresh new coat of paint… er, blood.  Newcomers should be fine with it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sailor Moon: The Viz Dub: Season 1 and R (SPOILERS)

When I heard the news last year that Viz was redubbing ALL of Sailor Moon, I was excited. The bad memories of the, let's be honest, weak DiC and Cloverway dubs would be wiped away clean. And while I've heard about some issues with the Blu-rays in terms of picture quality, the praise for the new dub has been almost unanimous. Produced at Studiopolis, the new dub in terms of adaptive script and direction has just the right mix of exaggeration in comedy and threat, while also delivering real pathos and emotion at the proper moments. And the cast so far? Magnificent (and apparently approved by original mangaka Naoko Takeuchi herself). Outside of one actor I'll get to (and he improves vastly in a pretty short amount of time), they're all fantastic right out of the gate. On to the show!

Note: I'll be dividing this into sections. First, the Sailor Guardians themselves as well as their friends and family, then the villains divided by season (the Dark Kingdom in 1, the siblings and then the Black Moon Clan in R). Also there are a BUTTLOAD of one-shot characters who I would have to create a whole other article to talk about, and it's difficult to find credits for them, so let me just say that actors like Megan Hollingshead, Grant George, Kyle Hebert, Vic Mignogna, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Julie Ann Taylor and others do a great job filling in the gaps. Also, I'm very much looking forward to Erica Mendez and Lauren Landa's takes on Haruka/Sailor Uranus and Michiru/Sailor Neptune in the upcoming Sailor Moon S season, as well as Christine Marie Cabanos' Hotaru/Sailor Saturn. I'm sure they'll do great!


USAGI TSUKINO/SAILOR MOON (Stephanie Sheh)-This is probably the performance that would have made or broken the series to begin with. Usagi is a hard role. She's simultaneously friendly, compassionate and determined, while also being a selfish, food-crazed crybaby. That's an interesting mix already, but trying to act it is a tall order. To my immense pleasure, Stephanie is more than up to the task (she's had a good couple of years, between this, the businesslike Zhu Li in Korra, and her sweetly sinister Nui Harime in Kill La Kill). From the first seconds, she dominates the role with a forceful, yet multifaceted performance that stretches her to her limits, and then she goes beyond those. Of particular note to me is a scene in R where Rubeus is attempting to crush her with gravity powers; to his (and our!) astonishment, she continues to get back up, and her determined speech is acted with fist-pumping badassery by Stephanie. It's a perfect blend of her different attitudes (so is an earlier scene where she almost wishes Chibi-Usa WOULD get captured and even as she says it, you can sense her regret at thinking such thoughts before she expresses said regret). In a show full of fantastic, emotional acting, Stephanie and Usagi shine the brightest.

MAMORU CHIBA/TUXEDO MASK (Robbie Daymond)-And now we come to an actor who took a while to impress me. It's not that Robbie is ever really BAD, not at all. But there's a notable stiffness even to his playful moments in Mamoru's first few appearances, as well as Tuxedo Mask. Thankfully, he quickly improves, and by the end of season 1 manages to strike a nice balance between Mamoru's humor and angst, Tuxedo Mask's charming cheesiness, and the more wicked, possessed-by-evil Endymion. By R, he's improved even more, adding a lived-in, loving tease to Mamoru's relationship with Usagi, and a warm, paternal vibe with Chibi-Usa. I don't think it will ever be my favorite, but kudos to Robbie for improving so much in a short amount of time.

AMI MIZUNO/SAILOR MERCURY (Kate Higgins)-There's always been a curious, almost ethereal quality to Kate's voice, as if she's not quite on the same plane of reality as the rest of us. This often works well for Ami, who's the bookworm/nerd of the group and as such tends to look at more of a big picture point of view, or can be slightly aloof. However, Ami is nothing if not ultimately loyal to her friends, and Kate's performance brings this out just as much as her oddity, as well as mining a lot of humor from said quirks. Excellent work.

REI HINO/SAILOR MARS (Cristina "Vee" Valenzuela)-Cristina's been around for a while as an actress and singer, but it's only in the last few years that she's been getting really juicy parts, such as Homura in Madoka Magica. Rei is a much more...passionate role than that, however, with Cristina reaching into her deeper registers (although compared to some of the other actresses, she's not THAT deep). It's a great, showy performance, full of anger, yearning and comedy, especially in her frequent arguments with Usagi. She even gets to show off and sing in one episode of R, doing a great job as usual. Cristina also brings out the bottomless compassion and friendship Rei has with the others, even as they argue; in her final scenes and death in the penultimate episode of Season 1 (don't worry, she gets better), Cristina goes all out, mixing unadulterated badassery with wistful regret and encouragement for Usagi. Great work from top to bottom.

MAKOTO KINO/SAILOR JUPITER (Amanda C. Miller)-A relative newcomer to the scene, Amanda has a really cool, unique and deep voice. This fits extremely well with the taller, older Makoto, the most overtly tough and badass of the Guardians (her intro scene is kicking three punks to the curb when they're threatening Usagi with almost alarming ease). Amanda also navigates the other parts of Makoto's personality, such as her yearning for her old sempai that broke her heart, or her go-getter attitude when it comes to tasks like cooking, with aplomb. Since Makoto is probably my favorite character, Amanda's performance is my favorite of the non-Usagi Guardians.

MINAKO AINO/SAILOR VENUS (Cherami Leigh)-Primarily known for her work on Funimation dubs (and she still works for them on occasion, such as being a regular on Fairy Tail as Lucy), Cherami moved to LA recently and has been appearing in projects produced there more and more. She has a memorable, chirpy voice that can suit a wide variety of personalities. For the bubbly and bright-eyed Minako, she's not being challenged too much in either acting or vocal range, but she nonetheless does a great job, especially in the episode where we learn about Minako's backstory as a vigilante in London.

LUNA (Michelle Ruff)-An alien cat who serves as a guiding force for the Guardians, Luna is probably my favorite character amongst the supporting cast for her helpful but exasperated attitude. At times she seems less like a magical guardian and more like a nagging parent. Michelle, working in the lower part of her range, manages to mix wisdom and comedy to great effect, doing well with the exposition as well as the humor. A particular highlight is Episode 31, where she's practically the lead in a crazy adventure involving Zoisite, a fat cat named Rhett Butler and sewers. I can't wait to hear her in the Sailor Moon S tie-in film, where she's also more or less the lead; whatever she does, I'm sure it will be great.

ARTEMIS (Johnny Yong Bosch)-A male white cat of Luna's species and Minako's companion, Artemis isn't quite as fun as Luna, but he still gets a lot of good comedy nagging bits, and Johnny works more in his Vash range to mine humor and likability in those moments.

NARU OSAKA (Danielle Judovits, credited as "Danielle Nicole")-Danielle's been around for a while, and she's always done good work with her high-pitched, endearing and youthful voice in roles like Kitty Pryde in Wolverine and the X-Men or Tenten on Naruto. She's very believably teenaged as Usagi's best "normal" friend Naru. Her main drama comes when she falls in love with the villainous Nephrite (or "Mr. Sanjoin") in Season 1, and she does a fantastic job of making Naru sound a bit foolish in her devotion, but also very sincere in that love (so much so that it ends up impacting Nephrite, but we'll get to that soon enough). Danielle does an equally good job with her grief in the aftermath of his death, as well as her resolve to keep going forward. Excellent work.

GURIO UMINO (Benjamin Diskin)-....well, this is certainly unexpected. I primarily know Ben from his work on shows like The Spectacular Spider-Man, Naruto Shippuden, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where he mostly plays aloof or angry young men with big chips on their shoulders. Occasionally on shows like Kids Next Door, he reaches into more goofy territory (and he did play a quirky but helpful droid in one Clone Wars arc), or more optimistic hot-blooded characters like Shoutmon on Digimon Fusion, but nothing in his range ever suggested that he could do Umino, a stereotypical nerd if there ever was one. Ben goes full bore in the role, attacking the goofy voice and attitude with glee, yet somehow managing to make Umino likable and sympathetic in his silly nerdery (particularly in an episode where he dresses up as Tuxedo Mask to try and protect Naru, and is so endearing that we feel bad for the guy when the monster of the week attacks him).

SHINGO, IKUKO AND KENJI TSUKINO (Nicholas Roye, Tara Platt, Keith Silverstein)-Usagi's family doesn't get a whole ton of screentime, but whenever they do, the actors here all do a great job. Nicholas Roye's Shingo is probably my favorite, being a bratty younger brother who nonetheless has a good heart and loves her sister, even if he'd rather die than admit it. Tara does a good mom voice, and gets some solid bits of comic exasperation at things like Usagi's poor grades, while Keith does a fine "nice dad" voice and performance (truthfully, I'm much more interested in his upcoming role as the hammy Professor Tomoe in S).

MOTOKI FURUHATA (Lucien Dodge)-Lucien has another, much more FUN role coming up in Zoisite, but he does fine with the "nice guy" Motoki as well.

YUUICHIROU KUMADA (Wally Wingert)-Wally's always had a great sense of decency and heroism in most of his performances (though check out his Rufus Shinra in the Final Fantasy VII extended universe or the Riddler in the Arkham games if you want him in more sinister territory), and that extends to the goofy, bumbling yet determined Yuuichirou. He's probably one of my favorite recurring characters as a result, especially in his relationship with Rei.

REI'S GRANDFATHER (Michael Sorich)-This is pretty standard territory for Sorich (enthusiastic, slightly perverted older man), but he manages to steal his scenes quite nicely whenever he pops up.

CHIBI-USA, BLACK LADY (Sandy Fox)-Sandy has been doing young girl voices for a long time now, and I'm not convinced there isn't sorcery involved in her still being able to do it at 53 years old. Whatever the cause, she makes for a bratty but endearing Chibi-Usa, managing to get her childishness across without ever getting into "tear my eardrums out" annoying territory. When she morphs into the older Black Lady near the end of the R season, Sandy does an equally great job "aging up" the Chibi-Usa voice, managing to make it sound believably adult but still containing remnants of the child within. An excellent performance for a character I didn't expect to find nearly as compelling as I did.

SAILOR PLUTO (Veronica Taylor)-Pluto doesn't get a ton of screentime in R (apparently she has more in future seasons), but Veronica, one of my favorite old-school New York VAs (apparently her move to LA is fairly recent), manages to give her a nice combination of dignity, ferocity (in the brief scene where she attacks Sailor Moon, falsely thinking her to be a foe), and kindness. I'm very interested to hear more. (Side note: Veronica played a one-shot dubiously accented figure skater in a first season episode, getting to show off her range in a much funnier, more exaggerated performance)

 QUEEN SERENITY (Wendee Lee)-She's not around for very long, but Wendee manages to get an almost Disney Princess vibe to the original Queen of the Moon Kingdom in her brief appearance, and does quite well with her exposition mixed with wise encouragement.


QUEEN BERYL (Cindy Robinson)-The sad truth of the matter is that Beryl honestly doesn't do that much. She sits on her ass for pretty much the whole season, only getting up to do stuff like punish her underlings or FINALLY confronting Sailor Moon near the end. Despite all this, Cindy gives a very memorable performance, with her low, husky voice complementing the more remote, cold Beryl's personality. She even gets an evil laugh in now and then!

JADEITE (Todd Haberkorn)-Todd has a very distinct voice and speech patterns, but he has a pretty good range as an actor despite me being able to pick him out even in something like a crowd scene. He's played flawed heroes like Ling in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Firo in Baccano, or Death the Kid in Soul Eater, more hot-blooded ones like Natsu in Fairy Tail and mischievous comedy characters like Hikaru in Ouran or the titular Sgt. Frog. Jadeite is a bit of a change of pace for him, being much more of a sniveling, villainous toady. Todd has a lot of fun with it as a result, chewing into his lines with glee, even the more subdued ones, and by the end of his appearances really makes you love to hate him (especially since he sneers at the idea of women being able to defeat him, and then is SMACKED WITH GODDAMN JET PLANES in pretty short order). Chalk up another win for Todd.

NEPHRITE (Liam O'Brien)-Liam, to my surprise, started out a bit on shaky ground here. His voice was so unusually deep for him that I honestly wasn't sure where he was going with it. He smooths things out pretty quickly, though, and does a great job with Nephrite's manipulations, as well as his ultimate softening and redemption-by-death. He and Danielle both make his final scenes a real tearjerker.

ZOISITE (Lucien Dodge) and KUNZITE (Patrick Seitz)-Here's where Lucien gets to have some REAL fun. As the super smartass, and awesomely gay, Zoisite, he steals scenes and dines on the scenery with joy. And yet he manages to make Zoisite rather endearing despite his villainy, and we feel bad for both him and Kunzite (his lover) when Beryl dispassionately executes him for one too many failures. The subsequent scene of Zoisite asking to die beautifully, and Kunzite granting that request, is surprisingly touching as a result of both actors' performances. Speaking of, Patrick uses his smoother tones for Kunzite, sounding deep yet elegant, and blending his love for Zoisite and his over-the-top villainy quite well.

QUEEN METALLIA (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)-The ultimate villain of Season 1, Mary's distinctive, deep voice lends a nice sense of threat to this mostly noncorporeal baddie, aided by some nice vocal effects.


AN AND AIL/NATSUMI AND SEIJURO GINGA (Dorothy Elias Fahn, credited as "Johanna Luis", and Brian Beacock)-Ehhhhhhh. To be honest, outside of some fun comedy episodes, the opening arc of R is a bit tedious and repetitive, and these villainous twins honestly aren't that interesting. Despite this, Dorothy and Brian give good performances, mixing comedy, menace and their ultimate redemption fairly well.


THE SPECTRE SISTERS: PETZ, CALAVERAS, KOAN AND BERTHIER (Jessica Gee, Cassandra Lee Morris, Danielle Judovits [credited as "Claudia Lenz"], and Cindy Robinson)-The "quirky miniboss squad" of R, the sisters are all brought to life wonderfully by their respective actresses, and I was pleased to see them live and turn to the side of good in large part thanks to the acting. Jessica Gee's deeper, older voice fits the more bitter Petz (and softens nicely in a later scene where she tends to Saphir), Cassandra has some fun as the more energetic Calaveras, Danielle makes Koan immensely sympathetic in her lovelorn heartbreak, and Cindy reaches into her higher pitch to make Berthier ultimately the most sensitive of the group.

RUBEUS (Steve Staley, credited as "Steve Cannon")-Man, I don't think I've heard Steve have this much fun in AGES outside of the also-recent Kill La Kill dub. Rubeus is a cruel, savvy manipulator, which Steve has definitely played before, but given that this is Sailor Moon, he's much more...demonstrative about things. As such, Steve really gets to crank things up acting-wise, even in the quieter scenes, and it's probably one of my favorite villainous performances in the dub so far. Of particular note are his cruel dismissals of the Sisters when they fail him, as well as his final moments when he begs Esmeraude for her help before she leaves him to die (which at this point he kind of deserves, frankly).

WISEMAN (Steve Kramer)-Steve has been around for a lonnnnnngggg time in the anime industry, possessing a tough, older voice that can be used for a variety of characters, such as the uncertain yet heroic Terry Sanders in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, hot-blooded Bang Shishigami in the BlazBlue video games, the wise badassery of the Third Hokage in Naruto or the cynical Moss in Wolf's Rain. This is smoother territory than I'm used to from Steve; as the Grim Reaper-esque villain, he alternates between dire predictions of the future, cunning manipulation, and full-on evil gloating and laughing (there's also some cool echo-y vocal effects to make him sound even more otherworldly). Steve navigates this all with ease (personal favorite delivery: after Usagi refuses to give in to his illusions, he snarls, "Well, in that case, DIE!"), providing a truly formidable final foe for the Guardians to face this season.

ESMERAUDE (Rena Strober, credited as "Rena S. Mandel")-Another newcomer to anime work, Rena has a fantastic, haughty voice well suited to the vain, arrogant Esmeraude. Like many actors in the series, she does a good job mixing the threat and menace with Esmeraude's more childish, comic temper tantrums. Also, she NAILS the "noblewoman's laugh" (the "O HO HO HO HO" one). That one's hard for a lot of English actors to replicate (the same goes for hot-blooded screaming on the level of the Japanese track), but Rena does it so well you'd swear they were just using the Japanese audio.

PRINCE DEMANDE (Matthew Mercer)-Interestingly, this role was originally cast with Christopher Corey Smith, but shortly after announcing that he was playing the role on Twitter, he was replaced (Chris stressed, however, that it was not because he had violated a non-disclosure agreement in his announcement). I confess to being interested in hearing what his take might have been, but I'm pretty happy with Matthew all the same. His deep, smooth voice fits Demande perfectly, and he does a good job acting the arrogant villainy and obsession with Sailor Moon, as well as the genuine love for his brother Saphir that ultimately lifts the wool from his eyes.

BLUE SAPHIR (Greg Felden)-Another anime newcomer, Greg has a strong, clear voice that suits the cautious, worried Saphir, and he does an excellent job with scenes like his warnings that Wiseman is not to be trusted, as well as the final, more desperate moments where, injured, he reconnects with Petz (they were apparently lovers at some point), is quietly amazed by the Guardians' compassion, and begs his brother to listen, before sadly being killed for his troubles and letting out a quiet, graceful "Petz, I'm sorry..."

That's it for now. I plan to further examine the dub when S, Super S, Sailor Stars and the three tie-in films are released, although those will obviously be shorter than this monstrosity. Enjoy!

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.


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.


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.