Monday, March 3, 2014

The Wind Rises

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

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

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

JIRO (Zach Callison - Young; Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Adult) — There are two different versions of the main character in this docu-fantasy.  When we first meet Jiro, he is a young, bespectacled boy who dreams (quite literally) of flying through the skies in an airplane.  Callison does a very fine job as the young Jiro, sounding appropriately young and exuberant, but also restrained.  (The casting of children for the child parts in the beginning is one of the strongest points of the dub.)
The grown-up Jiro, however, is unfortunately the performance that I liked the least in the dub.  Now in all fairness, Joseph is not eccentrically cast; the voice he has is fine for the role.  But I didn't find him compelling as Jiro; to me he sounded like he was giving a stiff, monotonous performance, which is disappointing considering that many of the leads in Disney's other dubs (eccentrically cast or not) have done well.  However, Levitt may not be at fault for this less than stellar turn.  Apparently in the Japanese version (which I haven't seen), Jiro's voice actor (ironically, former Miyazaki animator Hideaki Anno -- now well known for Nadia and Evangelion -- turned in a similarly ineffective performance.  I don't know it's just me or if it's the style of the character, but either way, this is, I'm sorry to say, the dullest performance in any Disney dub I've ever listened to.  Chances are you may think otherwise, but I just wasn't thrilled with him.  (Some will argue that he's trying to emulate Anno's take, which, IMO, has the potential danger of coming across as a carbon copy instead of a genuine performance, especially if the original was apparently not as good as it could be.)

NAOKO (Emily Blunt) — By contrast, Blunt acquits herself fairly well as Jiro's beloved.  The voice she uses is appropriate and her acting isn't too bad (she sounds especially good during her "sick" scenes with Jiro in the latter half of the movie).  Good as she is, however, it unfortunately highlights the weakness of the love story in The Wind Rises, or at least the dubbing of it.  When Levitt sounds as wooden as a hard rock, however much emotion she puts into the part nullifies any chemistry between the two.  If not for that problem, Blunt would have ranked much higher.  As it is, her performance is adequate at best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Demon City Shinjuku


I'm embarrassed to admit that I even viewed this dub.  Not very often do dubs offend my ears or leave me with a bad aftertaste, but I knew there was something very, very, very odd about the English track of Demon City Shinjuku when I first saw it, and now years later, I regret doing so.

Central Park Media published this dub in the early '90s, but they had nothing to do with it; it was produced by the infamous Manga Entertainment UK, who has had a poor reputation with their dubs (from what I've heard).  If Shinjuku's dub is any indication, then it's not hard to see why.

There are so many problems with this dub that I don't know where to begin.  Perhaps it's best to start with George Roubicek's script adaptation.  There are times when I DO love liberal adaptations (Disney's Kiki and Laputa come to mind), but with Shinjuku, it backfires due to outrageously cheesy lines (which, granted, is somewhat appropriate for this show), but also with the overemphasis on harsh profanity: two such lines being "I've got better things to do than saving the world's a**hole" and "I'm gonna tear his head off and shove it up his a**!"  Oh, and how about, "Like f*** I will!"  Reading this, one wonders, what were the English staff thinking?  Aren't there better ways to present a "mature" run-of-the-mill slash and hack demon action adventure from Yoshiaki Kawajiri than throwing in profane phrases every one or two seconds?  Other problems include the naming of Shinjuku "Monster City", which feels somewhat odd.  (This is partially because in the U.K., this film WAS distributed as Monster City.)

What really brings the dub down, though, is the use of accents.  I like when accents are used for shows that require them or to add a bit more flair to them.  But for this one, it is totally detrimental for several reasons.  One, the show is set in Japan, and so having characters sound American, Irish, British, Spanish, Southern feels bizarrely out of place.  Two, the accents are badly faked , and matters aren't helped much by the dialogue.  Even though the idea of having one character (the leading lady, Sayaka) sounding British due to her not being in Japan for a long time is intriguing, the idea works better on paper than it does on screen.  Even a supposedly mysterious character (Mephisto) comes across sounding very cheesy with the Transylvanian accent.

There are only five actors credited for the dub.  None of them turn in particularly memorable performances, although for the sake of my standards for my review, here goes:

KYOYA (Brad Lavelle) — This is probably the only voice that sounds fairly decent.  It's a good "punk" young man's voice that works in favor of the character's perverted, fresh-talking nature, and his delivery is fairly solid throughout.

SAYAKA (Theresa Gallagher) — As mentioned, employing a British accent for Sayaka is an interesting idea, but it works against the character onscreen.  That aside, she isn't TOO terrible in her delivery, or at least from what I remember.

MASTER RAI (George Little) — I have the feeling that whoever played this character tried to make his voice sound elderly, because that's exactly what the performance emphasizes.  His dialogue is very stilted, too.

REBI RAH (Bob Sessions) — I actually like the voice as a gruff street worker, but for Rah, it just isn't menacing or scary enough, even though the laugh is passable.  Then again, considering that this villain doesn't have much of a personality (he's just your typical guffawing, power-hungry badguy with powers), it'd be hard to do any kind of justice to this character.

CHIBI (Alan Sherman) — In the Japanese version, this little street kid with a two-headed Doberman is not named, but in the dub he is named "Chibi".  He has a nasally sounding voice that would probably be fine for a smart-ass sidekick, but considering that this is a boy, it works against it.  The Spanish accent doesn't help either.  (And there's also one moment in the film where his mouth moves... and no sound is heard!)

MEPHISTO (Gareth Armstrong) — The lower-pitched voice gives this ambiguous character a charm, but the Transylvanian accent feels forced.  It also lends to the "so bad it's funny" quality of the dub.

The acting isn't so much the problem as is the dialogue, but there are some minor characters who do sound rather dull or overacted.  But who's to blame for this dub?  Is it Manga's attempts to sell this to 18-year olds?  Or maybe that the material is not all that special to begin with?  The bizarre ues of accents?

Whatever the reason, Demon City Shinjuku's dub obviously shows that it is a product of its era--a hastily produced, sub-par affair lacking in anything inspiring or memorable.  In other words, it's a dub you can pretty much pass and not miss much at all.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Romeo X Juliet

Being as big a Shakespeare buff as I am, I was intrigued by the news that Studio Gonzo (Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Samurai 7, Last Exile, Trinity Blood, Witchblade) had made an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and that Funimation would be dubbing it. The resulting show was admittedly much more in-spirit to the play rather than a strict adaptation. Here, the setting is the floating city "Neo" Verona, and Juliet is the last daughter of House Capulet, the rightful rulers who were murdered by the power-mad Prince Montague. Oh, and there are flying horses, Juliet cross-dresses as a boy named Odin to hide her identity (a common plot device in the Bard's comedies), William Shakespeare himself is something of a character, and pretty much all the characters take their names from ANY Shakespeare play that Gonzo can think of.

Needless to say, strict adaptation faithfulness is not on this series' mind. But I have certainly dealt with this before. Consider Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa's famous version of Macbeth that transplants the story into feudal Japan, or The Lion King, which basically reenacts Hamlet with animated animals in Africa. As a result, I enjoyed Romeo X Juliet immensely. It is gorgeously realized, INCREDIBLY emotional (seriously, I was a weeping mess by the end), beautifully scored by Hitoshi Sakamoto (known for video game scores such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII), and the English dub arguably makes the show.

Not that the Japanese version is bad, mind you. It is certainly well-acted, but the sub dialogue is considerably more "standard" anime. There is also the persistent "Engrish" problem, where attempts by Japanese actors to speak many English or Italian names/words just ends up sounding goofy. Sometimes this is less of a problem for me (Gankutsuou's sub version is arguably superior to its dub, sadly), but here I couldn't stop giggling. Let us move to the direction and writing to see first what makes this series shine in English dub form.

DIRECTION AND WRITING

Actors R. Bruce Elliott and J. Michael Tatum (who are also in the show, as we will see) share directing duties on the series, and both do an excellent job of guiding the actors' performances. Pretty much everyone, even the more over-the-top characters/performances, sounds smooth and natural. Really, for most of these actors, I'd say it's some of their best work ever.

This is especially impressive because head writer Taliesin Jaffe and his crew (including Elliott, Patrick Seitz, Anne Chenoweth and Stephanie Sheh) do not make things easy for themselves. Instead of keeping the fairly standard dialogue from the sub, Jaffe and company have elected to make the scripts sound as formally English and Shakespearean as possible.

First, they take many lines from Shakespeare's various plays (including of course the source material for this), and put them in new contexts. For example, one character (I won't say who because of spoilers) admonishes another "Did you think I didn't know a hawk from a handsaw?" This is Hamlet's famous assertion to his friends that he is actually playing at being mad, but now it reads as a character asserting that they are not easily fooled.

It works splendidly, and much of the rest of the dialogue, even when not taken from Shakespeare, is appropriately florid and poetic. It's not completely constant; modern terms like "ain't" and "crap" occasionally sneak their way in, but that's hardly a deal-breaker. The actors seem to relish the challenge, so now let us move on to our cast.

A quick note on accents: Surprisingly, most of the actors do NOT attempt bog-standard Received Pronunciation British accents for this tale. They adopt an elevated, formal diction, but only a couple actors actually go for "British" vocally, and we will get to them in due time. I am actually OK with this, as the series is not tied down to Elizabethan culture and dress in the way that, say, Black Butler is (which is FILLED with various accents in the dub). It's a more generalized fantasy look, with some obvious and welcome Italian influence.

THE CAST

JULIET (Brina Palencia)-I adore Brina. She seems to be one of those actresses who can confidently play any role you throw at her. And this Juliet has many modes all of her own; she is a daring Errol Flynn-type adventurer and defender of justice when disguised as the Red Whirlwind, a low-voiced boy when disguised as "Odin", the young, uncertain lover, and the fierce warrior of revolution as the series progresses to its endgame. Brina nails every last one of those modes; I would argue there is not a single false note in her performance, especially in the heartrending final scenes.

ROMEO (Chris Burnett)-At first glance, Chris' work seems less impressive than his love interest. After all, this Romeo is a much less headstrong, more soft and gentle version than his Shakespearean counterpart. The shy, higher-pitched voice for the character reflects that. As the series progresses, however, Chris gets many more opportunities to show off his acting range. This is also linked to Romeo's character development; he starts as a rather naive boy, and while he never loses his essential goodness, he becomes wiser in the ways of the world nonetheless. He captures that development rather wonderfully, and he even gets to be pretty badass in certain areas. He's also wonderful in the swoon-worthy romantic scenes with Juliet.

LORD MONTAGUE (Sean Hennigan)-Our villain of the piece, Montague is a splendidly hateful antagonist, cruel and charismatic in equal measure. Sean, quite simply, is one of the absolute high points of the dub, and considering this dub is overflowing with them, that's no small feat. He has an older, rougher but not frail voice that indicates long years of experience and authority. In Sean's performance, you can see why people revere Montague as a ruler... as well as why they fear him so greatly. Already in a unstable mental state as the series begins, Montague grows steadily more insane over the course of the story, and hearing Sean play that gradual breakdown is beautiful from an acting standpoint. He even gets to indulge in some psychotic, maniacal laughter by series' end, and you know how much I love that. (Also, the moment where he vows to kill Romeo's "whore" right in front of the boy is a great use of shocking language)

CORDELIA (Colleen Clinkenbeard)-I'm going to be totally honest here: I love characters like this, plain-dealing, honest and brave women who love their companions fiercely. Much like Brina, Colleen is another actress who can play seemingly any role, and this might be one of my favorites from her. She is never less than completely true and natural in the role, whether it's comforting Juliet, sobbing over the cruelties of fate in allowing Juliet to fall in love with the son of Montague, standing up to cruel guards, or sweetly falling in love with Romeo's friend Benvolio later in the series. It's one of my personal favorite performances in the entire dub.

BENVOLIO (Sean Michael Teague)-Benvolio is perhaps the closest in characterization to his Shakespearean counterpart in the series. He is calm, reasonable, a friend to all, and even gets to fall in love with a woman who is as sweet and brave as he is. Sean has one of those interesting male voices that is soft and higher-pitched that can also be used to hint at a greater strength and force under the surface. See his performances in Yu Yu Hakusho and Jyu Oh Sei for good examples of this. This quality is well used for Sean's Benvolio, who starts as a nobleman but rather happily adjusts to civilian life, and serves as a crucial ally for the revolution. It's an excellent performance.

WILLIAM (J. Michael Tatum)-Tatum is one of my favorite Texas VAs working today. He has a ridiculously wide range, both in vocal types and in characters he can play effectively. He's also just a straight-up excellent actor, always bringing every ounce of passion and skill he can muster to his characters, and seems to carefully consider the point-of-view of each role he plays. Look at his Kyouya in Ouran High School Host Club, a performance that is simultaneously dryly hilarious, inhumanly polite, and yet so carefully modulated that it can be hard to get a read on Kyouya as a person. And then there is William, this series' obvious Shakspeare stand-in. Tatum puts on an intentionally goofy British accent for the role (for a more "realistic" one, see his portrayal of Sebastian in Black Butler), and camps it up gloriously 90% of the time, but there are other, quieter moments where "Willy" manages to identify characters' emotional problems with surprising, keen insight. Tatum makes those shifts completely believable, in addition to being a memorably hammy scene-stealer. He also gets the bulk of re-contextualized Shakespeare lines, and has a total blast with those too.

AMELIA (Larissa Wolcott)-Amelia's not a terribly deep character, but she is a great source of comedy in the show as she complains about being sidelined in William's plays, or fawns over Juliet in her "Odin" disguise. Larissa gets to have a lot of fun with this high-pitched, screechy character, especially in the hilarious scene when she finally discovers Odin's true gender.

ANTONIO (Maxey Whitehead)-One of Maxey's first major roles at Funimation, Antonio is yet another stellar example of her skill at playing young boys believably. Not much else to say, although she does get to be funny in a bratty way in various scenes. No complaints here.

CONRAD (R. Bruce Elliott)-To my ears, it sounds like Bruce is putting on something of a British accent here, and it perfectly compliments his old, rugged voice. Conrad is a pretty typical "gruff old guy with a heart of gold" character that Bruce has played before, but he plays them wonderfully, and so he gets a lot of great smaller moments here.

FRANCISCO (Eric Vale)-Again, this is a pretty typical Eric Vale "pretty boy" character: strong and cunning, but also elegant and sophisticated. Vale is rock-solid for the entire series' run, especially in scenes where he teases his fellows, or works out potential strategies out loud.

CURIO (Robert McCollum)-By contrast, Robert doesn't get to play guys like this (stalwart and brave, but also very stubborn) very often. Usually he plays thugs or villains, such as Sensui in Yu Yu Hakusho or Donflamingo in One Piece. As such, it's nice to get to hear him stretch his range, and he's quite good here as Juliet's other childhood guardian.

PORTIA (Dana Schultes)-Portia is an admittedly standard mother character, but Schultes' sweet, matronly voice fits the role to a T, and she manages to give some real depth to the moments when Portia's bitter regrets from the past rise up again.

TYBALT (Mike McFarland)-Tybalt is an interesting inversion of his Shakespearean counterpart. Originally a hot-headed Capulet cousin of Juliet who lived for fighting Montagues, Tybalt here is a hot-headed son of Montague who despises the man for using and abandoning his Capulet mother, who died after giving birth. He's a very haunted figure, but also one who has the capacity for good; he grows to encourage Romeo and Juliet's romance late in the series, for instance. Mike is terrific in the role, giving Tybalt a low, almost Batman-esque voice that can nevertheless be soft and gentle at the right moments. He gets a particularly great scene in the final episodes when Tybalt berates Romeo for seemingly abandoning Juliet at her greatest hour of need; Mike knocks it out of the stratosphere in his righteously outraged performance.

MERCUTIO (Christopher Bevins)-Another interesting Shakespearean inversion, Mercutio here is a sniveling toady who sucks up to the various nobles around him in hopes of gaining greater status than his father, a former soldier who has grown fat and drunk. Chris gives Mercutio a sneering, sarcastic tone that steals scenes early on, and later shifts that to growing fear and madness as Mercutio tries to handle Montague's increasingly outrageous, petty and vindictive demands. The last we see of him, after a certain spoilery event, has him wandering into the shadows, with Chris doing some great insane giggling and cackling as an exit cue. I daresay it is his best dub performance yet.

HERMIONE (Carrie Savage)-Carrie gets to have some fun here, playing around with a pretty standard ingenue role that she gets a lot. She's very good in the early episodes where Hermione is lovesick over Romeo, then she gets to be jealous when she learns that Romeo loves another (getting to say "painted maples" in the process, which makes me cackle with glee), insisting that Juliet has somehow bewitched or seduced Romeo for her own gains. She gets two particularly great confrontation scenes with Juliet, one in a prison where she is shaken and confused by Juliet's worry over Romeo, and one later on when she nearly stabs Juliet, but the two end up reconciling when Hermione realizes that the former's love for Romeo is real. Carrie nails all of these moments wonderfully, as well as when Hermione acts atypically haughty to cover up her real feelings.

OPHELIA (Jamie Marchi)-A mysterious figure who grows in importance as the series goes on, Ophelia is a very creepy, enigmatic personality at first, and then she basically goes nuts by the end when Romeo and Juliet defy her plans for Neo Verona. Marchi's casting is quite a surprise, since she tends to play bubbly, sexy characters with tons of energy. But she's quite excellent, especially since Ophelia is one of the only characters who almost always speaks in verse in the English dub.

There are a lot of other great, smaller roles and characters, such as Kent Williams' Lancelot, who serves a crucial early role as a regular Neo Verona citizen who makes a heartbreaking sacrifice; Jerry Russell's Tubal, who gets a great final, heroic scene after spending most of the series as an antagonist; Leah Clark's feisty Regan; Chris Ayres' slimy Camillo; Chris Cason's corrupt priest; and so on. Amongst the extras and supporting cast, I daresay there are not any bad performances in the whole lot.

In conclusion, Romeo X Juliet is a great show, and easily one of my favorite English dubs ever. It's certainly one of Funimation's crowning achievements in that area. I would highly recommend the series and dub to anyone who needs a little more love story in their lives.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Katawa Shoujo: The Fantasy Cast

Katawa Shoujo is an English-language "visual novel" developed on the Internet over the past five years, finally reaching its full release this past spring. It tells the story of Hisao Nakai, a Japanese high school student who suffers a heart attack and learns that he has arrhythmia, a disease that causes irregular heartbeats. After a four-month stay in the hospital, he is released and transferred to Yamaku, a sort-of boarding school for the disabled. Here, he meets several girls, and the game allows you to take the "dating sim" route to get to know and fall in love with them.

Lest this sound like a trashy "guy has sex with disabled chicks" piece of exploitation, rest assured that Katawa Shoujo is actually pretty freaking good. It deals with the girls' various mental and physical conditions realistically and sympathetically, Hisao himself is an interesting protagonist (unlike the usual blank-slate heroes for this type of game), the few sex scenes are tastefully done (a few are even funny in their teenage awkwardness), and the writing is solid in both dialogue and plotting. Basically, this is just me hypothesizing a cast if the game had voice-acting at all, and because I think many of these roles would offer interesting challenges for certain voice actors.

As before, I'm not limiting myself in terms of voice-acting regions.

THE CAST

HISAO NAKAI (Johnny Yong Bosch)-This isn't new territory for Bosch, but I think he could bring some real spark and energy to this guy, especially since Hisao starts off so (understandably) bitter and angry about his upturned life. He also has a lot of sarcasm in him, and Bosch can nail that, as well as the more introspective moments later on in each storyline. Since Bosch also has an interesting speaking voice anyway, it would make the near-constant narration from Hisao seem less monotonous.

EMI IBARAZAKI (Tara Strong)-One of my favorite VAs of all time, one of Tara's unusual gifts is that she is able to sound youthful and energetic without being annoying, and she can focus that energy in almost any direction or type of voice. For the legless runner Emi (one of the themes of the game is that many of the characters refuse to let their disabilities define them or stop them from achieving their dreams), who could potentially come across as annoying, Tara could make her a real charmer with that skill. And because she's such a fantastic actress, she'd easily rock the hell out of Emi's more emotional sections.

HANAKO IKEZAWA (Brina Palencia)-Brina is another ridiculously talented, insanely versatile actress who can play almost anything you throw at her. Hanako is a delicate character to portray; she's a shy, withdrawn burn victim who has great difficulty opening up to others because of her past experiences with bullying about her appearance and the loss of her family in the fire that burned her so badly. I think an actress of Brina's caliber would relish the challenge of Hanako's slow-burn (morbid pun, sorry) character arc.

LILLY SATOU (Hynden Walch)-Hynden has actually done some anime before (Immortal Grand Prix, Gurren Lagann, Lucky Star) in addition to her Western animation; she's probably best known as either Starfire from Teen Titans or Princess Bubblegum from Adventure Time. She has a sweet, guileless optimism as well as a certain formality in many of her roles that would work perfectly for the tall, blind blonde with a sunny disposition and formal manner.

RIN TEZUKA (Olivia Olson)-Another Adventure Time alum (she frequently guest-stars as Marceline the Vampire Queen), Olivia has a very deadpan quality to her voice that could work perfectly for the loopy, terse-speaking Rin. And she's a good enough actress that I think she can certainly handle Rin's emotional awakening over the course of her storyline quite well.

SHIINA "MISHA" MIKADO (Kristin Schaal)-Schaal is a terrific comedy actress who's been dipping more and more into voicework lately; she had a small role as Trixie the Triceratops in Toy Story 3, as well as guest appearances on shows like Adventure Time, The Penguins of Madagascar and WordGirl. Currently, she's co-starring in two animated series: Louise on FOX's Bob's Burgers, and Mabel Pines on Disney Channel's Gravity Falls, which is easily her best VA performance yet. I think Schaal, with her seemingly limitless energy and crack comic timing, would be a perfect choice for the bubbly Misha. Yet I also think she's a good enough actress that she could handle the pink-haired dynamo's more dramatic scenes as well.

KENJI SETOU (Greg Ayres)-One of the few other male characters in the game, Kenji is a glasses-wearing conspiracy theorist who frequently rants about "feminist conspiracies" to anyone who will listen. Greg can do this kind of panicked, high-strung paranoia in his sleep.

NURSE (Crispin Freeman)-Crispin doesn't get to play truly nice, good-humored guys that often, so I think it'd be fun for him to loosen up as the head male nurse of the school.

AKIO MUTOU (Kelsey Grammer)-True, he's never done an anime before, but Kelsey is terrific in anything he does, be it live-action or voiceover work; he even managed to be a great Hank McCoy/Beast in the mediocre X-Men: The Last Stand. His best-known VA role is easily his collective performances as the villainous Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. He's also done film roles like Anastasia and its DTV spin-off Bartok the Magnificent (although not as the same character), Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2, Snowball in the TNT version of Animal Farm, the modern Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain, and other TV characters like Comedy Central's short-lived Gary the Rat. His main hallmarks as a VA are that wonderful, sonorous voice, a real sense of intelligence, and just as much energy. I think it'd be a really interesting challenge for him to channel that intelligence into a kind, passionate teacher who's also slightly out-of-it.

YUUKO SHIRAKAWA (Grey DeLisle)-Grey's another actress who can do almost anything, but I think she's a perfect fit for this neurotic, well-meaning librarian/waitress who acts as an older mentor to Hisao and company at some crucial moments.

MEIKO IBARAZAKI (Nicole Oliver)-Princess Celestia herself, Nicole has a very warm, motherly quality to her voice that could fit Emi's mom to a T.

AKIRA SATOU (Ashleigh Ball)-I think if Ashleigh deepened her Rainbow Dash voice a bit, she could have some real fun with Lilly's suit-wearing older sister.

SHINICHI NOMIYA (David Ogden Stiers)-Shinichi plays an important role in Rin's route as her main art instructor. He's an older, heavier gentlemen who is passionate about art, a bit of an eccentric, and also turns out to have a rather ugly side later on in her route. I think David could do a masterful job with this role.

SAE SAIONJI (Virginia Madsen)-Virginia has a great, smoky voice that's been well-utilized in voicework on shows like Justice League Unlimited, where she played the villainous Roulette, Raven's mother Adella on Teen Titans, Silver Sable in the MTV Spider-Man series, and the Wonder Woman animated DTV film, where she got to play Queen Hippolyta. That's actually a pretty good show of her acting range in itself, as those are all very different characters. I think she could do awesome stuff with this smaller, but still crucial role as Rin's other artistic supporter, and one that's a little more understanding and accepting of the girl's limits.

SHIZUNE HAKAMICHI (Jennifer Hale)-Shizune is a deaf-mute, but as she and Hisao learn to communicate with each other through sign language in her own route, I thought it might be cool to "cast" her anyway so that the signed dialogue could still be spoken. I think Jennifer would be awesome as this firey, confident Student Council President, and she could certainly knock this girl's more emotional, vulnerable moments out of the park.

HIDEAKI HAKAMICHI (Mona Marshall)-What with all the jokes about his girly clothes and the fact that he's younger than the rest of the cast, I couldn't help myself. It was too funny not to imagine Mona's young-boy voice.

JIGORO HAKAMICHI (John DiMaggio)-Shizune and Hideaki's father, Jigoro is, to be perfectly blunt, a total asshole. He is rude to pretty much everyone with a pulse, has a massive ego, and seems to honestly believe that his daughter's condition is a personal problem, not a medical one. Thankfully, he can also be quite a funny asshole at times, what with his habit of wearing a samurai robe and carrying a sword with him absolutely everywhere. I think the actor behind Bender Bending Rodriguez can handle this quite nicely.

There's my fantasy cast. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty (U.S. Dub)

The Secret World of Arrietty is the latest Ghibli film to receive an English dub, but here's the curious thing: it has two. Last year, a dub was released in the UK starring Saiorse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones), Mark Strong (Kick-Ass, Sherlock Holmes, Green Lantern) and Olivia Colman (Hot Fuzz, "Peep Show"). Then this last week on February 17, a dub was released in the U.S..... with a completely different cast composed of "Wizards of Waverly Place" alums Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, and Carol Burnett.

It's the first time this sort of thing has happened to my knowledge under the Disney-Ghibli deal, and I have no idea why, or whether they even use the same adaptive script. Either way, I have not seen the U.K. dub, so this is strictly a review of the U.S. version.

Directing/Script: Pixar veteran and award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom directed this dub, while Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run, Over the Hedge, the U.S. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film) handles the adapted script. They make for a pretty good team, although Kirkpatrick's script changes the names of Sho and Sadako to "Shawn" and "Jessica" for some reason. Considering that Ghibli supervises these dubs, I'm sure they agreed to it, and it certainly doesn't hurt the film. The voiceover at the end (much like the added positive lines at the endings of Kiki's and Spirited Away) is also apparently not in the Japanese version.

The one annoying thing about the dub is the shoehorned in pop songs. There *is* a vocal song that plays throughout the film during key scenes that is quite nice (and is presumably a dubbed version of its Japanese equivalent like in Laputa or Mononoke), but the quiet opening of the film has a generic tween pop number over it. It doesn't destroy the mood, but it does slightly hamper it. The other pop song, much like in Ponyo, plays over the end credits after a reprise of the main vocal song. It is equally generic and poppy.


THE CAST

ARRIETTY (Bridgit Mendler)-I seem to be noticing a pattern with the recent Disney dubs: they cast some of their latest brood of child/teen actors, I grumble about it, and then am pleasantly surprised by the high quality of their performances. This happened in Ponyo with the Cyrus and Jonas siblings, and it happens here too. Bridgit really is quite good in the role; she's the right age, she brings an appropriate amount of feisty energy, and she does a nice job with Arrietty's sadder moments as well.

SHAWN (David Henrie)-Shawn is a rather morose young man with a heart condition that he believes might kill him, but his attitude improves after meeting and helping Arrietty throughout the film. Henrie is perhaps a little quiet and deadpan, but that fits the role, and he does grow more energetic at times when it's necessary. No complaints.

POD (Will Arnett)-A friend of mine on another forum noted that Arnett's work here is "deceptively simple", and I would agree. Arnett actually has a good deal of experience in voice-over, having had roles in films such as Horton Hears A Who, Despicable Me, Ratatouille, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and video games like Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard. This is probably his best role, though, and that's because he plays it note-perfectly. Pod is a calm, measured character who never speaks more than he has to, but he dearly loves his wife and daughter, and that all comes through in Arnett's work.

HOMILY (Amy Poehler)-Fun fact for you: Arnett and Poehler are married in real life! That adds an interesting subtext to Poehler's performance, which is my favorite in the dub aside from Arnett's. Poehler also has VA experience, most notably on Nickelodeon's "The Mighty B!", which she also created. She's a lot of fun here as Arrietty's frazzled mother, attacking the role with comic gusto, but also managing to be rather sweet and endearing in the process. I especially love her deliveries on lines like "Please promise me you won't let our daughter get eaten, or squashed like a bug" or when she ponders why she always thinks Pod has been eaten by the cat when he turns up late.

HARA (Carol Burnett)-The slightly nutty housekeeper, Hara serves as something of an antagonist in the film, but the curious thing is that she's not really that hateful. She's more of a comic force than an evil one, and Burnett is clearly having a lot of fun in the role. It's a little over-the-top at times, but that fits Hara's character, so she ends up as a real highlight of the dub as well.

Gracie Poletti and Moises Arias (Rico from "Hannah Montana") do a fine job in their respective small roles as Shawn's aunt Jessica and Spiller, a Borrower from another family who ends up serving as crucial help for Arrietty later in the film.

On the whole, this probably won't be one of my favorite Ghibli dubs, but it is a very good one nonetheless. I would definitely recommend checking it and the film itself out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

More troubles for 2012: Media Blasters downsizing, and Funimation VS Sentai/ADV

This is not a good start for 2012.  Two bad news for the industry in a row for this week.

First off, Media Blasters has decided to cut its staff down from 16 to 6.  That's a pretty sharp decline, but in all fairness, the company DID start out with six employees, and even though business for them has been slow, they are not closing down any time soon.  So while this may seem unfortunate, it may not be all bad. If anything, hopefully MB will make careful decisions as to survive this year.  With the recent news that they're acquired Fushigi Yugi, it's at least a sign that they're still chugging on.  Now if only they can get around to that Lodoss War remaster....

For the second bit of news, two Anime companies are headed for a showdown in court.  In the left corner, we have FuniMation, currently the hottest anime company around.  In the right corner, we have the company that used to be known as ADV, now restructured as Sentai Filmworks.  Even under its new name, the company is still licensing quite a lot of titles for Anime (check out their release schedules), but unfortunately, they are now faced with a problem.  The case:  Funimation is suing ADV/Sentai for $8 million.  Here is the whole story as quoted from Anime News Network:

On November 4, 2011, FUNimation Entertainment filed a lawsuit in the district court of Harris County, Texas against John Ledford, as well as companies A.D. VisionAEsir Holdings, Sxion 23 (A.K.A. Section23 Films), Valkyrie Media Partners, Seraphim Studios, Sentai Filmworks, Sentai Holdings, and Unio Mystica Holdings (A.K.A. Switchblade Pictures) for breach of contract and other claims. Ledford is the CEO and co-founder of A.D. Vision. In the lawsuit, Funimationclaims that the defendants owe Funimation "an amount to be proven at trial but currently estimated" to be approximately US$8 million plus interest, costs, and attorneys' fees.
Funimation's lawsuit alleges that it became a creditor of A.D. Vision (ADV) in regard to a debt ADV owed ARM Corporation, which was a third party licensing entity jointly owned by Sojitz Corporation and several other companies. The lawsuit notes that ADV had purchased anime licenses from ARM after May 2006, and in January 2008 ARM "declared ADV to be in default of the parties' agreements." ADV lost the rights to more than 30 anime properties, and in July 2008,Funimation and ARM announced that they had reached a distribution agreement for those properties.
In the lawsuit, Funimation claims that ARM also gave Funimation the right to enforce ARM's agreement with ADV, specifically in regard to the debt that ADVowed ARM — making Funimation a creditor. The suit alleges that ADV never paid this debt, and instead sold its assets for below market price to several companies owned by former ADV executives and shut down.
The suit goes on to claim that ADV's transfer of assets "was made with the intent to defer, hinder or defraud the creditors of ADV," including Funimation, and that the new companies "succeeded ADV's contractual liability" in regard to the outstanding debt.
Funimation is also requesting that the court declare ADV's transfer of assets "as null, voided and without effect," restoring those assets to the parent company.Funimation is also requesting a jury trial.
On December 23, Sentai Filmworks, Seraphim Studios, Sentai Holdings, Valkyrie Media Partners, Unio Mysteica Holdings, AEsir Holdings, and Section23 Filmsfiled a counterclaim disputing these charges. The companies claim, among other things, that they do not have a contract with Funimation and are not liable to the company. They claim that the companies did not exist when Funimation acquired the rights from ARM to enforce ADV's contract with ARM. In addition, the companies claim that Funimation's lawsuit was filed after the two-year statute of limitations, and that Funimation was not involved with the original contract and cannot claim any direct damages.
The companies are asking that the court declare that Funimation's contract "is not a valid agreement binding on the Defendants," that the companies owe "no duties or performance of any obligations" to Funimation, and that Funimation pay for the companies' attorney's fees, costs, and expenses.
The first pre-trial meeting is currently scheduled for October 5, 2012.
Section23 Films provided ANN with the following statement:
Funimation's lawsuit is completely without merit or basis and we look forward to proving it when we have our day in court.
When asked to comment, Funimation told ANN that its official statement is addressed in the lawsuit.
So there you have it.  How 2012 started off with three shocking industry "development" stories in a row is totally shocking.  Is there no way to recover?  Are we doomed to a future where the only way Anime can be viewed is through fan-subbed videos with no companies to pick them up and no talented voice actors translating these titles into a language we can understand?  I dread the idea totally.

If it turns out that all Anime companies in America cease to exist, then I can only wish, giving the ever-expanding fanbase of Anime, that others can be built so as to compete in an environment as unstable as ours.  We NEED dubs in order to make Anime titles more accessible to America.  Without companies, we don't get them.  But I refuse to believe in a future like that.  I will continue to fight for the industry and support the dubs in any way I can, and if any new "upstart" company can step up to rebuild this once thriving industry, by all means, go ahead.  To quote Enjorlas from Les Miserables:  "Let others rise to take our place until the Earth IS FREE!!!!!"  Better make that "Anime".

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bad start for 2012: Bandai "Restructuring"

According to a news article on ANN, Bandai Entertainment, the folks who distributed titles such as Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, Wolf's Rain, and Haruhi Suzuhara will no longer be licensing new titles as of February 2012.  Not a great way to start the new year by any means, and an even bigger slap in the face for those of us who like watching dubs.  This means that we're down to about five companies who actually distribute dubbing, which is not a good sign in any way.

Nothing disgusts me more than piracy putting voice actors or companies out of work.  If this doesn't stop, we won't even HAVE new Anime titles with good dubbing.  The only kind of releases we'll get are subbed-only.  Hardcore fans, please show sympathy for the other side and support the industry you care about.  If nothing else comes out, then the companies will not be to blame.  Consider yourself warned.