Since my last review covered the Lodoss OVA dub, I figured it would be fitting to do another entry for the follow-up, subtitled Chronicles of the Heroic Knight; even though it would be ideal to attach it to the OVA dub review, both the TV and the OVA series are different entities and should be treated as such. The former dub received mixed reviews but it proved to be quite popular with the casual fanbase. So much so, in fact, that anticipation for ROLW TV, which is what I'll refer Chronicles as from now on, was high. Unlike the OVA dub, however, ROLW TV's dub is not remembered or relished as highly as its predecessor. Part of this may be due to the fact that the TV series itself is less popular than its OVA counterpart, but there were also other problems, too. While scriptwriter Michael Alben (who did not direct ROLW OVA but did this one) and most of the returning cast signed up, the dub was recorded not at National Sound, but at a new studio called Headline Sound, located in Irvington, NY. Back then, its founder, Joe DiGiorgi, had no experience in dubbing Anime, and so this was a first time experience for him. (He later admitted at an Anime convention that he learned how not to dub the show.) Over the course of a year, the dub was released on nine VHS tapes, three episodes each, and during the recording period, several members of the cast dropped out. Some of these drop-outs were permanent, while others lasted a few episodes (more on that later). Also problematic were the occasional awkward-sounding line and a few scenes where the dialogue is unsynched. Had this been recorded in 1996, this flaw would be excusable, but considering that this was a more recent dub (1999-2000), it's less so. (It should also be mentioned that as with a lot of dubs from this era, the ROLW TV dub was rushed, which could explain its problems.)
It is difficult to gauge the overall reputation the dub has among Anime fans using a limited source like the Internet (where most of the more vocal fans dominate the forums), but the reviews I noticed were wildly divided. Some, like Mike Toole, Chadwick Ngan, Chainsaw on AnimeWorld, and one DVDTalk.com review spoke favorably of ROLW TV (so have some on initial VHS releases on pages like Amazon.com and RightStuf.com--the latter of which was taken down), but others were negative--two Reader Reviews of ROLW TV on Mania.com have said to have despised the TV dub, calling it one of the "worst dubs of all time". While this statement has not been equalled among everyone, the general consensus is that ROLW TV's dub falls short in comparison to its OVA counterpart (which, granted had its share of problems, too, but somehow it managed to overcome them). Even today the few who have seen it refuse to do so again.
Still, in all fairness, ROLW TV isn't an altogether bad dub, and it certainly isn't the worst around. (Then again, this is coming from someone who has heard dubs that offended me far more so than this one.) A better adjective for it might be "variable". Compared to other NY dubs like, say, Slayers, The World of Narue, His and Her Circumstances, Now and Then Here and There or even the first ROLW, the TV dub does not come close to reaching the high standards of those titles. As mentioned, its biggest asset is the return of most of the voices from the original (the total opposite of the Japanese language track, which basically replaced all the seiyuu).
That said, the dub gets off to a very, very rough start; even though it's great to hear most of the voices return, the quality of the acting in the first eight episodes is a notch below that of the OVA (particularly some of the newer characters), with dialogue which, more often than not, runs into stilted and occasionally stale territory. (Part of that problem can also be attributed to the lower-quality of the animation and the actual script of the series, which reduce many of the principal characters from the original to deadpan shadows of their former selves; on that level, it's hard to see how exactly that imperfection could be improved upon.) Another issue are the vocals of some of the newer characters. However, once this first arc passes and the second story begins, the dub eventually finds its stride, even though there are still the occasional odd-sounding dialogue (with at least one Shatner-esque "Stay alert! Spark!" that I detected).
THE NARRATOR (Dick Rodstein) -- Rodstein once again lends his deep, resonant voice to the faceless voiceover who introduces the tale. I've always loved hearing him recite "Lodoss, the Accursed Island", and it's gratifying to have him back. I had no issues with him.
PARN (Billy Regan) -- Bill Timoney has stated that Parn is one of his favorite Anime characters; so much so, in fact, that he took approximately nine flights from his (then) new home in California to New York to record the role for the series. Since this tale sets five years after the original for the first eight episodes and another ten years for the final nineteen, it was decided to deepen Parn's voice. Logically, the choice is sound (and Billy stands behind his decision even after all this time)... but his initial appearance in the first couple of episodes are another matter. In trying to sound mature, he unfortunately sacrifices most of the enthusiasm he brought to the character in the OVA, and, more often than not, comes across as stiff-sounding. This annoyance gradually disappears in the second half; I don't know if it's because he finds his stride or whether it grew on me, but I thought he came across as better in the second half, although I did detect some missed lines. I know there were those who found him annoying in the OVA, but I personally prefer the performance there. Not that his TV performance is a total loss, but it does take some getting used to.
DEEDLIT (Lisa Ortiz; A.J. Parks, episodes 20 & 21) -- By contrast, Lisa continues to do an excellent job as Deedlit, bringing out the character's mystical qualities when reciting magical incantations or in normal situations. Like Billy, she also matures the character's voice, but does so in a way that still keeps the character's charm afloat. Unfortunately, for at least two episodes (20 and 21), Ortiz was unable to voice the character due to illness and so a last-minute replacement was hired to stand in, that of A.J. Parks. Needless to say, her take on Deedlit is far duller than Lisa's. I personally wish that I could go back in time and have Lisa dub her lines for those two episodes.
SLAYN (Al Muscari) -- Muscari continues to do a fine job as Slayn as well for the most part, although there is the occasional stiff moment. His performance, like that of the OVA, is very low-key and soothing and rarely ever treads into monotonous territory. His spell recitations are classic (particularly the "Vanna fulame ve igloss!", which may sound like overacting, but considering the nature of the material it's more than appropriate). I think I did detect a vocal change for at least episodes 22-24, but it's not that far off from Muscari to be so dramatically aversive.
LEYLIA (Simone Grant, episodes 1-9; Alyssa Beaux, episodes 22-24; Meg Frances, episodes 25-27) -- Grant only plays this kindly priestess (and her mother, Big Neese), for only the first nine episodes, and throughout she is solid if weaker than her OVA appearance... although the opening conversation between Neese and Ashram comes across as surprisingly limp. Leylia does not speak again until the final six episodes, and two times during that period, her voice actress is replaced. The first, Alyssa Beaux (22-24) is very, very lame, sounding quite out of place for the first couple of minutes. And just when one gets accustomed to the replacement, Meg Frances steps in for 25-27. Frances fares marginally better, but even then there are places where she comes across as too whiny-sounding. Too bad Grant's no longer with us to redub her missing sections.
ETOH (Ed Paul) -- Some reviewers of the ROLW OVA dub have singled his surprisingly high-pitched voice out for being the weak link, but here in the TV dub he deepens the character. (I actually didn't realize it was the same actor; I had checked the closing credits and only after I met the actor in person did I realize that he did do both.) Not only is this an improvement over the original, it works very well, especially considering that his role is that of a noble king.
SHIRIS (Karen Smith) -- One of the other returning voices is that of Karen Smith, who plays the impulsively rowdy, headstrong mercenary. Her voice is very fitting and she does a great job throughout, despite at least one weak breakdown moment in episode 6 and the occasional missed line. One of her best moments is in the last few minutes of episode 7 where she literally breaks down in tears after a heartwrenching sacrifice--it always makes me cry, even if her dialogue during that moment sometimes veers on over-the-top.
ASRHAM (John Knox) -- Knox returns to take on everyone's favorite Black Knight antagonist as well. And throughout he does a good job of maintaining the "bad-ass" attitude that makes his character so intriguing. The only issues I had were a few flat line reads in the first few episodes and at least one uncharacteristically goofy and over-the-top laugh in episode 6. Otherwise, though, he does bring gravitas and weight to his part. It's a solid performance overall.
PIROTESS (Meg Frances; A.J. Parks, episode 21) -- The good news is that Frances reprises the opposite of Deedlit, and she doesn't fare too badly, acting-wise... unfortunately, her voice is not as good as her OVA counterpart; while she sounded appropriately sultry and husky, here she comes across as too whiny--although she does handle her confrontation scenes with Deedlit very well. (Like Deedlit, A.J. Parks steps in for Pirotess for episode 21--I really don't know what was going on with the switching of the actors, but the continuity issue is one of the problems of this dub. Joe DiGiorgi told me at one point that there were a lot of difficulties involved during production, which partially explains the switching actors/actresses.)
WAGNARD (Oliver Wyman; Bruce Winant, episode 18) -- Only in one episode does the original VA, Bruce Winant, return, and that is in episode 18. As far as I'm concerned, he simply is Wagnard, what with the evil laugh and the "I'm going to rule the world" attitude he provides to the character. (OK, so it's cliche, but it works.) Unfortunately, that's the only time he voices the character. Throughout he's replaced by Oliver Wyman, who doesn't fare too badly for the most part, but his voice is much more scratchy-sounding than one would expect--and his first two appearances (episodes 4 and 5) are very weak. There are a couple of mediocre reads as well, particularly one monologue in episode 21 where he describes his exile from the Academy of Sages. Despite these two quibbles, Oliver does manage to provide an appropriately evil (if over-the-top) laugh and does an amazingly loud and agonizing scream for his obligatory death scene in his final episode (#26).
KASHUE (Anthony Cruise) -- Sadly, Kashue is another matter. Here he is given a new voice, and unfortunately it gets off on the wrong foot. The problem isn't that he does a bad job, but his voice sounds a little too much of a "weary old man" and he lacks the charisma that Chris Yates brought to the role. He does, however, manage to get into character as the show progresses, bringing the performance of his later appearances to "passable" quality. (I could tell he got more into it by about episode 8 or so, because his screams at Shooting Star provide a dramatic contrast to his more deadpan initial appearance.)
ORSON (Oliver Gregory) -- Like Wagnard and Kashue, Orson is completely recast for the TV series, by one Oliver Gregory. Unlike those two, though, Gregory is actually the best of the replacements. While his emotionless "normal" self may seem off-putting, this is justifiable in that his character is basically one who has lost all but one of his emotions--anger. When he becomes released from his curse, Gregory provides the opportunity to flesh out his character who has trouble dealing with the new feelings he hasn't experienced in years. Even if he does come across as a whiner, he still manages to wrench a tear out of this viewer's eye when he decides to cast aside his newly awakened humanity... and his life (sorry if I'm spoiling the story), to save Shiris from death.
KARLA (Simone Grant, episode 2; Meg Frances; A.J. Parks, episode 21) -- There are two different Karlas in the show; both hosts of this character are anonymous female bodies; the former is voiced by Simone Grant, with the appropriate amount of commanding regality minus the scary malice of the OVA, while the latter is by Meg Frances from episode 18-27. She seems to be well suited to the role and intones pretty much as you'd expect, even though her overall performance is a bit below that of the original. Still, it's not too bad. (Like Pirotess and Deedlit, A.J. Parks takes over for her for one episode --21-- but she thankfully only has one or two lines.)
These are the principal characters we know from the original ROLW. The newer characters are as follows:
CECIL (Harry Krause) -- This guy is a somewhat arrogant, hotheaded mage serving as something of an apprentice to Slayn who gets into quarrels with Shiris and occasionally Maar, too. But Krause's voicing comes across as too "rough" sounding, even for this character. He also tends to overact (or underact) in most of his scenes instead of providing genuine enthusiasm. (In particular, his deadpan delivery of "What a GIIIIRL" in episode 5 causes unintentional humor, and a later moment when he scolds Maar for betraying them sounds very, very stiff and lacking in conviction.) It's an average performance, at best. Luckily he becomes a minor character in the Spark arc, only showing up for one scene.
HOBB (Cliff Hangar) -- Vocally, Hangar is sound for the role of this easily deceived priest (who has trouble with loyalty), but his actual performance is not one of the more praiseworthy ones of the show. He sings the "Song of Battle" adequately, but his acting sounds more like reading instead of emoting. Even in some of the more exciting parts of the show, he comes across as forced. Fortunately, he's only in a few episodes.
MAAR (Crispin Freeman) -- The self-appointed "comic relief" character in the show, an elfish little "grass runner" is one of the many characters to be voiced by Crispin. Here he raises his voice to a somewhat nasally pitch to sound mischievous and annoying, and it works pretty well. Some may find this to be grating, but I felt it was appropriate for the character and he provides some of the livelier moments during the first eight episodes. (The only exception is his ballad in episode 9, which you can thankfully skip past without having to suffer through it.)
LITTLE NEESE (Roxanne Beck) -- There are two different Little Neeses in the show; the first is that of a sweet little girl of about four (and she sounds appropriately and authentically like one), and later on in the series, where she is portrayed by Beck. Her performance is mixed; when she is talking normally or involved in her chemistry with Spark (or even screaming in insufferable pain), she is decent, but some of her other scenes aren't emoted as strongly as they should (particularly one confrontation scene with Wagnard which isn't made any easier by at least one groanworthy one-liner "You're a sick man!"). That her voice also treads into saccharine territory at times is also an issue.
SPARK (Crispin Freeman) -- Some of the harshest detractors of the ROLW TV dub is that the performances lack emotion, but the same can never be said for Spark, as voiced by Crispin Freeman. (The first time we see him he's a reckless young boy with a voice that sounds a little too much like a woman pretending to be a boy, but never mind that.) Taken as a character, this could be seen as the least interesting of the show (he's basically a more stripped down version of Parn), but Freeman provides a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and emotion, fleshing him out so well that one finds himself rooting for him. Vocally, his character doesn't sound much different from that of Tylor or his first ever dub appearance (a minor character in Slayers), but there is no doubt that his performance as Spark is the highlight of the dub; he brings a lot of much needed life to the show and makes what could have been an otherwise pedestrian second arc compelling. (On a side note, one can almost subtitle this dub as the "Crispin Freeman" show! He not only plays Spark and Maar, but Garrack -- more on that later, but also two of Ashram's comrades for at least one episode!)
GARRACK (Michael Gerard, episodes 10-14; Crispin Freeman, episodes 16-27) -- The first time we meet this muscular wise-guy with a heart of gold in episode 10, he is played by Michael Gerrard. He has the sort of lazy, laid-back yet goofy kind of voice that fits the character, but it isn't until about two episodes in that he finds his stride... but by the time he finally does (after episode 14), Crispin Freeman takes over from episodes 16-27. At first the change is jarring, but I found myself liking Freeman better; he brings out the more "bad-ass", burly aspect of the character and is very enthusiastic throughout (a couple of missed lines not withstanding). (It is somewhat funny to hear the scenes where he's communicating with Spark--since he's basically talking with himself.)
LEAF (Debbie Rabbai) -- This is my other favorite voice from the dub. For this playful, mischievous half-elf, Debbie gives her a squeaky, but charming voice that is not only cute, but sassy. She really seems to be enjoying herself in the role, and any of her lines are a delight. And like Freeman, she brings just the right amount of enthusiasm to the role (with the exception of at least one missed line, but it's not glaring enough to detract).
GREEVUS (Greg Wolfe) -- The dwarf member of the group is also voiced by the same man behind Ghim in ROLW OVA. His performance is pretty much what you'd expect; gruff, gutteral, and full of wisdom and energy. I had no problems with him. A word of note: in episode 19, there is one line which obviously sounds like Crispin Freeman dubbed in for him.
RYNA (Meg Frances; A.J. Parks, episodes 19-21) -- I think Frances must have decided to give this spunky thief character her Pirotess voice from the OVA, because that's pretty much what she sounds like. Save for her parting scene with her former love the first time she appears, Frances does a fine job, alternating between sassiness, maternal warmth, toughness, sexy (her flirting scene with Spark in episode 14 is especially funny), and friendly. Again, no problems, other than that A.J. Parks takes over for her for episodes 19-21 (although she isn't too bad there; at least her voice is closer in tone to Frances).
ALDONOVA (Steve Patterson) -- The final member of the "heroic" (no pun intended) team of ROLW TV is this fussy mage (nicknamed "Aldo") who spends most of the time with his eyes shut and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep watch on Little Neese. Vocally, Patterson is suitable for the role, and does well in several magic spell chanting scenes (although the "Spell of Sleep" chant comes across as somewhat laughable, but that's more of a problem of the dialogue than the performance) and normal dialogue. However, his constant "Lady Neese!" whining in the latter half does get a tad too tedious, and his crying scenes aren't as strongly emoted as they should be. Particularly weak is when he breaks down in tears when he describes Little Neese's predicament to Spark's comrades in episode 14--he still intones his lines in the same monotonic delivery. In Episode 21, he at least does a little better in the sobbing department, but even then it's too overdramatic to be genuinely effective. Again, it's an average performance, at best.
GRODER (Walter Hershman; Crispin Freeman, episodes 7 & 8) -- Ashram's dark sorcerer buddy from Marmo is one of the more lackluster performances in the series. Most of the voices I mentioned are either good or average, but this is one of the "bad" ones. Hershman has the sort of "harsh" voice that might work for a demonic sorcerer, but he sounds way too deadpan. Incidentally, Crispin Freeman takes over the role in one episode; vocally he miraculously matches Hershman's tone, yet whether that's complimentary or not is debatable. Freeman fares a little bit better, acting-wise; all in all, though, neither actor particularly stands out for this rather forgettable character.
PRINCE REONA (Walter Hershman) -- Hershman's take on this heroic fighter for Lodoss is even worse. I don't know if the idea was to make him less charismatic than Ashram or if this was a case of last-minute casting, but Hershman's tone is too harsh for this character (and ill-fitting, too). A less jarring voice would be preferable, especially for someone with long blonde hair; considering the more monodimensional characterization of this role, however, it's really hard to say how this guy could be any better. His performance is totally annoying (one victory cry at the end of episode 15 is particularly laughable and grating), but thankfully he only speaks for at least four episodes and doesn't have many scenes.
It's the minor characters that have the weakest voices in the dub; in the OVA dub the incidental characters were somewhat cheesy-sounding, too, but they were nowhere nearly as bad as these guys here. These include Ashram's four minions from Marmo (Gaberra, Astar, Smeddy, and Gilram), Governor Rabido (a two-episode baddie with a loud and much too blustery kind of voice), soldiers, and the dragons Shooting Star and Abram (yes, they both TALK in the show!). All come across as eleventh-hour casting and that they did their lines in one take. Rabido, Smeddy, and Astar are especially bad--and the dragons' super-deep, growly voices come across as laughable (the Japanese VAs of the dragons are just as lackluster). (Excluded from this are Alexander J. Rose's Governer Randall and Daybreak Mercenary Captain in episode 19, Oliver Gregory as the treacherously sly Jay in episodes 16-18, Roxanne Beck as Naneel the evil priestess, and Debbie Rabbai's Marfa the Earth Mother at the end, because all four of these minor roles are good, or at least fairly effective.) Most NY dubs around this area tended to have a trend of having solid major characters and lackluster minor roles, and ROLW TV is unfortunately a part of that trend.
It's a shame, too, because stripped of this problem and the sometimes awkward sounding dialogue (which this time around comes across as less memorable, due mainly to the fact that the subtitled script wasn't that inspired to begin with), most of the dub for ROLW TV is of a passable quality. I'm sure it's because I'm a pretty serious Lodoss fan and one who doesn't mind this dub as much as others, but there are far worse dubs around.
One thing that also bears noting is that at the end of each episode, there are these four-minute Super-Deformed shorts called "Welcome to Lodoss Island", in which the characters become pint-sized and engage in goofy skits consisting of bad jokes and playful silliness. Honestly, I only saw one episode of this and that was pretty much all I could take. In all fairness, though, the idea behind the shorts is that the cast all raise their voices and embellish their stoic characters with wacky cartoonishness. This is handled very well, but the lines they say are often very... dumb. Since much of the humor is derived from Japanese-based jokes, the ADR script tries to Americanize them with Brooklyn-based humor... with wishy-washy results. Some of them are pricelessly funny while others are a major groaner. I've honestly been too afraid to see another one of these after being so annoyed with the first one, although there are some who found them to be hilarious.
All in all, ROLW TV's dub isn't an altogether disaster, but it falls short of greatness. Had its consistency issues been fixed and most of its minor cast members replaced, it probably wouldn't have been forgotten; as it is, however, it's an uneven result. The performances by most of the returning cast and especially Freeman and Deb are its strongest points, but there are too many other mediocre to bad performances to elevate its quality to anything greater than inconsistent. For Headline Studios, though, ROLW TV was a learning experience, and most of its subsequent dubs from there all uphill.