Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wolf's Rain Part 1: The Regulars

You know a dub is something truly special when people who don't even like the show it's for are praising it, you actually bother to watch the "next time on..." previews just so you can hear more of it, and people are still praising it to this day.

That seems to be the case with Wolf's Rain, a show that definitely has a "love it or hate it" status amongst anime fans (for the record, I'm of the former group who thinks this show is amazing). Yet no matter how many people I've run across who either like or dislike this show, everyone seems to agree that the dub is terrific. It's certainly one of the best I've ever heard, a "gold standard" if there ever was one, and most of the cast has rarely been better.

Because I love this dub so much and because there are so many minor/supporting characters I'd like to discuss in addition to the leads, this review will be divided into two posts in order to fit all of them in. Also, this will be a long one in both cases, with MASSIVE SPOILERS. Do NOT read either part of the review if you haven't seen the whole show.


KIBA (Johnny Yong Bosch) -- Bosch's performance here is interesting because it's not quite what we're used to hearing from him. His distinct voice is still recognizable, and he's not stretching his vocal range terribly (though he is a bit more soft-spoken than usual), but his acting is curious because it's much less energetic and more low-key than Bosch's usual timbre. This is entirely appropriate, however, because Kiba is more conflicted and uncertain than the more heroic everyman Bosch usually plays, and he nails everything about Kiba with his performance. Besides, he still gets some great "shouty", angry moments, so everybody wins!

TSUME (Crispin Freeman) -- Ah, I finally get to discuss one of my favorites! Freeman has stated several times that out of all the projects/roles he's worked on over the years, Wolf's Rain is still his favorite, and it's easy to see why. Again, Crispin's working in a pretty familiar vocal range, that of scene-stealing, deep-voiced badass, but as with Kiba (hell, everyone in the series), Tsume is more complex than he initially appears. As time goes on, Freeman gets to play around with Tsume's insecurities and self-doubt while still being totally awesome, so it's little wonder that he ends up being a highlight of the dub, although there's so many of them that might not count for much. His grief in the final episodes regarding two deaths is just astounding from an acting perspective.

TOBOE (Mona Marshall) -- Let's face facts: Mona Marshall has played a lot of young boys. From the super-smart Izzy in Digimon, to the fantastically creepy Wen in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Sympathy for the Devil", to the hotheaded Wolfram from Kyo Kara Maoh, she's all over the place. She's so ubiquitous as young boys in anime, in fact, that it always throws me off whenever she plays an actual female character, if only because they sound freakishly similar to her male roles. Anyway, her shining moment as a VA has to be Toboe (who, amusingly enough, is already kind of feminine-looking within the show). Toboe is possibly the most purely huggable/adorable character in the show, always earnest and willing to believe the best of people, and Marshall does it all wonderfully, as well as Toboe's more insecure, "whiny" moments. I can also say with no shame that her beautiful rendition of Toboe's death scene (yeah, there's a lot of that going around in this show) actually made me cry. This has NEVER happened to me before; I've welled up before at movies and TV, but Mona (with the help of the animation and music, of course) actually made tears flow. So I have to give her massive props for that alone.

HIGE (Joshua Seth) -- It's a shame Mr. Seth seems to have permanently retired from voice acting, as he's always been a favorite of mine, with that distinct, youthful, instantly recognizable voice and terrific acting even in silly kid's shows like Digimon (and I LIKE Digimon, but man can it get silly). Hige is his finest role, bar none, and it's another interesting study of vocal range vs. acting range. As noted before, Seth has an instantly recognizable voice in nearly all of his roles, and that holds true here, but the acting is just on a completely different level than anything else he's done (except possibly the 2001 redub of Akira, where he stole the show with a terrific Tetsuo). Seth gets a lot of heavy stuff later in the series, and he plays it for all it's worth, and his death scene is gut-wrenching.

CHER DEGRE (Kari Wahlgren) -- My jaw dropped when this credit popped up. Cher is nothing like anything the lovely Ms. Wahlgren has played before (at least in my experience); rather than the usual high-pitched young girl Wahlgren excels at, Cher is a career-minded, divorced scientist with a husky voice, and Wahlgren is astoundingly good here. In addition to showing off her vocal range something fierce, her acting is note-perfect in both Cher's default "trying to figure things out" mode as well as her more wistful, tender scenes with her ex-husband Hubb (who we'll get to in a moment). Wahlgren frankly needs more roles like this, because they show she can play adults just as well as the kids.

HUBB LEBOWSKI (Robert Buchholz) -- Unlike Ms. Wahlgren, Buchholz sounds much like he usually does, but yet again it's the acting that truly distinguishes his work here. Unfortunately, I don't have as much as to say about Buchholz's work here other than that, like everyone else, it's fantastic, and one particularly great moment is his muffled screaming over Cher's lifeless body. No complaints.

QUENT YAIDEN (Tom Wyner) -- This is quite frankly the role of a career for Wyner, who's had a long history in the anime industry as both an actor and a director/writer for dubs as well as shows like Power Rangers. To reiterate a familiar refrain, he's never been better, and his rough, scratchy voice serves as a perfect complement to this grizzled old hunter. I especially like his performance when he travels with Hubb, and Wyner's voice adds to the authenticity of Quent's seen-it-all advice to the younger man.

LORD DARCIA THE THIRD (Steve Blum) -- Another favorite of mine, Blum is working in the "smooth and sinister" part of his vocal range, and his work here is on par with Spike Spiegel for sheer awesomeness. As the primary antagonist for the series, Darcia goes through a lot of, shall we say, "mood swings" during the show, and Blum captures the gradually slipping sanity perfectly. He even manages to slip in some great psychotic cackling in the final episodes.

CHEZA (Sherry Lynn) -- Lynn manages to make a potentially uninteresting "wallflower" (pun not intended) fascinating thanks to that strange, wispy voice, and her acting is (sing it with me if you know the words) just magnificent.

BLUE (Jessica Straus) -- Admittedly, Straus doesn't become a regular until later in the series, but it would otherwise feel weird for me to not put her here. I'm surprisingly unfamiliar with Straus, but her work here is excellent, making Blue a formidable "action girl" while keeping her femininity intact.

Next time: the supporting cast and any minor roles I feel fit to mention.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World of Narue

Even though Central Park Media is no more, there are fans who hold dearly to their hearts many titles in their library.  One of them was The World of Narue, a sci-fi love-comedy about a girl who's actually an alien from outer space (no, seriously) and a nerdy boy who loves Anime.  Spanning over a dozen episodes in total, the show follows the pair's relationship as they encounter obstacles, new friends, and unexpected misadventures.

As one of the latter day Central Park Media dubs, The World of Narue is a pure delight as an English track, proudly joining the ranks of my favorite dubs not only from the company, but of all-time, period.  Directed by the ever-reliable Tom Wayland of Tripwire Productions, who also served as the script writer, this is a show packed with memorable performances and lines which still tickle me every time I watch it.

NARUE NANASE (Veronica Taylor) -- The title character is voiced by one of my favorite voice actresses, Veronica Taylor, better known as the initial voice of Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, but to me, is remembered best as the multi-faceted Yukino Miyazawa from a similarly top-notch NY dub, His and Her Circumstances.  As you may expect, Taylor embues this character with just the right amount of sweet-natured innocence and occasional spunk and ditziness (she is, after all, from outer space, so a little bit of absent-mindedness is more than a welcome bonus).  Some may find her voice a little saccharine at times, but there really is no better way to portray a character such as this.  When she exclaims at the end of each episode, "it's a direct hit to your heart!" you've just gotta love the energy she provides to the line.  Taylor nails all her other qualities impeccably, too, making her performance a delight all around.

KAZUTO IIZUKA (Jamie McGonnigal) -- Aside from Narue, the other main character in the story is Kazuto, a shy but goodhearted teenager who doesn't really mind that his new girlfriend is from a far off planet.  McGonnigal seems to be born to play roles of this type, particularly when they get into humorous "perverted" moments (his role from Magic User's Club, in particular).  Admittingly, Kazuto doesn't get many moments like that, but McGonnigal is obviously having a blast, whether he is describing his favorite Anime show with pure fanboy zest (which includes a sly dig at sub-purists!), exasperation (the scene where he tries to keep his mother and sister out of his room when Narue is visiting is particularly funny), or more mellow moments between him and Narue.

MASAKO MARUO (Jimmy Zoppi) -- Kazuto's nutty best friend, self-nicknamed "Dr. Hunkenstein, the Guru of Love", exuberantly serves as comic relief.  Zoppi has played zany roles of this kind; this one is a bit more "laid-back" compared to others, but nonetheless, every line of his performance is a riot.  Particularly amusing bits include his so-called expert dating tips lecture in Episode 2 (which include "No videogames, don't go to sleep during the movie"... guess who ends up breaking the rules?) and any moment where he is dealing with next-door neighbor Hajime Yagi (notably when he disguises himself as a bizarre creature to snap the latter out of a sour mood swing).  It really is no surprise that he gets many of the best lines.

HAJIME YAGI (Michelle Knotz) -- Arguably the most interesting character in the show is Yagi, a bespectacled, self-proclaimed expert on aliens and UFOs who initially despises Narue and continually tries to expose her as a fake, but eventually becomes friends with her.  She has a strained relationship with Maruo and has many periods where she explodes into hilariously overexasperated fits of shock and fury.  Since she shows the most depth in the show, it's unsurprising that she is also the dub's major highlight.  You may be surprised to discover that this was Knotz's first voice-acting role (she got the part by winning a "voice acting contest" at the New York Anime Fest many years ago).  While there are a few moments of trepidation in her first scenes, they are hardly noticeable, because every minute that she's onscreen obviously shows Knotz's intangible enthusiasm for the role.  Her "crazy" moments are an absolute scream (literally), and she even handles Yagi's more mellow moments very effectively.  (Her first visit with Kanaka is particularly touching; ditto with both her later reconciliation with Narue and the two scenes where Yagi tries to help the latter in her relationship with Kazuto.)  All told, Knotz's performance is both my favorite of the show and the one I will always remember her for; the lucky actress later found greater notoriety in Pokemon, but Yagi is simply her best role ever.  Period.

KANAKA NANASE (Rachael Lillis) -- Aside from Yagi, another one of the most interesting characters in the show is Narue's "younger, older" sister, Kanaka.  When we first come across Kanaka, she comes across as a rather moody, sullen girl who, like Yagi, initially resents Narue (not being particularly thrilled to discover that she is her new sister), but eventually comes to accept her.  Since her character is also "mentally" young, she can also come across as rather childish at times (not to mention mischevious, especially in my favorite episode of the show, the seventh--in which our pals start out on a visit to the pool that turns into a wet and wild adventure in a virtual fantasy world!), and even act somewhat spoiled, but she also emerges into a fully realized, likeable individual.  Lillis is another one of my favorite voice actresses both from the Big Apple and of all-time; it almost seems like destiny that she gets cast in comical roles such as this where she REALLY gets to STRESS HER EXASPERATION LIKE THIS.  But that's what makes her Kanaka so funny; Lillis can also be very sympathetic, too, particularly in the softer moments when Kanaka realizes that she must come to terms with feeling like an outsider or in generally trying to offer support to her sister or her new best friend, Yagi.  In short, it's yet another wonderful performance in the dub.

BATHYSCAPHE (Carol Jacobanis) -- This character is actually an "android" with the ability to turn into a spaceship.  Essentially, her role in the show is to serve as Kanaka's guardian and, later on, become something of a supportive adult to the teenage cast.  Most of her dialogue tends to be words of wisdom with the occasional sternness.  Since her character doesn't have much of an expressive face for most of her scenes, there is a potential for her voice to come across as monotonous, but Jacobanis miraculously steers around that trip, providing a very even tone while making her character a pleasure to listen to.

TADASHI NANASE (Dan Green) -- As his last name implies, Tadashi serves as Narue and Kanaka's father.  He is a somewhat bumbling and weary man who nonetheless cares dearly for his daughters.  It is somewhat surprising to hear Green speaking for this character, as he tends to be cast in more dramatic roles.  Nonetheless, it doesn't take too long for him to find his stride.  His more "down-to-earth" manner is very fitting, and the few moments where he gets to let loose (notably in a flashback episode where we learn how Tadashi met Narue's future mother, which feature a few screams of terror) are humorously delivered without sounding forced.  Very well played all around.

KYOKO KUDO (Lisa Ortiz) -- Another one of my all-time favorite actresses, Ortiz gets to play multiple characters in The World of Narue, all of which are nothing like her more renowned roles such as Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War, Lina Inverse from The Slayers, Azalyn from The Irresponsible Captain Tylor... the list goes on and on for favorite roles from her.  We first hear her as Kyoko, a snobbish, mean-spirited bully who constantly picks on Narue and Yagi.  Ortiz has often mentioned that she had always wanted to play "evil" roles; Kyoko may not be a major character (she shows up for only three episodes), but it is nonetheless very refreshing to hear Lisa's performance.  The nasally, prissy tone she uses couldn't have been a better match for the character, and she obviously relishes every minute of it.

MAGICAL GIRL #4 aka MANAKA OATARI and KIRIRI KAIBASHIRA (Lisa Ortiz) -- Lisa's other significant role in the show is that of "Magical Girl #4", the title character of Kazuto's favorite Anime show.  There are three different incarnations of this role.  First there is Magical Girl's "normal" counterpart, Manaka Oatari, who has only one small scene, but Ortiz provides her with a high-pitched, breathy tone that is slightly similar to Tsubasa Shibahime in His and Her Circumstances.  Then there's the character herself, a spunky, heroic "action" girl whose catch slogan is "It's a direct hit to your heart!" (hence the origin of this oft-repeated quote at the end of each episode preview.)  Anyone familiar with Ortiz as Lina Inverse or Nanaka Nakatomi in Magic User's Club will surely recognize the voice that she uses for this rather brief character, and, as one would expect, she's as spunky, sassy, and full of attitude as other roles she tends to get typecast as.
Finally, there is the voice actress behind the character, Kiriri Kaibashira, whom Kazuto somehow gets mixed up with and Narue must try to fight for him.  Needless to say, Kiriri turns out to be anything but ideal, for, like Kyoko, she's mean-spirited and a bully (not to mention irritatingly clingy).  As a further way to emphasize the obnoxious aspects of her personality, Ortiz pwovides Kiwiwi with a speech impediment which is vewwy simiwar to a certain Elmer Fudd.  This works in favor of this (thankfully) minor character, so much so that one wish that Ortiz would voice some similarly villainous roles.

TAIL MESSA (Tristan Goddard) -- The tall, stern figure wearing dark sunglasses serves as the Head Inspector of the Galactic Federation police who occasionally comes to check on Narue and her father's status.  Goddard has a very strict authoritative tone that lends itself well to the mysterious nature of the character, but he never makes him cold or unsympathetic.  He appears briefly in selected scenes, but Goddard makes the most of them with style.

SPACE NINJA (Tristan Goddard) -- Another role that Goddard is saddled with is similarly minor, but nonetheless deserving of mention.  This deranged, malicious terrorist, who is, essentially, a ninja from outer space (or, to put it more promptly, an Avalonian alien -- good luck if you can decipher Tadashi's intentionally sped-up "description" of where the character in question comes from!).  He serves as the series' central villian, but the Space Ninja only appears in the first and last episode.  Nonetheless, he is a true menace, threatening both Narue and her father with a deadly laser machete.  Goddard's portrayal is the total opposite of his Tail Messa; slimy, cackling, and downright ruthless.

RIN ASAKURA (Zoe Fries) -- Since Avalonian aliens like the abovementioned space ninja pose a threat not just to the Nanase residence but to the galaxy as well, Inspector Tail Messa employs a group of super-charged "android girls" to fight them off.  One of them, Rin Asakura, has a small but significant role.  We first meet her in episode 6, where she addresses a shocked Kazuto as "big brother."  From this point, she puts him under a hypnotic trance (a trick that she tries on many other characters in the episode) and clings to Kazu like a long lost girlfriend, mainly to break Narue's heart enough to return to the galaxy.  (The resolution of this episode is pretty much what you'd expect, with Kazu fighting back against her brainwashing pulses and showing his love for Narue.)  Later, she shows up in the final episode to help Kazu and Narue against the attacking Avalonian aliens who have disrupted the couple's latest date at a Japanese festival.  Zoe's extremely high-pitched tone for the character will definitely strike many as irritating and annoying, but that's the point of the character.  Nonetheless, in spite of the squeaky voice, Zoe remembers to provide Rin with the proper emotions without sounding fake or forced.

NARUMI MUTSUKI (Zoe Fries) -- Later on, Zoe gets to voice a more "down-to-earth" character, in the form of one Narumi Mutsuki, whom Tadashi Nanase meets on an exploratory mission on Earth.  Essentially, she becomes his (second) wife.  Contrary to Rin, Zoe gives this minor character a very pleasant tone, breathing enough life to make her memorable.  Her best moment is the scene where she goes on a never-ending rant about her troublesome job (which Tadashi listens -- calmly -- to every second of); it's funny without being over-the-top.

HARUNA (Debbie Rabbai) -- Debbie is another one of my favorite New York actresses; having shown her skill in roles such as Leaf from Record of Lodoss War TV and Nayuta in Shingu:  Secret of the Stellar Wars.  In World of Narue, she portrays a lovestruck "starship" android (similar to Bathyscaphe) who only shows up for two episodes.  When Kanaka and Bathyscaphe first encounter her at a food stand during a day at the beach, Haruna is initially terrified, for she fears that the latter has come to arrest her.  The paranoia that Debbie conveys for this portion of her character is both sincere and funny, particularly when she threatens to "kill herself" using a spoon.  As the episode progresses, she becomes more and more relaxed and even performs a heroic deed.  Haruna's second appearance as at a Hot Springs Inn, initially starts off as ditzy when she puts on a "welcome" party for our pals, and eventually turns genuinely heartfelt, especially at the ending.  Although this is not one of my all-time favorite roles from Debbie, is is nonetheless always a pleasure to hear her voice, and again she manages to provide another top-notch performance.

AKIO SHIMADA (Josh Mosby) -- Aside from Haruna, the other important character in her story arc is Akio, a gentle young man who takes the latter under his wing after encountering her on the beach.  His role is a bit smaller and has less comic timing, but Mosby has a very relaxed, genial tone that works effectively for the role; one sequence which deserves mention is when Akio is initially shocked at Haruna's true identity but then later says that he wants to be with her forever.  Mosby handles this really effectively.

As typical for most New York produced dubs, the remainder of the characters are either dual roles from any of the other actors, or small bit parts.  The number of actors employed for such "walla" moments is somewhat limited, but there are no amateurish performances to be heard, and it really isn't all that distracting anyway.

Aside from directing his cast with a sincere, believeable flair, Wayland's script adaptation also does a solid job of treading the line between remaining faithful to the original while occasionally peppering up the dialogue for some funny moments.  As mentioned, Maruo's self-description of himself as "the Guru of Love" is a riot, as is Kazuto's sly sub-purist dig.  But one other moment that deserves mention is during the second episode, where Kazu and Narue are sitting through a movie.  We don't actually see what is onscreen, but the sounds accompanying it (underneath the sparse bits of dialogue from Kazu) include a dead-on Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, and a sound mix that definitely screams B-movie.  This really shows that Wayland is a "go to" person when it comes to pulling out quality work from the Big Apple.

All in all, The World of Narue excels as both a sweet-natured and funny sci-fi love story and as a dub.  Initially released on a four-set DVD by Central Park Media (highlighted by excellent extras, particularly voice-talent featurettes containing comments from the principal cast members), The World of Narue can currently be found from ADV-- sorry, Section 13.  If you missed out on this show or its dub, I highly recommend giving it a second look.  Not only an excellent entry from the Big Apple, it is "a direct hit to your heart", indeed!