Thursday, May 26, 2011

Haibane Renmei (spoiler warning)

Haibane Renmei strikes me as a difficult show to dub or even market to Western audiences. It's a gentle, slower-paced show, with almost no violence, deliberately ambiguous symbolism, and while there is comedy, it is based more on observation and subtlety than on silly sight gags (not that I am opposed to silly sight gags on principle, mind you). This is a show that requires great, nuanced acting, and thankfully New Generation Pictures offers up a terrific dub for a series that has quickly become an odd favorite for myself.

RAKKA (Carrie Savage)-Aside from her delightfully subversive work as Maromi, this might be my favorite Carrie Savage role. Carrie, as we've discussed before, tends to get typecast as sickeningly saccharine young girls, and this pigeonholing can sometimes serve as a detriment despite her prodigious acting talent. Rakka is different, however; she is as lost and confused as the audience in the early goings of the series, but she eventually grows in confidence and ends up doing some pretty daring things by series' end. Carrie's soft voice is a perfect fit for this little haibane in any of her moods, be they confused, happy, or even heroic.

REKKI (Erika Weinstein)-Possibly my favorite performance in the dub, Rekki is arguably the most complex character in the show, a "sinbound" haibane who wrestles with a dark, lonely past even as she proves to be a truly kind, caring individual. Erika's voice for Rekki is surprisingly deep and husky, but it works perfectly for this deadpan, secretly tormented soul, and she does a great job with both Rekki's normal, caring self and the more emotionally wrenching scenes when Rekki tries to come to grips with her past. It's terrific work all around.

HIKARI (Hunter Mackenzie Austin)-The bubbly, slightly mischievous haibane of the group, Hunter gives Hikari an appropriately young-sounding voice and a bright, cheerful tone that gives way to concern when necessary. Not much to say except, "It's great!"

KANA (Zarah Little)-Kana is the tomboy of the group, so Zarah gives her a somewhat rougher, boyish voice to distinguish her, although we never doubt that she's a girl. Zarah also does some great acting here, particularly in Kana's "spotlight" episode where we learn where she works and what her outlook on life is. It's my third-favorite performance in the dub behind Carrie and Erika.

KUU (J. Ray Hochfield)-Kuu is perhaps even more sprightly and energetic than Hikari, and J. Ray sounds so young that I almost thought they had actually hired a young girl to play the part. Sadly, Kuu's only around for about half the series, and J. Ray does an equally great job with the burgeoning sadness in Kuu's voice as she prepares to take her "Day of Flight".

NEMU (Karen Strassman)-Karen has one of the voices that can suit a variety of female characters, be they hot-blooded ass-kickers like Kallen in Code Geass, femme fatales like Fasalina in GunXSword, or characters like Nemu, a haibane so sleepy she almost seems narcoleptic. Karen takes that "sleepiness" and applies it to her voice, although she thankfully avoids the trap of sounding dull. Nemu turns out to have an interesting "shared past" with Rekki, and Karen does a good job with those scenes as well.

THE COMMUNICATOR (Michael McConnohie)-A strange being who seems to hold sway over the lives of the haibane, Michael gives this character a harsh, authoritative tone that can nevertheless shift into a more perceptive, understanding mode when that kind of conversation is needed. It's another great performance from an actor I love.

HYOHKO (Josh Phillips)-It's admittedly a little odd hearing Josh in this role, seeing as his most famous character is the foul-mouthed, thuggish Jan Valentine in Hellsing and Hellsing Ultimate. Hyohko seems thuggish at first, but ultimately turns out not to be, and Josh does a good job with this shift in characterization.

Miscellaneous actors include Stephanie Sheh, Taliesin Jaffe, Wendee Lee, and William Knight, all of whom do lovely work in their small roles. Overall, this is a terrific dub for a great show.

Up next: Baccano!, then Black Butler, Welcome to the NHK, RIN: Daughters of Mnemosyme, Corpse Princess/Shikabane Hime and, eventually, RahXephon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paranoia Agent (spoiler warning)

When Satoshi Kon died last year, the outpouring of grief from the animation community was the strongest I had seen since the death of legendary Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones in 2002. Kon was frankly taken before his time, a genius who took the best mind-bending aspects of American thrillers and suffused them with life, humor and true horror. Many have compared him to David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, though I'd argue he's a far more disciplined director than Lynch, and his recurring theme of identity brings him more in line with the master Hitchcock.

His sole series work, Paranoia Agent, is a terrific show all on its own, a 13-episode exploration of, well, paranoia, and how it can be both beneficial and harmful to us. And yet, like Cowboy Bebop or Wolf's Rain, the stellar dub elevates it to an even higher level in my esteem. New Generation Pictures, a company who I can sometimes find to be hit-or-miss in their dubbing (though not nearly as inconsistent as, say, Canada's Ocean Group), outdid themselves here, and many of the actors here give the performances of their careers.


-Michael is an actor I have a great amount of respect for, always turning in rock-solid performances with that great, gravelly voice. Here, he gets a character truly worthy of his skill, an aging detective who proves to be just as insecure and wracked with self-doubt over his place in the world as the rest of the cast. And yet, Ikari also proves to be ultimately heroic by the end of the series, one of the few characters who confronts and conquers his problems. Michael nails all of this, as well as the more comedic moments early on when Ikari is frustrated beyond belief by the "Little Slugger" case.

DETECTIVE MITSUHIRO MANIWA (Liam O'Brien)-Here's another actor I have a lot of love for, always turning in great work, even in dreck like Naruto. Liam has a different challenge as Maniwa: he starts off as kind of an "audience surrogate", openly questioning the routine investigation tactics Ikari favors and trying to get inside the heads of the Slugger's victims in order to catch him. Liam has a charming, youthful voice, so he gets us to like Maniwa right away. And yet, this detective also succumbs to paranoia and fear as the series progresses, eventually donning a superhero costume as he tries to pinpoint the origin of Little Slugger. What Liam does here is interesting; instead of going for a stereotypical "crazy" tone, he takes Maniwa's seemingly reasonable, questioning nature and amplifies it to a fever pitch. We get caught up in his mad rush of discovery even as we question his sanity.

TSUKIKO SAGI (Michelle Ruff)-Our third "key character" of sorts, Tsukiko is the first victim of Little Slugger, and she turns out to be an extremely troubled young woman. Michelle tends to play these quiet types fairly often, yet she brings a new, haunted quality to Tsukiko that I don't think I've heard from her before. It's a performance that makes you keep your eye on this strange girl; she's hiding something, but what? Michelle's terrific performance is key to this ambiguity at the heart of the series.

MAROMI (Carrie Savage)-Now here's a delightful little performance. Carrie tends to play sugary sweet characters, and Maromi doesn't seem all that different at first: she's a cute little anthropomorphic dog created for an animated show by Tsukiko. Yet we learn rather quickly that Maromi is not what she appears to be, turning out to possibly be even creepier and more malevolent than Little Slugger himself. As a result, Carrie's high-pitched, babyish tones take on a strange, eerie quality, instantly ratcheting up the tension of any scene where she speaks. It's a great example of playing against our expectations, and Carrie commits completely to Maromi's ultimate creep factor. She also makes the educational lessons we learn about how an anime is produced in episode 10 (yes, this really happens) rather amusing.

THE OLD MAN (William Frederick Knight)-William seems to have been playing older men since the beginning of his dub career, but this might be his best. The old man seems to be off his rocker, but actually turns out to be quite key to the mystery of Little Slugger, and William manages to pull off that mix of age, hidden wisdom, and nuttiness wonderfully.

LITTLE SLUGGER/MAKOTO KOZUKA (Sam Regal)-Sam has one of those young voices that can suit a variety of characters, and he's quite creepy as Slugger early on, but he gets to shift that performance as our perception of Slugger changes. In episode 5, for example, we find out that a young boy named Makoto Kozuka, who we think we've been seeing as Slugger the whole time, is actually a copycat (he later confesses that he only attacked two people), and has his own delusion about the world. He sees the world as an RPG and himself as the hero, and Sam makes this demented worldview very funny as Kozuka persists in his delusions and takes the two detectives along with him. Sam also does a great job with the growls and snarls of the taller, more demonic Little Slugger we see in the latter part of the series.

MISAE IKARI (Melodee Spevack)-Ikari's terminally ill wife, Misae doesn't appear until Episode 11, and she gets the episode almost entirely to herself as she confronts Little Slugger and tells him about her past and why she no longer "needs" Slugger. Melodee has a lot of dialogue in a single episode as a result, and she does a terrific job with all of it, getting across the idea that Misae is awfully frail without overdoing it, yet also conveying her hidden strength. Melodee also pitches her voice higher when we see a vision of a younger Misae in Ikari's fantasy world in the series finale.

MASAMI HIRUKAWA (Deem Bristow)-The late Mr. Bristow is probably best known for his performances as Dr. Eggman in the first two Sonic Adventure games, but he definitely has better material to work with here. Hirukawa turns out to be one of the most despicable characters in the series, a corrupt cop who doesn't see anything wrong with helping run a prostitution ring or installing a video camera in his daughter's room so he can watch her undress (all together now: eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww!). Bristow's aged voice provides a terrific contrast to his behavior, sounding "noble" even in the depths of depravity.

AKIO KAWAZU (Doug Stone)-Stone gives this slimy, frog-like reporter an appropriately throaty voice, and as a result this paparazzi ends up as another creep we can root against.

HARUMI CHONO/"MARIA" (Erica Shaffer)-Erica does a great job with both Harumi's normal, kindly teacher personality and the harsh prostitute "Maria" personality. Not much else to say, really.

YUICHI TARA (Johnny Yong Bosch)-Another shrewd bit of "playing against expectations", I'm not sure Bosch has ever played a character this young before. Sure, he's got a great, youthful voice, but he tends to play teenagers or young adults, not elementary school students. Still, much like with Carrie and Maromi, this provides a delicious bit of playing around with Bosch's usual range. Yuichi at first seems like a heck of a guy, a typical Bosch character, but he turns out to be tormented by jealousy and an inferiority complex that ultimately leads Little Slugger right to him, and Bosch does a great job with this shift in perception.

TAEKO HIRUKAWA (Kari Wahlgren)-As always, Kari is great, portraying Taeko's all-abiding love for her father expertly, and then doing a wonderful job with Taeko's feelings of betrayal and disgust when she finds the computer folder full of pictures of her undressing, and then the camera that took them in her room.

Most of the other characters are extras or small roles, but they're all performed well, with folks like Kirk Thornton, Dave Mallow, Megan Hollingshead, Wendee Lee, and Steve Blum popping up to expertly do small roles here and there. The scripting is equally excellent, and I rather like the translation of "Shonen Bat" to "Little Slugger", to be honest. All in all, it's quickly become one of my favorite dubs.

Up next: My long-in-the-works review of Baccano!, Haibane Renmei, and then probably Black Butler.

Monday, May 16, 2011

JesuOtaku's Fruits Basket Audio Drama

Internet anime reviewer JesuOtaku (her videos are located here: has decided to take on a monumental, seemingly unprecedented task: adapting the Fruits Basket manga into an audio drama, which is basically like older radio plays except over the Internet. Auditions are already complete, the cast list will be announced this Friday, and episodes will begin "airing" sometime in June.

In this reviewer's opinion, this is an immensely cool thing. Fruits Basket isn't a horribly long manga, but it's still a hefty 136 chapters, so I have to applaud JO for dreaming big. I auditioned for the project myself, and while I wasn't cast, it was still a lot of fun. I eagerly await the beginning of this new journey.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fruits Basket: The Manga Fantasy Cast (SPOILERS!)

I generally don't like to draw unfavorable comparisons between an anime series and the manga it's based on (IF it's based on one, as not all are); comics and animation are ultimately different mediums and have different needs, so really it all comes down to personal preference in most cases.

However, there is one manga that absolutely obliterates its adaptation in terms of quality: Natsuki Takaya's Fruits Basket. The anime isn't bad, but it's unfinished, covering about 5 volumes of material from a 23-volume series, and as a result it lacks many of the fascinating characters introduced later in the series, as well as the true emotional power that the manga eventually obtains.

Ergo, this fantasy cast will cover both characters who appeared in the anime and only in the manga, though I won't be casting EVERY character, just most of them. Funimation's dub was weak in some aspects (it was one of their earliest non-Dragonball Z efforts), but nevertheless well-acted on the whole. I'll be keeping many of the actors who originally portrayed their anime roles (this will be indicated by "Original" appearing before the actual casting reasons), but also recasting some, so hopefully this will be interesting.


TOHRU HONDA (Laura Bailey)-Original. Laura's sweet, winning portrayal is part of what caused me to fall in love with this character almost immediately, and I can't think of anyone better to reprise the role.

YUKI SOHMA (Eric Vale)-Original. I never liked Yuki's voice in the Japanese much; it was obviously a woman, and while Yuki looks feminine, he doesn't act like it much, and is actually pretty masculine most of the time. That's why I liked Eric Vale's portrayal so much; his voice was soft, yes, but there was still an edge in his voice that spoke to the deeper complexities of the character. Since Yuki ends up growing much more as a person and even getting his own romance further into the manga, I think Vale would be more than up to the task of acting in them.

KYO SOHMA (Jerry Jewell)-Original. Kyo at first glance seems like a fun, showboating part, and Jewell certainly had fun with his comedic yelling and bravado in the original dub, but Kyo (like many other characters) is examined much more thoroughly from a psychological perspective in the manga. In the more dramatic scenes of the anime, Jewell brought a haunted quality to Kyo that would work wonders for the scenes where we peel back more of Kyo's psyche.

SHIGURE SOHMA (John Burgmeier)-Original. Much like Eric and Jerry, John did such a great job with suggesting Shigure's true nature (as it's mostly neutered for the anime) that I'd love to hear him take on the darker themes of Shigure's manga-self.

ARISA UOTANI (Colleen Clinkenbeard)-Colleen has a terrific "tough" quality to her voice that would work great for this ex-gang member, but she also has the talent to make that voice sound both young enough for a high-schooler, and vulnerable for Arisa's moments of self-doubt and insecurity.

SAKI HANAJIMA (Brina Palencia)-Brina has an underrated talent for deadpan creepiness, but she can also make creepy characters sympathetic, which is what "Hana" ultimately is. She could also play Hana's equally eerie little brother, Megumi, with no trouble at all as she can do a darn good "little boy" voice.

AKITO SOHMA (Stephanie Young)-The mysterious head of the Sohma family, Akito begins the series as something of a villain, abusing the other members of the family both physically and psychologically. Oh, and he's also secretly a woman. Yet Takaya takes Akito through some rather drastic changes by the end, and I was amazed at how sympathetic the character eventually became. I think Stephanie would manage to do a terrific job of mixing the early villainy with the eventual sympathy and understanding that Akito eventually gains.

KYOKO HONDA (Lydia Mackay)-OK, this is admittedly another "mom who's dead as the story begins" (Lydia previously played Trisha Elric in both Fullmetal Alchemist series), but I think Lydia would knock both Kyoko's motherly side and her younger, angrier self out of the park. Nothing against the original actress, Meredith McCoy, but Meredith doesn't seem to be working much anymore, so that's part of why I picked Lydia.

KAGURA SOHMA (Monica Rial)-Again, nothing against Meredith McCoy (who also originally played this part), but I think Monica could make Kagura a real comic highlight whenever she shows up, as well as handle her more dramatic scenes effectively.

MOMIJI SOHMA (Luci Christian)-The now seemingly retired Kimberly Grant did an OK job with this part in the original dub, but I think Luci, doing a variation on her Hunny voice from Ouran, could be light-years better in this role. Not only does she do a more convincing young-boy voice, she's a terrific actress, and Momiji is a surprisingly tough role that I think could give her a good challenge.

HATORI SOHMA (Kent Williams)-Original. Kent's older-sounding voice was a perfect fit for the mature doctor, so I don't see any reason why he shouldn't reprise the role.

MITSURU (Cynthia Cranz)-Original. Cynthia was so funny as Mitsuru in the original dub that I can't see anyone else doing as well in the part.

HATSUHARU SOHMA (Justin Cook)-Original. Justin can do "tough" in his sleep, but what's surprising about his original portrayal of Haru is how low-key it is much of the time, as he tends to get cast as exuberant, screaming fighters. True, Haru's "Black" mode is like this, but that shift doesn't occur all that often, so I think Justin could do fine with Haru's own manga-only romance.

AYAME SOHMA (Chris Sabat)-Original. An early bit of playing against type for Sabat, Ayame is simply, well, fabulous in everything he does, and Sabat's deep timbre managed to get that across without using the typical, stereotypically "gay" voice (which is inappropriate anyway as Ayame really isn't gay). It was also hilarious, so I have no complaints about letting Sabat back into the booth for this one.

KAZUMA SOHMA (Sonny Strait)-As Kazuma's original VA Dameon Clarke no longer works for Funimation, I decided to go with Sonny because he's another actor who can sound both genuinely nice and yet still have a certain "edge" to his voice (look at his Maes Hughes from Fullmetal Alchemist for a great example). I think this would work quite well for Kyo's martial arts sensei and surrogate father.

KISA SOHMA (Jad Saxton)-Jad's performance as Eve Genoard in Baccano! convinced me she'd be great for this role, as she sounds young but not saccharine, which fits Kisa perfectly.

HIRO SOHMA (Anastasia Munoz)-As much as I liked Aaron Dismuke's hilariously petulant performance in the original dub, he's waaaaayyy too old-sounding now. Anastasia's voiced some young boys, so I think she could do wonderfully here.

RITSU SOHMA (Mike McFarland)-Original. Despite only appearing in one episode in the original (and only a few chapters in the manga), Mike made Ritsu both hilarious and relatable enough that I'd love to hear him again.

KAKERU MANABAE (Joel McDonald)-Here we're getting into "manga-only" characters, and I had admittedly thought of a couple other voices for this goofy soul who ends up becoming a good friend to Yuki: Todd Haberkorn and Greg Ayres. I ultimately decided on Joel because while Todd and Greg are both great, I can imagine very easily how they'd play this role. Joel's a bit more unpredictable, which suits Kakeru's own hidden depths quite well.

MACHI KURAGI (Maxey Whitehead)-Yuki's eventual love interest in the manga, I decided on Maxey for this complicated girl because, well, frankly she needs more female roles. But I also think Maxey could work wonders with Machi's mixture of deep-seated fears and comic neuroses.

ISUZU "RIN" SOHMA (Kate Oxley)-Kate has a terrific voice that can sound tough and vulnerable in equal measure, which suits this temperamental lass to a tee.

KURENO SOHMA (Vic Mignogna)-Vic doesn't get to play purely nice guys that often, so I thought this would be a fun change of pace from all the loudmouths and scenery-chewers he does, and he has a certain softness to his voice that Kureno needs to have for his nice-guy persona.

REN SOHMA (Stephanie Young)-There's a reason I cast Stephanie in both this role and Akito; as Ren is Akito's mother, I thought it would make sense for some of Akito's voice to "come from" Ren, and Stephanie could break out both the uber-sexy part of her voice and the screaming, crazy aspects as Ren grows steadily unhinged.

KATSUYA HONDA (J. Michael Tatum)-Tohru's father, Katsuya is a cold man who softens and warms after he meets and falls in love with Kyoko, and I think Tatum could perfectly capture that change, as well as sound young enough for the role.

Whew! That was a rather large post. I should have more coming soon, especially my long-in-the-works review of one of my favorite dubs, Baccano!, as well as reviews for the dubs of Paranoia Agent and Haibane Renmei. Catch y'all later!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Akira (Streamline and AniMaze Versions)

Akira is often considered the holy grail (if not one of the greatest holy grails) of Japanese animation.  While some may dispute that statement (myself included), there is no denying that Katsuhiro Otomo's considerably complex post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale about power, corruption, street punk gangs, corrupt government officials, and a whole lot more besides got many introduced to the world of Anime.  In its initial 1989 United States premiere, a hastily produced dub (commissioned by the Japanese distributors) was shopped around to many American studios; all except one independent company called Streamline Pictures turned it down.  The theatrical release was limited, but the film played to sell-out crowds and soon became a best-seller on video.  Indeed, many oldschool fans proudly display the Streamline-distributed English release of Akira as a much-sought after prize in their collection, which not only includes the characters speaking with bizarre New York accents, but pronouncing everyone's names in a way that can be, at best, described as pretty laughable.

That said, I do not like this older dub.  At all.  Part of the problem may have been my own trauma from being so horrified by the violence in Akira when I foolishly rented it at the age of thirteen.  Even after giving Anime a second chance, and seeing other considerably better dubs, I didn't find the violence so bothersome, but even so, there was something about this older dub that grinded on me.  Perhaps it was because I felt that nobody involved knew what they were doing.  Or maybe that the script was totally, completely incomprehensible (not at all helped by rather dated "slang" talk obviously shoehorned into the muddled dialogue).  Whatever the case, the Streamline dub of Akira only succeeded in alienating me from the movie; it's hard for me to listen to it without cringing.

When Streamline Pictures collapsed in 1996, Pioneer/Geneon rescued Akira.  Five years later, it was announced that a fresh new dub would be produced to go along with restored picture.  At a cost of $1 million, Otomo's script was painstakingly retranslated and carefully revised, providing a more coherent, less confusing flow to an already super-complex story.  Later, the folks at AniMaze used this revamped screenplay as a guide for the new cast to record their vocals, with precise attention provided to the pronounciations and details that were previously hard to comprehend.  The resulting redub, which I'll refer to as the AniMaze version, is something else.  It's a skillfully executed English track which not only enhanced the film for me, but gradually led me to change my mind about Akira as a whole.  The quality of the writing and the performances are much smoother than the previous version, and best of all, the story is much easier to follow.

TETSUO (Joshua Seth, AniMaze dub; Jan Rabson, Streamline dub) -- Not your typical protagonist for any kind of film, Tetsuo Shima is a deeply insecure, needy teenager who unfortunately comes into contact with a withered boy with psychic powers, gradually degenerates (literally) into a super-powerful, vengeful, psychotic megalomaniac, and, gradually, into an indistinguishable mass of mutating flesh (arguably one of the most horrifying pieces of animation in any film).  If anything, he is a richly tragic character.  A role like this is very demanding, requiring a lot of tangible emotions while providing a touch of vulnerability and insanity.  And that's ultimately what makes Joshua Seth's take on the character so fascinating.  From the start, he brings a very needy tone to his lines, effectively conveying Tetsuo's inner issues.  His resentment/admiration for Kaneda also comes across very clearly with the conflicted delivery of his interactions with him.  Particularly noteworthy are the scenes where he yells at Kaneda for saving him from the Clowns, and later on, when he, at the point of insanity, condescendingly tells him that he no longer needs him--these moments are handled excellently.  As his character turns into a dangerous psychopath, cackling hysterically, Seth lets loose and never holds back, but at the same time he does not make Tetsuo sound "evil".  There is something about the crazed tone of his laugh that gives one the impression that he sounds like a kid ready to use his powers to achieve exactly what he wants.  In essence, his Tetsuo is frightening and sympathetic.  He gives his all to the climactic moments when Tetsuo's pain worsens and ultimately corrupts him.  It's a wonder that Seth is no longer working as a voiceover artist, but if Tetsuo was a dream come true for him, then it could very well indeed be his finest role ever.
Streamline's Jan Rabson, on the other hand, didn't give me the same feel.  In fact, he struck me as the complete opposite.  Aside from sounding like he's in his late forties, his week and needy moments are unconvincing and weak, sounding more like he's reading cue cards instead of actually acting.  He fares even worse when Tetsuo goes crazy, overacting his lines to the point of self-parody.  But what ultimately brings it down is the approach he chooses to take with such moments:  he sounds more like a stereotypical bad guy with zero subtlety or restraint.  He also lacks the nuances of humanity that Joshua provides.  His moments of surprise sound very forced and awkward and even for moments where he's telling Kaneda he no longer needs his help, he simply shouts it with no restraint (Seth, by comparison, delivers it with appropriately dripping bitterness).  Considering that Tetsuo is a much more complex character than Rabson's delivery implies, this was the wrong choice from the get go.  Much of his delivery is laughable, too, notably "They CAN'T DO THIIIS!" and even his cries of pain during the mutation scene sound over exaggerated and forced.  Although the distorted sound effects is a nice touch for that moment, his acting still suffers from confusingly written dialogue "My body won't listen to powers!" and unintentionally funny delivery.  Jan Rabson is a fine voice actor, but his Tetsuo, aside from being miscast, just didn't strike me as one of his finest roles.

KANEDA (Johnny Yong Bosch, AniMaze dub; Cam Clarke, Streamline dub) -- Aside from Tetsuo, the other central character in the film is Kaneda, a cocky, rambunctious biker who serves as the leader of the gang, and probably comes as close to the role of "hero" as possible.  Bosch has a distinctively recognizable "leading teen" voice, and for all the flak he gets for being overexposed, he nonetheless is a very solid choice for this character.  He brings a brash attitude to the character and delivers his lines with zest and enthusiasm.  Most of his dialogue consists of shouting and cursing, and Bosch really sounds like he's having a blast with those moments.  But the scenes where he shows off other aspects of his personality are effective, too; his attempts to sweet-talk the elusive Kei, his internal concern for Tetsuo, and of course, his final scene in the movie.  Johnny has had lots of other roles like this in many other Anime, but Kaneda is definitely up there with one of his finest.
As much as I respect Cam Clarke as a voice actor, his take on the character felt more alienating to me than effective.  His vocal tone is enough to make one think of, say, Michaelangelo or Leonardo from Ninja Turtles, which struck me as very odd from the get-go.  But that's not the reason I found his Kaneda underwhelming.  Half of his "angry" scenes come across as very strained and his attempts at emotion either clash with the onscreen visuals or sound very robotic or over-exaggerated.  (Other such moments, like when he shouts "fight like a MAAAAAAAN!" when he fights Tetsuo only evoke unintentional humor.)  Even his screams of "Tetsuo" toward the end are just overacting with no real force.  In short, this performance gave me the impression that Clarke didn't know where he wanted to go with his role and was just recording his lines in one take.  It's a shame, too, because I really liked him as Kratos in Tales of Symphonia and Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid.

KEI (Wendee Lee, AniMaze dub; Lara Cody, Streamline dub) -- In cahoots with an underground resistance to overthrough the corrupt government of Neo Tokyo, Kei is an extremely strong-willed yet also very fragile terrorist who actually comes across as traumatized when she takes out a cop with one (bloody) shot to the head.  She is something of a love/hate interest for Kaneda, but naturally she becomes an important ally in the latter events of the film, particularly when she is possessed by three emancipated children to stop Tetsuo from his madness (although we're never really told how she got mixed up with them).  Wendee raises her voice slightly to sound like a teenage girl.  It's not too deep to sound otherwise, but it's also not too shrill to come across as convincing either.  I like this balance, as it makes her voice much easier on the ears.  But she also does a great job of bringing out Kei's toughness, vulnerability, and stoicness (when she is possessed by the children toward the climax of the film), without overdoing it.  Her chemistry with Bosch is very believeable, and doesn't hold back in the scenes where she is supposed to raise her voice or scream.  Overall, it is a very solid performance and consistently believeable.
As far as Cody is concerned, she has a considerably higher pitch and there are a few moments of effectiveness, but unfortunately there isn't enough of it.  Most of her acting sounds rushed, forced or too shrill, as if she did it in one take.  (Her "Kaneda" scream at the end has a two-sided effect, on one hand it is indeed strong, but on the other it sounds quite off and unfocused.  While changing that line to "Kaneda!  Can you hear me?" in the new dub was a call on the scriptwriters' part, it at least sounds more consistent and better delivered.)  In all honesty, it's not the worst I've heard from Lara, but she has done better in other roles than this.

COLONEL (Jamieson Pryce, AniMaze dub; Anthony Mozdy, Streamline dub) -- The idea behind the murky narrative of Akira is that the street gangs are the protagonists and that the government officials are the antagonists.  While that may be true for the most part, the Colonel teeters very much toward "hero" territory.  He is a very stern figuree, contemptuous of the current conditions of Neo Tokyo, yet at the same time dedicated to doing the right thing.  He takes action to stop Tetsuo when the latter gets out of control, and is one of the others to survive the (literally) apocalyptic finale.  Pryce lends his booming voice to this character, bringing both a strong gravitas and a sense of authority that gives one the impression that he is not someone to be dismissed.  In addition, he does an excellent job at expressing the Colonel's frustration with the politicians, uneasy alliance with the Doctor, and sounds entirely believeable during the dramatic scenes toward the end.  While there are some places where he comes across as though he's trying to keep up with the lipflaps, he doesn't miss a beat in his acting.  Pryce seems to be born to play characters of this nature, and this is yet another fantastic role for his resume.
Mozdy, on the other hand, gives the character a much raspier tone which would probably work in favor of the Colonel being a world weary soldier, but it doesn’t have the same tone of authority that Pryce brings. He also seems uncertain of where he wants to go with the character, growling and grunting his way through each line with no real force. While there may be at least one line that didn’t sound so bad (“Are you satisfied now, Tetsuo?”) which came across a bit missed in the newer version, many others aren’t as strongly delivered as they could be.  In particular, his shouting at the children to get out of the stadium when Tetsuo metamorphs or his earlier scolding of the doctor aren't forceful enough.  It's just the same gruff tone with no range of emotion.  Pryce has the advantage over Mozdy in those moments, as he sounds much stronger in his delivery.

KAORI (Michelle Ruff, AniMaze dub; Barbara Goodson, Streamline dub) Tetsuo's girlfriend has a small part in the film, and regretably, her role is limited.  She spends most of the time worrying about Tetsuo, and, at one point, is almost raped by the Clown gang leader.  It's hard for the audience to really care, one way or another, when she makes her final exit from the movie.  Which is arguably what makes her role something of a challenge.  For the AniMaze dub, Ruff raises her voice to a high pitch and at times it does come across as strained, but at the same time she does a very good job of conveying the character's emotions.  Her delivery is solid and believeable throughout.
Goodson is less strained in her vocal portrayal of Kaori, but while she tries to make an effort at putting emotion into her role, it didn't sound very natural. It doesn’t help that the character’s dialogue is not all that compelling to begin with, given that she has little to do in the film.  Overall, neither role is particularly outstanding, but Ruff is the better of the two by far.

YAMAGATA (Michael Lindsay, AniMaze dub; Anthony Mozdy, Streamline dub)Taller and lankier than Kaneda and perhaps even more sarcastic, Yamagata is a bit of a bully and an ally, in that while he treats Tetsuo like the runt of the pack, he also expresses concern for him after the latter crashes his bike.  He is also the only member of the Capsules to be murdered by Tetsuo.  In the Animaze dub, he is voiced by Michael Lindsay, who brings a noticeably scrappy but youthful sounding tone which works in favor of the character.  (After all, he is a teenager.)  But what I really liked about his performance was the enthusiasm he shows; his lines are delivered with a genuine liveliness that really gives one the impression that he was having a great time with this role.
If Mozdy’s take on the Colonel is lacking, his Yamagata makes that role sound like Shakespeare. His voice wavers between sounding goofy and/or artificial, and his dialogue ranges from Shatneresque “That. Peabrain!” or rushed with no real energy. His performance is both exaggerated and off from the start, and it delves into pretty forgettable territory fairly fast.

KAI (Anthony Pulcini, AniMaze dub; Bob Bergen, Streamline dub) – Aside from Yamagata and Tetsuo, the only other member of the Capsules we're allowed to get acquainted with is Kai, who seems to have a close friendship with Yamagata.  Aside from Kaneda, Kei, and the Colonel, he is another survival of the cataclysmic climax.  In the AniMaze dub, Pulcini is quite convincing in this character, sounding both very natural and youthful.  He also puts a lot of emotion into his lines, especially in one of his grieving scenes toward the second half of the film.  The same is true of when he embraces Kaneda at the end of the movie and inquires about Tetsuo.
As for Bergen… while his voicing of the character is less distracting than that of Masaru (see below), it's still a very, very lacking performance compared both to Pulcini and the rest of his resume.  Aside from sounding like he's, again, cold reading for most of the show, his emoting moments are not very convincing or natural, coming off as forced more often than not.  The crying scene at the end sounds exaggerated as well.

RYU (Robert Buchholz, AniMaze dub; Steve Kramer, Streamline dub) This character doesn't have many scenes, but from the start it becomes clear that he is the leader of an underground resistance movement trying to overthrow Neo-Tokyo's corrupt government.  It's a bit strange to hear Gene Starwind from Outlaw Star voicing this character, but surprisingly, it works very well.  He has a great "leader" voice and delivers his lines in a very firm, controlled manner.  His final scene in the movie is also very effectively done--Buchholz provides the character with the appropriate weariness required for that moment.  I wouldn't say this is one of Bob's finest roles, but his overall performance is very strong and quite fitting.
Kramer’s voice isn’t terrible, but his acting feels more like reading directly from the script with no genuine emotion. This is not a good showcase of what he’s capable of (he turns in a much better performance as the interrogation officer whom Kaneda calls “old man” -- “pops” if you’re watching the Streamline version), and it doesn’t help that his character is mistranslated as “Roy”. At best, it’s a mediocre performance.

DOCTOR (Simon Isaacson, AniMaze dub; Lewis Lemay, Streamline dub) -- Obsessed with solving the mystery behind Akira, this character is compelled to continue experimenting on Tetsuo... to the point where he disobeys the Colonel's order not to do so when the situation gets eccentrically worse.  It's tempting to say that he comes close to being a major villain, except he's not actively evil, but corrupt from his ambitious plans.  Isaacson's quavering tone lends itself very well to the elderly appearance of the doctor, and he does an excellent job of portraying the Doctor as a somewhat mad but surprisingly sympathetic character.  You can feel the obvious concern in his voice for his subjects as well as the gleeful enthusiasm for his work.  One is reminded of Isaacson's work as Dr. Laughton from Metropolis, but the actor succeeds very well in making the character his own.
Lewis Lemay’s vocal tone is a tad raspier than Simon’s, which is vocally sound.  But like everyone else, he sounds very, very dry, as if he's simply reciting lines from a play with no depth of emotion or comprehension of the material.  In particular, his final moments toward the end of the film suffer from some unintentional humor, probably because of the laughably scripted "cosmic rebirth" (which frankly, doesn't make any sense) or the confused manner in which he delivers it.

KIYOKO (Sandy Fox, AniMaze dub; Melora Harte, Streamline dub) -- As one of three withered children, Kiyoko is also the most clairvoyant.  When we first meet her, we learn that she has dreamt about the eventual downfall of Neo-Tokyo on account of Akira's resurrection.  She can also speak directly to Kei through her mind, causing the latter to recite her directions/exposition to an obviously confused Kaneda.  In many ways, she is still a child, but she is also adult, as well.  How do you portray such a character?  Sandy Fox rises to the task, and she does a solid job of conveying the character's nature, although it should be noted that in order to sound youthful, she raises her voice to a nasally-sounding pitch.  This is a risky choice as it could cause for some aural discomfort.  She sounds especially strained when Kiyoko is warning Tetsuo in a worried tone not to continue on his rampage.  Despite that, her actual acting never feels forced, and Sandy fares especially well during normal dialogue.
Melora Harte’s version is less high-pitched than Sandy’s, which probably works in favor of her character’s withered appearance. At the same time, though, her delivery is inconsistent and all over the place, ranging from an ineffectively delivered, lame-sounding “That’s enough” to a forced, stilted, unbalanced staccato speech.  I don't know if that is due to poor vocal direction or a lack of understanding about the character, but either way, it's not a very inspired performance.  Neither choice is ideal, but Sandy fares much better overall.

TAKASHI (Cody MacKenzie, AniMaze dub; Barbara Goodson, Streamline dub) -- Of the three children, Takashi is something of an unintentional catalyst.  It is his psychic powers that causes Tetsuo to crash, even though he's really trying to shield himself out of fear.  When he is horrified by a person's death, his reponse is to scream, which in turn causes a skyscraper to collapse.  In AniMaze's dub, he is voiced by Cody MacKenzie.  This was probably his first dubbing role, and as such, there are some places where he sounds a bit green, particularly when he's relaying Kiyoko's warning to Tetsuo about awakening Akira's power.  As he gets more comfortable with the character, though, I felt that his delivery improved along with it.  One of his best moments is toward the climax of the film, where he tries to stop Kaneda from leaping after the transformed Tetsuo.  Here he sounds very natural and genuinely worried.
As far as Goodson's take is concerned, I didn't find her particularly effective.  Aside from a lack of genuine emotion, she sounds surprisingly nasally and unconvincing.  I'm sure she could have done a much better job if the production didn't feel so rushed.  One thing that both VAs have in common is that their weak point is a scene about nine minutes in when Takashi reacts with a scream to a terrorist being gunned down.  (This scream, incidentally, causes a tower to collapse.)  Goodson makes the scream raspier sounding than Cody's (which does come across as a little too "polished" sounding), but otherwise that moment is underwhelming and unnatural in both dubs.  Despite this, I still maintain that Cody is the better of the two vocal performances overall.

MASARU (Cody MacKenzie, Geneon dub; Bob Bergen, Streamline dub) -- Masaru is the most authoritative of the children; that is to say, he acts as their leader, as evidenced in the scene where he implores Takashi to come back with them at the beginning of the movie, and later on, when he motivates his friends(?) to attack Tetsuo.  As with Takashi, Masaru is also voiced by Cody MacKenzie; as with that role, his voice is very convincing and for the most part, acquits himself extremely well.  That said, there were a couple of places where I felt his delivery seemed a bit stiff, notably his first line in the film and, toward the end, his "Hi... Akira." (Then again, it would be difficult to imagine how to convey the appropriate response to that pivotal moment.)  I do cut him slack, though, because otherwise his delivery sounds very natural and solid, and if there are any moments of awkwardness, it's not grating enough to bring down his performance as a whole.
While I can see what Bob may have been trying to do with his Masaru, he otherwise comes across as a very strange choice for the character and sounds completely off half the time. Yes, there are a few moments where he's effective, but overall it's not one of Bergen's finest moments. I steer around that argument for Pazu in Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky because he is basically a teenager and either approach (higher or lower pitched) is fitting, but Masaru is a much younger kid (despite having a weary appearance to him) and to have him sound like Grumpy from Care Bears on helium is very distracting.  With all apologies to Bergen, this is not one of his finest moments.

NEZU (Mike Reynolds, Geneon dub; Anthony Mozdy, Streamline dub) -- A minor antagonist, nasty Nezu is the "mole" in the executive council who secretly funds Ryu's terrorist movement to take down the government. Because he only has two scenes in the movie, it's a little difficult for his role to really take character.  Of the two takes, though, Reynolds in the Geneon dub is the most effective; he has a wheezy quality to him that I thought was fitting for his onscreen appearance, and he sounds appropriately slimy.
Mozdy, on the other hand, sounds too exaggerated and cartoony, just like many of the other characters in the older dub.  That his performance is also negligible is also unfortunate.

Other roles in the AniMaze dub are provided by many other California regulars:  Robert Axelrod has a brief role as a terrorist who is gunned down before we have a chance to know him (Shimazaki), John Snyder is the bartender, and Matt Miller, Mike McConnohie, and many more round out the cast.  With the exception of a few lines that seem a bit one-offish, the rest of the cast in AniMaze's dub sounds very solid and are directed extremely well.  The older version's minor characters have a very strange, raspy quality, which, while probably appropriate for a satirical comic book, today sound very hard on the ears.

It's the translation, though, where AniMaze's dub really shines.  As mentioned, Akira is an EXTREMELY difficult movie to follow, and, with all apologies to I. Michael Haller, his adaptation didn't do much to clarify the multiple subplots running alongside the central arc.  There were also several instances in his script that I felt really needed work.  For instance, there's one scene in the early quarter of the film where Kaneda and his friends are punched across the face by their school teacher.  In Streamline's dub, the teacher in question simply shouts "Shut up!" to each of them one by one.  The resulting scene, as such, sounds very confused and even laughable.  By contrast, AniMaze's script (which is based on a fresh new translation of the Japanese script) uses the word "Discipline!" for each time the teacher strikes.  Hearing this, the audience is given a much better implication on what Kaneda's friends are being reprimanded for--according to the liner notes on the DVD, it is a form of capital punishment in vocational schools.  This is one of the many subtle examples which brings the story to a much more believeable tone.

Two other examples include a brief moment where Tetsuo starts to have grotesque hallucinations while the voices of the children shout "Akira!" in his mind.  In Streamline's version, he shouts "I'm... not Akira!" which, again, caused for confusion and seemed like a last-minute scripting issue.  The new dub replaces this line with "I don't know who that is!" which is similarly cryptic, but it's less head-scratching and feels more natural.  In another scene much later on in the film, when Tetsuo is confronted by Kei (who is possessed by the children), after the latter warns him not to press on with his powers any further, Streamline's dub has him shout "stupidity!  Utter stupidity!"  I didn't know what he was reacting about and I had even forgotten at that point that Kei was possessed.  The new dub solves this problem by having Tetsuo shout instead, "It's the KIDS talking!  You're those brats, right?!"  Not only does it remind the audience that Kei is not herself, it's also closer to the subtitled line.  Based on these examples, it is obvious that the scriptwriters involved with the new dub really gave their new script a lot of thought, although considering the time and money put into the current version as opposed to the first one, it really isn't surprising.

Also worthy of mention are that the characters' names are pronounced correctly; so for those of you who still believe that Akira should sound like "A-Kir-rah" and Kaneda as "Ka-nay-da" or Takashi as "Ta-kah-shi" as the older dub describes them, they are not enunciated the same way in the Japanese language track.  This time around, though, we hear "A-kee-ra", "Kah-nae-da", and "Taka-shi".  While the change may seem disorienting, it also shows how much research the AniMaze team did in order to get the names just right.

Is AniMaze's dub of Akira flawless?  Well, for all its accolades, there is one noticeable problem that makes it fall just slightly short of perfection--the lip-sync.  Unlike most other Japanese animated features, Akira had its Japanese dialogue recorded first, and its mouths are more synchronized to its actors, a pratice very similar to Disney animated features.  As such, the words don't always match very well in the dub.  On the other hand, considering the difficulties of ADR and the challenges the writers must have been faced with in getting around this problem, it really doesn't harm the new dub at all.  Only the most carefully trained eye will notice any minor imperfections.  For the most part, though, it's professionally accomplished.  (The older dub is even worse in the synching department, with lines coming across as either mistimed or stopping before a mouth is finished flapping, at least according to one scene in the film where the children are confronting Tetsuo in the hospital's baby room.)

Despite that, the overall effect of AniMaze's dub of Akira ultimately succeeds in making the film fresh and arguably much more accessible even to anyone who may have found it complicated the first time around.  It is definitely an excellent entry for the folks responsible for efforts like Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, and countless other dubs.  It even converted this once skeptical writer into a fan.  As for the Streamline dub, it may have been passable for its time, but many older dubs from the '80s to the mid '90s have not aged so gracefully over the years, and this is no exception.  I understand that there are many who will disagree with me, but if I ever want to experience Otomo's tale, I'd rather hear AniMaze's version.  If the average viewer gives it a chance, I'm sure they'll have little trouble agreeing.

(Incidentally, both dubs are now available on Funimation's DVD/BD release.  It's up to you to decide which one is to your liking.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fantasy Dub Casting: Skip Beat!

(First off, everyone continue to keep Japan and its people in your prayers. Even if you can't afford to donate money, at least give them something)

Skip Beat is my latest favorite manga, one that everyone should be reading. I don't want to give a plot summary, so Wiki or TVTropes is the place for that, but I definitely think it's one of the best shoujo manga this side of Fruits Basket (which I'm going to do a fantasy cast of for the characters who didn't make it into the first anime, as well as a couple of legitimate recasts). That it's a story about acting certainly helps, and for a show about actors, you need great ones.

While there was an anime adaptation in 2008, it only ran for 25 episodes and doesn't appear to be getting a second season. Ergo, my casting here is more based on my experience with the manga. Once again, this will be a mix of different studios, mainly Texas and LA.

KYOKO MOGAMI (Luci Christian)-The heroine of our story, I had already cast Luci as Kyoko before the end of the first chapter. Kyoko has so many different sides to her personality and her own acting roles, but she's such an energetic, positive presence overall that I couldn't help but give it to Luci. This could end up as one of her classic characters, to tell you the truth.

SHO FUWA (Johnny Yong Bosch)-One of Johnny's best recent roles was Izaya Orihara in Durarara (which I do plan to review once Aniplex finishes releasing the show in America). To be frank, he's the largest, most evil prick Johnny's played in his career, and that's what inspired this casting. Sho seems to be getting some character development as the series goes on, but he's a hateful douche at the beginning of the series, and I can see Johnny having a blast with that brand of unrepentant douchebaggery.

REN TSURUGA (Crispin Freeman)-A beautiful young man who seems cold and jerky at first, but is secretly good and kind? Crispin can do this in his sleep, but Ren is complex enough in his emotions that I think the challenge would be interesting for him to tackle.

KANAE KOTONAMI (Trina Nishimura)-Trina is one of my favorite fresh Funimation talents, so I think she'd be perfect for the girl who starts as Kyoko's rival and very quickly becomes her best friend. Kanae is also a total perfectionist who perhaps takes too much pride in her work, and I think this could make for a great comedy duo between Trina and Luci.

LORY TAKARADA (Michael McConnohie)-The eccentric president of the agency Kyoko ends up at, Lory is a role that demands EPIC OVERACTING at times, but significantly more subtle acting at other times when he's manipulating his employees into making each other happier (no really, he does this. A lot). Michael's deep voice can be just as fit for comedy as it can be for drama, so I instantly thought of him for this role.

MARIA TAKARADA (Monica Rial)-Yes, I know it's a cliche, though as Monica herself will tell you, she's had plenty of non-little girl roles. Still, I couldn't think of anyone better to bring forth Maria's particular mix of sweetness and brattiness than Ms. Rial, so maybe it's for the best.

YUKIHITO YASHIRO (Greg Ayres)-Ren's hyperactive, matchmaking manager looks and acts fairly young, so I think Greg could make something really special and funny out of this role.

HIROAKI OGATA (Liam O'Brien)-Liam doesn't seem to play "meek" characters that much, so I thought this would both fit his voice and provide a nice bit of playing against type.

KUU HIZURI (Steve Blum)-Steve absolutely has the ability to pull off the uber-cool movie star who nevertheless ends up as Kyoko's surrogate father for reasons too complicated to explain here (GO READ IT!). That mix of fatherly tenderness (as well as hilariously proud doting) and sheer coolness fits Steve's repertoire to a T.

Coming up on Fantasy Casts: the aforementioned Fruits Basket thing as well as Star Driver. I may also post a review for Summer Wars as well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan

Today's new post is not a review, but a rather upsetting piece of news.  As many of you are aware, Japan recently was hit with both a 9.0 earthquake and a huge tsunami which literally wiped a whole town off the map.  Reportedly 10,000 people were killed.  Fortunately, none of Japan's creators of Anime or videogames that I know of were harmed by the disaster.  Even so, it is never good when a horrific event like this occurs.  We at AnimeDubReviews extend our hearts to the people of Japan who are suffering this tragedy.

There are lots of sites proclaiming donations to help the people from the land of Mario, Ghibli, etc. recover from the earthquake.  For more information check out Anime News Network.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Darker than BLACK

(First of all, I'd like to apologize for not making a post in several months. You'll be seeing more posts from me in addition to this one very soon, so I hope that will make up for lost time)

At this point, I am convinced that Funimation is incapable of dubbing a show poorly. They get mediocre or even bad shows sometimes, sure, but they've come so far since those early days of Dragonball Z where, as Chris Sabat will tell you, no one knew what they were doing. This is especially evident in the dub under discussion today, Darker than BLACK, a supernatural action show from director Tensai Okamura (Wolf's Rain) and Studio BONES. Like Wolf's Rain, DtB (abbreviated for convenience) is a series that plays events very close to the chest; emotional outbursts are powerful but rare, and one has to pay very close attention in order to catch the significance of many events and symbols within the series. Such a show needs to be carefully dubbed, and Funimation once again triumphs with this difficult show.

This will be divided into "Main Characters" and "Recurring/Two-Shot Characters" due to DtB's unusual series structure of two-episode mini-arcs until the last few episodes. I won't be analyzing EVERY minor or recurring role, just the ones I think are the most important and/or interesting. There's nary a poorly cast or poorly acted role in the dub, though, so anyone I don't mention is still great. Also, here be spoilers. You have been warned.

Main Characters

HEI/LEE SHENSHUN (Jason Liebrecht)-I'll be honest right now: until this role and Luck Gandor in Baccano! (I've also heard good things about his performance as the male lead in Eden of the East), I wasn't much of a fan of Jason. His early roles in shows like Black Cat or Tsubasa were basic male leads, and his voice didn't seem inherently interesting enough to justify his casting. Now he seems to be getting cast in more suitable roles, and his Hei is definitely excellent. Hei is hard to figure out: is his real self his on-the-job persona as "the Black Reaper", or is he really more like his agreeably dorky civilian identity Lee Shenshun? Liebrecht captures all the facets of Hei wonderfully, whether he's being a badass and fighting other Contractors (the superpowered beings of the story), his facade as Lee, or his own self-reflective moments where he ponders the past or his own feelings. It's a terrific performance all around.

MAO (Kent Williams)-Kent is one of my favorite Funi talents. Not only does he have a great, memorable voice, but he's an excellent, professional actor who almost never hits a wrong note. Mao, a Contractor who can "jump" into animals' bodies that is currently stuck in a cat form, is undoubtedly one of his largest roles and certainly one of his best. Sarcastic talking cats in a supernatural setting are nothing new (remember Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service or Salem from Sabrina the Teenage Witch?), but Kent manages to put his own spin on the trope, his older voice sounding more legitimate and biting in its sarcasm. Mao is quite possibly one of my favorite characters in the whole show, and Kent's wonderful performance is a large part of why. He certainly gets the best line in the whole show: "By the way, Hei doesn't just wear that coat as a fashion statement... it's bulletproof." And then Hei kicks the ass of everyone in the vicinity. Awesomesauce.

YIN (Brina Palencia)-Brina admittedly doesn't get as much to do as some of the others, but she manages to portray Yin's gradual emotional awakening quite effectively, especially in the episodes where we learn about her past. No complaints.

HUANG (John Swasey)-Swasey can do this type of role (gruff jerk with a heart of gold) in his sleep, but Huang is definitely one of his best. He's not a very likable guy at first, but Swasey subtly gets the idea across that Huang's jerk attitude is largely a front for his real feelings, and he certainly excels in the arc where we learn just why he thinks he hates Contractors so much. By the end of the series, Swasey has portrayed Huang's subtle transformation into a man who is willing to die to help people he previously said he hated so well that one nearly weeps at his demise, and cheer when he pops up again in a very unexpected form.

MISAKI KIRIHARA (Kate Oxley)-In addition to Kent Williams, this might be my favorite long-term performance in the whole dub. Kate is fairly fresh talent, but she establishes Misaki perfectly from the get go as a strong, capable woman who doesn't flinch even when she knows she's dealing with powers far beyond her own, normal capabilities. Kate also captures the other facets of Misaki's personality well, such as her embarrassment when she's squeezed into a sexy chinadress for a fancy party, or her hesitation in dealing with her boss since he's also her father. She also has a great interplay with Monica Rial's Kanami (who I'll get to later), and you really get the sense that these two women have been friends for a long time even before we learn they went to school together.

YUSUKE SAITO (Chris Sabat), YUTAKA KONO (Todd Haberkorn), KUNIO MATSUMOTO (Kenny Green), and MAYU OTSUKA (Leah Clark)-The other members of Misaki's team aren't too important in the long run, but they're all performed well. Sabat is rock-solid as usual, and he has some fun with Saito's unrequited crush on Misaki, Todd is youthful and sarcastic, Kenny is older and professional, and Leah doesn't have much to do in the series proper, but she gets to have a lot of fun in the extra OVA episode where Mayu's otaku tendencies are revealed.

YOSHIMITSU HORAI (R. Bruce Elliott)-Bruce has a great, authoritative voice, which suits this secretly sinister bureaucrat very well, and he does a wonderful job with Horai's subtle breakdown at the end of the series when his plans come crashing down around him.

KANAMI ISHIZAKI (Monica Rial)-The funny thing about Monica is that her higher-pitched characters are actually much closer to her real voice; go listen to an interview or con panel with her and you'll see what I mean. That makes her huskier roles more interesting, and while her Kanami isn't AS deep as she can go, it's more than we're used to, and it fits the sexy, friendly scientist quite well. She's great in moments where Kanami's doting over her experiments as well as teasing Misaki about her lack of a boyfriend.

NOVEMBER 11 (Troy Baker)-One of the interesting factors of DtB's story is that it's not restricted to Japan; a major incident in the backstory occurred in South America, and several intelligence agencies conflict with their own Contractors. One of the most memorable is November 11, an ice-powered British agent who steals nearly every scene he's in through pure suaveness. Baker puts on a pretty good British accent for the role (it sounds fine to MY Yankee ears at any rate), and he manages to get across November's buried camaraderie as well as his default "James Bond" mode.

AMBER (Laura Bailey)-Amber is an important figure in Hei's past and the series plot at large, and until the end we're never quite sure whether she's a hero or a villain. Laura's excellent performance helps with this delightful ambiguity; she always seems so concerned for Hei, yet has no hesitation about having her comrades fight (though not kill) him, and her love almost seems creepy at times. Laura expertly acts all of these feelings, and she meets another challenge that Amber presents: Amber's powers require her to "de-age", so Laura ends up playing her at several different ages. She nails it.

Recurring/Two-Shot Characters

GAI KURASAWA (Brandon Potter)-At first glance, a private eye homage character would seem to be horribly out of place in a story that takes more inspiration from, say, X-Men than from Raymond Chandler. Yet that's exactly why Gai is such a fun character whenever he pops up; his chain-smoking and hilarious noir monologues are delightfully anachronistic and out of place, and Potter has so much gravelly fun with the character that it's hard not to love him.

KIKO KAYUNAMA (Brittney Karbowski)-Gai's beleaguered teenage assistant is equally fun in a different way: she's a giant otaku, and the running gag of her abandoning her boss to go watch anime or to a convention never stops being funny. Brittney is a hoot in the role, especially when she points out Gai's awful smoking habit in her first line.

HAVOC (Luci Christian)-Havoc is one of the saddest characters in the series, a Contractor whose awful, destructive power came with a price that would drive anyone mad. When she's introduced, she's a broken shell seeking redemption for the horrible things she did, so terrified of her powers coming back that she begs her old comrade Hei to kill her if her powers start to come back. Luci is just GREAT, so anguished and pitiful that you want to hug her, and she also has a great monologue where she remembers a lone happy memory in a past soaked in blood.

ALICE WANG (Caitlin Glass)-At first glance, Alice seems like a typical cheerful, friendly Caitlin role, right? WRONG. Alice turns out to be deeply disturbed, and Caitlin effortlessly makes the transition from "bubbly childhood friend" to "major psycho", yet she manages to keep her sympathetic enough that her painful death is still sad.

WEI ZHIJUN (Robert McCollum)-Robert's not stretching his range much, but he brings a lot of menace and energy to Wei nonetheless. Though for me, it's hard not to be reminded of Shinobu Sensui from Yu Yu Hakusho, another superpowered nutjob he portrayed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Royal Space Force—The Wings of Honneamise

Despite a lengthy period of production and a staggering cost of eight million yen, Gainax's ambitious sci-fi tale of a cadet struggling to become his planet's first astronaut was a commercial bomb in its 1987 theatrical release; not even turning a profit until seven years later.  Part of the gradual success comes from screenings of the film handled by Manga Entertainment, with a dub produced by AniMaze, inc.  This is not the only dub to have been made.  Back in the '80s, when Anime was all about hack and slash compilated edits, Wings of Honneamise was released as "Star Quest" (just Miyazaki's Nausicaa was retitled and edited as "Warriors of the Wind"), which not only cut the picture down by multiple minutes, but was so badly received that it has been forgotten.  Luckily, the currently existing dub is uncut, so no problems there.

This is one of Animaze's earliest dubs, dating back to 1994, so there are some technical issues to be had.  The sound quality is a bit lacking in clarity at times, as the dialogue can come across as sounding trebly.  (Part of this may be due to an audio mastering fault; according to sources, other dubs from AniMaze from this period have not sounded this scratchy.)  Then there is the occasional stilted line and/or less than stellar reads.  Even so, considering that it is from a period when dubs rarely achieved stellar results, Wings of Honneamise holds up surprisingly well as an early dub, showcasing some bits of quality that future efforts from the studio would bring.

Before I start, though, I should mention that the film has some of the hardest-to-pronounce names I've ever listened to in a long time!  As such, the "correct" spelling of the characters' names will probably give readers the wrong idea on how they are supposed to be pronounced, and I'm not sure if the dub gets it right.  As such, it is important to take these names with a grain of salt and see them as face value.  Another point of contention is that half of the cast doesn't have their names revealed when they're onscreen.  As such, only the principal characters will be fully reviewed.

SHIROTSUGH LHADATT (aka SHIRO) (David A. Thomas, Jr.) -- When we first meet the main character of this tale (pronounced as Shiro-tsgu Ladatt), he is a cynical, lazy young man who goofs around with his buddies at the Royal Space Force, where the idea of "crossing into the stars" is, at best, laughable.  His character undergoes the most growth, from his spark of inspiration after meeting Riquinni, to the fit of depression (which includes a very shocking -- and to this day controversial -- rape attempt scene), to his eventual maturation into a stable, eager hero who ends up reciting his priestess' friends prayers when he orbits the Earth for the first time in a successfully launched satellite.  David does an excellent job of conveying all these aspects of Shiro's character without venturing into cartoonish territory.  He delivers his lines very naturally, like a real person in a civilized territory trying to find his way.  Which isn't to say that he remains soft-spoken for the film.  When he stands up to volunteer as the first man in space, he raises his voice to a earnest, gung-ho level, only letting loose (without overacting) when he refuses to call off the launch when an invading army threatens to disrupt it.  And his final monologue at the end of the film is delivered with a quiet, understated manner filled with a new wisdom.  This "low-key" approach is one of the many reasons why this dub is very solid, as this is an "adult" drama rather than an escapist fantasy (where the kind of mellodramatic dialogue is appropriate).  David's Shiro reflects that atmosphere very effectively.

RIQUINII NONDERAIKO (Melora Harte) -- Considering that her character is the major motivation behind Shiro's growth, one would expect Riqunni (Rikinni) to have a bigger part.  Instead she only appears in select scenes; even so, her relationship with Shiro is one of the driving conflicts of the film.  Whereas the latter appears to her out of false aspirations of courtship, Riquinni only treats Shiro as a friend, shooting down potentially romantic ideas (she brings along her adopted companion, Manna to see the stars with Shiro instead of going alone with him) while handing him "holy books" containing depressing stories as a method to "help" him.  Riquinni is also overly religious and sometimes priggish:  she doesn't want to read to Shiro "out of fun", simply because that would go against her belief that "the world is all messed up because of that kind of compromise!"  Probably the most confusing aspect of her character is why she would beg for Shiro's forgiveness for smashing a vase over his head when the latter attempted to assault her.  Is it her way of brushing him off?  Or does she subscribe to the belief that two wrongs don't make a right?  Whatever the nature of her character, one cannot fault Melora Harte for what she brings to her part.  She has a fairly pleasant voice that works in favor of Riquinni being a down-to-earth, religious person, and her "preaching" scenes are handled very well.  At other times, however, she does come across as a bit jittery and inconsistent, particularly the scene where she first meets Shiro and when she turns down his invitation to read to him.  Her screams during the rape attempt scene also vary from genuine shock to forced.  Despite this, Harte's performance is overall very solid and serves as a nice contrast to David's Shiro.

MANNA (Wendee Lee) -- The orphaned girl who stays with Riquinni doesn't have many lines, and as such it is more difficult to evaluate her overall performance.  In a way, it is a very curious role for Wendee Lee, better known for more husky-voiced characters (she uses that same tone for a news reporter midway through the film).  Nonetheless, her performance in this film is uneven.  For normal dialogue, Lee sounds fine, raising her voice to a somewhat nasal tone in order to sound five or six years old.  Unfortunately, this approach doesn't always work in her character's favor, as the two scenes where her character is bawling come across as forced and not very natural; the same is true for Manna's brief chuckle during her final scene with Shiro.  Since Manna is not a major role, however, I cut Wendee some slack.

GENERAL KHAIDENN (Steve Bulen) -- In what may be one of the most infuriating aspects of the dub and the film, the character's name is not even mentioned (except for Manga's trailer).  As such, it took me some research to figure out who he was.  That aside, he is clearly portrayed as the frustrated, easily exasperated "leader" of the Royal Space Force.  Bulen's voice for the character is a bit too nasally, but not to the point that it distracts.  The only time he somewhat "drops" this tone is during a brief moment when he's evaluating Shiro's progress.  Overall, it is a decent performance, even if there are a couple of lines that sound a bit stilted and/or not always well delivered.

MATTI (Brian Crayston) -- At the Royal Space Headquarters, Matti is Shiro's best friend, and like the latter, he too undergoes growth.  At the beginning he is just as cynical about the whole "space program" and it isn't until the climactic launch toward the end of the film that he finally seems to have come around.  Otherwise, his role is primarily to be initially smug, but always on the lookout for his friend.  Brian Crayston has a very fitting voice for the character and he mostly acquits himself well, but there are a couple of lines where he does sound stiff (notably when he tells the technicians that "we're in the final stages, everyone take your positions").  Otherwise, this is a solid performance.  Nothing outstanding, but appropriate overall.

DR. GNOMM (Michael Forest) -- Even though he partially functions well to the plot, this grizzled, somewhat boastful nozzle-building expert has only three scenes (and he even dies before his character has much chance to develop).  As such, Michael's performance doesn't make enough of a lasting impression.  Nonetheless, the vocal tone that he uses to the character is appropriate and he does what he can with the little bits of dialogue he has.  (His opening line is a hoot, though.)

NERREDON (Simon Prescott) -- If there is a character that plays anything in the way of a "villain" role, it's the Vice Minister of the rivalling republic of Rimada.  Even so, his role is too scanty to make an impression, and he is not necessarily "evil".  Rather, he's more of a disgruntled individual who doesn't approve of violent tactics to carry out his opposition (as evidenced by his muttering of "Weapons people, they're stupid!") but only approves of them because his secretary argues that they are beneficial.  His role is not necessarily effective; even so, Simon rises to the task.  For anyone familiar with his more "quavering" roles as scientists in Akira and Metropolis, he doesn't apply that same vocal style to his part.  He sounds more deep and grumpy, to the point where one may not realize he is the same actor.  It should be noted, though, that every scene he is in is obstructed by Japanese subtitles--this is because in the original, his scenes are spoken in a "different" language, so as to convey that this is from a different kingdom.  Since there is no getting around this barrier, it is a bit of a distraction, but not to the point where it harms the film.

OFFICER TENZ KOVICH (Ellyn Stern) -- This stuffy officer only appears at the end, mainly to warn the Royal Space Force about the approaching invasion, insisting that they evacuate.  (When Shiro refuses to comply, the rest of the cadets of course defy her orders.)  She doesn't have many lines, but the tone of voice Ellyn uses is very fitting and almost amusing... especially when she introduces herself and her final line, "I guess the crew's going down with its ship!"

These are the only characters in the film that emerge as distinctively memorable.  Many others, notably Shiro's buddies at the Royal Space Force, are either unnamed or referred to when they are offscreen, making it confusing for the viewer to identify which character is which.  (Indeed, it took me a LOT of research to figure out who was who!)  But just for those who are interested, Shiro's other friends include the stubbled, stout Majaho (voiced by Tony Pope, whose tone is quite recognizable), the blue-haired Domorhot (Jan Rabson), the earnest, orange-haired Darrigan (Jimmy Theodore), the smug-looking Nekkerout (Dan Woren) who purchases a new model satellite for Shiro to practice in, the bulky but soft-hearted Yanalan (Richard Epcar), the bespactled technician Kharock who gets to say "lift-off!" at the climactic launch (Arnie Hanks), and Tchallichallami (Cha-challi, as he's pronounced, strange as that may be, played by Christophe deGroot), who sets off with Majaho to the observatory to monitor the flight with a cat on his shoulders.  All do passable jobs, but neither of their roles really stand out that much.

Of the elderly scientists who help design the rocket, we have the wheelchair bound Professor Ronta (who speaks in a high-pitched, quavering tone) and the more spikey Professor Dekro, both of who are more or less suspect (and oddly uncredited... or at least I have not been able to identify either voice actor).  Then there are the two aristocrat guys at the defense ministry (one of who is voiced by Steve Blum), a couple of newscasters, occasional girlfriends, army soldiers in crafts and meetings, and dozens of nameless protestors.  All of who are voiced by names such as the late Kevin Seymour, Doug Stone, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Bambi Darro, and many other Animaze regulars.  Bonus points if you can identify who is who!

The dialogue, adapted by Seymour and Mary Mason, under the supervision of the film's original executive producer, Shigeru Watanabe (after being translated by Neil Nadelman) flows smoothly for the most part, although there are places, as mentioned, where it does fall into stilted territory.  There are also a lot of places where it seems to deviate from the subtitle script.  One such example is the scene where the grumpy army trainer (with a cartoonishly scratchy voice) yells at Shiro for slacking off in the training scene at the beginning of the movie.

In the subtitled version, his monologue reads like this:

"Lots of free time, eh, Shiro?  I didn't realize your job here was to take naps!  You know what this is?  A one deem coin.  It can buy you a loaf of broad or a bottle of oil.  But they say a Khozel bandit would kill a man for one of these.  So, if you think about it, it's worth quite a lot.  Overtime pay.  Getting an advance should make you weep with joy!  And now from you I want 300 push-ups.  And after that, I want 500 sit-ups!"

The dub rewords it to the following:

"And here he is, asleep again, sitting like a vat of basking fat, waiting for his dough to double in size!  Suppose I'm the bandit in Khozel.  Your life now equals nothing.  But that's familiar to you, right?  And my gun's in your face and your offer is one deem coin of overtime.  Think, ya damn idiot!  You'd be dead right now, and there's your pay.  Do you ever even think?!  Five-hundred sit-ups.  NOW!"

Most of the other differences I detected didn't seem all that drastic or out of spirit with the original, although it CAN be a bit of an oddity at times.  I can only wonder what StarQuest's was like, but if reports are any indication, then Animaze's translation will have to do, warts and all.

Since Wings of Honneamise is from the "dark days of dubbing", or at least that's what the '90s could be referred to as, it may be dismissed as another forgettable affair (as critics at the time of its release in traditional newspapers have done).  Other Anime websites have been mixed, but there were several enthusiasts.  Personally, I think this dub succeeds as a good starting point for AniMaze, standing out fairly well from many other dubious efforts from the early 1990's.