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!