The prequel to the Fate/Stay Night visual novel/anime (though it's getting a new anime adaptation this year from the same production company as this show), Fate/Zero has often been described as "the Star Wars prequels in anime form." In this people mean that it shows a tragic downfall for a number of characters in an epic fantasy/sci-fi setting, and I have to agree. The Holy Grail War seen here is a massive battle between legendary figures of history and their deeply flawed human masters, which provides an incredibly compelling 25-episode yarn. The dub is quite possibly one of the best I've heard out of Los Angeles in quite some time. Lately I feel like they've been hit-or-miss, especially since Bang Zoom is one of the only dubbing studios in the area anymore. It's frustrating, because I feel like a lot of the newer actors who have come around in the past several years have a lot of potential, but don't always reach it (one exception is Madoka Magica, which starts out a little shaky but eventually grows into a really strong dub). Thankfully, they've pulled out all the stops for this series, with an utterly fantastic cast from top to bottom, mostly excellent adaptive writing, and superb direction from veteran Tony Oliver.
Interestingly, the dub features actors who appeared in the Fate/Stay Night anime such as Liam O'Brien, Grant George and Jamieson Price, but in vastly different roles (Liam played a different version of Archer, Grant was Gilgamesh, and Jamieson was Kirei, while Tony Oliver acted in the show as Lancer). Kate Higgins, who played Saber there, did not reprise her role for either this project or the Unlimited Blade Works movie, where she was played by Michelle Ruff. Hearsay seems to indicate union issues, but unless someone asks her personally, I can't say for sure. The only actors to completely reprise their roles in this series are Mela Lee as Rin and Stephanie Sheh as Illya.
KIRITSUGU EMIYA (Matthew Mercer)-Matthew's been around for a good while, but it's only in the last 3 or 4 years that he's really come into prominence as an excellent VA in Los Angeles. Some of his more notable roles include Leon Kennedy in Resident Evil 6, Tygra in the short-lived Thundercats reboot, and Levi in the currently airing dub for Attack on Titan. He has a low, resonant voice that suits a variety of characters, and Kiritsugu is a considerable feather in his cap. For much of the story, we're unsure of what Kiritsugu's exact motives are, especially since he relies on pragmatic, gun-based tactics to take out his fellow mages. Matthew embodies this ambiguity wonderfully, as well as the core heroism of what Kiritsugu actually wants to achieve. His performance anchors the dub, and I grew steadily more in love with it as the show went on. By the end he's knocking every line and moment out of the park (a particular favorite is his desperate howl of grief after he is forced to do something incredibly drastic in its finality).
KIREI KOTOMINE (Crispin Freeman)-Ah, I love talking about Crispin, and it's great to hear him in a heavyweight anime role again. Kirei is an unusual character in that he starts out as something of a cipher and grows steadily more villainous as the story goes on. Crispin captures that step-by-step, sounding intentionally stiff early on and then outwardly enjoying himself in sick, twisted ways. It's chilling to watch, especially since Crispin just ramps up the evil and insanity by show's end, resulting in what I daresay is one of his best performances. And with a career like his, that's hard to judge, but I fully believe this can stand with his previous heights of characters like Alucard from Hellsing or Tsume from Wolf's Rain. It's THAT good.
SABER/KING ARTURIA (Kari Wahlgren)-I can't really speak for comparisons between Kari's work here and the previously mentioned Higgins or Ruff since I haven't seen Fate/Stay Night or Unlimited Blade Works. What I can say is that Kari is completely awesome here. From her many moments of badassery, to her more vulnerable moments as she doubts both herself and Kiritsugu, to the BIG shows of emotion, Kari never manages to hit a false note here. It's easily some of the best stuff she's gotten to do in ages, and easily ranks among my favorite performances from her.
IRISVIEL VON EINZBERN (Bridget Hoffman)-Vocally and acting-wise, this isn't a huge stretch for Bridget, but she still makes Irisviel a pretty memorable character, especially in her friendship with Saber and her knowledge that she must wither away in order for Kiritsugu's dreams to come true. Her final scenes as both the real Irisviel and an illusionary one will tug at your heartstrings as Bridget milks them for everything she's got, and they end up rather powerful as a result.
ARCHER/GILGAMESH (David Earnest)-David (sometimes credited as David Vincent, and probably best known for playing the lead in Gun X Sword) really surprised me in quite a pleasant way. I was expecting this part to go to someone like Steve Blum, who can be really energetic and deep at the same time (especially since the Japanese voice is something of a over-the-top baritone). But David has a lighter sound to his voice, the kind that doesn't necessarily seem to fit the monstrously egotistical likes of Gilgamesh. Yet he manages to make it work quite spectacularly, achieving the heft and bombast of the character without seeming silly. Then we get to the scenes Gilgamesh shares with Kirei, and I suddenly understood why David was cast in the first place. In those scenes, Gilgamesh's ego is still overpowering, but he's also slyly manipulative, and very perceptive about what Kirei's actual desires are. David absolutely nails this stuff, while still finding the balance between the proud king and the savvy chessmaster. It ended up as one of my favorites of the dub, and I didn't really expect that to happen, so major kudos.
RIDER/ISKANDAR (Jamieson Price)-In contrast to Gilgamesh, this is ABSOLUTELY the kind of role where anything other than a loud, deep voice would not have fit at all, and Jamieson manages to nearly steal the entire dub away as the King of Conquerors. He has this fantastic, almost cavernously deep voice that can play a variety of characters, be they smooth or rough. Rider is far more on the rough end, but he manages to make it sound both wonderfully over-the-top and completely natural. The narrative wisely gives Rider a number of subtler, quiet moments, and Jamieson manages to do very well with these. But his interactions with Waver, his scrawny, teenage master, are what really steal the show, and he reveals an untapped gift for comic timing in these scenes. It's one of my favorite things Jamieson has ever done, and one of the most purely pleasurable performances in the dub.
WAVER VELVET (Lucien Dodge)-A relative newcomer to the dubbing game, vocally Lucien kind of reminds me of Canada's Brad Swaile, in that he sounds high-pitched and teenage without being whiny. Granted, Waver's kind of a petulant brat in the early stages of the series, but Lucien finds the likable side of this, and as said, his interactions with Rider are hilarious and touching. By the end, Waver stares down Gilgamesh of all people and manages to come out alive, and the strength in Lucien's voice and acting makes us believe it. The combination of Lucien and Jamieson ends up as the best double act in the whole tale, and I was sad to see their partnership end. I look forward to Lucien's future dubbing work, as I'm sure he has great acting in store.
TOKIOMI TOHSAKA (Marc Diraison)-Usually a veteran of New York dubs, Marc is pretty great here, giving Tokiomi an essential decency but also a certain old-money haughtiness. This is especially evident in his fight with Kariya, as he calmly explains his reasoning yet is also really condescending to the man for abandoning what Tokiomi sees as the duty of being a family mage. You get where he's coming from, but there's an unlikable edge to the performance, especially as he ends up trusting people that he really shouldn't. His death feels sad but also inevitable, and a large part of that is due to Marc's fine acting.
KARIYA MATOU (Liam O'Brien)-One of the truly tragic figures of the story, Kariya enters the war with good intentions but selfish reasons for doing them, and Liam plays it all to the hilt. His physical pain, his emotional pain, the rare moments of kindness, and even some grim satisfaction at a few points. Honestly, it's just fantastic all-around work from one of my favorite VAs. Not much else to say except to go listen to it.
LANCER/DIARMID UA DUABHINE (Grant George)-Grant is an actor who I've found to be perfectly fine in the past, but not especially memorable. He managed to seriously impress me here, to the point where I wonder if I need to reevaluate his past work. Lancer is one of the most straightforwardly noble servants, believing in honorable battle and chivalry above all else, and Grant captures that perfectly in both his voice and the acting. You truly believe this guy is the real deal, especially in scenes where he talks to characters who don't share his ideals, such as his master. But his best moment is undoubtedly his unfair, tragic death scene, where he is forced to commit suicide through Kayneth's command seal. The dialogue is already terrific, but Grant just completely elevates through his sadness and outrage, calling out everyone and hoping that the Grail will curse them all for eternity. The deaths in the show are almost all incredibly memorable, but Lancer's takes the cake, and Grant is the main reason why.
BERSERKER/LANCELOT (Kyle Hebert)-For most of the show, this character's identity is a mystery, and so Kyle is mostly relegated to agonized screams and growls, but he does a fine job with the character's final speech about why he succumbed to madness.
RYUNOSUKE URYU (Johnny Yong Bosch)-Johnny can do creepy. Johnny can do scumbag. Johnny can even do straight-up evil. But I don't think I've ever heard him give such a disturbing performance before. Playing a child killer who manages to find his way into the Grail War through almost sheer happenstance would be difficult for almost any actor, but what Johnny does is really interesting. Instead of going for more of a typically lower, more obviously creepy voice or performance, he bursts with energy and sticks to a higher pitch. And honestly? This makes it ten times more disturbing. Hearing Johnny chatter with glee about how beautiful the bodies of his victims are, or lament at his lair being burnt down with an almost pathetic whine is chilling, especially since again, it's not all that dissimilar from a lot of his more heroic roles. It's not my favorite work, but it's still incredibly memorable.
CASTER/BLUEBEARD (Dan Woren)-I was initially kind of thrown by this performance because Dan adopts a really high-pitched, shrieking cackle that could almost come across as silly in the wrong hands (it reminds me more than a little of his Igor from the Persona video games). But Dan manages to find the character in that voice, and plays it to the hilt, even managing to be subtly eerie at certain moments. One of the more sympathetic (yes, really) aspects of Caster is that he believes Saber to be his beloved Jeanne D'arc (aka Joan of Arc), and his pleas for her to remember who she is almost manage to tug at your heartstrings. Almost; this is still a guy who likes to give his child victims a glimmer of hope before brutally murdering them. Still, Dan does a great job with this stuff as well as his death scene, where he sees a heavenly Jeanne smiling down at him and seems to find some measure of self awareness at the monster he's become.
KAYNETH EL-MELLOI ARCHIBALD (Doug Erholtz)-I kind of wish Doug would get to play roles like this more often, because he's really fantastic at being the almost inhumanly smug, aristocratic asshole that is Kayneth. His voice drips with condescension, especially in scenes where he thinks he's on top (and then gets proven wrong in horrifying ways). Yet he manages to make the character almost sympathetic after Kiritsugu ruthlessly damages his "magic circuits", seeming lost and vulnerable while still being kind of an ass. It's probably some of my favorite work Doug has done in a while.
MAIYA HISAU (Carrie Keranen)-Carrie's really good at playing characters who have been hardened by past experiences, such as Casca from Berserk or Mami Tomoe from Madoka. Maiya's no exception. She speaks in a monotone but is hardly dull, and I liked the scene where she explained why she follows Kiritsugu despite him doing terrible things. Not my favorite stuff in the dub, but still very good, especially when her death scene comes around.
SOLA-UI (Karen Strassman)-I've said before that Karen has a really interesting voice that can suit a number of different kinds of characters, and Sola-Ui is no exception. She doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, but Karen makes quite memorable by adding a disturbing stalker edge. Sola-Ui, you see, is in love with Lancer thanks to a mythological curse that renders him irresistible to women, and Karen manages to capture that overpowering infatuation quite well. She also manages to convey her barely concealed disgust for her husband, who is essentially a polar opposite to Lancer in every way. Her best scene is probably where she tortures an already injured Kayneth into giving her mastery over Lancer by breaking his fingers; combining Karen's skin-crawling vocals with the character's serenely psychotic expression makes for a hell of an image.
RISEI KOTOMINE, ZOUKEN MATOU (Michael Donovan)-Michael's work as Kirei's stalwart father is good, strong work that doesn't stretch him to his limits, but is still decent. However, Michael also plays Zouken Matou, the shriveled father of Kariya, and this is where he really gets to have fun. Adopting an aged rasp, Michael is gleefully, perversely evil as Zouken, and despite its smaller size, it's easily the more memorable of his dual roles. I'm particularly fond of a moment where he says in no uncertain terms that losing the Grail War is worth it if he gets to see Kariya suffer. He does a great job of really making you hate this bastard.
AOI TOHSAKA (Michelle Ruff)-Michelle doesn't get a whole lot to do, but her initially sweet and sunny scenes contrast wonderfully with her final ones, where she confronts Kariya over the dead body of Tokiomi, and then her sad, brain-damaged tones after Kariya strangles her. Her scream of "YOU'VE NEVER LOVED ANYONE IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE!" is agonizing to hear in the best possible way.
YOUNG KIRITSUGU (Marianne Miller)-Confession time: I kind of groaned when I saw this casting because the last time I heard Marianne was in the dub of the Russian CGI version of The Snow Queen, which featured several other actors heard here, and which was kind of weak as both a film and dub. She played Kai, a young boy, and was not particularly distinguished in either voice or acting. She's MUCH better here, capturing the youthful, energetic qualities as well as his grief and anguish over the terrible things that happen to him, and the coldness that allows him to kill his own father without blinking.
NATALIA KAMINSKI (Wendee Lee)-Vocally and temperamentally, this is a lot closer to Wendee's arguably career-best work as Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop than, say, Haruhi Suzumiya (which I still think she was kind of miscast for). Kiritsugu's assassin mentor, Natalia is a weary soul, but one who still manages to find some affection for the young boy who unexpectedly fell into her life, and Wendee manages that contrast quite skillfully.
RIN TOHSAKA (Mela Lee)-Mela mainly gets one episode all to herself as Rin, and she does quite a good job with that as well as Rin's smaller moments in other episodes. She sounds appropriately childlike without being saccharine, and manages to communicate Rin's various personality traits, be they frustration or tenacity.
SAKURA MATOU (Cristina Vee)-While she applies a pretty standard child voice, Sakura is a character that's been through hell already, so Cristina applies a certain haunted, eerie quality to her performance. It's a small role, but very effecitve, and her last line is particularly unsettling.
ILLYASVIEL VON EINZBERN (Stephanie Sheh)-Stephanie's work basically amounts to a cameo, but they're good moments and a fine performance. She has good, childish energy that livens up a touching scene between her and Kiritsugu enjoying one final moment of father-daughter bonding, and then shows up again as the Grail's illusory version of her to further stab us in the heart with cuteness.
If the new Fate/Stay Night anime set to premiere this year ends up dubbed, I sincerely hope they keep most if not all of the surviving characters' actors, as their work is so good that I'd love to hear more. Truly, this is one of the best dubs of the last couple years, and one I plan to listen to again.