Friday, July 31, 2015

Sailor Moon: The Viz Dub: Season 1 and R (SPOILERS)

When I heard the news last year that Viz was redubbing ALL of Sailor Moon, I was excited. The bad memories of the, let's be honest, weak DiC and Cloverway dubs would be wiped away clean. And while I've heard about some issues with the Blu-rays in terms of picture quality, the praise for the new dub has been almost unanimous. Produced at Studiopolis, the new dub in terms of adaptive script and direction has just the right mix of exaggeration in comedy and threat, while also delivering real pathos and emotion at the proper moments. And the cast so far? Magnificent (and apparently approved by original mangaka Naoko Takeuchi herself). Outside of one actor I'll get to (and he improves vastly in a pretty short amount of time), they're all fantastic right out of the gate. On to the show!

Note: I'll be dividing this into sections. First, the Sailor Guardians themselves as well as their friends and family, then the villains divided by season (the Dark Kingdom in 1, the siblings and then the Black Moon Clan in R). Also there are a BUTTLOAD of one-shot characters who I would have to create a whole other article to talk about, and it's difficult to find credits for them, so let me just say that actors like Megan Hollingshead, Grant George, Kyle Hebert, Vic Mignogna, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Julie Ann Taylor and others do a great job filling in the gaps. Also, I'm very much looking forward to Erica Mendez and Lauren Landa's takes on Haruka/Sailor Uranus and Michiru/Sailor Neptune in the upcoming Sailor Moon S season, as well as Christine Marie Cabanos' Hotaru/Sailor Saturn. I'm sure they'll do great!


USAGI TSUKINO/SAILOR MOON (Stephanie Sheh)-This is probably the performance that would have made or broken the series to begin with. Usagi is a hard role. She's simultaneously friendly, compassionate and determined, while also being a selfish, food-crazed crybaby. That's an interesting mix already, but trying to act it is a tall order. To my immense pleasure, Stephanie is more than up to the task (she's had a good couple of years, between this, the businesslike Zhu Li in Korra, and her sweetly sinister Nui Harime in Kill La Kill). From the first seconds, she dominates the role with a forceful, yet multifaceted performance that stretches her to her limits, and then she goes beyond those. Of particular note to me is a scene in R where Rubeus is attempting to crush her with gravity powers; to his (and our!) astonishment, she continues to get back up, and her determined speech is acted with fist-pumping badassery by Stephanie. It's a perfect blend of her different attitudes (so is an earlier scene where she almost wishes Chibi-Usa WOULD get captured and even as she says it, you can sense her regret at thinking such thoughts before she expresses said regret). In a show full of fantastic, emotional acting, Stephanie and Usagi shine the brightest.

MAMORU CHIBA/TUXEDO MASK (Robbie Daymond)-And now we come to an actor who took a while to impress me. It's not that Robbie is ever really BAD, not at all. But there's a notable stiffness even to his playful moments in Mamoru's first few appearances, as well as Tuxedo Mask. Thankfully, he quickly improves, and by the end of season 1 manages to strike a nice balance between Mamoru's humor and angst, Tuxedo Mask's charming cheesiness, and the more wicked, possessed-by-evil Endymion. By R, he's improved even more, adding a lived-in, loving tease to Mamoru's relationship with Usagi, and a warm, paternal vibe with Chibi-Usa. I don't think it will ever be my favorite, but kudos to Robbie for improving so much in a short amount of time.

AMI MIZUNO/SAILOR MERCURY (Kate Higgins)-There's always been a curious, almost ethereal quality to Kate's voice, as if she's not quite on the same plane of reality as the rest of us. This often works well for Ami, who's the bookworm/nerd of the group and as such tends to look at more of a big picture point of view, or can be slightly aloof. However, Ami is nothing if not ultimately loyal to her friends, and Kate's performance brings this out just as much as her oddity, as well as mining a lot of humor from said quirks. Excellent work.

REI HINO/SAILOR MARS (Cristina "Vee" Valenzuela)-Cristina's been around for a while as an actress and singer, but it's only in the last few years that she's been getting really juicy parts, such as Homura in Madoka Magica. Rei is a much more...passionate role than that, however, with Cristina reaching into her deeper registers (although compared to some of the other actresses, she's not THAT deep). It's a great, showy performance, full of anger, yearning and comedy, especially in her frequent arguments with Usagi. She even gets to show off and sing in one episode of R, doing a great job as usual. Cristina also brings out the bottomless compassion and friendship Rei has with the others, even as they argue; in her final scenes and death in the penultimate episode of Season 1 (don't worry, she gets better), Cristina goes all out, mixing unadulterated badassery with wistful regret and encouragement for Usagi. Great work from top to bottom.

MAKOTO KINO/SAILOR JUPITER (Amanda C. Miller)-A relative newcomer to the scene, Amanda has a really cool, unique and deep voice. This fits extremely well with the taller, older Makoto, the most overtly tough and badass of the Guardians (her intro scene is kicking three punks to the curb when they're threatening Usagi with almost alarming ease). Amanda also navigates the other parts of Makoto's personality, such as her yearning for her old sempai that broke her heart, or her go-getter attitude when it comes to tasks like cooking, with aplomb. Since Makoto is probably my favorite character, Amanda's performance is my favorite of the non-Usagi Guardians.

MINAKO AINO/SAILOR VENUS (Cherami Leigh)-Primarily known for her work on Funimation dubs (and she still works for them on occasion, such as being a regular on Fairy Tail as Lucy), Cherami moved to LA recently and has been appearing in projects produced there more and more. She has a memorable, chirpy voice that can suit a wide variety of personalities. For the bubbly and bright-eyed Minako, she's not being challenged too much in either acting or vocal range, but she nonetheless does a great job, especially in the episode where we learn about Minako's backstory as a vigilante in London.

LUNA (Michelle Ruff)-An alien cat who serves as a guiding force for the Guardians, Luna is probably my favorite character amongst the supporting cast for her helpful but exasperated attitude. At times she seems less like a magical guardian and more like a nagging parent. Michelle, working in the lower part of her range, manages to mix wisdom and comedy to great effect, doing well with the exposition as well as the humor. A particular highlight is Episode 31, where she's practically the lead in a crazy adventure involving Zoisite, a fat cat named Rhett Butler and sewers. I can't wait to hear her in the Sailor Moon S tie-in film, where she's also more or less the lead; whatever she does, I'm sure it will be great.

ARTEMIS (Johnny Yong Bosch)-A male white cat of Luna's species and Minako's companion, Artemis isn't quite as fun as Luna, but he still gets a lot of good comedy nagging bits, and Johnny works more in his Vash range to mine humor and likability in those moments.

NARU OSAKA (Danielle Judovits, credited as "Danielle Nicole")-Danielle's been around for a while, and she's always done good work with her high-pitched, endearing and youthful voice in roles like Kitty Pryde in Wolverine and the X-Men or Tenten on Naruto. She's very believably teenaged as Usagi's best "normal" friend Naru. Her main drama comes when she falls in love with the villainous Nephrite (or "Mr. Sanjoin") in Season 1, and she does a fantastic job of making Naru sound a bit foolish in her devotion, but also very sincere in that love (so much so that it ends up impacting Nephrite, but we'll get to that soon enough). Danielle does an equally good job with her grief in the aftermath of his death, as well as her resolve to keep going forward. Excellent work.

GURIO UMINO (Benjamin Diskin)-....well, this is certainly unexpected. I primarily know Ben from his work on shows like The Spectacular Spider-Man, Naruto Shippuden, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where he mostly plays aloof or angry young men with big chips on their shoulders. Occasionally on shows like Kids Next Door, he reaches into more goofy territory (and he did play a quirky but helpful droid in one Clone Wars arc), or more optimistic hot-blooded characters like Shoutmon on Digimon Fusion, but nothing in his range ever suggested that he could do Umino, a stereotypical nerd if there ever was one. Ben goes full bore in the role, attacking the goofy voice and attitude with glee, yet somehow managing to make Umino likable and sympathetic in his silly nerdery (particularly in an episode where he dresses up as Tuxedo Mask to try and protect Naru, and is so endearing that we feel bad for the guy when the monster of the week attacks him).

SHINGO, IKUKO AND KENJI TSUKINO (Nicholas Roye, Tara Platt, Keith Silverstein)-Usagi's family doesn't get a whole ton of screentime, but whenever they do, the actors here all do a great job. Nicholas Roye's Shingo is probably my favorite, being a bratty younger brother who nonetheless has a good heart and loves her sister, even if he'd rather die than admit it. Tara does a good mom voice, and gets some solid bits of comic exasperation at things like Usagi's poor grades, while Keith does a fine "nice dad" voice and performance (truthfully, I'm much more interested in his upcoming role as the hammy Professor Tomoe in S).

MOTOKI FURUHATA (Lucien Dodge)-Lucien has another, much more FUN role coming up in Zoisite, but he does fine with the "nice guy" Motoki as well.

YUUICHIROU KUMADA (Wally Wingert)-Wally's always had a great sense of decency and heroism in most of his performances (though check out his Rufus Shinra in the Final Fantasy VII extended universe or the Riddler in the Arkham games if you want him in more sinister territory), and that extends to the goofy, bumbling yet determined Yuuichirou. He's probably one of my favorite recurring characters as a result, especially in his relationship with Rei.

REI'S GRANDFATHER (Michael Sorich)-This is pretty standard territory for Sorich (enthusiastic, slightly perverted older man), but he manages to steal his scenes quite nicely whenever he pops up.

CHIBI-USA, BLACK LADY (Sandy Fox)-Sandy has been doing young girl voices for a long time now, and I'm not convinced there isn't sorcery involved in her still being able to do it at 53 years old. Whatever the cause, she makes for a bratty but endearing Chibi-Usa, managing to get her childishness across without ever getting into "tear my eardrums out" annoying territory. When she morphs into the older Black Lady near the end of the R season, Sandy does an equally great job "aging up" the Chibi-Usa voice, managing to make it sound believably adult but still containing remnants of the child within. An excellent performance for a character I didn't expect to find nearly as compelling as I did.

SAILOR PLUTO (Veronica Taylor)-Pluto doesn't get a ton of screentime in R (apparently she has more in future seasons), but Veronica, one of my favorite old-school New York VAs (apparently her move to LA is fairly recent), manages to give her a nice combination of dignity, ferocity (in the brief scene where she attacks Sailor Moon, falsely thinking her to be a foe), and kindness. I'm very interested to hear more. (Side note: Veronica played a one-shot dubiously accented figure skater in a first season episode, getting to show off her range in a much funnier, more exaggerated performance)

 QUEEN SERENITY (Wendee Lee)-She's not around for very long, but Wendee manages to get an almost Disney Princess vibe to the original Queen of the Moon Kingdom in her brief appearance, and does quite well with her exposition mixed with wise encouragement.


QUEEN BERYL (Cindy Robinson)-The sad truth of the matter is that Beryl honestly doesn't do that much. She sits on her ass for pretty much the whole season, only getting up to do stuff like punish her underlings or FINALLY confronting Sailor Moon near the end. Despite all this, Cindy gives a very memorable performance, with her low, husky voice complementing the more remote, cold Beryl's personality. She even gets an evil laugh in now and then!

JADEITE (Todd Haberkorn)-Todd has a very distinct voice and speech patterns, but he has a pretty good range as an actor despite me being able to pick him out even in something like a crowd scene. He's played flawed heroes like Ling in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Firo in Baccano, or Death the Kid in Soul Eater, more hot-blooded ones like Natsu in Fairy Tail and mischievous comedy characters like Hikaru in Ouran or the titular Sgt. Frog. Jadeite is a bit of a change of pace for him, being much more of a sniveling, villainous toady. Todd has a lot of fun with it as a result, chewing into his lines with glee, even the more subdued ones, and by the end of his appearances really makes you love to hate him (especially since he sneers at the idea of women being able to defeat him, and then is SMACKED WITH GODDAMN JET PLANES in pretty short order). Chalk up another win for Todd.

NEPHRITE (Liam O'Brien)-Liam, to my surprise, started out a bit on shaky ground here. His voice was so unusually deep for him that I honestly wasn't sure where he was going with it. He smooths things out pretty quickly, though, and does a great job with Nephrite's manipulations, as well as his ultimate softening and redemption-by-death. He and Danielle both make his final scenes a real tearjerker.

ZOISITE (Lucien Dodge) and KUNZITE (Patrick Seitz)-Here's where Lucien gets to have some REAL fun. As the super smartass, and awesomely gay, Zoisite, he steals scenes and dines on the scenery with joy. And yet he manages to make Zoisite rather endearing despite his villainy, and we feel bad for both him and Kunzite (his lover) when Beryl dispassionately executes him for one too many failures. The subsequent scene of Zoisite asking to die beautifully, and Kunzite granting that request, is surprisingly touching as a result of both actors' performances. Speaking of, Patrick uses his smoother tones for Kunzite, sounding deep yet elegant, and blending his love for Zoisite and his over-the-top villainy quite well.

QUEEN METALLIA (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn)-The ultimate villain of Season 1, Mary's distinctive, deep voice lends a nice sense of threat to this mostly noncorporeal baddie, aided by some nice vocal effects.


AN AND AIL/NATSUMI AND SEIJURO GINGA (Dorothy Elias Fahn, credited as "Johanna Luis", and Brian Beacock)-Ehhhhhhh. To be honest, outside of some fun comedy episodes, the opening arc of R is a bit tedious and repetitive, and these villainous twins honestly aren't that interesting. Despite this, Dorothy and Brian give good performances, mixing comedy, menace and their ultimate redemption fairly well.


THE SPECTRE SISTERS: PETZ, CALAVERAS, KOAN AND BERTHIER (Jessica Gee, Cassandra Lee Morris, Eden Riegel [credited as "Claudia Lenz"], and Cindy Robinson)-The "quirky miniboss squad" of R, the sisters are all brought to life wonderfully by their respective actresses, and I was pleased to see them live and turn to the side of good in large part thanks to the acting. Jessica Gee's deeper, older voice fits the more bitter Petz (and softens nicely in a later scene where she tends to Saphir), Cassandra has some fun as the more energetic Calaveras, Eden makes Koan immensely sympathetic in her lovelorn heartbreak, and Cindy reaches into her higher pitch to make Berthier ultimately the most sensitive of the group.

RUBEUS (Steve Staley, credited as "Steve Cannon")-Man, I don't think I've heard Steve have this much fun in AGES outside of the also-recent Kill La Kill dub. Rubeus is a cruel, savvy manipulator, which Steve has definitely played before, but given that this is Sailor Moon, he's much more...demonstrative about things. As such, Steve really gets to crank things up acting-wise, even in the quieter scenes, and it's probably one of my favorite villainous performances in the dub so far. Of particular note are his cruel dismissals of the Sisters when they fail him, as well as his final moments when he begs Esmeraude for her help before she leaves him to die (which at this point he kind of deserves, frankly).

WISEMAN (Steve Kramer)-Steve has been around for a lonnnnnngggg time in the anime industry, possessing a tough, older voice that can be used for a variety of characters, such as the uncertain yet heroic Terry Sanders in Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, hot-blooded Bang Shishigami in the BlazBlue video games, the wise badassery of the Third Hokage in Naruto or the cynical Moss in Wolf's Rain. This is smoother territory than I'm used to from Steve; as the Grim Reaper-esque villain, he alternates between dire predictions of the future, cunning manipulation, and full-on evil gloating and laughing (there's also some cool echo-y vocal effects to make him sound even more otherworldly). Steve navigates this all with ease (personal favorite delivery: after Usagi refuses to give in to his illusions, he snarls, "Well, in that case, DIE!"), providing a truly formidable final foe for the Guardians to face this season.

ESMERAUDE (Rena Strober, credited as "Rena S. Mandel")-Another newcomer to anime work, Rena has a fantastic, haughty voice well suited to the vain, arrogant Esmeraude. Like many actors in the series, she does a good job mixing the threat and menace with Esmeraude's more childish, comic temper tantrums. Also, she NAILS the "noblewoman's laugh" (the "O HO HO HO HO" one). That one's hard for a lot of English actors to replicate (the same goes for hot-blooded screaming on the level of the Japanese track), but Rena does it so well you'd swear they were just using the Japanese audio.

PRINCE DEMANDE (Matthew Mercer)-Interestingly, this role was originally cast with Christopher Corey Smith, but shortly after announcing that he was playing the role on Twitter, he was replaced (Chris stressed, however, that it was not because he had violated a non-disclosure agreement in his announcement). I confess to being interested in hearing what his take might have been, but I'm pretty happy with Matthew all the same. His deep, smooth voice fits Demande perfectly, and he does a good job acting the arrogant villainy and obsession with Sailor Moon, as well as the genuine love for his brother Saphir that ultimately lifts the wool from his eyes.

BLUE SAPHIR (Greg Felden)-Another anime newcomer, Greg has a strong, clear voice that suits the cautious, worried Saphir, and he does an excellent job with scenes like his warnings that Wiseman is not to be trusted, as well as the final, more desperate moments where, injured, he reconnects with Petz (they were apparently lovers at some point), is quietly amazed by the Guardians' compassion, and begs his brother to listen, before sadly being killed for his troubles and letting out a quiet, graceful "Petz, I'm sorry..."

That's it for now. I plan to further examine the dub when S, Super S, Sailor Stars and the three tie-in films are released, although those will obviously be shorter than this monstrosity. Enjoy!