Saturday, September 26, 2009

Record of Lodoss War

Nowadays it seems as though people are so accustomed to top quality dubbing; this is more of the standard these days rather than the exception, which wasn't necessarily how things were in the '90s.  Around this period, the consensus was that dubbing just wasn't very good at all, and "efforts" such as most of the output from Streamline and Manga UK often fell into truly dreary territory. However, there were some notable exceptions to the rule, and Record of Lodoss War OVA, dubbed by National Sound for Central Park Media in 1996, was one of them. That said, reactions to this dub have been wildly divided; as with another famous fantasy Anime series, Slayers, Lodoss's dub has gone on many fans' best or worst dub lists.  In spite of the naysayers, though, it has had its share of loyal fans over the years (Mike Toole on, for instance).

To fully appreciate Lodoss OVA as an overall dub, one must evaluate it as a product of its era, because, as much as I love this dub, I will admit that it does have its share of drawbacks, one of which is the uneven lip-sync. (There are times when it syncs up very well, but there are a few rare moments of gaping mouths and some instances where in the DVD master, CPM used freeze-frame to cover any moments of lipflap following a completed sentence.)  Most of this can be attributed to the technology of the time (reel-to-reel in contrast to the ProTools software we know today), but the animation sometimes results with some stilted mouth flaps which sometimes makes the flow of the dialogue sound choppy (not by much, however).  And speaking of the script, while the late Mike Alben can be applauded for staying as faithful as possible to the original Japanese, there are occasional moments when his lines come across as awkwardly written or delivered.  Then there are the performances by the incidental characters (soldiers, courtiers, villagers, etc.), which come across as cheesy sounding (although in all fairness, they're nowhere nearly as embarrassing as the minor bit players in the follow-up Lodoss TV dub).  There's also one brief goof-up in episode 6 where King Kashue's mouth is moving while we hear Fahn's instead during a conference scene.

In spite of its weaknesses, though, Lodoss OVA has its share of memorable vocal performances which really carry the dub as a whole. It's interesting to note that at the time, most of these actors were unknowns, but most would go on to have fairly successful careers in dubbing. The man responsible for bringing them in is none other than Bill Timoney, who not only voices the young hero, Parn (more on that later), but happened to help scout out the talent for the dub and even directed the first eight episodes. The previous ADR director had been called off to do another project, hence why Timoney had to fill-in.  That said, the dub starts out somewhat stiffly in the opening three episodes, but by episode 4, the actors all settle into their roles and turn in fine work.  Of the performances, here are the ones that really captivate me the most:

THE NARRATOR (Dick Rodstein) -- is the first to speak in the dub. He has a deep, authoritative voice which aptly sets the tone for the epic tale; hearing him utter "Lodoss, the accursed island" always makes the hair on my skin tingle. His role is sparse, but it is always a pleasure to hear his vocal whenever he is brought in.

PARN (Bill Timoney) -- No, it wasn't Bill's first role in Anime, but the actor claims that it was his breakthrough and one of his favorite characters. Billy has a very good "young leading man"'s voice which works well for heroic roles of this type. Unlike his television counterpart in Lodoss TV, Timoney provides range and enthusiasm; his scenes with Deedlit (particularly the dance scene in episode 5 as well as everything from episodes 11 to the end) and his action bits are among the highlights of his performance. Some might argue that his voice is a bit "rough" sounding, but this works in favor of the character as a reckless, impulsively heroic knight wanna-be.  There are a couple of places in the beginning which sound somewhat tentative, but otherwise it's a solid performance overall, and, as mentioned, it is superior to that of the TV series.

DEEDLIT (Lisa Ortiz) -- Without a doubt, the voice that everyone remembers best from the Lodoss OVA dub. This was her first voice acting role, and while there are a few places where it's obvious, note that I stress the word few. It's a lively performance, with just the right amount of emotion and sassiness. Her voice is distinctively different from that of Yumi Tohma, and yet it suits this mystical high elf very well. Her acting, too, is quite effective, whether she is flirting with Parn, casting spells, or becoming gradually weaker in the final episodes as her life force is nearly drained to resurrect the Dark Goddess.  (When she breathlessly utters, "Stay back, save yourself, Parn" one feels a tingle up their spine.)  While Lisa has gone on to be better known as Lina Inverse from Slayers, to me, she will always be Deedlit.

ASHRAM (John Knox) -- This is yet another role that really stands out. I don't think Knox has done much Anime other than Lodoss, which is a shame, because his role of this ruthless yet honorable knight is amazing. He has an appropriately deep voice which is more than appropriate for the character, and while he comes across as rather stoic sounding, this is how Ashram should be.  Only in several moments do a few lines come across as cold reading, but somehow this works in favor of the character instead of against him.

ETOH (Ted Lewis) -- Like Ortiz, this was Ed Paul's first Anime voice-acting role, and is often signaled out as the weak link of the show.  He raises his voice to a surprisingly high pitch to sound somewhat boyish.  This tone works in favor of the character being a bookish priest, although I did detect a couple of missed lines at the start (mostly the first half of the opening episode).  As the show progresses, he gets more into character and becomes more confident with his subsequent appearances.  He's mostly soft-spoken, save for the penultimate episode where he gets to fight a ghoulish wraith.  (It should also be noted that I do have a soft spot for his performance in spite of its shortcomings.)

GHIM (Greg Wolfe) -- Of course, how could I forget this guy?  Gruff, tough, and stony, Greg's burly-sounding voice lends itself well to the grizzled old dwarf with an axe to grind (pun intended). He has an infectiously hearty laugh and a wry sense of humor ("Pathetic! You can hardly even handle a sword."), but also a deep, emotional side which he often displays when reminded about the missing priestess he is searching for. There are several places where he comes across as a bit stiff, but not enough to detract from his overall performance.  The last we hear of him is in Episode 8, and the actor really hits the marks there.  (I won't get into that, however, because doing so would provide spoilers.)

SLAYN (Al Muscari) -- Mike Toole has mentioned that this was one of his favorite performances from the Lodoss dub. Muscari has a calm, yet dramatic sounding voice that is easy to visualize belonging to a benevolent magician. He delivers his lines in an understated tone without sounding monotonous (his spell recitations, in particular, are both fantastic and priceless), raising his voice only at the appropriate moments. It's a shame that we haven't heard much more from this actor.

KARLA/LEYLIA (Simone Grant) -- A sorely missed actress, fans probably remember her best for her role as Boogiepop Phantom. Her performance as Karla, the unstable witch who threatens Lodoss, is something of a precursor to that role. She intones her lines in a cold, icy monotone, which emits both a devilish aura and commanding presence that sends chills up one's spine. Her sinister cackling is spot-on, too. This lasts until episode 9, where she becomes the kind, gentle priestess under the witch's control. There are also several instances where she can be heard as several different female characters: the Zaxon mayor's daughter Liara, Princess Fianna of Valis, etc., and while this does cause for some disconcertation, there's no denying that it's unfortunate that Grant is no longer with us. Lodoss is a fine example of her talent.

WOODCHUCK (Jacques LeCan) -- Another unknown with not much of a career, LeCan gives this surly thief a smarmy, "gangster"-like voice which is distinctively different from his Japanese counterpart, but fitting nonetheless.  For the most part, he seems to be enjoying himself... although I did notice several places where he misses some of his lines.  One such case is in episode 4, when Woodchuck is trying to escape from a dark void, his "help me!" isn't as strong or emotional as the scene demands.  In all fairness, it doesn't spoil the performance and there are plenty of other moments where he gets to have fun (episodes 1 and 3, as well as the dice scene in episode 5).  When his character becomes possessed by Karla, though, he really shines.  There he sounds spooky and deeper-voiced, with a hair-tinglingly frightening sinister laugh. Note that a trace of his "gangster"-like persona remains at times in lines like "I gamble. My purpose is to preserve Lodoss."

KASHUE (Chris Yates) -- Although essentially a key figure, Kashue has a somewhat small part, but Chris plays it pretty much as you'd expect: commanding, with dignity, warmth, discipline, and occasional humor. It's a very nice performance overall, particularly in his action scenes.  Only in a couple of places does his dialogue come across as somewhat unsynched, but not jarring enough to detract.

ORSON (Chris Yates) -- Chris also voices Orson, a "Berserker" warrior possessed by the Spirit of Rage, making him prone to burst out in vicious attacks.  His voice is considerably deeper and tone and he doesn't use much emotion, but considering the nature of his character (where he must keep all his emotions under control), it is more than appropriate.
PIROTESS (Meg Frances) -- The opposite of Deedlit, character-wise, Pirotess is a dark elf who serves as Ashram's love interest. Frances has a husky, sultry voice which brings a quality that is alternatingly alluring and dark.  There are a few moments that come across as cold reading, but otherwise she acquits herself fairly well, and her final scene in episode 10 is appropriately effective.

SHIRIS (Karen Smith) -- Rough and ready, with an aggressive quality and understated sassiness. That sums up Karen's Shiris, in a nutshell. There are several places where she overacts, but since her character screams quite a bit in her first appearance (and with occasionally mellodramatic dialogue), it's unavoidable.  Her exasperation provides a nice contrast to her more stoic partner's deadpan responses.

WAGNARD (Bruce Winant) -- This is another one of my favorite performances from the dub. Bruce has a voice which fits this meglomaniacal sorcerer to a tee, but what really sells his performance is the laugh: it's terrifying, overflowing with pure evil and malice that never gets boring. (Some of my friends/family members were quite scared by this laugh, effectively so.) As far as his acting goes, there isn't much depth to the performance, but there doesn't have to be. All Bruce has to do is be despicable and chew the scenery with glee as his character gets gradually crazier, and he does that wonderfully... particularly in the final episode where he gets to do a lot of maniacal laughing, shouting, and screaming.  (The actor admits he couldn't talk for weeks after recording that very episode!)

I neglected to mention the performances of Bob Barry as the raspy-sounding Emperor Beld, J.W. Gunther as King Fahn (who at times sounds a bit like Patrick Stewart), and Dick Rodstein as the great sage Wort (who is really just a more weary-sounding version of his narrator voice, albeit effective overall); all three are decent, but they don't really strike me as memorable as the guys I mentioned above.

One thing I neglected to mention is that the opening and ending theme songs for Lodoss OVA are translated and sung into English.  Mike Alben and Peter Fish somehow manage to transform the Japanese-written lyrics into something palatable (if at times a tad cheesy), but it is the beautiful voice of Lisa DeSimone that really make these new reinditions soar.  She sings with a lot of emotion and passion, giving these tunes the sort of "timeless" quality they deserve.  Like the dub, these songs are grossly underrated and always a pleasure to listen to for each episode.

No one will argue that Lodoss OVA's dub is on par with today's standards; the inconsistent lipsync being the most obvious weakness.  Overall, however, it remains (at least in my opinion) one of the better dubs from the 1990's, and certainly one of Central Park Media's first decent ones (their previous efforts to this time being misfires such as Garzey's Wing and Birdy the Mighty).  In today's light it probably doesn't compare, but as an older dub, it's above many other efforts from its era.  It also remains superior to the more problematic Lodoss TV dub, Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, which followed approximately four years later.


  1. Yah this dub was pretty good for its time. Though I have to admit I did still think the dub was pretty sub par with todays stadereds but I will admit I being a traditionalist when it comes to languages did perfer this version to the Japanese version which was also sub par.

  2. I know this is a little off topic, but you know what Dub and Fantasy Series really needs more more attention: Spirit of the Guardian. That series surpassed Cowboy Bebop to be my number 1 favorite anime series.