Friday, December 31, 2010


Each new year brings lots of surprises.  As we draw to the end of 2010, we enter a whole new year:  2011.  It is my sincerest hope that dubs will continue to exist; whatever naysayers may say about them, they are crucial to our market and bringing in new fans.  Here's hoping that we'll continue to see great shows in the coming year!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Updates are coming...

Y'all, I am SO sorry that there hasn't been an update lately. I don't know what Jon's position is, but my own is pure laziness. There will be new reviews coming very soon, and I hope you'll enjoy them.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Upcoming Reviews

Hello again, FightingDreamer here, and I want to use this post to preview some of the upcoming reviews from both myself and Jon, as well as Fantasy Dub Casts that I have planned. In short:

Upcoming FightingDreamer Reviews-Baccano!, El Cazador De La Bruja, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Paranoia Agent, Koi Kaze, Princess Tutu, Aquarion and Yu Yu Hakusho.

Upcoming Jon reviews: Akira, possibly Jungle Emperor Leo and Wings of Honneamise.

Upcoming Fantasy Casts: Mahou Sensei Negima, which would be a full, manga-based series rather than the previous two series or the current manga-based OVAS (which are good, but I'd prefer a whole show), Heroman and Naoki Urasawa's Pluto.

Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fantasy Dub Casting: Yotsuba&!

Welcome to a new feature for Anime Dub Reviews! Fantasy dub casting threads pop up all the time on animation community sites/fansites, so I thought it would be a great idea to share some of my own (and hopefully Jon will get involved too). I won't be limiting myself to any particular dubbing studio, and I'll also cast actors who don't do a lot of dubbing but do extensive voicework where I see fit. I'll also, if the first title I'm doing wasn't an indication, occasionally do manga that don't have an anime adaptation yet. With that intro out of the way, let's begin!

Yotsuba&! is a charming, hilarious manga from Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of Azumanga Daioh, and I'm rather baffled that it hasn't gotten an anime adaptation yet. If it ever did, however, these are who I'd want to play the various characters:

YOTSUBA KOIWAI (Laura Bailey)-I had to think long and hard about this one, going through several choices in my head, but I ultimately decided on Laura. She has a great, youthful sound to her voice in many of her roles, and she can certainly get high-pitched. Combine that with the enthusiasm of, say, Tohru Honda, and you have a perfect match for this ridiculously energetic little girl.

MR. KOIWAI/"DAD" (Steve Blum)-Well, he just looks like a Steve Blum character to begin with. I know that sounds weird, but go look up an image of him and you'll see what I mean. That aside, Blum has a great, naturally casual sound to his normal voice, and this gets brought out in a lot of his best roles (particularly Spike Spiegel). But he can also get crazy and hyper, and that combination fits Yotsuba's adoptive father who's practically a big kid himself like a glove.

TAKASHI TAKEDA/"JUMBO" (Crispin Freeman)-This is another one I thought about for a while, but I ultimately decided on Crispin because I really like hearing him do straight-up comedy. He doesn't get to do it a whole lot, although he's certainly brought deadpan humor to many of his badasses, but when he does the results are always magnificent (see Chobits for a great example). Add the fact that he can make his voice pretty darn deep, and you have a great fit for Koiwai's freakishly tall best friend.

FUUKA AYASE (Wendee Lee)-Yeah, yeah, I know: "She's in everything, FD!" Y'know why? 'Cause she's good. And I have a feeling that she could knock Yotsuba's teenage neighbor who often gets caught up in the little girl's adventures and provides some relative sanity to the proceedings out of the park.

ASAGI AYASE (Grey DeLisle)-Grey is one of my favorite voice actresses, and she's played at least one incredibly memorable "older sister" in the psychotic Azula from Avatar: Ther Last Airbender. However, she's also played more "cool big sis" type characters such as Frankie from Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, and I have a feeling that voice and performance type would work perfectly for the equally cool Asagi.

ENA AYASE (Lara Jill Miller)-Ena is Fuuka and Asagi's younger sister, and she almost immediately hits it off with Yotsuba, exhibiting as much curiosity and wonder about the world as her friend. Lara can do that type of role in her sleep.

MRS. AYASE (Kath Soucie)-What can I say? Kath's really, really good at playing moms. Next!

MR. AYASE (Michael McConnohie)-Considering how often he plays villains or tough guys, Michael is surprisingly adept at playing dads, although they sometimes turn out to be evil as well (Code Geass anyone?). Ergo, he'd be perfect for the laid-back, kindly Ayase patriarch.

MIURA HAYASAKA (Mona Marshall)-OK, part of this is just amusing to myself: Miura often gets mistaken for a boy, and Mona's played a lot of young boys, so to hear her apply her usual young boy voice to a young girl would be pretty amusing in theory. That said, Mona could also act this part really well, especially since Miura is relatively down-to-earth compared to the rest of the cast.

TORAKO (Cricket Leigh)-I decided to pick Leigh, who played Mai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, for this role because I think her deadpan performance in that show, with perhaps a little more comedic energy, would work wonders for Asagi's chain-smoking, "cool" best friend.

YANDA (Vic Mignogna)-The great thing about Vic is that his voice can suit heroes, villains, nice guys and jerks equally well, and Yanda is a pretty big jerk, albeit in a funny way. So I think Vic could be quite a comedic highlight when he pops up.

That's it for now, but be sure to keep an eye out for more entries in this series as well as more dub reviews.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Audiences in North American hadn't seen a theatrical release of a Ghibli film since 2005's Howl's Moving Castle, and even then, the box office take for that film in America was considerably lower than that of Spirited Away and many miles beyond its gross in Japan.  Despite this, though, in August of 2009, (roughly around ten years after the first Disney-dubbed Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke, hit the screens), Miyazaki's newest tale about a goldfish aspiring to become human had a wide-scale release in North America.  With rave reviews and a gross of $15 million, it holds the rank of being the highest grossing Ghibli movie in America.  Of course, that doesn't amount to much since the film already made a massive amount of money in its native country, but either way, it was a solid dent for both Disney and the house of Totoro.

While longtime Miyazaki fanboy John Lasseter resumes his role for supervising the dub, Ponyo has a different team at its helm.  This includes scriptwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T.), and executive producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, and a huge roster of all-star names... including the offspring of the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.  The selection of the latter was a sour sticking point for purists, who naturally were prepared to write off the whole dub.  As such, Ponyo has fallen victim to the usual love/hate reaction that Disney's Ghibli dubs typically receive--high acclaim from most critics and viewers, but harsh detraction from naysayers.  (In fact, this writer recalls running into a little girl who hated the Ponyo dub simply because she couldn't stand Cyrus.)  Yet as with any of the Ghibli dubs, the key to enjoying Ponyo is not with bias against any of the performers, nor as a comparison tool to the Japanese version--but simply on its own merits.

And the good news is that Ponyo acquits itself very well. Mathison's script is fluent and natural for the most part, avoiding the occasional stilted sentence now and then (part of that problem is more due to the animation than the acting).  Surprisingly, it's even nearly identical to the subtitled script of the Japanese version, with the exception of several lines (or at least that's the "official" subtitles on the R1 DVD release; I'm not sure how they compare to the R2 DVD). Of course, what really matters is how good the vocal talents are in order to breathe life into the dialogue to make it sound as fresh and fluent as possible.

SOSUKE (Frankie Jonas): Harsh detractors of Disney's dubs have been overly critical about the casting choices for the lead characters (e.g. the leads in Laputa, Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso, and the sisters in Totoro), and many of them were filling their ammunition for this casting choice, the youngest member of Disney's popular Jonas Brothers band.  Having had no such problems with the aforementioned examples (and not the least bit familiar with that group), I wasn't about to put that much burden on him, and I am happily surprised to announce that he surpassed my expectations.  Frankie does a GREAT job in this role, sounding very natural and comfortable throughout.  His scenes with Lisa and the title character are credited by the exuberance he brings to the role. Only one crying scene in the first half after he loses Ponyo comes across as less convincing, but not enough to bring down the overall quality of his performance.  I tip my hat to this guy--he really is quite good.

PONYO (Noah Cyrus):  This is a trickier performance to evaluate. Voiced by the little sister of Hannah Montana 's Miley Cyrus (another point of contention for detractors), Ponyo surprisingly doesn't talk until about midway through the first quarter. And when she does talk, you should prepare to cover your ears: SHE YELLS MANY OF HER LINES LIKE THIS. On one hand, it is appropriate for the character, as she is, after all, an extremely hyperactive girl totally thrilled to be part of humanity.  On the other, though, there are many moments when she goes overboard... to the point where she becomes the most grating element of the entire dub. Fortunately, she tones it down in the latter half, and never fails to deliver childish exuberance. Whether that's a compliment to the character or a detriment is up to the viewer.

LISA (Tina Fey): Sosuke's mother, Lisa, is my favorite voice in the whole dub. It's funny that I always find one particular actor that ends up "stealing the show" in any Disney Ghibli English track, and Fey takes the spot. She imbues her character with just the right amount of spirit and personality and sounds very much like the sort of mother anybody would want to have.  Her exasperated scenes and concern for Sosuke are handled in a way that feels very natural to both the character and her overall performance.  Particularly memorable is the scene where she expresses frustration with her husband for not returning to his family (and her subsequent "request" to tell Sosuke to flash the signal message "B-U-G-O-F-F").  The manner in which she delivers this scene is hilarious and priceless.  All in all, an excellent job all around.

KOICHI (Matt Damon):  Lisa's husband, the seafaring Koichi, has a surprisingly small part.  Since his screentime is limited, it's more difficult to evaluate his performance as a whole.  That said, Damon does do a fine job with what he has to do, which is mostly either excitement over seeing Sosuke flash a signal to his ship, stumbling his way through thunderstorms, or even calling out at the end.

FUJIMOTO (Liam Neeson):  Ponyo's father is some sort of magician whose primary concern is to bring balance to the ocean (mainly by creating jellyfish from his magic elixirs) and becomes rather nerotic when his youngest daughter gets into trouble... to the point where he has to try to bring her back.  It should come across as no surprise that Mr. Neeson nails this role, having proved himself capable of doing dramatic voiceovers for characters like Aslan in the Narnia movies.  Contrary to the King of Beasts, however, Neeson gets to show emotions of exasperation and frustration.  He never holds back in those moments (the scene where he tries to stop Ponyo from turning into a human is especially funny), and is overall a very nice presence in the cast.

GRAN MAMARE (Cate Blanchett): In many ways, this is a very effortless performance... but I don't mean that as a criticism at all. Blanchett's portrayal of this sea goddess isn't that much different from Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Employ the character with that same serene tone of voice and add a vocal reverb, and there you go! It may come across as somewhat distracting, but all in all it works in her character's favor.

YOSHIE (Betty White): Miss White plays one of three elderly women who live at the Senior Citizens' Center. Her character gets to speak most of them, and it sounded fine to my ears. Nothing that I'd write home about, though.

NORIKO (Cloris Leachman):  One of my major disappointments of the dub. Her Dola from Castle in the Sky was, and remains, one of my favorite performances from a Ghibli dub ever, but here she doesn't have anywhere nearly as much lines or screen time!  And whenever she does talk, she doesn't have very many lines.  Her acting sounded fine, but if I were casting this movie, I'd select her as the next character I'm going to bring up.

TOKI (Lily Tomlin): Of the three elderly women, only Toki has a distinctive personality, a cantankerous pessimist who always sees the negative side of things. Vocally, Tomlin is fine for the part and sounds appropriately sharp and snappish, but as mentioned, I'd swap places with Leachman for this part.

KUMIKO (Jenessa Rose): This little classmate of Sosuke's makes a brief appearance, and is as childish and priggish as you'd expect.  Her insult of Ponyo is impeccably done, as is her subsequent crying scene.  No problems.

I had a hard time identifying the incidental cast, but I did notice names like Crispin Freeman, Colleen O'Shaughnessy, Seth MacFarlane, and others in the credits. I've never had problems with these minor parts, and this is no exception, but I didn't really pick out anybody from my first time around.

No dub is perfect, though, and, aside from my quibbles about Cyrus and Leachman, there were two other things that irked me.  While Mathison's script is smooth for the most part, it oddly decides to include Japanese "honorifics" into the dialogue. This includes phrases like "san" and "Sensei". Past Disney dubs have avoided this to prevent confusion with audiences unfamiliar with Japanese culture, but as this is supposed to be a translation for a mainstream audience who doesn't resort to subtitles, it comes across as jarring and out of place. Not that it takes me out of the film, but I did find it distracting.

My second, and only really major problem that I have is the handling of the film's end title song. The first half is actually pretty faithful to the original version, with Frankie and Noah delivering the childish-sounding vocals that accompany the credits over some beautiful still-shots. Unfortunately the second half devolves into a blasty techno-style remix which is subsequently less cute and clearly more of a marketing ploy.  Considering that the rest of the movie contains a luscious score and a breathtaking opera number for the opening credits, it's a very odd, unfortunate addition... probably the only major problem I've ever had with any of these dubs.  In all fairness, though, it only appears at the second half of the credits.

All in all, Ponyo's dub is pretty good. Not five-star material, but it does its job well. I don't think this will be the sort of dub to challenge fans that predetermine to cast off Disney dubs, but if you don't go in with that attitude, it's easier to appreciate the dub as a whole. Not the best Disney-Ghibli dub I've heard, but watchable nonetheless, Ponyo gets a passing grade as an English track.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle marks the third Ghibli movie to receive a large-scale theatrical release, courtesy of the folks at Disney.  Their first, Princess Mononoke, although highly acclaimed (for the most part), failed to repeat the sterling business of its Japanese box office take; Spirited Away fared considerably better, although it barely cracked $10 million.  Sadly, Howl took in only about half as much as Spirited, but of course, went on to have a solid afterlife on DVD.  As with the previous Disney-distributed Ghibli films, a dub was recorded, consisting of famous names and screen legends.  The reactions to the dub, as usual, were mixed, with the usual supporters and detractors (for every person who relishes the actors in the dubs, there are others who refuse to listen to it.)

Love it or hate it, though, it cannot be denied that Howl's Moving Castle is a very fine dub, although considering the consistently top-notch track record for previous Ghibli productions, it really isn't so surprising.  As directed by Pete Docter (the man behind Monsters Inc. and Up), and adapted by the now expected team of Cindy and Donald Hewitt, the dub is the usual mix of star-studded actors and experienced voice artists.

HOWL (Christian Bale) -- The title character of Miyazaki's interpretation of Diana Wynne Jones' beloved fantasy is a dashingly handsome but enigmatic wizard.  He is very charismatic and has a charm that enchants many a lady, but he can also be, at other times, tormented, childish, self-centered, caring, cowardly, and courageous.  It was decided to cast Christian Bale for the part.  Ironically enough, this choice has drawn the typical split reaction that most lead characters in Ghibli dubs often face -- there were viewers who found him to be an ideal choice and effective, but there were others who declared that he was miscast and ultimately underwhelmed the character.  Divided views aside, Bale has voice acted before as a minor character in Disney's Pocahontas, but Howl is quite different.  He intones his lines in a very deep voice, which effectively conveys both the character's sensual appeal and unusual nature.  In at least two scenes, Howl speaks as a fearsome, gryphon-like creature--the gritty, raspy tone that Bale brings to these moments will remind viewers of his work in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies.  There are a couple of places where some of his lines sound a little too monotonous, and it is somewhat curious that Bale decided not to use his natural British accent for the character; after all this is a British fantasy.  Nonetheless, these are only minor quibbles of an otherwise fine performance.  (One of my personal favorite parts from him is the scene where he throws a tantrum after his hair is "sabotaged"--Bale lets loose in this scene without overacting, and it's all the more funny for it.)

SOPHIE (Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons) -- Aside from Howl, the real main character of the story is Sophie.  There are two different incarnations of this character, as noted from the use of two different actresses.  First, there is young Sophie, a beautiful but very reserved young woman who is rather mousey and soft-spoken.  Emily Mortimer conveys young Sophie's fragile nature in a way that feels very genuine and natural.  She also does an excellent job of bringing out her more emotional moments (her concern for Howl, and screams of terror, for instance) without overdoing it.
The film is barely halfway through when our heroine is transformed (by the Witch of the Waste) into "Grandma" Sophie, an aged woman with an aching back and an arguably fiestier nature than her younger counterpart.  Interestingly, in the Japanese version, the actress voicing Sophie plays both versions of her character, but here, her older "form" is portrayed by the late Jean Simmons.  One strange oddity is that Mortimer speaks with a somewhat light British accent, and Simmons does not.  Issue aside, Jean sounds like she is really into her character, obviously relishing such funny moments as when Sophie expresses her frustration over being cursed ("If I ever get my hands on that witch, I'm going to ring her fat neck!" before responding with a very sharp "Finish your breakfast!" to the surprised Markl) and very relaxed when she is saying softer, less forceful dialogue.  Her crying scene, too, is very effective and doesn't sound strained.  It's unfortunate that Simmons isn't with us anymore, but her voice will definitely live on as Old Sophie.  All told, both versions of this character are voiced excellently.

LETTIE (Jena Malone) -- Sophie's younger sister, who works at a bakery, has a very small part, showing up for only one scene (the one where Sophie is just recovering from her first encounter with Howl).  Her primary role is to warn her sister that her newest "friend" may actually be dangerous (something which naturally turns out to be not true).  For this minor role, Malone gives her a somewhat higher-pitched voice with a thick British accent.  It is very appropriate for the character, and her acting never hits a false note.  I've always admired how Disney's dubs give a lot of thought to even the minor supporting roles in these movies, and this is no exception.

WITCH OF THE WASTE (Lauren Bacall) -- When Docter approached Bacall for this role, she confessed, "Dahling, I was born to play despicable!"  There couldn't have been a more ideal choice for this character, who initially starts out as sinister and creepy (not to mention condescending, hence she uses the word "tacky" to describe Sophie's character and environment), then becomes exhausted and breathy (as her outer beauty literally melts away to reveal her true form--starting from her tortorous climb up the stairs to Suliman's palace), and ultimately, becomes a kindly grandmother.  (Even so, she is still caught smoking a cigar and nearly gets our pals into trouble by her own greed for Howl's heart.)  Bacall nails all these facets of her character to a T and beyond; her sultry voice is equally effective, with a slight air of "prissiness" to convey the Witch's authority.

CALCIFER (Billy Crystal) -- Yet another alumni from The Princess Bride gets to be in a Ghibli dub, this time it's Miracle Max himself as the film's truly memorable character, Calcifer, a self-proclaimed "fire demon" who mostly resides in the hearth of Howl's castle.  (What next, Robin Wright Penn for The Borrower Arriety?) The tone of voice he uses for this little guy is somewhat similar to Phil Hartman's tone for Jiji from Kiki's Delivery Service, only his character is less of a zany smart aleck and more of a down-to-earth type.  He gets to be grumpy, critical, fussy, and even show bits of elation (notably when he reacts to Sophie's compliment, "She likes MY SPARK!" -- which brings some echoes of his role from Monsters Inc.).  Like Bale, Crystal's Calcifer has gotten the usual love/hate reaction -- for fans of the dub, he steals the show (adding to the traditional "stand-out" role that typically characterizes these dubs), but for others he was an obnoxiously grating distraction that was not complimentary to the character or the film at all.  Whatever side of the fence you're on, it cannot be denied that Crystal obviously enjoys himself in every second of his role, and the chuckles he emits from audiences are a testament to that.  (And yes, he IS my favorite voice in the dub.)

MARKL (Josh Hutcherson) -- Aside from Calcifer, the only other person who lives in Howl's castle is Markl (initially named Michael), a small boy who (aside from being the spitting image of Ket from Kiki's Delivery Service) serves as an apprentice magician.  Whenever a customer comes calling (where the magic transportation dial of the castle switches colors), he often dons a cloak and disguises himself with a large grey beard.  I wager this must have been an early role for Hutcherson, because in many of the subsequent films I've seen him in (Zathura, and arguably most memorably, Bridge to Terabithia), he obviously has grown quite a bit.  So it was a good thing that he was cast while he was around the character's age!  Hutcherson obviously enjoys the bits where he has to pose as an old man for customers (deepening his voice in the process), but he's also conveys the other aspects of his character very effectively--this shows in his growing love for Sophie and in how he cares for the Witch of the Waste.  His screams of "Sophie" are also very effective and never once sound obnoxious or irritating.  Great work all around.

MADAME SULIMAN (Blythe Danner) -- The most surprising aspect about this icy character is that she only shows up for two scenes.  That probably is more of a criticism of the script, but since Suliman doesn't have much screen time, it's somewhat difficult to determine if she is a genuine villainess or just a misunderstood grump.  But as confused as the nature of the character may be, it in no way affects Danner's voicing of her.  The soft, yet cold tone she uses is properly affective for the part and she does a good job sounding contemptous without being "over-the-top".

KING (Mark Silverman) -- Anyone familiar with Silverman's voicing for King Jihl in Nausicaa will probably know what to expect for his brief cameo as the King:  soft-spoken, authoritative, and natural.  Actually, when we meet him, for the first time, he turns out to be Howl in disguise.  (Hence he declares that he refuses to use magic in a war that his country is fighting--a subplot that never really feels fleshed out.)  The real King shows up about several seconds later, where he guffaws at his own clone with pompous amusement.  Silverman handles both of these parts very well.

HONEY (Mari Devon) -- As with Lettie, Sophie's stepmother has a very small part; near the end of the film she shows up at the newly refurbished hat shop to beg Sophie to stay with her and her new husband.  While speaking with an American accent, Devon amusingly nails the overly smothering qualities of this latter scene, sounding effectively obnoxious, desperate, and, later on, regretful.  Since her character appears so briefly, it's difficult to evaluate her overall performance, but for the time that she's on, it's solid work overall.

PRINCE (Crispin Freeman) -- Aside from Crystal, the surprise of the dub is Mr. Freeman as a character who only appears at the end.  (Actually, he spends most of the film as a bouncing scarecrow dubbed "Turniphead".)  Freeman has always expressed his passion for Miyazaki's work, and to hear him voice a character in one of his films is not only a treat, but a dream come true for this actor.  The tone of voice he uses for the prince is very similar to the earnest, youthful quality heard in characters such as Tylor and Spark (from Lodoss TV); but the genuine enthusiasm he brings to this minor character is what really makes any dub involving him a pleasure.  Here's hoping that Crispin will get to have other parts in future Ghibli dubs.

Aside from the performances (which include the usual background voices), the writing, direction, and overall production values for Howl's Moving Castle are as impeccable as one would expect from a Disney dub, sounding as professional and polished as a film of this caliber would demand.  (The lip sync is sometimes uneven, but not to the point of distraction.)  While I wouldn't call this my favorite Ghibli dub, Howl certainly earns its place alongside the other Disney-Pixar produced English tracks for these films.  It's remarkable that the Ghibli-Disney partnership has resulted with great translations such as this, and one hopes that trend will continue.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Manga Entertainment)

(Note: While this film was previously dubbed by Streamline Pictures, that version seems nigh-impossible to get your hands on legally these days, so I'll be reviewing the 2000 Manga Entertainment dub that I currently own on DVD. I have also seen very little of the other Lupin III dubbed properties, so there won't be any comparison to them here)

Ah, Lupin III. He's perhaps the most legendary thief in animation, the Danny Ocean of Japan, and his finest hour may just be 1979's The Castle of Cagliostro, which also served as the theatrical debut for the legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. It's one of his most purely fun, exciting films, and Manga Entertainment's 2000 dub reflects that quality as well as the few more serious moments. It's not my favorite Miyazaki dub, to be sure. The adding cursing occasionally seems unnecessary, and the acting occasionally gets a bit stiff, but overall it's quite good and certainly recommendable. On with the review!

LUPIN III (David Hayter)-It's admittedly a bit amusing to see Hayter in this role, considering how his most famous role, Solid Snake, is also well-known for sneaking around. But Hayter is quite excellent here, giving oodles of charm and confidence to the gentleman thief, especially since the odds are against him quite often. Hayter also does well in Lupin's quieter, more reflective moments, as when he remembers his first visit to the castle and when he says goodbye to Clarisse at the end of the film. Aside from the occasional bit of stiff delivery, Hayter is easily one of the highlights of the dub.

DAISUKE JIGEN (John Snyder)-Snyder's gruff, scratchy tones bring both humor and badassery to the grouchy gunslinger, and he plays off of Lupin's eternal optimism quite well. No complaints.

GOEMON ISHIKAWA (Mike Gregory)-Goemon doesn't get a whole lot to do here, but Gregory's deep voice is a perfect match for the honor-bound samurai, and his delivery of "This object is unworthy of my blade!" makes up for the fact that I prefer the original line "Once again, I have cut a worthless object." Again, no complaints.

FUJIKO MINE (Dorothy Elias-Fahn)-Dorothy fits Fujiko perfectly, whether she's undercover as Clarisse's governess, making a daring escape with a bleeding Lupin, or impersonating a newscaster to help expose the Count's counterfeiting scandal. I'm disappointed she hasn't been able to play Fujiko anywhere else, but her performance here works perfectly.

INSPECTOR KOICHI ZENIGATA (Kevin Seymour)-Aside from Hayter and another actor we'll see in a moment, the late Kevin Seymour (who also directed the dub) gives my favorite performance in the dub, giving Zenigata plenty of his usual hilarious enthusiasm for pursuing Lupin as well as a surprising amount of dignity. Zenigata gets his finest hour as a character here, seen as a truly honest cop in a world of criminals and corrupt Interpol officials, and Seymour gets that across beautifully with his scratchy, world-weary voice. He also gets a hilarious scene where Zenigata, exposing the Count's printing presses with the help of Fujiko's camera, does a very poor job of acting surprised and shocked at the discovery (since he and Lupin had already discovered it), especially the line "Oh, no! I came here to capture Lupin and uncovered a criminal plot! Oh, what to do?"

COUNT CAGLIOSTRO (Kirk Thornton)-Kirk is just great here. He brings a wonderfully snooty, aristocratic haughtiness to the Count that does a very good job of giving us the impression that the Count will be a more cultured, Bond-esque villain. This impression is very wrong, and as the film goes on the Count gets slimier and more piggish with every scene, and Thornton's performance reflects that beautifully, even getting in some great evil laughter at the climax. He's just having so much fun playing this awful, awful man and the Count's comeuppance is even more effective as a result. Next to Hayter and Grant, this is easily the high point of the dub.

CLARISSE D'CAGLIOSTRO (Bridget Hoffman)-It's tough to play the innocent ingenue, but Hoffman is very good at it, and she manages to suggest Clarisse's true inner strength as well as her fragility and soft heart. Not much else to say, honestly, except that it's a very good performance.

JODO (Milton James)-The Count's butler/right-hand man is almost as slimy yet aristocratic as he is, and Milton does that perfectly, although it's kind of amusing since he played another butler (Norman in the first season of The Big O) who's much nicer than the creepy Jodo.

The smaller roles and extras are done quite well, with Joe Romersa providing an amusing Schwarzenegger impression as the Count's captain of the guard Gustav, while the late, great Barry Stigler gives a legitimate sense of warmth and age to the old groundskeeper Christopher, and actors like Jeff Nimoy (as the archbishop's driver) or Bambi Darro (the waitress who gives Lupin some crucial info) pop up as well.

In summary, The Castle of Cagliostro is a solid dub. It's not the greatest dub I've heard, no, but it does its job quite well with some very good performances, and you won't be clawing your eardrums out from sheer audio agony. If you get the chance, give it a whirl and prepare to have some fun.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wolf's Rain Part 1: The Regulars

You know a dub is something truly special when people who don't even like the show it's for are praising it, you actually bother to watch the "next time on..." previews just so you can hear more of it, and people are still praising it to this day.

That seems to be the case with Wolf's Rain, a show that definitely has a "love it or hate it" status amongst anime fans (for the record, I'm of the former group who thinks this show is amazing). Yet no matter how many people I've run across who either like or dislike this show, everyone seems to agree that the dub is terrific. It's certainly one of the best I've ever heard, a "gold standard" if there ever was one, and most of the cast has rarely been better.

Because I love this dub so much and because there are so many minor/supporting characters I'd like to discuss in addition to the leads, this review will be divided into two posts in order to fit all of them in. Also, this will be a long one in both cases, with MASSIVE SPOILERS. Do NOT read either part of the review if you haven't seen the whole show.


KIBA (Johnny Yong Bosch) -- Bosch's performance here is interesting because it's not quite what we're used to hearing from him. His distinct voice is still recognizable, and he's not stretching his vocal range terribly (though he is a bit more soft-spoken than usual), but his acting is curious because it's much less energetic and more low-key than Bosch's usual timbre. This is entirely appropriate, however, because Kiba is more conflicted and uncertain than the more heroic everyman Bosch usually plays, and he nails everything about Kiba with his performance. Besides, he still gets some great "shouty", angry moments, so everybody wins!

TSUME (Crispin Freeman) -- Ah, I finally get to discuss one of my favorites! Freeman has stated several times that out of all the projects/roles he's worked on over the years, Wolf's Rain is still his favorite, and it's easy to see why. Again, Crispin's working in a pretty familiar vocal range, that of scene-stealing, deep-voiced badass, but as with Kiba (hell, everyone in the series), Tsume is more complex than he initially appears. As time goes on, Freeman gets to play around with Tsume's insecurities and self-doubt while still being totally awesome, so it's little wonder that he ends up being a highlight of the dub, although there's so many of them that might not count for much. His grief in the final episodes regarding two deaths is just astounding from an acting perspective.

TOBOE (Mona Marshall) -- Let's face facts: Mona Marshall has played a lot of young boys. From the super-smart Izzy in Digimon, to the fantastically creepy Wen in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Sympathy for the Devil", to the hotheaded Wolfram from Kyo Kara Maoh, she's all over the place. She's so ubiquitous as young boys in anime, in fact, that it always throws me off whenever she plays an actual female character, if only because they sound freakishly similar to her male roles. Anyway, her shining moment as a VA has to be Toboe (who, amusingly enough, is already kind of feminine-looking within the show). Toboe is possibly the most purely huggable/adorable character in the show, always earnest and willing to believe the best of people, and Marshall does it all wonderfully, as well as Toboe's more insecure, "whiny" moments. I can also say with no shame that her beautiful rendition of Toboe's death scene (yeah, there's a lot of that going around in this show) actually made me cry. This has NEVER happened to me before; I've welled up before at movies and TV, but Mona (with the help of the animation and music, of course) actually made tears flow. So I have to give her massive props for that alone.

HIGE (Joshua Seth) -- It's a shame Mr. Seth seems to have permanently retired from voice acting, as he's always been a favorite of mine, with that distinct, youthful, instantly recognizable voice and terrific acting even in silly kid's shows like Digimon (and I LIKE Digimon, but man can it get silly). Hige is his finest role, bar none, and it's another interesting study of vocal range vs. acting range. As noted before, Seth has an instantly recognizable voice in nearly all of his roles, and that holds true here, but the acting is just on a completely different level than anything else he's done (except possibly the 2001 redub of Akira, where he stole the show with a terrific Tetsuo). Seth gets a lot of heavy stuff later in the series, and he plays it for all it's worth, and his death scene is gut-wrenching.

CHER DEGRE (Kari Wahlgren) -- My jaw dropped when this credit popped up. Cher is nothing like anything the lovely Ms. Wahlgren has played before (at least in my experience); rather than the usual high-pitched young girl Wahlgren excels at, Cher is a career-minded, divorced scientist with a husky voice, and Wahlgren is astoundingly good here. In addition to showing off her vocal range something fierce, her acting is note-perfect in both Cher's default "trying to figure things out" mode as well as her more wistful, tender scenes with her ex-husband Hubb (who we'll get to in a moment). Wahlgren frankly needs more roles like this, because they show she can play adults just as well as the kids.

HUBB LEBOWSKI (Robert Buchholz) -- Unlike Ms. Wahlgren, Buchholz sounds much like he usually does, but yet again it's the acting that truly distinguishes his work here. Unfortunately, I don't have as much as to say about Buchholz's work here other than that, like everyone else, it's fantastic, and one particularly great moment is his muffled screaming over Cher's lifeless body. No complaints.

QUENT YAIDEN (Tom Wyner) -- This is quite frankly the role of a career for Wyner, who's had a long history in the anime industry as both an actor and a director/writer for dubs as well as shows like Power Rangers. To reiterate a familiar refrain, he's never been better, and his rough, scratchy voice serves as a perfect complement to this grizzled old hunter. I especially like his performance when he travels with Hubb, and Wyner's voice adds to the authenticity of Quent's seen-it-all advice to the younger man.

LORD DARCIA THE THIRD (Steve Blum) -- Another favorite of mine, Blum is working in the "smooth and sinister" part of his vocal range, and his work here is on par with Spike Spiegel for sheer awesomeness. As the primary antagonist for the series, Darcia goes through a lot of, shall we say, "mood swings" during the show, and Blum captures the gradually slipping sanity perfectly. He even manages to slip in some great psychotic cackling in the final episodes.

CHEZA (Sherry Lynn) -- Lynn manages to make a potentially uninteresting "wallflower" (pun not intended) fascinating thanks to that strange, wispy voice, and her acting is (sing it with me if you know the words) just magnificent.

BLUE (Jessica Straus) -- Admittedly, Straus doesn't become a regular until later in the series, but it would otherwise feel weird for me to not put her here. I'm surprisingly unfamiliar with Straus, but her work here is excellent, making Blue a formidable "action girl" while keeping her femininity intact.

Next time: the supporting cast and any minor roles I feel fit to mention.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The World of Narue

Even though Central Park Media is no more, there are fans who hold dearly to their hearts many titles in their library.  One of them was The World of Narue, a sci-fi love-comedy about a girl who's actually an alien from outer space (no, seriously) and a nerdy boy who loves Anime.  Spanning over a dozen episodes in total, the show follows the pair's relationship as they encounter obstacles, new friends, and unexpected misadventures.

As one of the latter day Central Park Media dubs, The World of Narue is a pure delight as an English track, proudly joining the ranks of my favorite dubs not only from the company, but of all-time, period.  Directed by the ever-reliable Tom Wayland of Tripwire Productions, who also served as the script writer, this is a show packed with memorable performances and lines which still tickle me every time I watch it.

NARUE NANASE (Veronica Taylor) -- The title character is voiced by one of my favorite voice actresses, Veronica Taylor, better known as the initial voice of Ash Ketchum from Pokemon, but to me, is remembered best as the multi-faceted Yukino Miyazawa from a similarly top-notch NY dub, His and Her Circumstances.  As you may expect, Taylor embues this character with just the right amount of sweet-natured innocence and occasional spunk and ditziness (she is, after all, from outer space, so a little bit of absent-mindedness is more than a welcome bonus).  Some may find her voice a little saccharine at times, but there really is no better way to portray a character such as this.  When she exclaims at the end of each episode, "it's a direct hit to your heart!" you've just gotta love the energy she provides to the line.  Taylor nails all her other qualities impeccably, too, making her performance a delight all around.

KAZUTO IIZUKA (Jamie McGonnigal) -- Aside from Narue, the other main character in the story is Kazuto, a shy but goodhearted teenager who doesn't really mind that his new girlfriend is from a far off planet.  McGonnigal seems to be born to play roles of this type, particularly when they get into humorous "perverted" moments (his role from Magic User's Club, in particular).  Admittingly, Kazuto doesn't get many moments like that, but McGonnigal is obviously having a blast, whether he is describing his favorite Anime show with pure fanboy zest (which includes a sly dig at sub-purists!), exasperation (the scene where he tries to keep his mother and sister out of his room when Narue is visiting is particularly funny), or more mellow moments between him and Narue.

MASAKO MARUO (Jimmy Zoppi) -- Kazuto's nutty best friend, self-nicknamed "Dr. Hunkenstein, the Guru of Love", exuberantly serves as comic relief.  Zoppi has played zany roles of this kind; this one is a bit more "laid-back" compared to others, but nonetheless, every line of his performance is a riot.  Particularly amusing bits include his so-called expert dating tips lecture in Episode 2 (which include "No videogames, don't go to sleep during the movie"... guess who ends up breaking the rules?) and any moment where he is dealing with next-door neighbor Hajime Yagi (notably when he disguises himself as a bizarre creature to snap the latter out of a sour mood swing).  It really is no surprise that he gets many of the best lines.

HAJIME YAGI (Michelle Knotz) -- Arguably the most interesting character in the show is Yagi, a bespectacled, self-proclaimed expert on aliens and UFOs who initially despises Narue and continually tries to expose her as a fake, but eventually becomes friends with her.  She has a strained relationship with Maruo and has many periods where she explodes into hilariously overexasperated fits of shock and fury.  Since she shows the most depth in the show, it's unsurprising that she is also the dub's major highlight.  You may be surprised to discover that this was Knotz's first voice-acting role (she got the part by winning a "voice acting contest" at the New York Anime Fest many years ago).  While there are a few moments of trepidation in her first scenes, they are hardly noticeable, because every minute that she's onscreen obviously shows Knotz's intangible enthusiasm for the role.  Her "crazy" moments are an absolute scream (literally), and she even handles Yagi's more mellow moments very effectively.  (Her first visit with Kanaka is particularly touching; ditto with both her later reconciliation with Narue and the two scenes where Yagi tries to help the latter in her relationship with Kazuto.)  All told, Knotz's performance is both my favorite of the show and the one I will always remember her for; the lucky actress later found greater notoriety in Pokemon, but Yagi is simply her best role ever.  Period.

KANAKA NANASE (Rachael Lillis) -- Aside from Yagi, another one of the most interesting characters in the show is Narue's "younger, older" sister, Kanaka.  When we first come across Kanaka, she comes across as a rather moody, sullen girl who, like Yagi, initially resents Narue (not being particularly thrilled to discover that she is her new sister), but eventually comes to accept her.  Since her character is also "mentally" young, she can also come across as rather childish at times (not to mention mischevious, especially in my favorite episode of the show, the seventh--in which our pals start out on a visit to the pool that turns into a wet and wild adventure in a virtual fantasy world!), and even act somewhat spoiled, but she also emerges into a fully realized, likeable individual.  Lillis is another one of my favorite voice actresses both from the Big Apple and of all-time; it almost seems like destiny that she gets cast in comical roles such as this where she REALLY gets to STRESS HER EXASPERATION LIKE THIS.  But that's what makes her Kanaka so funny; Lillis can also be very sympathetic, too, particularly in the softer moments when Kanaka realizes that she must come to terms with feeling like an outsider or in generally trying to offer support to her sister or her new best friend, Yagi.  In short, it's yet another wonderful performance in the dub.

BATHYSCAPHE (Carol Jacobanis) -- This character is actually an "android" with the ability to turn into a spaceship.  Essentially, her role in the show is to serve as Kanaka's guardian and, later on, become something of a supportive adult to the teenage cast.  Most of her dialogue tends to be words of wisdom with the occasional sternness.  Since her character doesn't have much of an expressive face for most of her scenes, there is a potential for her voice to come across as monotonous, but Jacobanis miraculously steers around that trip, providing a very even tone while making her character a pleasure to listen to.

TADASHI NANASE (Dan Green) -- As his last name implies, Tadashi serves as Narue and Kanaka's father.  He is a somewhat bumbling and weary man who nonetheless cares dearly for his daughters.  It is somewhat surprising to hear Green speaking for this character, as he tends to be cast in more dramatic roles.  Nonetheless, it doesn't take too long for him to find his stride.  His more "down-to-earth" manner is very fitting, and the few moments where he gets to let loose (notably in a flashback episode where we learn how Tadashi met Narue's future mother, which feature a few screams of terror) are humorously delivered without sounding forced.  Very well played all around.

KYOKO KUDO (Lisa Ortiz) -- Another one of my all-time favorite actresses, Ortiz gets to play multiple characters in The World of Narue, all of which are nothing like her more renowned roles such as Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War, Lina Inverse from The Slayers, Azalyn from The Irresponsible Captain Tylor... the list goes on and on for favorite roles from her.  We first hear her as Kyoko, a snobbish, mean-spirited bully who constantly picks on Narue and Yagi.  Ortiz has often mentioned that she had always wanted to play "evil" roles; Kyoko may not be a major character (she shows up for only three episodes), but it is nonetheless very refreshing to hear Lisa's performance.  The nasally, prissy tone she uses couldn't have been a better match for the character, and she obviously relishes every minute of it.

MAGICAL GIRL #4 aka MANAKA OATARI and KIRIRI KAIBASHIRA (Lisa Ortiz) -- Lisa's other significant role in the show is that of "Magical Girl #4", the title character of Kazuto's favorite Anime show.  There are three different incarnations of this role.  First there is Magical Girl's "normal" counterpart, Manaka Oatari, who has only one small scene, but Ortiz provides her with a high-pitched, breathy tone that is slightly similar to Tsubasa Shibahime in His and Her Circumstances.  Then there's the character herself, a spunky, heroic "action" girl whose catch slogan is "It's a direct hit to your heart!" (hence the origin of this oft-repeated quote at the end of each episode preview.)  Anyone familiar with Ortiz as Lina Inverse or Nanaka Nakatomi in Magic User's Club will surely recognize the voice that she uses for this rather brief character, and, as one would expect, she's as spunky, sassy, and full of attitude as other roles she tends to get typecast as.
Finally, there is the voice actress behind the character, Kiriri Kaibashira, whom Kazuto somehow gets mixed up with and Narue must try to fight for him.  Needless to say, Kiriri turns out to be anything but ideal, for, like Kyoko, she's mean-spirited and a bully (not to mention irritatingly clingy).  As a further way to emphasize the obnoxious aspects of her personality, Ortiz pwovides Kiwiwi with a speech impediment which is vewwy simiwar to a certain Elmer Fudd.  This works in favor of this (thankfully) minor character, so much so that one wish that Ortiz would voice some similarly villainous roles.

TAIL MESSA (Tristan Goddard) -- The tall, stern figure wearing dark sunglasses serves as the Head Inspector of the Galactic Federation police who occasionally comes to check on Narue and her father's status.  Goddard has a very strict authoritative tone that lends itself well to the mysterious nature of the character, but he never makes him cold or unsympathetic.  He appears briefly in selected scenes, but Goddard makes the most of them with style.

SPACE NINJA (Tristan Goddard) -- Another role that Goddard is saddled with is similarly minor, but nonetheless deserving of mention.  This deranged, malicious terrorist, who is, essentially, a ninja from outer space (or, to put it more promptly, an Avalonian alien -- good luck if you can decipher Tadashi's intentionally sped-up "description" of where the character in question comes from!).  He serves as the series' central villian, but the Space Ninja only appears in the first and last episode.  Nonetheless, he is a true menace, threatening both Narue and her father with a deadly laser machete.  Goddard's portrayal is the total opposite of his Tail Messa; slimy, cackling, and downright ruthless.

RIN ASAKURA (Zoe Fries) -- Since Avalonian aliens like the abovementioned space ninja pose a threat not just to the Nanase residence but to the galaxy as well, Inspector Tail Messa employs a group of super-charged "android girls" to fight them off.  One of them, Rin Asakura, has a small but significant role.  We first meet her in episode 6, where she addresses a shocked Kazuto as "big brother."  From this point, she puts him under a hypnotic trance (a trick that she tries on many other characters in the episode) and clings to Kazu like a long lost girlfriend, mainly to break Narue's heart enough to return to the galaxy.  (The resolution of this episode is pretty much what you'd expect, with Kazu fighting back against her brainwashing pulses and showing his love for Narue.)  Later, she shows up in the final episode to help Kazu and Narue against the attacking Avalonian aliens who have disrupted the couple's latest date at a Japanese festival.  Zoe's extremely high-pitched tone for the character will definitely strike many as irritating and annoying, but that's the point of the character.  Nonetheless, in spite of the squeaky voice, Zoe remembers to provide Rin with the proper emotions without sounding fake or forced.

NARUMI MUTSUKI (Zoe Fries) -- Later on, Zoe gets to voice a more "down-to-earth" character, in the form of one Narumi Mutsuki, whom Tadashi Nanase meets on an exploratory mission on Earth.  Essentially, she becomes his (second) wife.  Contrary to Rin, Zoe gives this minor character a very pleasant tone, breathing enough life to make her memorable.  Her best moment is the scene where she goes on a never-ending rant about her troublesome job (which Tadashi listens -- calmly -- to every second of); it's funny without being over-the-top.

HARUNA (Debbie Rabbai) -- Debbie is another one of my favorite New York actresses; having shown her skill in roles such as Leaf from Record of Lodoss War TV and Nayuta in Shingu:  Secret of the Stellar Wars.  In World of Narue, she portrays a lovestruck "starship" android (similar to Bathyscaphe) who only shows up for two episodes.  When Kanaka and Bathyscaphe first encounter her at a food stand during a day at the beach, Haruna is initially terrified, for she fears that the latter has come to arrest her.  The paranoia that Debbie conveys for this portion of her character is both sincere and funny, particularly when she threatens to "kill herself" using a spoon.  As the episode progresses, she becomes more and more relaxed and even performs a heroic deed.  Haruna's second appearance as at a Hot Springs Inn, initially starts off as ditzy when she puts on a "welcome" party for our pals, and eventually turns genuinely heartfelt, especially at the ending.  Although this is not one of my all-time favorite roles from Debbie, is is nonetheless always a pleasure to hear her voice, and again she manages to provide another top-notch performance.

AKIO SHIMADA (Josh Mosby) -- Aside from Haruna, the other important character in her story arc is Akio, a gentle young man who takes the latter under his wing after encountering her on the beach.  His role is a bit smaller and has less comic timing, but Mosby has a very relaxed, genial tone that works effectively for the role; one sequence which deserves mention is when Akio is initially shocked at Haruna's true identity but then later says that he wants to be with her forever.  Mosby handles this really effectively.

As typical for most New York produced dubs, the remainder of the characters are either dual roles from any of the other actors, or small bit parts.  The number of actors employed for such "walla" moments is somewhat limited, but there are no amateurish performances to be heard, and it really isn't all that distracting anyway.

Aside from directing his cast with a sincere, believeable flair, Wayland's script adaptation also does a solid job of treading the line between remaining faithful to the original while occasionally peppering up the dialogue for some funny moments.  As mentioned, Maruo's self-description of himself as "the Guru of Love" is a riot, as is Kazuto's sly sub-purist dig.  But one other moment that deserves mention is during the second episode, where Kazu and Narue are sitting through a movie.  We don't actually see what is onscreen, but the sounds accompanying it (underneath the sparse bits of dialogue from Kazu) include a dead-on Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, and a sound mix that definitely screams B-movie.  This really shows that Wayland is a "go to" person when it comes to pulling out quality work from the Big Apple.

All in all, The World of Narue excels as both a sweet-natured and funny sci-fi love story and as a dub.  Initially released on a four-set DVD by Central Park Media (highlighted by excellent extras, particularly voice-talent featurettes containing comments from the principal cast members), The World of Narue can currently be found from ADV-- sorry, Section 13.  If you missed out on this show or its dub, I highly recommend giving it a second look.  Not only an excellent entry from the Big Apple, it is "a direct hit to your heart", indeed!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Neighbor Totoro (Disney and Streamline Versions)

There really is no argument that Hayao Miyazaki's 1998 whimsical fantasy My Neighbor Totoro is one of the greatest Anime -- correction, greatest films -- of all time.  Despite this, however, a major debate about this movie still continues to rage on:  which English dub version is preferable?

Before I offer my answer, here's a history lesson.

Back in the late 1980's, sometime after My Neighbor Totoro made its first Japanese premiere in 1988, Streamline Pictures' Carl Macek (who was dissastisfied by the quick-and-dirty disaster that was the JAL-produced dub of Castle in the Sky -- which Disney nonetheless redubbed for its recent release) was commissioned to produce the version that many viewers were introduced to regarding this film.  This dub was later picked up by Troma Pictures Studio, who gave the film a very limited theatrical release in 1993.  It was followed by a successful video release from FOX, clearing over half a million copies.  Even Macek's harshest detractors declared that this early dub was his finest hour, and it remains a favorite of many to this day.  (Unfortunately, the DVD release that followed more than seven years later was another matter--it was a pan and scan copy with no Japanese language track or bonus features, much to the disappointment of many fans.)

As fate would have it, FOX's rights for Totoro soon expired, and, as Disney acquired the Ghibli catalog, it is probably unsurprising that they would produce their own version of Totoro.  The now expected team of scriptwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt, voice director Rick Dempsey, and translator Jim Hubbert, brought in famous stars to redub this film.  Due to rights complications, however, the new dub, scheduled for release in 2004, didn't appear until two years later.  But unlike Fox's version, reaction to the new dub was wildly divided (an atmosphere not uncommon with Disney's dubs for Ghibli's works); most critics were generally favorable, welcoming the new version as a fresh update for a new generation, but many longtime fans of the FOX dub were furious, condemning the new dub as a travesty and a desecration of a great family film.  The saddest fact is that most of these viewers had decided from the get-go that the Disney version, regardless of its quality, would never live up to the movie; such an atmosphere only succeeded in fueling fire to those who believe that Disney only acquired Ghibli's works just to destroy them, an argument which is totally fatuous in every way.  (It was back then, and remains so today.)

The negative backlash against the Disney redub of this beloved masterpiece is totally unjustified.  Despite my affection for the initial dub, it is no excuse to dismiss this new version as an inferior imitation.  To the average ear, it is a very fine English adaptation in its own right, and, if one is not so attached to the Fox version or the Japanese track, there really isn't anything truly wrong with it.  The only thing that may work against Disney's dub is nostalgia, but otherwise, it doesn't deserve half of the scathing slamdunks it receives.

In other words, both Fox and Disney's dubs of My Neighbor Totoro are appealing in their own ways.  Neither version is superior or inferior to the other, they're only, well, different approaches.  Both are produced by very talented people who obviously love Miyazaki's work (the Hewitt scriptwriters have even said that they liked the Streamline/Fox dub too).  Both are well cast and genuinely well acted.  And there's nothing about either dub that compromises the atmosphere or tone of this masterpiece at all.  Contrary to what anyone else may declare.

So in my evaluation of both dubs, I will not pedestalize one over the other; nor will I compare them to the Japanese version, as I feel that dubs should always be viewed on their own merits, not as a comparison tool.  The cast of Totoro is a considerably small one compared to most other Ghibli movies, so only the principal (important) characters will be covered.

SATSUKI (Lisa Michelson, Streamline/FOX dub; Dakota Fanning, Disney dub) -- The two sisters who serve as the main characters carry the show along, so it is important for both to be voiced appropriately and ACT like children. Lisa Michelson, the late wife of the ADR director for FOX Totoro, raises her mature-sounding voice to sound childlike. Usually such attempts can sound strained or unbelievable, but it works very well for Lisa. She obviously sounds like a sister of the verge of adulthood while struggling to maintain her childlike innocence.
Dakota takes the character in a similar way, but with a different approach.  While her performance may not be on the same caliber as, say, Coraline, it's a very good one in its own right.  She has an odd tendency to sound "older than her age," but this works pretty well with her character.  There are some scenes where she comes across as more low-key than necessary (notably toward the end of the movie, where she underacts somewhat), yet her interactions with her little sister Elle make the dub equally natural and believeable.  She's not afraid to let loose during the scenes where she and Mei are frolicking around the house or even screaming to scare away mysterious specters.  Bottom-line:  Lisa Michelson's efforts are great for their time, but Dakota is a great actress, too.  Both tie in this role.  (It should be noted that the name is pronounced differently in both dubs:  the first dub calls her Sat-SOO-ki, while Disney's simply says "Sats-ki".  The latter is the correct way to pronounce the name.)

MEI (Cheryl Chase, Streamline/FOX dub; Elle Fanning, Disney dub) -- Arguably the juiciest role in the film, Mei is a hyperactive and sometimes impatient youngster who often upstages her big sister.  At the time I listened to the first dub, I didn't realize that Cheryl actually was trying to sound very childlike, because it sounded very natural.  This is a very fitting example of adults voicing children convincingly.
Elle Fanning's interpretation is no less entertaining; in fact, one might argue that she steals the show.  Also working in her favor is that she is approximately around the character's age (off by about two years, but not by much).  She is consistently lively and adorable, with a cute laugh to match.  She relishes any moment where Mei is in action and handles her emotions in a very effective way that don't feel forced.  Her crying scene toward the end, too, is priceless. I've heard many declare that she is annoying, but one could say the same thing about Cheryl's take.  All in all both Cheryl and Elle are great, however, Elle gets an edge from me due to sounding more "realistic", so to speak.

DAD (aka MR. KUSAKABE) (Greg Snegoff, Streamline/FOX dub; Tim Daly, Disney dub) -- The scatterbrained but kindly father of the girls is at times easygoing and fun and other times serious and comforting, just like any father. Snegoff's approach on the character is pretty much as you would expect, and more than appropriate (he also served as the ADR director and wrote the script, as mentioned earlier).
Tim Daly plays the character identical to Snegoff's, and is pretty much on par. He has a soothing, soft gentle voice, and he doesn't hesitate to let go in the moments where he acts childlike (in the bath scene, for instance).  Once again, both actors tie.

MOM (aka MRS. KUSAKABE) (Alexandra Kenworthy, Streamline/FOX dub; Lea Salonga, Disney dub) -- The mother of the girls has a very small part, but is equally well played in both dubs. Both Salonga and Kenworthy have soft, motherly voices and portray their characters pretty much the same.

GRANNY (NANNY in FOX dub) (Natalie Core, Streamline/FOX dub; Pat Carroll, Disney dub) -- This character is approached differently but effectively in both dubs. Natalie is as grandmotherly as you'd expect, very soft and gentle, only getting emotional in the film's critical scenes toward the end.
As for Pat Carroll, I was surprised when I found out that she was cast for this character, but there were no traces of Ursula within her. It was also very pleasing and refreshing to hear her play a different kind of character rather than a nasty, bargaining, double-crossing Sea Witch.  Once you get past the jarring recognition, it's easy to appreciate her performance too.
KANTA (Kenneth Hartman, Streamline/FOX dub; Paul Butcher, Disney dub) -- One thing that both dubs have in common is that this impish youngster who teases Satsuki (and later befriends her) is played by a young boy. Kenneth's voice is noticeably deeper than Paul's, but both play the character just as they should:  shy, antagonistic, and, later on, emphatic.  One thing that Paul does differently is that he makes these "grunting" noises to accentuate his attempted gestures to hand his either a picnic basket or his umbrella to Satsuki.  I found this pricelessly funny.  There's also a difference in the approach to the scene where the boy argues with his mother:  Kenneth sounds bratty and defiant, while Paul has a bit more of a "whiney" tone.  Both are effective, however.
TOTORO (Greg Snegoff, Streamline/FOX dub; Frank Welker, Disney dub) -- The titular character is only in for a few scenes, and does little more than growl, grumble, and roar. There is no actual credit to who did Totoro's voice in the Fox dub (and, contrary to popular belief, it's not the Japanese voice actor -- it is, surprisingly, Greg Snegoff), but it's difficult to evaluate the performance as a whole when it consists basically of only one speaking line (if it can be called that).  One thing that should be mentioned is, probably due to the scratchy sound mix, at times his roar sounds a bit like a chainsaw being revved up.
One of the biggest criticisms I hear of the Disney dub is the dubbing of Totoro's voice; fans have declared that he sounds too ferocious in comparison. However, I will argue that either interpretation is valid. Welker shouldn't be discredited, either; he is a fabulous actor and what he brings is no less credible.  Granted, all he has to do is provide bass-rumbling "creature noises", but he does them pretty much as you'd expect.  (For other roles where he does similarly "beastly" noises, check out BigFoot in A Goofy Movie or even the Tiger God from Aladdin).
(Some viewers have taken issue with the pronunciation of Totoro's name in Disney's dub as opposed to the "TO-toro" in the Fox dub, but either way is valid.)
CAT BUS (Carl Macek, Streamline/FOX dub; Frank Welker, Disney dub) -- The approach to the most unusual character in the film is strikingly different in both dubs. In FOX's version, Carl Macek gives the cat a high-pitched male voice with only two lines, "Next stop, little sister!" which works fairly well.  Otherwise, it's basically distorted sounding "growls" and not much else.
Welker, on the other hand, provides the character with cat-like meows and at one point even screeches, "MEEEEEEI!"; an odd substitute, but it's no less effective.  It may only be jarring to hear Welker's approach if you're so accustomed to the FOX dub, yet that's really my only quibble with him.

The minor supporting characters in both the FOX and Disney dubs are portrayed equally well.

Voices aside, one other difference in the FOX and Disney dubs is in the adaptation of the script.  Macek and Snegoff's script is sometimes a bit loose in places (naming the fuzzy creatures "dust bunnies", for instance), but is otherwise faithful to the original.  Unfortunately, I did notice several places where the dialogue sometimes sounds stilted, particularly in Mei's confrontation with the goat.  Yet since this was done in an era when technology had not yet caught up with how to do dubbing, I'm more forgiving.

The Disney version, scripted by the Hewitts, on the other hand, is a fresh new translation of the Japanese script, and, as such, hews closer in tone to it.  Past Disney dubs have sometimes gone overboard with adding in extra dialogue (although I'm nowhere nearly as anal about it; the dubs are still charming), but with Totoro this habit is very much toned down.  Many may argue otherwise, but this script actually surpasses that of the previous dub, for sounding both natural and going the extra mile of including details that the previous dub neglected to mention (the origin of the Totoros, for instance). And while fans may groan all they want about "classic" lines being replaced, the fact remains is that the basic story is unchanged. There are a few places where the lip-sync doesn't always mesh, but note that I emphasize the word FEW.  (Some will take issue about the fuzzy creatures called "soot gremlins", but either translation is fine.)

Probably the only (minor) false note of Disney's dub is in the handling of the opening and ending songs.  The translated lyrics are the same as in the FOX version, but the singer is different.  Unlike the warm tones of Cassie Byram, who delivered "Hey Let's Go" and the showclosing "Totoro", respectively, these songs are instead handled by one Sonya Isaacs.  Her voice is competent enough and she hits high notes appropriately, but her approach to the opening song has more of a "gung-ho" attitude and as such, is a bit less charming.  She does fare a little better in the ending song, particularly in the bits that she harmonizes parts of the last couple of verses.  One other difference is that the songs sound more crisper and vibrant in the new dub but come across as somewhat scratchy-sounding in the older one.  So, basically, there are pros and cons to both versions:  one is more soothing but more "old" in terms of clarity, while the other offers technical improvements but not so much on the singing end.

Otherwise, however, there really aren't any major quibbles I can find with Disney's dub of My Neighbor Totoro.  There is no denying that the FOX dub is a classic of its time, but Disney's reinterpretation is by no means a disservice.  While the arguments over which version is superior may rage on until the very bitter end, it's obvious that the creators of both dubs are fans of Miyazaki, and it shows in both takes.  Each takes their own approach to the story, and are neither better nor worse.  They simply are what they are.

UPDATE:  Thanks to robert for identifying the singer for the FOX dub of Totoro!  And Khyron Yopvaiumat for identifying the voice of Totoro in the FOX dub!

Also, as a response to posters who insist on badmouthing the Disney dub in comparison the FOX dub:

Sorry, but I will not be accepting any such comments on my blog.  As moderator of this blog, I personally feel that both dubs of Totoro have merit, and I don't think it's particularly fair to put down one over the other, and I still stand by this statement.  If you don't agree, that's understandable, but one-sided, hateful comments will NOT be tolerated on my site.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Whisper of the Heart

It took quite a long time for a dub for Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondo's first and only film for Studio Ghibli) to be produced, but the results are worthwhile.  It is a delightful, well-produced English track, just like any of the Ghibli-Disney dubs.  Other reviewers such as AnimeonDVD's Chris Beveridge and Dani Moure have praised it as one of their best. That said, Whisper of the Heart's dub has also received its share of detractors; there are those who simply refuse to give this dub any credit, in the form of either stubborn, unpleasable fans who are too fond of the original Japanese or even a few reviewers who simply have an axe to grind (e.g. Film Freak Central's own Walter Chaw, who dismissed the dub as "sub-par" compared to Disney standards and the owner of The Ghibli Blog called it "one of the worst Disney dubs yet", adding that the actors "sound like parents talking down to a baby or stroke victims" -- then again, said critic disliked all the Ghibli dubs save Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, and Totoro). However, if one doesn't watch any of the Ghibli dubs with any said baggage on their shoulders, it is much easier to appreciate them as a whole. That certainly applies to Whisper of the Heart, which, to the average ear, is a very natural-sounding, well-written, and top-quality English track. I wouldn't say it's the best Ghibli dub (I love the others too much), but it is definitely an effort that does not deserve to be tossed aside as second-rate.

Produced by the now-expected team of ADR director Rick Dempsey and scriptwriters Cindy Davis and Donald H. Hewitt (who helmed the Ghibli dubs since Spirited Away), Whisper of the Heart is not an easy movie to translate, and if done straightly, it could make the mistake of alienating the audience.  A crucial part of the story involves an American song, "Take Me Home, Country Road" by John Denver (delivered in the opening credits by Olivia Newton-John), where the protagonist attempts to translate the song into Japanese.  Obviously that wouldn't work, so the scriptwriters have her rewrite the lyrics to suit her own tastes.  This is not the only example of pragmatic changes that occur in the script.  Other ones include a tongue-in-cheek comment about the parody writing of "Concrete Road", "Great lyrics. They're even cornier than the original version!" (vs. "You should give up on 'Concrete Road'"), and lastly a marriage proposal at the end.  (Considering that the two have only met for a few days, hearing them agree to a marriage does feel somewhat abrupt. If anything, this could be counted as an improvement over the original script.)  The dialogue is not word-for-word with the literal translation, but it somehow succeeds in maintaining the spirit of the original without compromising it.  This is the sort of standard I've come to expect from any Ghibli-Disney dub, and this is no exception.

The casting for this story is important because Whisper is a story about High school teenagers; thankfully, Disney puts together a capable cast for the characters in question with performances that bring sincerity and believability to this slow-paced love story. (And contrary to the aforementioned poster, they are not "syrupy, overdone" or "cartoonish" in the least.)

SHIZUKU (Brittany Snow): For the lead character, an insecure teenager with a passion for stories and an obliviousness to certain responsibilites (a weakness which is magnified in the latter half), Miss Snow handles herself excellently. She has a very lovely voice, conveying the character's innocence and childlike wonder; every emotional moment is handled in a way that is lively and believeability without sounding saccharine. Brittany even gets to show off her singing abilities for the film's solo vocal piece ("Country Road"). There are several moments where she has to speak fast to keep up with the mouth movements, but that's more of a criticism of the animation lip flaps than her overall performance. (This wouldn't be her only voice acting job, either; some time after, she was heard as the lonely sorceress Namine in Kingdom Hearts II.)

SEIJI (David Gallagher): Speaking of Kingdom Hearts, Riku himself speaks for the boy whose name Shizuku notices in the library cards on the books she regularly checks out. When we first meet Seiji he comes across as anything but the "nice, intelligent, civilized person" that Shizuku imagines him to be; in fact he "comments" on her work and her father's lunch. But that's only one side of his personality, we discover, as he shows himself to also be a kind, genial boy who has a lot more in common with Shizuku than even she imagines. Gallagher handles these earlier moments in a way that is very cocky and amusing. His scenes with Snow are the core of the entire story, and it helps that there is chemistry between the two throughout the dub. It's hard to believe that neither recorded their lines together. (It also seems that Disney just can't escape criticism, either, when it comes to casting leads; I've heard naysayers say that both Snow and Gallagher are wrong for their roles. It seems there is no pleasing everybody.)

YOKO (Ashley Tisdale): Shizuku's best friend is also Brittany Snow's real life best friend, as mentioned in the behind-the-scenes documentary. I like casting choices like this, as it brings an added authenticity and naturalism to the relationship between the two girls. Tisdale has a more nasally voice which lends well to her bits of irritation and her timid moments. She also does a great job with her emotional breakdown scene. Interesting note: Tisdale was familiar with the song "Country Road", unlike Snow, and so she had to teach Brittany the song; this works in favor of the first scene where the two girls sing Shizuku's initial lyrics.

SHIHO (Courtney Thorne-Smith): The older sister of Shizuku is a cantankerous character, always in a foul mood, and sometimes at odds with her sibling. It is easy to portray this girl as an annoying bitch, but Courtney somehow steers around that trap, making Shiho appropriately grumpy but also concerned and caring for Shizuku, especially when the latter neglects her house chores (and exam scores!) in favor of writing a story.

SHIZUKU'S MOTHER AND FATHER (Jean Smart and James Seking): Nothing much to write about their performances here, other than that they play Shizuku's parents pretty much as you'd expect--stern, caring, and warm at heart. Seking has a few moments which come across as somewhat monotonous, but not enough to bring down the character or the scenes he is in.

SUGIMURA (Martin Spanjers): The other significant "child" character in the movie is Shizuku and Yuko's classmate, or to put it mildly, an oblivious but goodhearted dope who has no idea that Yuko is in love with him. What really makes his character work is the dialogue; Martin's delivery of "I don't speak girl-code! Why don't you spell it out for me?" is pricelessly funny. He also has the right tone for this kind of character. Considering that this is a modern-day "realistic" story, it helps that the children all sound authentic (no offense to any of the other Ghibli dubs, of course).

BARON (Cary Elwes): I've always found it amusing that several veterans from The Princess Bride have somehow found their way into Ghibli dubs (Inigo Montoya in Laputa, Miracle Max in Howl, and Prince Humperdinck in Nausicaa), but Westley is lucky. This is his third appearance in a Ghibli film, the first being Donald Curtis in Porco Rosso. His second role is the character he plays in this film, a charismatic gentleman cat named Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, or simply Baron. His performance was the highest point of the otherwise predictable and uninspired The Cat Returns (the only Ghibli film to have disappointed me thus far). Compared to that film, however, Baron’s role is smaller, and so Elwes has few lines, but even so, the third time is a charm.

NISHI (Harold Gould): This guy takes my vote for being the best performer in the overall dub. It always seems to be a tradition for every Ghibli dub to have a performer who takes the status of "stealing the show", so to speak (save Pom Poko); Gould's portrayal of the kindly old shopkeeper who helps Shizuku on her spiritual growth into a young woman is no exception. Gould has the sort of gentle, grandfatherly voice that one would naturally expect from this character, and his natural delivery throughout really makes the viewer wish that Mr. Nishi was the sort of kindly uncle everyone wishes they had. In other words, Mr. Gould really contributes to the movie's overall "heart". Only issue: occasional distortion in the clarity of the voice, yet it is a nuisance that gradually goes away.

Anyone who has viewed a Disney-Ghibli dub should not expect anything less for the additional characters, and there's no disappointments to be had here. The high school students, in particular, sound great, not only for being age-appropriate, but for the handling of the walla scenes. This is especially amusing in the scene where the students tease Shizuku about her relationship with Seiji.

It is a wonder, too, that Whisper of the Heart ever got dubbed at all; at the time Disney acquired the rights to these movies, one would wonder about how they would handle a Japanese-centric film like this. There was even a legality issue that delayed its release (involving the use of the John Denver song). In the end, however, it is worth it, because the resulting dub is yet another commendable achievement in the high-profile Disney-Ghibli English tracks. While Whisper is not my favorite Ghibli-Disney dub, I will not deny that it is indeed a top-notch effort; nor do I hesitate to recommend it in the least. It is certainly deserving of an appreciative audience.