Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist (2003, HERE BE SPOILERS)

The original Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favorite shows, and dubs, of all time. This is not to take anything away from Brotherhood, the "reboot" series that more faithfully adapted the manga (keep in mind that Hiromu Arakawa, the author, specifically told the first anime's staff to do their own thing) and is a perfectly good, excellently dubbed series by itself. But by comparison, my heart completely belongs to the original 2003 series. It's one of the first shows where Funimation REALLY showed what they could do outside of series like Dragon Ball Z or Yu Yu Hakusho (mind you, I love that show and dub as well). Especially since they poured so much effort into the adaptive scripting, and director Mike McFarland (who also plays Jean Havoc) guides the performances in a way that makes it look easy. Since the show has a rather large cast, I will not be covering every single character. Instead, I will look at the main casts of heroes, villains and major supporting characters, and then talk about the more minor recurring or one-shot performances that I find to be the most memorable.

Either way, this is gonna be a long one. Strap in.


EDWARD ELRIC (Vic Mignogna)-This is arguably the performance Vic will be remembered for above all others, and it's not hard to see why. Along with our next performer, he shoulders the series, providing balance and weight to the deep emotions running through the core of the story. And yet Edward is a wonderful role for Vic because he's a very atypical hero that plays to his strengths as an actor. He's frequently rude, blunt and sarcastic, while also hiding a lot of deep pain about the horrible things that have happened to him and his brother. Especially since he believes a great deal of it is his fault, between the failed attempt to bring their mother back to life and what that cost them (Ed his arm and leg, Al his body, so Ed had to bind his soul to a suit of armor). Ed keeps this pain buried so deep that it comes out in huge bursts, and these moments are some of the most powerful in the show. Vic handles all of this with aplomb, even being really funny at times too, such as when people call him short and he goes off on a rant (my personal favorite: "DON'T CALL ME SMALL! I'LL BREAK OFF MY LEGS AND STICK 'EM ON YOUR HEAD!"). It's one of the best performances I've ever heard from him, and one of the absolute highlights of the show.

ALPHONSE ELRIC (Aaron Dismuke)-Nothing against Maxey Whitehead, who took over the role in Brotherhood since by that point Aaron had long arrived at a deeper, adult voice through puberty (though he still works for Funimation and is usually excellent). She does a terrific job in that show, but Aaron simply IS Alphonse to me. His then 12 year-old voice is so painfully earnest and high, which perfectly fits Al just from a vocal perspective. But it's Aaron's acting that truly distinguishes him in the role. Child actors can be difficult to judge in voice acting; there's a certain natural quality to their voices that one does not necessarily get from an adult actor pretending to be a child, but sometimes they don't quite have the acting chops to handle a complex role. Aaron beautifully averts this, always managing to seem psychologically in the moment as Al in any of his various moods and functions as a character. Al is more than the meeker brother he initially appears to be. In some ways he's more attuned to people's wants and needs than Ed, who can often undergo tunnel vision in his quest. So Al generally has to play the peacemaker, which Aaron does quite well. Yet Al has a mind and personality of his own, with feelings of self-doubt, anger and even a sense of humor. Some of his best work comes in the two episodes where Al begins to doubt if he is truly a human soul, and if Ed has simply been implanting false memories. It's material that I imagine experienced adult actors struggling with, but Aaron rarely, if ever, manages to step wrong in navigating these parts of Al. As much as I like Vic as Ed, I think Aaron's performance is all the more memorable because he has the harder role to play, and does it so beautifully.

Sidenote: They do an interesting thing in terms of vocal effects for the suit of armor Al's soul is trapped in for the majority of the series. Rather than digitally process his voice, they had Aaron record those lines while speaking into a large metal bowl (affectionately referred to as "the bowl" on the DVD commentary tracks). It adds a really cool metallic, almost haunting echo to his voice and performance. Presumably they also did this for the other souls-bound-to-armor characters later in the show, and the effect is always fun to hear.

WINRY ROCKBELL (Caitlin Glass)-The Elrics' childhood friend and massive automail (the term for the metallic prosthetic limbs in the story) gearhead, Winry is a source of light and cheer in an often grim story, and Caitlin's bubbly, energetic voice manages to be a perfect match for the character. Yet Winry has her own demons, doubts and struggles to contend with, such as when she tries to keep the brothers from fighting or leaving her behind in their search for the Philosopher's Stone. Later in the series, she comes to find through other investigations that Roy Mustang, a man she has come to greatly admire, is the one responsible for killing her doctor parents during the war in Ishbal. He was ordered to do so because they were providing aid to both sides of the conflict. Caitlin knocks this stuff out of the park, as brief as it is, and one really feels her anguish. It's not my favorite work in the dub, but she deserves massive kudos for making Winry so innately lovable.

SCAR (Dameon Clarke)-One of the few major actors who did not return for Brotherhood, Dameon's work here is so good that his replacement on that show, J. Michael Tatum, has said that he was quite nervous about taking on the part because of that. As fantastic an actor as Tatum is, it's hard not to agree with him; Dameon's performance is compelling even from the first, brief moments we meet the scarred man from Ishbal. A deeply religious man who sees murdering State Alchemists as a holy calling with his alchemic right arm, even though his religion sees alchemy as a perversion of God's natural order, Scar is already a fascinating character. His story takes him through many different trials, and Dameon just completely nails every acting challenge the series throws at him, be it his righteous declarations against State Alchemists or his torment as he remembers his brother and the woman they were both in love with (who ended up as the homunculus Lust after his brother failed to resurrect her). Some of my favorite stuff comes when Scar interacts with Al; they form a strange kinship due to both of them being younger brothers, and because Al is a kind soul who holds no grudge against Scar's actions (perhaps because he can see the logic in them). Dameon keeps a certain harshness in his voice, but is also more gentle to Al since he sees him as something of an equal. As Scar nears his final moments where he saves Al from destruction and admits in tears that he did love his brother, Dameon's work is powerful and it's hard not to cheer him on. It's absolutely one of the vocal highlights of the show.


 ROY MUSTANG (Travis Willingham)-For much of the story, both the audience and the other characters are unsure of what exactly drives the Flame Alchemist in his goals. As such, there's a rather marvelous, fluid ambiguity to Travis' work here, and you can sense many sides of his personality on a lot of his line readings. His voice isn't quite as deep as I had remembered or in many of his later roles, but it still has a wonderful resonance to it. As more and more of Roy's motivations come to light, such as the crushing guilt of his past, Travis gets a lot more to play with emotionally. Considering he was fairly new to the voice acting scene at this point, it's astonishing how well he pulls off Roy's dark nights of the soul, and how well it contrasts with the other facets of his personality.

Also? He's just plain BADASS in the role. A particular favorite line reading: "I don't know how long you've lived, Fuhrer, or how many times you've cheated death, but not anymore. It's the end of the line." What's great is that he doesn't force the badassery either; on this and other lines, he just calmly explains how you're totally screwed. Excellent work.

RIZA HAWKEYE (Colleen Clinkenbeard)-One of her earliest Funimation roles, Colleen does a good job with a pretty static character. She's basically there to be Mustang's badass assistant, and she does perfectly fine with that. It's not a bad performance by any stretch, but I feel like there's less to talk about it because Riza is a fun character, but not especially deep. Good work, but far from my favorite. She also voices Rose Thomas, who's a bit more emotional and varied, but it's not quite a stand-out role either.

MAES HUGHES (Sonny Strait)-Hughes is one of the most beloved characters in the series, a badass investigator devoted to helping Roy who is also a hilariously doting parent. So of course, he has to die. But this adaptation keeps him around for a lot longer, giving him more scenes and development, and only pulling the trigger halfway through the 51-episode series. Sonny's fantastic performance helps the audience fall in love with the character, capturing all shades of Hughes' personality with almost frightening ease. He can also expertly switch on a dime from serious to goofy or vice-versa, which is not always an easy skill to have (another actor who does it really well is Johnny Yong Bosch as Vash in Trigun). When the death finally happens, we are as dismayed and horrified as the characters, especially because outside of a couple flashbacks, we no longer get to hear Sonny's great work in the show.

ALEX LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Christopher Sabat)-Chris has made something of a career out of playing badass, funny scene-stealers, and Armstrong is absolutely one of his best. He's a giant, blonde muscleman who loves to loudly proclaim everything he does was passed down through his family for generations, and Chris unsurprisingly has a blast with that stuff thanks to his deep voice and great comedy chops. Yet Armstrong is no fool, and the little subtleties laced through Chris' performance are quite marvelous to behold, especially when you know he's hiding information that he would dearly like to share. The deep love he has for his friends and family is also well in evidence, especially when he treats the Elrics as equals later on in the series.

JEAN HAVOC (Mike McFarland), HEYMANS BREDA (Josh Berry), KAIN FUERY (Kevin M. Connolly) AND VATO FALMAN (Kyle Hebert)-Mustang's support team, these characters are all pretty fun, if one-note. My favorite is probably Havoc, since Mike McFarland has a lot of fun comedy moments to play, but the rest are fine: Josh does well with Breda's stalwart nature, Kevin is nerdy and enthusiastic, and Kyle is stiff and by-the-book.

FRANK ARCHER (Troy Baker)-One of Troy's first major roles, Archer is a straight-up military douchebag, only in it for himself and screw anyone who gets in his way. Troy does a superb job, with the perfect measure of slime entering his calm, neutral tones at the right moments. Not much more to say than that since he basically functions at one level, but he does get some cool metallic effects added to his voice when Archer becomes an automail cyborg near the end of the series.

BASQUE GRAND (R. Bruce Elliott)-Basque isn't around for long, but Bruce's harsh, demanding voice and acting makes him rather perfectly unlikable in his few appearances.

MARIA ROSS (Meredith McCoy)-Meredith does a good job of mixing motherly concern with a stern military attitude, and she gets some really great scenes as a result (such as when she encourages Ed and Al not to give up on their search). It's more minor, less outwardly impressive work, but no less excellent.

SHESKA (Gwendolyn Lau)-Sheska's one of my favorite characters in the show, partially because she reminds me of myself (a bookworm with lots of seemingly useless knowledge), and because the story gives her more to do than you expect. She ends up being one of the key investigators alongside Winry into the circumstances behind Hughes' death and the homunculi it involved; without her, much of the later story would not have happened. Gwen is very sweet and charmingly dorky in the role, while also possessing a hidden core of strength that she relies upon. It's fantastic, deceptively simple acting.

ZOLF KIMBLEE (Eric Vale)-Eric has one of those great smooth voices that can equally apply to heroism or villainy, and Kimblee is definitely among the latter category. A nihilistic thug whose only enjoyment out of life comes from blowing people up with his alchemy, Kimblee could have easily come off as a mouthpiece for a certain viewpoint, but Eric manages to make it seem real, as well as dangerously sociopathic. It's far from my favorite work, but it is still quite memorable.


LUST (Laura Bailey)-Born from failed attempts at human transmutation, the Homunculi are nigh-immortal creatures that serve as several antagonists in the series, and they're all fascinating creations. The first of them we meet is Lust, and the first time I watched the show I was STUNNED. Sweet little Tohru Honda is LUST? Of course, I shouldn't have doubted Laura's skill, as she has played a number of different character types throughout her career. She does an excellent job too, adopting a lower, husky register without stumbling into "femme fatale" parody territory. Lust is arguably one of the most interesting homunculi because apart from Greed (who just doesn't give a shit about anyone other than himself), she is the only one to actively rebel against their master later in the series. Laura is fantastic in the earlier, more threatening scenes as well as this later development, and her ultimate end is heartbreaking because we saw how much she struggled to regain a true sense of herself.

GLUTTONY (Chris Cason)-Chris is one of those actors who pops up a lot as extras or supporting roles, and this is probably one of his most remembered roles. He does this really cool, high-pitched gravelly voice that suits Gluttony's ravenous but childlike mentality, and even manages to tug some heartstrings in his reaction to Lust's death. It's far from my favorite homunculi performance, but it's very good nonetheless.

ENVY (Wendy Powell)-Wendy's voice is fantastic all on its own, a lower rasp that can nonetheless suit many different kinds of characters, and Envy is one of her best acting jobs. Frankly, Envy's a little shit who takes entirely too much pleasure in causing people pain and misery, so Wendy revels in that total awfulness, yet also manages to provide depth with the buried anger and resentment Envy has in spades. The bitterness in her voice when she spits out lines like "But I can never forgive you...for having that BASTARD'S blood in your veins!" or grumbling "Lousy service" to a diner owner is entirely too much fun to listen to.

GREED (Chris Patton)-I've said before that Chris is always best when there's something askew mentally in his characters, and Greed's no exception. The character fully lives up to his name, wanting everything the world has to offer, and Chris' sheer force of personality helps bring that across, while also seeming petty and vicious in equal measure. Yet he also manages to give Greed some depth as one of the only homunculi who wants to chart their own course in life, and having a certain sense of honor. His death scene manages to be really moving thanks to Chris dialing down and finding the real, uh, person inside. It's great, scene-stealing work.

SLOTH (Lydia Mackay)-Sloth is the homunculus born from the event that kicks off the story: the Elrics' failed attempt to bring their mother back to life. So because Lydia does Trisha, her VOICE cannot really be different from Sloth's, but it's the *acting* that makes this dual performance completely awesome. As Trisha, she's a great mother, compassionate and kind, yet also with some hidden sadness about her missing husband, and she milks the bordering-on-melodrama death scene for all its worth. Sloth is where the fun really begins. We first see Sloth as "Juliet Douglas", the Fuhrer's secretary, and Lydia's work here is very stoic and low-volume. Good, but she puts more subtly emotional bits and pieces into that acting as the show goes on and we learn more about how resentful Sloth is about having Trisha's memories. Her final line as she exits the show-"Nicely done, sweetheart. Clean up after yourselves, and take care of each other"-is marvelously ambiguous, and Lydia sells the various emotions buried in that line. It's some of the most nuanced work in the whole show.

WRATH (Luci Christian)-Luci's one of my favorites, and she's really excellent here as Wrath, the homunculus born from Izumi's failed transmutation of her stillborn child. When Wrath first appears, he's a bit of a blank slate personality-wise, and Luci does a great job with this initial innocence, then perfectly shifts that to a more vicious and bitter headspace when he regains his memories. Yet he does acquire a certain amount of depth through his weird surrogate mother relationship with Sloth, and his tears as she dies are heartbreaking thanks to Luci. She reprises the role briefly in the post-series Conqueror of Shamballa movie (which I will probably review in some capacity), lending weight to Wrath's redemptive sacrifice there. It's not my favorite work she's ever done, but it's an excellent performance all the same.

PRIDE/FUHRER KING BRADLEY (Ed Blaylock)-Ed has a fantastic older voice, one that I wish we could hear a lot more of in anime, though he's certainly still doing stuff for Funimation. The Fuhrer (subtle, huh?) is undoubtedly his finest role, as well as one of his largest. What's neat is that Bradley is not revealed to be a homunculus until fairly late in the game, and so a lot of the groundwork laid for that twist to be truly effective lies in Ed's performance. He's very polite, affable and encouraging for much of the show, even when he's doing things like stabbing a woman to death through Al's armor. When the gloves fully come off, Ed switches to a massively arrogant (hence the name "Pride"), savage tone that works beautifully. He's especially good in the final fight with Mustang, ranting about his superiority to humans and strangling his son in a rage. It's fantastic acting for a great villain.


DR. TIM MARCOH (Brice Armstrong)-The late Jerry Russell did a fine job as Marcoh in Brotherhood, and got more material to work with, but I have to admit to preferring Brice in the role. Vocally he's very different, sounding elderly but still very deep and low as opposed to Jerry's raspier, higher voice. But this suits Marcoh quite well, conveying the haunted, repentant nature of the man, and Brice acts the part in a very natural, low-key way. He never has to go over-the-top with grief or anguish to make it work; he simply *is* that way.

IZUMI CURTIS (Christine Auten)-The Elrics' alchemy teacher, Izumi is a tough, stern woman who can nevertheless can be motherly and compassionate. Christine captures that quite well, switching from different modes of characterization and even being rather funny at times (I love her delivery of "PISSED OFF!"). It's probably some of her better work, especially since she doesn't appear to be doing much these days.

PINAKO ROCKBELL (Juli Erickson)-Winry's grandmother, Pinako is a tough, pragmatic woman who tends to see clearer than the younger characters, and Juli's elderly but not frail voice is perfectly suited for her. She doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, but Juli always makes it count with no-nonsense acting.

HOHENHEIM OF LIGHT (Scott McNeil)-Scott's one of my favorite Canadian VAs, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear him in this. It's paradoxically a minor role (he only appears in about 3-4 episodes and Conqueror of Shamballa), yet also one of the most important. A legendary alchemist and the Elrics' father, what's most interesting to me about Scott's work is that he has a certain weary resignation to his voice and acting. Hohenheim knows that he has done terrible things, and wishes to make up for them, but also knows that he does not have much time left to do so. And yet, we do not hate this man, partially because of the writing, and partially because Scott so wonderfully communicates that. We practically cheer as he warns Dante to leave his sons alone, as his love for them is no longer in question. He even gets a great little speech about how equivalent exchange doesn't really apply, but that people can still gain things from sacrifices they make. It's one of my favorite Scott roles, and one of the best smaller ones in the dub.

DANTE (Cindee Mayfield, Monica Rial)-The master behind the homunculi and the ultimate antagonist, Dante first appears as Izumi's elderly alchemy teacher. Cindee's thin, aged voice fits these scenes well, especially since one gets the sense she knows more than she's saying. Later, Dante transfers her soul into the body of a character we had met before, a young alchemist named Lyra. Monica, who voiced this character, now takes over for Dante and makes her a wonderfully hateful, arrogant character. It's a combination of Monica's lower and higher registers, and she makes it work splendidly, especially as she begins to unravel as her plans fall apart in the final episodes.


FATHER CORNELLO (Andy Mullins)-The first antagonist in the series, there's honestly not much to Cornello from a psychological perspective. He's simply a greedy, corrupt priest, but Andy manages to make him extremely memorable with a booming voice and wonderfully smug scenery-chewing, even when he's quiet. In particular I love him sneering about the Elrics' failed transmutation, and being the first person in the series to call Ed the Fullmetal Alchemist.

SHOU TUCKER (Chuck Huber)-Chuck has a great voice already, but he's also very skilled at modifying it to play very different kinds of characters. Compare his stoic Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho to the hyperactive, high-pitched Emperor Pilaf from Dragon Ball, for instance. I feel like Tucker is one of his best roles, however, because he gets to play much more with his normal voice. In particular, he gets one of my favorite scenes in the whole series, where he explains his reasoning or lack thereof for the horrible act of splicing his young daughter Nina with their dog Alexander to make a talking chimera (animal hybrid). There's a slight sense of insanity in this scene, but Chuck doesn't go over the top and makes it seem almost reasonable. When Tucker returns in a new chimera-hybrid body, Chuck drops his voice to an incredibly creepy whisper, making the alchemist's new state of mind rather apparent, yet also kind of sad. It's ultimately minor, but incredibly effective acting.

YOKI (Barry Yandell)-Barry seems to be rather good at portraying a particular kind of rich, snobbish weasel, and Yoki is no exception. His first appearance has him smugly lording his apparent superiority over everyone, and Barry makes this stuff a comedy highlight, especially when he flies into an impotent rage at being deceived by Ed. When he shows up again in the series much later, Barry balances that still-remaining haughtiness with a certain pathetic feeling as Yoki's station in life has gone down quite a bit, and it's very memorable work.

BARRY THE CHOPPER (Jerry Jewell)-A deranged serial killer who Ed first meets as a human, then pops up again later as a soul bonded to a suit of armor like Al, Barry is perhaps Jerry's most insane role. In both the character's forms, it's a wonderful mixture of hammy and creepy, and even a little sly as he attempts to make Al doubt his humanity. He's not around for terribly long in either form, but Jerry manages to dominate any scene he appears in through sheer energy.

THE TRINGHAM BROTHERS (Justin Cook, Avery Rice Williams)-One of the series' favorite dramatic devices is to compare the Elric brothers and their relationship to other characters, particularly other siblings. The first of these are the Tringham brothers, who pose as the Elrics to try and gain access to their father's research, and then show up again at a crucial moment during the series' endgame. They serve as interesting contrasts, with Justin doing his usual jerk with a heart of gold routine, and Avery providing a child voice so convincing I thought they had hired an actual kid. They're both great, with Justin in particular remaining one of Funimation's best scene-stealers.

THE SLICER BROTHERS (Bill Jenkins, Duncan Brannan)-A pair of serial killers who are bound to a suit of armor to guard the mysterious Lab 5, this is probably one of the more memorable contrasting brother relationships in the show. Bill is the brother we get to hear more, and he adopts this really cool voice that sounds more than a little like an impression of John Rhys-Davies. It fits the arrogant boasting of the character extremely well, as well as the self-loathing when he begs Ed to end their existence. Duncan isn't around for nearly as long, but he manages to sound enough like he could be Bill's brother while still having a distinct sound of his own.

RICK AND LEO (Jamie Marchi, Michael Sinterniklaas)-Jamie and Michael make a great team as the Ishbalan brothers who have various run-ins with the Elrics. Michael of course is a great New York VA and ADR director, probably best known for being Dean Venture on The Venture Bros., so to hear him in a Texas project is quite fun. His youthful energy is always a great boost to a dub. Jamie was the bigger surprise; she's usually so great at playing funny, sexy women that to hear her voice a young boy so well was kind of mind-blowing. Whenever they pop up, it's always great to hear them.

MARTA (Tiffany Grant)-Adopting a lower register than usual, Tiffany does a great job with the vengeful chimera who ends up befriending Al (he seems to have a knack for it). Her voice has angry energy to it, but also a sorrow at the loss of her comrades and the life she once had. Tiffany's excellent work makes the character's sudden death far more meaningful.

LUJON AND LYDIA (Johnny Yong Bosch, Carrie Savage)-Much like with Scott McNeil and Mike Sinterniklaas, it was a wonderful shock the first time I heard these two in Episode 35, "Reunion of the Fallen". Nowadays it's far more common for Funimation to use VAs from other regions, but back in 2004-2005, it was like a big name movie star doing a surprise cameo. They're both great in their roles, with Johnny being earnest and passionate, Carrie soft yet strong.

 SCAR'S BROTHER (Bill Townsley)-Bill does a great job with this character, suggesting a deep love and pain at certain times, and then an almost fanatical energy at others. It's an ultimately small role, but very important in the grand scheme of things.

SCAR'S MASTER (Grant James)-An Ishballan leader who disapproves of Scar's methods if not his intentions, Grant has a wonderful aged, deep voice that lends itself well to authority. I kind of wish we got to hear more of him in the series, but it's good work regardless.

While I plan to do a companion piece of sorts on the Shamballa movie, and even perhaps Brotherhood at some point, the dub of this show is where pretty much all of my love goes. A decade later, it's still one of the finest achievements of Funimation's dubbing crew, and I will continue to love listening to it over and over again.

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