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Five Dramatic Dubs You Really Ought To Hear

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In the final installment of this short series of preview columns, I plan to discuss 5 dubs that highlight some of the best dramatic voice acting from the glorious decade in English anime dubbing, 1998-2008. As with the two previous installments, I fully expect there to be debate about what general category a dub belongs in, and even more debate about dubs I have omitted to mention and others feel should have been, as well as dubs I have mentioned that are not to others’ taste.

His and Her Circumstances (Headline Studios (NY); Jeff Thompson)

Back when Right Stuf used to produce dub, they did not just settle for okay dubs, but helped to produce several excellent ones. Tylor, Shingu, Comic Party, Ninja Nonsense, To Heart, these are all quality, and I mean Quality, dubs. But the greatest one of them all is His and Her Circumstances, the late Jeff Thompson’s masterpiece. Veronica Taylor’s Yukino Miyazawa is probably her greatest performance, a touching, powerfully emotive portrait of a teenage girl going through the throes of love at a young age. Christopher Nicholas, who has appeared in almost no other show, perfectly captured the somewhat elusive character of Souichiro Arima, the tortured soul hiding beneath a veneer of perfection who falls for the flawed Yukino. This is one of those dubs so good, you can close your eyes and just listen to it as a radio play and it still works. It is that good and merits inclusion even if the show itself, because of the dispute between the eccentric anime director and the dissatisfied manga creator, resulted in the last episodes going off the rails considerably.

Key Moments: Yukino’s opening narration; just about any solo voiceover sections by Yukino or Arima; Tsubasa’s internal monologue about her relationship with Arima.

Princess Tutu (Industrial Smoke and Mirrors [ADV-Houston]; directed by Jin Ho Chung)

While it starts off as a fairly boring and predictable kiddie shoujo magical girl show—look, our heroine has to go off and capture heart shards, gotta catch ’em all to make the Prince happy again—it suddenly morphs into a tense and complex adult drama set in a fairy tale world. And the same holds for the dub. It starts out okay and then slowly progresses into the land of remarkable. Luci Christian, one of the most talented actresses to come out of Texas, gives one of her best performances here as the sweetly naive, well-intentioned Duck/Princess Tutu, the magical girl in one very twisted magical girl story. Shy and sweet, but also strong and determined, she gives us a heroine whom we genuinely begin to feel for as she has to navigate through a world that should seem simple and childlike, but is actually a dense morass of conflicting agendas and secret motives, an adult world filled with terror and danger, embodied by the jealous and vindictive Princess Kraehe (Jessica Boone) and her malevolent ‘father,’ the Raven (the late Mike Kleinhenz). It is not a world without nobility, including the stalwart knight, though not in shining armor, Fakir (Chris Patton), and the wavering, yet noble Prince (Jay Hickman). All of these actors, and many, many more in tiny walk-on parts as well as recurring minor characters, bring such life and a mature understanding to what is a very twisted take on a child’s tale.

Key Moments: Fakir taking care of Duck; Rue’s depression solo; Duck’s final speech; Fakir and his hand.

Paradise Kiss (BangZoom! Entertainment; directed by Stephanie Sheh)

It might seem like an insult, but in reality the highest compliment I can give to a director and the dub he or she creates is to say that I stopped paying attention to how the voices are sounding and started devoting all of my attention to what they are saying. It is the highest compliment because it means that the voices match the appearance and actions of the characters on screen so well, nothing about them feels out of place. There is nothing about their delivery that takes me out of the experience. Only dubs that can achieve that or come close to achieving that distinction are the ones that have appeared in these columns. And I can say it without reservation for Paradise Kiss. Patrick Seitz’s George Koizumi is perhaps the best performance I have heard out of him. While he does very well as menacing heavies and sarcastic older brothers, he simply strikes the exact right tone here, a cool and smooth voice that could lure any woman (or man) into his web, his plaything to do with what he wants. There is a certain cockiness, a suave arrogance, and yet, underneath the surface, there is still the hint of the idealist, the artist not in touch with the harsh realities of the Real World, and a certain vulnerability. Julie Ann Taylor gives a good performance as Yukari “Caroline” Hayasaka. While she can play brittle, shrill, needy, and whiny very well, she shines even more in the softer voiceovers and the quieter moments of this dub, where the underlying sweetness of her voice comes through. The otherwise seldom-heard Jolie Jackson is incredibly (saccharinely) sweet and energetic as Miwako, while Derek Stephen Prince gives Arashi the expected punk rocker attitude with a voice to match. Mari Devon’s Isabella is perhaps slightly too convincingly feminine, though the fashion world is one of illusions, and so the best decision was to keep the illusion going here. Minor roles are also well cast and we get a few amusing turns, such as Mia Bradly’s drunken mistress. There’s also one of those good non-lead Johnny Yong Bosch roles where he plays the quiet type, model student Hiroyuki Tokumori. In all, it’s a great shame that we have not heard anything further from Ms. Sheh in the director’s booth.

Key Moments: “Your phone number…867-5309.”; Just about any scene with Seitz in it.

BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad (FUNimation Studios; directed by Christopher Bevins and Taliesin Jaffe

While the old saying goes that too many cooks can spoil the broth, in this case, there were the right number of directors. Bevins, the most imaginative and individual voice among the dub directing personnel in Flower Mound, and Jaffe, the wizard of R.O.D., pooled their talents together to bring us an aural experience that highlights the human voice, but spoken and sung. Greg Ayres is Yukio “Koyuki” Tanaka, a 14-year-old boy who feels left out of life. He finds a purpose for himself when he has a chance encounter with Ryuusuke Minami (Eric Vale) a guitarist who is looking to form a band that will play “real” music, unlike the derivative dross he sees in the music scene around him. Together, the shy, introspective Koyuki, played with a halting tremor at first by Ayres, who then grows the voice and performance as Koyuki grows more confident, and the hard-nosed Ryuusuke, given a hard edge by Vale, form a band that plays with a fearless passion. The rest of the line up comprises Jerry Jewell as the quiet bassist Taira, a restrained Johnny Yong Bosch as drummer Saku, and an out of control but perfectly on target Justin Cook as frontman Chiba, whose lack of restraint calls for a frenetic presence. Brina Palencia gives what is probably her best performance to date as Ryuusuke’s younger sister Maho, a talented singer in her own right whom the shy Koyuki develops a crush on. While marred by a couple music rights issues (blame the owners of The Beatles’ music catalog), the musical performances are believable, and more importantly, the acting is sharp and clean, drawing the audience into the heady feeling of being on top of the world, briefly, as a rock god. Today, of course, such a show might never get made, since most people would likely rather play Guitar Hero and experience those feelings through a different virtual method more intensely.

Key Moments: Koyuki and Maho at the summer festival; Maho in the pool; just about any scene with Chiba.

Kanon (2006) (Amusement Park Media [ADV-Houston]; directed by Kyle Jones)

In the waning days of ADV, it is incredibly surprising how many decent dubs they were still putting out right before they made their great retreat away from mass dubbing. Kurau, 009-01, Air, Pumpkin Scissors are all quite good dubs. Even Shattered Angels, despite the ridiculous story and rushed production boasts some remarkable quality to it. In some ways, several of these dubs had a noteworthy experimental quality to them, some involving actors who had only been in minor roles before now playing leads, or featuring older and newer favorites pushed outside of their normal comfort zones. It is really sad that things turned out as they did, since the direction they were headed in looks like it could have been wonderful. And some of the shows they did not dub in the interim could have possibly had wonderful dubs. But one dub stands above all of these efforts from the dying days of ADV: Kanon.

arigatou…iwanaiyo… “I won’t say thank you.” That’s how it starts, before moving on to be a powerful melodrama focusing on Yuuichi Aizawa and his relations with, let’s be frank, several rather messed up high school girls. The danger with this show was that it could have easily gone overboard with hammy acting that would turn it from melodrama to caricature. Instead, Kyle Jones made very good use of tightly controlled performances that know when to unleash and when to hold back. At key moments, the actors emote at full power, but know when to dial it down as needed. Chris Patton, like Tomokazu Sugita in the original, makes Yuuichi a strong presence without taking away his ability to be surprised and taken aback by what he experiences. Brittney Karbowski and Jessica Boone far surpass the original performances of Yui Horie and Mariko Kouda, whose rather standard chirpy “cute” voices sound rather empty of deeper nuance in comparison. Karbowski makes Ayu appropriately clueless, but also manages to add some pathos, which is very fitting for the character as we learn over the course of the show. Boone makes Nayuki the reliable one, even if she can’t wake up in the morning, but also reveals a sensitive heart underneath. When she calls Yuuichi a liar early on in the show, you can hear the sting of her jealousy and irritation pierce your senses. Tiffany Terrell is both amusing and then touching as Makoto Sawatari, while Joanne Bonasso makes aunt Akiko the ultimate hot mom—just don’t eat her special jam. Kanon hardly puts a wrong foot anywhere, while getting everything just about right. Though it can be a touch melodramatic at times, which may put off those who dislike such false emotional manipulation, Kanon is a dub that will reward the listener with the pleasure of hearing voices that truly inhabit the characters, not just speak words that are allegedly coming out of their mouths.

Key Moments: “Liar”; Yuichi in the snow; Nayuki’s jealous rant; Ayu trying to explain anything.

So, these are 5 dubs whose dramatic moments made some of the greatest impressions on me, though now I’m going to cheat and add a sixth dub, one which I could not really fit anywhere else because it has a rough balance of comedy, action, and drama. Of course, you could probably guess what it is:

Full Metal Panic!/Fumoffu/The Second Raid (ISM/ADV Studios-Houston; directed by Don Rush)

It started as a mysterious military adventure show crossed with a high school romantic comedy. If you weren’t familiar with it already, you might roll your eyes at the concept today. It then spawned two sequels (as there was plenty of material from the original light novel series) which played only to one side of the show and characters, one comedy, the other drama. In some ways, it might be an impossible show to dub, because of the highly divergent material. Not for Don Rush. The veteran ADV director not only oversaw one of the great dubs to come out of Houston, but also made a star out of a relatively unknown actress named Luci Christian, who had her first major starring role in this show. The dynamic between Christian and Chris Patton, playing the single-minded soldier Sousuke Sagara, is what makes this show. Christian veers wildly, but deliberately, between an incredulous and obstreperous teen and a much softer, more “traditionally” demure girl in response to the actions of Patton’s character, who is denser than lead when it comes to dealing with others. Of course, it’s more than just the amazing chemistry between the two leads. A large range of supporting actors, Hilary Haag, Mike McRae, Mike Kleinhenz, Andy McAvin, Vic Mignogna, Alison Keith, John Swasey, Chris Ayres, and many, many, many more contribute a wide rage of excellent performances, expertly turned into a smooth whole under Rush’s direction. It still stands as one of the testaments to what ADV in Houston did so well for a time.

Key Moments: The haircut; Swasey’s scenery chewing as Gates; Kaname on the warpath for Sagara; Chris Ayres’ unflappable Hayashimizu; Sagara’s “swearing” at the rugby team.

This completes the list of dubs from 1998-2008 that I found most memorable. The ones which I personally feel have stood the test of time and will be enjoyable to watch again in the years to come. What dubs really stay with you from that period?

With my next column, I will return to review a recent release.

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