A tour begins in New York. The domestic anime industry was indeed booming, but it was at some expense to older and smaller companies unable to compete in the increasingly overpriced licensing environment. 4Kids remained, at the moment, with Pokemon. But Central Park Media was already in decline by this point, focusing on their Anime 18 label and shorter OVA titles. The scattered studios in and around the city they cultivated for dub work over the previous decade had been overshadowed by two newer companies, Headline Sound Studios and NYAV Post, which were clients instead of The Right Stuf Intl. and Media Blasters. A handful of CPM’s remaining titles, including one of their last TV series releases, saw their ADR production move in-house, under the capable direction of Tom Wayland.
One of those CPM OVAs was this irreverent guilty pleasure. Set in an old-school arcade tournament, the lead character’s panties are an important indicator of her power. If that doesn’t grab you—and I don’t blame you—the dub, however, could. For such a throwaway title, it was an all-star NY cast. Veronica Taylor (as Fubuki), Zoe Fries (her friend, Hanako), Lisa Ortiz (her rival, Chizuru), and Jamie McGonnigal (her biggest fan, Sanpieta), use their experience to save the day in roles they were at that point expert in. But a guest VA to the talent group from down the coast steals the show. Brad Bradford’s perverted, masochistic mentor to naive Fubuki, Mr. Mystery, defined this dub at the time for the handful of foolish fans who took a chance on the title. It proved to be one of the most entertaining performances in a dub that year, a brief one-off rival to the respected over-the-top antics of New York’s own Sean Schemmel. Garrulous, scenery-chewing, line-slinging, completely absurd.
Later in the year, CPM, again in-house and under Wayland, released this also silly, but more sincere, TV show. Under license today from Section23 Films, the show was notable ten years ago as something yet ahead of its time, released by CPM all at once in a single 12-episode DVD set at a time when the industry norm was still 3-4 episode volumes. For the dub, the notoriety came from the debut of Michelle Knotz as sci-fi geek Yagi, after winning the Anime Idol voice acting competition at the 2003 Big Apple Anime Fest. Knotz would later be known for her Ogiue in Genshiken and as one of the anchors of the second Pokemon cast. The overall Narue dub, however, carries some of the same energy and enjoyment as Fubuki, with several standout performances from its stellar cast: Taylor, once again, as the young half-alien lead, Narue; McGonnigal as her young otaku suitor, Kazuto; Rachael Lillis as her bratty sister Kanaka; and Carol Jacobanis in an engaging turn as Kanaka’s humanoid spaceship and guardian, Bathyscape. Narue, beyond its release format, was not groundbreaking but it featured one of the very last TV series dubs, and the last good one, that CPM produced.
Back in the days when Right Stuf funded dubs for their licensed titles, their collaborations with New York-based studios provided dub fans with several gems that serve as clear examples of high quality dubbing even to this day. One of those was the Headline Sound Studios production of Comic Party, directed by Bill Timoney and Joe DiGiorgi. All of the major roles are deftly handled by a talented cast, but the real standout, even after all these years, has to be Liam O’Brien’s Taishi Kuhonbutsu. It’s a prime example of good quality ham: yes, the performance is over the top and exaggerated, but that is what the character calls for…and how. Any more restrained a performance would fail to match the outlandishness of the personality and presentation Taishi puts forward. Anything just a touch further would probably drive things beyond what could be accepted by the audience. O’Brien has made Taishi just nutty enough, just wild enough to be faithful to the character and keep us all along for the ride.
His is not the only role that calls for some reaching for the extremes. Georgette Reilly’s Yuu Inagawa and Zoe Fries’ Eimi Ohba also go quite large with the emoting and outbursts, but it’s all fitting with the material and right for the roles. Male lead Jack Lingo’s Kazuki Sendou ranges from subdued to exasperated (often at Taishi’s antics), though the king, or rather, queen of frustration has to be Rachael Lillis’ Mizuki Takase. No one can quite do eye-rolling indignation the way Lillis can, while not in any way making the character shrill or annoying. Overall, it’s a good comedy dub that manages to enliven a show that might otherwise only appeal to the most hardcore fans of fan comics (doujinshi) and the world they inhabit.
Nearby, Media Blasters was giving Veronica Taylor yet another teen girl lead. Or seven of them all at once. Produced by NYAV Post, and directed by Sean Schemmel, Seven of Seven, about a girl who is split into six more versions of herself, featured something no other dub that year, or almost any other year, can match. Taylor, unlike her counterparts on the Japanese side of the audio track, pulled off seven major speaking roles in the dub. Seven distinct personalities of the same girl, Nana: angry, slow, happy, sad, brainy, sensitive, and normal Nana. Fine performances from Rachael Lillis, Michael Sinterniklaas, Mike Pollock, Dan Green, and Marc Thompson complete the dub, but the story is Taylor and her ability to in fact sound very much like all of those personalities. Not generically, but as seven versions of the middle schooler, Nana, in her anxious adventure in passing her high school entrance exam and falling in love for the first time. Uncanny is one word. Taylor is a master of the craft, for seven more.
While the show itself was nothing special, being a fairly predictable piece about a boy with something supernatural in him being protected by four shrine maidens with spiritual powers, I still have a fond memory of the dub, a good effort from NYAV Post. Time has faded a lot of what I thought about it then, but I do still remember how much I liked Zoe Martin’s Yuzu and Vibe Jones’ Koma. Overall, I remember the comedic timing of the main girls and how well it was executed from a performance standpoint, even if the material itself was largely forgettable (and now largely forgotten).
In the 90s, no OAV series captivated me or my friends at the local anime club more than this one. The combination of modern animation techniques with 60s character designs was a sight to behold. The orchestral music gave the events an epic feel. However, it was the story that kept us all engaged, episode by episode as we endured every cliffhanger during the time between each volume (about 8 months) until the very end (which was one I never saw coming). Folks would get individual volumes during a time when people couldn’t download anime that hadn’t been released stateside, but had to tape trade and hope a given video would make it to them eventually, so it was a different time entirely technically and industry wise.
When it was announced there was going to be an English dub, there were the usual range of reactions from folks who liked dubs and one who felt no English dub would do it justice, as back in the 90s, there were studios who really hadn’t been getting some subtle nuances down for anime voicework. The initial dub by released by LA Hero via LD (and subsequently by U.S. Renditions and Manga Entertainment onto VHS) seemed to bear out folks of the later category as overacting and mispronunciations assaulted our ears repeatedly and the club turned off the first volume 5 minutes in. Later on, there was another dub by NYAV Post released onto DVD by Media Blasters that had better performances and remains one that friends point to as a bit of decent voicework from that decade.
I said this in my review of the most recent Pokémon movie, Pokémon: Genesect and the Legend Awakened, but Pokémon has been going on TV for 16 years. I knew it was around this time that 4Kids, through a series of circumstances, lost the license to dub the Pokémon anime, but I didn’t know when. I googled it and it turns out that we’re still two years away from Pokémon USA taking the mantle.
This is good news! It means I can talk about not only the voices I love, but the voices I grew up with. The first 52 episodes of the Pokémon anime has been put on Netflix and you can bet that I’ve been going back through and needle dropping my favorite episodes, of course while playing Pokémon White again (I guess technically, I’ve only played through Black, but I gotta fill up those Pokédex pages!).
The main folks in Pokémon Advanced are good ol’ Ash, rock steady Brock, and newcomers May and Max. Max isn’t present in the game, and he was the youngest protagonist at the time—Bonnie in the new XY anime may beat him out, but ages are never told in the anime.
Amy Birnbaum, the actress for Max, isn’t known for any other huge roles in the anime, unless you count Jessie’s Dustox (remember? She caught a Wurmple around the same time as May, but May’s evolved into a Beautifly and Jessie’s into Dustox; Jesse was quite angry at that). But she is known for another 4Kids product that came out around that time. She was Téa Gardner in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime. Her acting as Max, as I remember, was solid.
Eric Stuart, a mainstay in a lot of those early 2000s dubs produced in New York, provides us with Brock. Not just Brock, but also James, Ash’s Squirtle, Misty’s Politoed, Brock’s Ludicolo, Jessie’s Lickitung, Dexter, and, of course, the Magikarp Salesman (among many, many others). This is where we realize that Eric Stuart literally sold a Magikarp to himself, duping himself. It’s this kind of chameleon-like acting that defines Pokémon and people like Eric Stuart played it well.
The final actor I’ll talk about is Veronica Taylor, the actress for both Ash and May, as well as Ash’s mom (and Yukino Miyazawa in His and Her Circumstances!). Humorously, she also played Gary’s cheerleaders, which means she was mocking herself. To say I literally grew up listening to Veronica Taylor would not be an understatement. She was in one of the first anime I ever watched in Pokémon and she was in the anime that arguably made me an anime fan in His and Her Circumstances.
I didn’t really talk about the dubs or how they were, but I don’t think that really matters in a show like Pokémon. What’s important about Pokémon is how we grew up on it and those moments that we remember. With the introduction of May and Max as characters, a whole new generation of Pokémon fans could be born without alienating the old fans who still wanted to see Ash and Brock adventure. So what’s important in dubs isn’t how well the acting is, in this case, it’s the mindset you were in when you first watched it.