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Ten Years Later: 2004 Anime Dub Digest

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This was still a period of rapid growth in the fanbase, corresponding with the boom of the domestic market beginning from the turn of the decade and the introduction of DVD.
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Moving west, there dwelled the state of Texas. Quickly becoming the dominant region for dubbed anime behind ADV Films, in Houston, and FUNimation Entertainment, outside of Ft. Worth. The latter was finally taking firmer steps in 2004 to expanding its catalog beyond the likes of Dragon Ball that had given them the financial incentive to do so in the first place. Coming on the heels of unexpected but respected dubs for Blue Gender (2001) and Fruits Basket (2002), this was the year FUNimation may have come into its own. ADV was a much more known, respected, or alternatively surfeited, company by this point. So much was its output from its own in-house studio, then still called Industrial Smoke & Mirrors, that it had enlisted Monster Island, from Austin, as early as 1998, to take extra work. 2004 was the biggest year for MI, a year before ADV cut them loose.  

Fullmetal Alchemist (FUNimation)fullmetal-alchemist

I have a long and personal history with the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime, so it’s perhaps fitting my first encounter with it was the dub that started airing on [adult swim] back in 2004. At the time, I’d only seen dubbed anime. Now that I mainly watch subbed simulcasts, I can truly appreciate the work that went into a dub that manages to feel so natural as to never force its listeners to question a line of dialog or be lost at a random joke. ADR directors Colleen Clinkenbeard and Mike McFarland, who were both involved in producing the script (along with several others), deserve much applause for handling a huge cast that, by the end of the anime, feels like extended family.

Vic Mignogna’s Edward Elric is surely what launched him into VA superstardom (and for good reason). Likewise, the name Alphonse Elric is synonymous with the metal bowl-aided voice talent of then 12-year-old Aaron Dismuke—one of the rare exceptions where a young man (as opposed to an older woman) was able to voice a young man. Heroes, villains, and characters representing everything in-between are voiced with a highly dynamic range which highlights the essential humanity of the cast and the drama incurred by their situations. Taking liberties where necessary while sticking somewhat close to the original, the script represents a sublime localization effort and is surely one that sets the bar for future dubs.

Mastilo von Plume

kiddy-gradeKiddy Grade (FUNimation)

This was probably one of the first dubs from FUNimation that I heard, as I was not into many of their shows at the time. As an introduction to the vocal talent available to Flower Mound, it was not a bad one. At the start it seemed like it would be nothing more than silly light adventure hijinks with bubbly Éclair and the more restrained Lumiere. I was already quite familiar with Lumiere’s voice as I had heard Monica Rial, always a reliable talent, in many Houston productions from ADV Films. Colleen Clinkenbeard’s voice was new to me, as were many others in the cast. She was sweet and fun, but I thought little of the performances for the most part.

A change occurred, however, as the tone of the show darkened with the revelations that all was not sweetness and light in this futuristic fantasy. There was more than a large helping of darkness, including in Éclair’s past. I think it first hit me during one of the episode previews, I can no longer remember which one, but Clinkenbeard didn’t use her bubbly sweet voice. She went down noticeably in pitch and had a much more serious, sad tone to her delivery. It made me take notice at once. While I’m not sure whether either the dub or the show is a classic for the ages, both do deliver good entertainment and it’s still worth revisiting at some point. Most of all, though, I developed a liking for Colleen Clinkenbeard in her deeper, more focused range which would appear again in full glory several years later in xxxHOLiC.

Greg Smith

Spiral (FUNimation)spiral

Daniel Katsük is known to me as exactly one other character: Touya from YuYu Hakusho. Touya happens to be one of my favorite characters, not just from the show, but in anime. This comes with  a lot of bias, because YuYu Hakusho is what got me back into anime and I’ve probably watched that show five or six times all the way through now. But through YuYu Hakusho, I got to Spiral. I wanted to hear that actor really take a character for a long time and run with it.

Beside Katsük as Ayumu Narumi are more well-known staples at FUNimation, Caitlin Glass as the bubbly Hiyono, John Burmeier as the cold Eyes Rutherford, Chris Bevins as the crazy Kanone Hilbert, and Gwendolyn Lau as Madoka Narumi, his sister-in-law. The entire cast is pretty impressive, if you just look at the credits. It was one of the early FUNimation dubs and there’s almost no names you don’t recognize because ten years have passed and they’ve had that much time to build their resume.

I’m probably most impressed with Hiyono and her stupid catchy song, because it’s stuck in my head to this day and I haven’t watched the show in a few years. Reminiscing on it reminds me that Katsük could have pursued voice acting more, and the world could have been better for his truly melodic voice. As it is, he’s still doing bit parts here and there, but he hasn’t had a main role in forever—well, at least until he did Rofocale in Shakugan no Shana III, according to ANN.

Lastly, remember, the melody of logic will always play the notes of truth.

Kory Cerjak

magical-playMagical Play (Monster Island Studio)

Sometimes all one wants is silly and cute and boy did Magical Play fit that bill. About the wacky adventures of Padudu, a girl magician who wears a living fish costume…need I even continue? Larissa Wolcott, surely one of the breakout stars from Austin’s Monster Island Studio, was hilarious as Padudu, leading a cast that caught the spirit of the piece well enough. I guess what I remember most is the bouncy opening song and the fight between Padudu and Samantha Inoue Harte’s Pipin, which was a gloriously nutty squeakfest. Fun stuff that still brings a slight smile today.

Petite Princess Yucie (Monster Island Studio)petite-princess-yucie

Who knew that a silly game called Princess Maker could give rise to an irresistibly cute show? Well it did, thanks to a slightly un-Gainax series from Gainax that was overseen (though not directed) by Hideaki Anno. As for the dub, it is probably the best work to come from the former Monster Island Studio. What makes it so is the powerfully accomplished performance of the lead actress, Rachel Rivera. Cute, funny, spunky, so full of life and vigor…this is what Yucie should sound like and Rivera did it so very well. It’s a pity that she was only in a few shows from that time and has not been heard in a dub since. There may be a little unevenness in some of the casting choices, but Rivera’s Yucie is just so good, it pushes aside any memories of the dub falling short here and there.

Greg Smith

borgmanBorgman: Last Battle / Lover’s Rain (Monster Island Studio)

This was a strange release to me. I remember this on the shelves in the mid-90s but couldn’t fathom for the life of me why it was there. You see, these two particular videos are not complete stories in their own right. They’re offshoots of the TV series Sonic Soldier Borgman, about three cyborgs who call upon battle armor in times of trouble to fight off monsters from a different realm (pretty much like Tekkaman Blade and The Guyver) while they teach at a local school. The videos take place following the show’s climax and without that backstory, don’t make as much sense or have nearly the context a viewer would need to connect with the characters.

I knew the show itself having watched it before in the early 90s thanks to friends who’d recorded it. I wasn’t certain what to expect from the domestic VHS tapes, but man…. The voices chosen for the male characters were dull. Really, there was no life. I bought the DVD with both OAVs recently because I liked Borgman but got reminded how the main characters sounded totally like they were reading from a piece of paper. I gave it the closed eyes test for the main characters of Ryo and Chuck and sure enough, couldn’t tell one from the other, nor could I tell where one convo ended and the other began. Anice sounded okay though… except whenever she might’ve had to yell. Dub performances for anime didn’t seem to have a lot of effort behind them in the old days.

Darius Washington

Kino’s Journey (ADV Studios)kinos-journey

ADV was indeed one of the very big players in anime dubbing in 2004, yet one I did not, often for the accident of interest in their catalog, hear too much from at the time. Even from a limited sample, they had some special work that year. One was a show they had had a hand in funding, the collection of beguiling and melancholic fables that was Kino’s Journey. It featured many notables from that talent group at that time in episodic roles, but it was a two-woman show around a couple of the most unique and talented voice actors to come out of Houston: Kelli Cousins, as the understated, brooding Kino, and Cynthia Martinez, as her straight-talking sentient motorcycle, Hermes. Cousins’ deep, even voice could be charming or cold, episode by episode, at a level of control difficult to come by without losing a sense of character, especially for a character like Kino where voice is often the only marker to emotion. This was a different show, and it felt like a different dub. A break from more hyperkinetic fare and over-excited voices, this Kyle Jones-directed production scaled back the emotion, but found how that increased its power and effect. It fell in with a new class of dubs for turn-of-the-century titles and dubs, like New Generation Pictures’ Haibane Renmei, from the previous year.

salyers-premiumSlayers Premium (ADV Studios)

A more curious production out of IS&M was this short movie. The fifth, and so far last Slayers movie made, it was the first to feature characters from the TV series. That TV series, to that point (the fourth season had yet to be produced), had been licensed by CPM and dubbed in the late 90s by New York’s TAJ Productions. For many anime dub fans at the time, several actors were first discovered in and gained their notoriety in those dubs: Lisa Ortiz (Lina Inverse), Veronica Taylor (Amelia), Eric Stuart (Gourry), and Crispin Freeman (Zelgadis). The other component of the Slayers franchise, its movie and OVA series, set chronologically before the TV series and without Taylor, Stuart, or Freeman’s characters, had long been licensed and dubbed by ADV, with Cynthia Martinez as a slightly younger Lina, and Kelly Manison as her obnoxious, buxom companion, Naga. Premium was different, and ADV knew this, to a degree. Invitations to the original cast to reprise their roles were allegedly made, but in the end only Freeman returned to play Zelgadis. Chris Patton (Gourry) and Luci Christian (Amelia) filled the roster instead, with Martinez in her familiar role. Curious is still the word for it. It’s not, perhaps, the best Slayers material to begin with, despite the pedigree of Junichi Satou at its helm. Taking place in the TV timeline, the references to Naga, whose mythos-inspired connection between the two sides of the franchise stoked fervor for the movie, contributes, with its limited runtime, to its superfluous impression. Her role, and Amelia and Zelgadis’s, are reduced anyway to little more than cameos. Martinez’s spunky Lina, among all of this, is a charming enough reason alone to listen to it, but the dub remains a mishmash akin to its material. Freeman’s vaunted return, alone of the TV cast, seems irrelevant. (He, and most of the original TV cast would return several years later for the Slayers Revolution TV dub, produced by NYAV Post for FUNimation Entertainment.) Another effort by ADV that year to meld two talent groups together based on source material, Nurse Witch Komugi (described elsewhere in this feature by Greg Smith), may have left a better legacy.

Brian Threlkeld

Chrono Crusade (ADV Studios)chrono-crusade

Trying to make a true localization, going well beyond what the Japanese can manage when the setting is America, can be a challenge. The challenge was well met by ADV’s Matt Greenfield and his team of scriptwriters for the dub to Chrono Crusade. As the show is set in 1920’s America, there was the chance to flavor the dialogue with actual phrases and usages which were current in that period, but which seem appropriately out of date, yet representative to that time, to modern ears. The cast did a great job of speaking what could otherwise sound rather hokey, selling us on “the cat’s pajamas” and the “bee’s knees.”

Of course, local and period flavor would be meaningless if the cast could not deliver on the emotional drama of the show. Fortunately for the dub listener, they did, especially the show’s leads of Hilary Haag as Sister Rosette and Greg Ayres as Chrono. A special nod as well to evil villain Andy McAvin as the demonic nemesis Aion.

Greg Smith

megazone-23Megazone 23 (ADV Studios)

One of the first of the format known as OAVs done for the direct to video market without TV or theatrical release, Megazone 23 has had an interesting history being dubbed for the U.S. The first time I came to know of it was when pics were shown in advertisements for Robotech The Movie; the ill-fated editing combo of Megazone 23 and Southern Cross (Robotech Masters) that tested so badly at a Dallas screening that head man Carl Macek killed the project entirely. Originally it’s been said Macek wanted to use Macross: Do You Remember Love for this film but was unable to acquire those rights for some reason. It was also said he wanted to do Megazone 23 as a straight dub initially but couldn’t get anywhere without attaching the already popular Robotech name.

So there was the Robotech movie for which some higher ups felt Megazone’s unhappy ending wouldn’t work in the U.S. market. Instead a new set of ending footage was commissioned and added as a companion piece when the “International” dub of Megazone 23 Part II (done for overseas markets by Harmony Gold actors) was released on laserdisc but with little fanfare except in Asian markets. Eventually though, in 1995, Macek’s later company Streamline Pictures released Part I as an unaltered straight dub for which the performances were a bit better and all the footage and music were restored as opposed to the Robotech one where at times some folks were clearly mangled street pizza but said to be breathing with the usual Robotech background music playing. About 10 years later, ADV Films got the rights to the Megazone OAVs (including a third one which had been done in the interim) and released their own dub of the trilogy. The voicework for Part I had performances sounding more natural like teenagers tend to and is considered to be a pretty decent release all around.

Darius Washington

Azumanga Daioh (ADV Studios)azumanga-daioh

When Azumanga Daioh got licenced, a lot of people were wondering how they would approach the dub. With a lot of references to Japanese culture, were they going to incorporate that into English? Would they take an AD Vid Notes approach like with Excel Saga? Or just change it completely? Also how were the voices going to hold up, especially the obvious conclusion that a Texan accent would be used for Osaka?

It turns out they did a pretty good job overall. Kira-Vincent Davis does a very admirable job as Osaka in what had to have been a really hard job to follow considering how beloved she was and knowing what would happen with the Houston links, but she performs overall very impressively. Luci Christian as Yukari is another high level performance, despite the few of her character’s lines—originally in English on the Japanese side—having to be turned into Spanish. Her energy incorporating Yukari’s wild cat nature contrasts with Monica Rial’s subdued, motherly but funny approach as Minamo, a.k.a. Nyamo. (This was also the first series I got signed by Monica Rial when she came to the UK in the first Amecon, I still have that DVD and box with the signature). And by then Jessica Boone was the go to girl for the young girl roles, and she is plenty adorable as Chiyo-chan. The other cast also perform well in a tough show to dub, as sadly Mandy Clark as Tomo wouldn’t perform too much more which is a shame as this is definitely her starring performance, Nancy Novotny in one of her early main roles is fine as the stern Yomi, Christine Auten plays the cool but wants-to-be-cute Sakaki as calmly as possible and Andy McGavin is HILARIOUSLY creepy as Mr. Kimura. They actually incorporate a lot of the original pun and language jokes in Japanese and either make them work into English or just leave them in, helped by a handy dandy booklet supplied in the single releases when it was originally released.

Some people may have issues with how ADV did try and change some of the jokes (‘I give you grains of truth…no that’s the truth about grains’) but considering what they had to work with, they did their best and the best was definitely good enough in my opinion.

kaleido-starKaleido Star (ADV Studios)

As most people know, Kaleido Star is one of my favourite series of all time—a show which is basically Cirque Du Soleil the anime and yet captivating, heart provoking, and tear jerking with an interesting, developed and mostly likable cast. The show was actually licensed almost immediately as then ADV actually helped pool some money for Junichi Sato to create his vision, so the dub came out almost as soon as the anime itself did in Japan making it quite the hot off the press release.

The dub itself has, for me at least, Cynthia Martinez’s best role as Sora. Cynthia doesn’t change that much in her own voice to do Sora, a little higher pitched maybe, but she gets the narrative and flow of the character very well, both in her genki phase and the times when she really gets down in the dumps. She gets the emotions and energy of the character perfectly. Perhaps the main issue in terms of voices in this dub is the ADR director Sandra Krasa as Layla, who hasn’t done much voice work and is more known for her directing. Her voice didn’t really convey the emotions that Layla was getting through that the original Japanese did. I did feel that Sandra definitely developed throughout the series, especially during the final arc of the first season, but it is usually one of the two issues people may have with the dub.

The other issue mainly in the first season is that the dub did change a few things in regards to the character, Fool, played superbly by Jay Hickman in his most smarmy voice since Nadesico. Fool in the original Japanese is a very mischievous but perverted spirit and this is pretty obvious in the original Japanese, but the dub tones this down for some reason. It is strange because in the second season the dub mostly does well in bringing his characteristic to what the original Japanese feels like (except when dealing with the thirteen year old Rosetta) but was strange considering the amount of shower jokes at Sora’s expense. Just felt like an odd change.

Aside from that, the rest of the characters range from decent to excellent. Kira-Vincent Davis as the tomboy Anna is near perfect, Nancy Novotny changes from sullen Yomi to energetic writer Mia, Serena Varghese whilst a little rough at times does well in conveying the young diabolo champion Rosetta, and my biggest surprise is John Swasey as Ken, because I’m so used to John doing older characters, but he actually pulls off the young manager in love with Sora really well.

Special mention has to go to some of the villain-ish characters. Illich Guardiola is perfect as Yuri, the Russian heartthrob who has something more sinister behind those looks. In the second season, Hilary Haag is perfect as the bratty rival May who develops well, and like John as Ken, a big surprise in how Mike McRae (who I was more used to as Gauron in Full Metal Panic) plays the bastard but bishie French acrobat Leon much better than I totally expected.

So whilst there are a few issues with the dub overall, Kaleido Star definitely gets a pass. It’s good, it’s good, IT’S GOOD!

 Christopher Homer

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