And then there was Los Angeles. Home in 2004 to several popular dubbing studios, including Bang Zoom! Entertainment and New Generation Pictures, both by that year working primarily for Geneon Entertainment. Both studios could be seen, from the vantage of this time, to only be warming up, with years of good material to come. 2007 was a long way off. Business was still enough, however, that other smaller outfits, like Gaijin Productions or Media Concepts (or Studiopolis Inc., though more significantly come 2005), could pick up work outside of those companies. All of these studios’ predecessor in the anime dub field in LA, Animaze.. iNC, once dominant in the region during the late 90s, may have already been foretelling that the party never lasts. Kevin Seymour’s studio had taken on less work as the decade wore on and the boom escalated. The studio would continue, sporadically, until 2008, but 2004 may have been its last big year, producing a handful of seminal dubs for Bandai Entertainment.
When it burst onto the scene ten years ago, crappy metal-cased limited editions and all (damn it was near impossible to remove the discs without serious fear of cracking the DVDs), expectations were running high for various reasons. It was Kenji Kamiyama, it was Production I.G, it was a new stab at adapting the original manga by Masamune Shirow. More importantly for dub fans, it was Animaze, one of the companies that helped usher in what was a glorious decade of dubbing that started around 1998 (with Cowboy Bebop) and lasted to about 2008. 2004 was really a banner year for Animaze, producing this title along with Wolf’s Rain (see below).
Instead of bringing back the cast used for the Ghost in the Shell movie unchanged, the late Kevin Seymour, who passed away this year, decided to change things up by giving the lead role of Major Motoko Kusanagi to Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. It was a vocal pairing made in heaven as McGlynn simply made the role hers. Sexy, powerful, commanding, competent, everything the Major was McGlynn’s performance was. Supported by Richard Epcar as Batou, Crispin Freeman as Togusa and a strong cast of LA regulars, I cannot even now imagine any other cast for this franchise (though oddly Bandai and Manga Entertainment could for the compilation movie editions of the two Stand Alone Complex series). All these years later, I can hear the Major talking about what her “ghost” is telling her. Mine tells me that this is still a great dub.
It’s been a long road to follow and one can rightfully ask whether the memories I still hold of this show are valid. That’s because after I watched Wolf’s Rain for the first and only time during its run on Adult Swim ten years ago, I have not seen nor heard any of it since. I don’t hate the show, but I find it intensely depressing, which has made me shy away from a rewatch (though I did buy the final Bandai set releases when they came out). Interestingly, while the wolves were the main characters and got all the attention, I think the human characters were by far the more memorable. The three major supporting human characters in particular, Hubb Lebowski (Bob Buchholz), Cher Degré (Kari Wahlgren) and Quent Yaiden (Tom Wyner).
Buchholz’s Hubb is the Everyman, the true window of the audience into the world of Wolf’s Rain. He’s filled with all of the human kindness and human weakness that makes well written fiction worth experiencing. Buchholz captured it all, the world-weariness of the detective and the deep longing of the unrequited lover, still pining after Cher even though their marriage didn’t work out. In contrast, Wyner’s Quent is a man drained of almost all emotion, filled only with the grim determination to exact revenge upon those he believes responsible for the death of his family: wolves. There is righteous wrath in his performance up until the end when he learns some painful truths. Finally, there is Wahlgren’s Cher. Up to this time, I had only heard her in teenage roles, especially the previous year’s Robin Sena (Witch Hunter Robin) and Lavie Head (Last Exile). This performance was a revelation. Wahlgren’s Cher is a mature voice, one filled with the weight and depth required of the role. While she’s very good playing teenagers, I really would like to hear her in more mature roles, though ones that have the complexity and subtlety required for Cher are few and far between in anime.
The dub for Dead Leaves comes courtesy of Gaijin Productions, which is also responsible for the R.O.D. OAV dub. Amanda Win Lee and Jason (Jaxon) Lee, Gaijin’s founders, respectively voice the main roles of Pandy and Retro, while nine other VAs create a (credited) cast of 35 other characters. Regarding the latter, the variety manages to effectively evoke a convincing mob of inmates imbued with distinct tones and speech patterns. Most side/background characters that get to speak only get a line or two anyway, but the effort was made! And maybe because Amanda and Jason are married or maybe because they’re just that good at acting, the chemistry between Pandy and Retro is palpable. On top of that, Amanda manages to convey a stellar range of emotions via subtle variances despite short lines of dialog. This is not to defame Jason’s rowdy contribution, which makes of Retro every bit the egomaniacal, lust- and violence-minded character he’s supposed to be. Everything fits, from the range of expression given each character to the mocking difference between the gasps of clones and cogs. Amanda Winn Lee is also responsible for the English dub script, a very liberal adaptation with abundant ad-libs and substitutions that keep the tone of the original while adding a distinctly U.S. swagger.
Mastilo Von Plume
Coming in a rash of Bang Zoom! material in those early years of the decade, it was one of the first from the studio, after 2003’s Last Exile, that made me pay attention. Directed in an all too rare opportunity by regular actor Kirk Thornton, and starring many of BZ!’s finest at the time, both established (Tony Oliver, Michelle Ruff, Dave Lelyveld) and newly surging (Kari Wahlgren, Julie Ann Taylor, Mia Bradley). The character-heavy, retrograde, mecha show from Horishi Nishikiori had a unique visual appeal—a comic book world of mysterious power, heroes, and villains—and the dub was a believing partner. Not the most intelligent, or dramatic, or comic dub to highlight in their catalog, but this is something I did not always believe from BZ!, moving away from a neutral overall feel to their work that was technical but not emotionally compelling. Last Exile changed this, and Gad Guard indicated a solid trend. Perhaps Thornton’s direction makes all the difference, but this features a favorite Oliver role as the lead, Hajiki, even as something in a range so familiar to him. And it was an impressive introduction to the low menacing range of Lelyveld as the grim antagonist, Katana; as well as the first surprising boyish turn of Julie Ann Taylor, as Takumi. And maybe it was its place in my viewing that year, among an uptick of more earnest dramas and character pieces, but there was a fun and sometimes absurd swagger to this show, matched through and through with its dub, that endeared it to me for so long. (Even if the story, it’s true, doesn’t always follow through.)
There really isn’t much to say about the sequel series that cannot be said about the original. The cast stays the same and continued to do a decent job of playing their roles. What made the dub work, in the end, was whether you could believe in the romance between Michelle Ruff’s Aoi and Dave Lelyveld’s Kaoru. After all this time, I guess I still do. All of the other characters are largely distractions, though many of them do a very good job of distracting, from Wendee Lee’s boisterous Tina Foster to Lia Sargent’s stern on the surface but kind underneath Miyabi. But, it’s really all about Aoi and Kaoru in the end and Ruff and Lelyveld make it believable enough to buy into so that I continue to think this way even today, years later.
This was a return to a classic anime hero for many old school fans. After the disappointing Harlock Saga OAVs, some fans were hoping for a fleshed out new adventure for Leiji Matsumoto’s main man. There seemed to be some obscure ties to both the original ’78 series as well as the 80s Eternal Orbit SSX show in this one, with ’78 director Rintaro returning to the franchise. It had Harlock reunite his crew to fight some particularly nasty horrific creatures.
The dub produced by Bang Zoom was decent though at times background characters overact a bit. I tried to look at the cast on the DVD and got another listing of actors with no corresponding roles. Thank goodness that imdb and Anime News Network actually had this group listed because this kind of research has gotten annoying. Still I do get to give Lex Lang some respect as Captain Harlock, as well as to Julie Ann Taylor for bringing Kei to life. Tochiro (Harlock’s best friend and shipbuilder) sounds a bit off, though, even though I like Tony Oliver normally; it’s a bit odd to hear him here.
Texhnolyze was one of two brooding, complex, and even strange dubs produced by New Generation Pictures that year, with Paranoia Agent. While the latter is dramatic, funny, disturbing, and profound (read more below), Texhnolyze is dramatic in the noir, Kafka-esque mold, never funny (except in bizarre dub outtakes), and deeply profound. It may also be simply pretentious and moody—but drink enough of scriptwriter Chiaki Konoka’s Kool-Aid, and you’ll find something to love. The stark and well-crafted dub, in any case, directed by Jonathan Klein, plays it straight, not pushing the languid or brooding characterizations too far into melodrama, but preventing them, as the material may allow, from wallowing in non-emotive disquisitions on social theory and Edward Hopper paintings. (It is a strange show; but, like a few things from that unique team of Konaka and producer Yasuyuki Ueda, I credit it for shifting my focus that year into more challenging fare in the anime/manga realm.) Two roles received attention then: Carrie Savage, in a departure from her previous work for the studio, as the quiet, oracular girl Ran, and Victoria Harwood, previously known from the studio for one Integra Hellsing, as Doc, a scientist with a magnetic and beguiling presence in the cast. Patrick Seitz’s mob boss Onishi, however, with many of the lines in this sometimes dialogue-light story, is a central pillar of the dub (which is also quite male-heavy), in one of his best dramatic roles. Notable for me at the time was Sam Regal, newly transplanted from New York, against type as the sadistic and meticulous Yoshii. This was the dub in 2004, in fact, that most impressed me with new and original casting turns by established actors.
While notable for being the dub where one character said “Bull$&!#!” on national television during the broadcast on Cartoon Network’s adult swim, Paranoia Agent is far, far more than that (amusing as that was). It’s a trip through the rabbit hole into paranoia and mental uncertainty. While you might think that this would call for over-the-top extremes and actors going big, that could not be further from the case. Even now, what I remember most is the quiet dignity of Melodee Spevacks’s Misae Ikari, the wife of Detective Keiichi Ikari, who was voiced with full-forced gruff weariness by Michael McConnohie. The shy reserve of Michelle Ruff’s Tsukiko Sagi. The creepy eeriness of Carrie Savage’s Maromi. All the little moments. All the quiet moments.
It is, in my opinion, Jonathan Klein’s finest work (though I have not fully explored the Hellsing OVA, so this is open to revision at some point). A solid cast, well directed and focused on bringing to life the late Satoshi Kon’s vision of madness caused by the unrelenting stresses of modern life, it is one of New Generation Pictures’ finest products. No part is miscast, no performance fails to embody the rather strange cast of characters. You just need to make sure you hold on to your own sanity when watching the show.
When R.O.D The TV came out, every time a disc was released, it swept the board of the dub awards back in the AnimeonDVD days. And rewatching it today it is totally understandable, especially how well it holds up (and the scary feeling that it is 10 years old yet you still think of Rachel Hirschfeld performing as Anita and now she is 10 years older…).
The dub was done before Geneon went out of business and considered one of the highlights, mainly due to anime fan Talisen Jaffe behind the director’s seat. If you have the releases, listen to some of the dub commentaries he has with the cast and behind the scenes, you can see how much knowledge he has and how he wanted to make a really good dub.
With it being done by a different company that released the original OVA, the voices of all the original characters that appear later in the series are done by different actors/actresses. But that isn’t the issue fortunately as the focus is on a completely different cast—namely we get to see Nenene (Yomiko’s former underclassman and the person who put all the post sticky notes for reminders to Yomiko in the OVA) as a writer who is struggling for creativity and also wondering where Yomiko has got to. Played by Wendy Tomson, she does go for a strong voice who won’t take crap from anyone, which is basically Nenene’s character and Wendy does a great job pulling those emotions through.
The highlight is of course the three Paper sisters who become Nenene’s bodyguards (whether she likes it or not). First we have Michelle, played by Hunter MacKenzie Austin, who brings a real bubbly attitude to the role, that she really enjoys life but is also able to tone it down for the serious moments later. Then we have Maggie, played by Sara Lahti, who is the silent but strong type, but she portrays Maggie as a shy but strong type, ready and waiting for anyone and anything. And lastly, we get everyone’s favourite character, Anita, played by Rachel Hirschfeld. Rachel absolutely incorporated Anita in every way—a child actor (at the time) so the age range was perfect, bratty, strong talking, but also intelligent, caring and able to really pull out a performance for the sad scenes when it was needed. Her cries for her sisters still tear me up when I rewatch it…
The rest of the cast is strong as well—Joker is now played by J.B. Blanc and Wendy by Siobhan Flynn, two British voices and their change in character without giving spoilers is excellent and really conveys how they have their own focuses and dreams, and that they will do anything to make sure it goes their way. Yomiko is now played by Helena Taylor and does a fine job carrying into an older but scared Yomiko, and Nancy is played by Carrie Savage, who showcases how innocent Nancy has become after the ordeals in the OVA, but still with a touch of badass always ready to come out.
The child actors/actresses all stand out (Junior and Hisami in particular). The only minor nitpick is the ‘translation’ of ‘-chan’ turning into ‘dear’, which doesn’t really work at times (Hisami calling Tohru ‘Tohru-dear’ for example). However they work around a lot of the issues (Anita in the dub speaking Japanese during a class for example to work around a translation to English in the original Japanese) and turn out one of the greatest dubs of the 00s, and still holds up incredibly well today.