The last stop is back up the coast, in Vancouver, British Columbia, with The Ocean Group. One of the older continuous anime dubbing companies in North America, reaching back to 1993 and Ranma ½. The dubbing industry had expanded with many new companies since that time, of course, but fandom, too, had expanded with them. In some quarters Ocean was overlooked coming into the middle of the last decade. It had also been unable to shake as well as contemporaries like Animaze or ADV the uneven legacy, or simply the reputation, of 1990s-era dubbing. Though it was producing hidden gems for Bandai, Viz Media, and Pioneer/Geneon before, 2004 was where its slate finally began to be rewritten. It would establish quickly its reputation in time for heralded dubs to several major titles in the following few years.
Much of the new reputation was built outside of the main Ocean Studios. To be accurate, a separate and additional recording studio they used for much of last decade, called Westwood Media. (The affiliated Bluewater Studios, in Calgary, Alberta, was also a frequent, but still nominally active, partner.) Fans of Westwood dubs, especially from this two-year period, 2003-2004, where some of its best material was produced, noticed something a little different about them compared to Ocean proper at the time. Material perhaps had something to do with it, or recording technique, but something a little refreshing and reckless came out of that building. A fair share of it has to do with a director at Westwood named Rob Bakewell. Working first as a talent coordinator, and directing since 2002, the 2003 dub of the Bandai Ent. release, Infinite Ryvius, brought him some notoriety, and new found respect to Ocean in general from some quarters. 2004, however, was the golden year—but not in the intense, overwrought character drama of Ryvius’s angsty teenagers lost in space. This was the Year of Comedy.
Westwood produced just six, but memorable, dubs that year. One was the Vancouver half—the delightful Jocelyn Loewen half—of Nurse Witch Komugi, for ADV. For Bandai, there were the first two incorrigible seasons of Galaxy Angel. The remaining three were small, quirky, potentially overlooked titles from Geneon: The Daichis: Earth’s Defense Family, Dokkoida!?, and Popotan. Bakewell was in charge of The Daichis, a colorful, zany superhero story cast over a wry and withering portrayal of the Japanese nuclear family; and Popotan, a peculiar and bittersweet slice-of-time-bending-life affair about three sisters, their maid, their house, and…popotan. James Corrigal, who would later helm the well-respected Black Lagoon dubs for Ocean, directed the sincere and funny superhero spoof, Dokkoida!? Teri Snelgrove, who first made her mark with the loony Tenamonya Voyagers dub at Ocean proper in 2000, ushered the English version of the crazy Galaxy Angel Brigade into the world.
I’ve never really had any interest in SoulTaker, so I have no idea what Komugi Nakahara was like in the original series. But I have a clear idea of who Nurse Witch Komugi is from the spinoff OVA of the same name. This was one of those cases where we have to be thankful that ADV made a conscious (and likely more expensive than had they recast and recorded the dub entirely in-house) effort to bring in many of the original voices from the Ocean dub which Pioneer (the forerunner to Geneon) produced for the original series. Thankful because I cannot imagine anyone other than the talented and sweet Jocelyne Loewen playing the sweet and dippy Komugi Nakahara. While Houston regulars Kira Vincent-Davis and Luci Christian stepped into two of the other major roles as Komugi’s rival Magical Maid Koyori and Komugi’s mascot/sidekick Mugimaru respectively, the other parts that corresponded directly to SoulTaker characters were played by their Vancouver actors, giving this one a unique feel among Houston productions (until ADV Films would later go the full way to outsourcing the dub for the second season of Ah! My Goddess TV several years later; the other attempt from this year (2004) to meld previously cast voices with the Houston acting pool did not fare quite so well, as you can read in Brian Threlkeld’s take on Slayers Premium).
The short OVA series, filled with parodies and the occasional bit of slightly risqué humor, really hangs on Loewen’s performance, however, and she was more than up to the task in it. I can still recall in my memory her saccharin sweet, but not cloying, delivery. It might be nothing more than a big collection of fluffy episodes that range from a fight between fetishes (maids v. nurses) to a parody of Gatchaman (which is a real highlight of the show), but the dub works a little magic to make it all bring a smile to one’s face.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and space over the years talking about particular parts of The Daichis, focused most on Anna Cummer’s put-upon teenager, Nozomi. It’s her most entertaining and perhaps best role at Ocean, exemplifying the two tendencies of the show—the angst of familial duty and the manic, existential comedy that fulfilling that duty produces—with verve. This was the first of these 2004 Westwood dubs that I listened to. Not all parts fit so neatly together—the family members are by design written so different in personality from each other that their individual satisfying portrayals by Cummer, Danny McKinnon, Lisa Ann Beley, and John Murphy can sometimes sound discordant set off against each other. But the pacing and acting had an incautious style, unfamiliar in other Ocean work, that was a net positive, and a sign to pay attention to what was going on at Westwood.
The next title, Galaxy Angel, proved this even further. The episodic sci-fi series was something different from normal scripted anime, and a looser, heedless style to the voice acting was appropriate. Nicole Leroux, over several seasons of work as the impetuous and violent romantic, Ranpha, exemplified this best in the cast, nudging her character into different modes of emotion, angst, or inflection—some working, some not—as the story allowed. (GA stories allow for a lot.) And by Z, the second season, the whole regular cast had their characters well in hand and could be heard enjoying the ride of where their bizarre adventures would take them next. Jocelyne Loewen (air-headed new recruit, Milfeuille), Alison Matthews (level-headed gun-nut, Forte), Anna Cummer (severe, unemotional Vanilla), and Nicole Bouma (strategic, perhaps evil, Mint), completing the Brigade, embody the roles that, for many fans, define their careers. Richard Ian Cox, voice manipulated beyond recognition as the Vanilla-idolizing AI plushie, Normad, provides the wry if too overlooked ballast to the dub. And the great Vancouver character actor, Michael Kopsa, as Col. Volcott O. Huey, the brigade’s fatherly and over-stressed commander, is the hidden genius of it all.
Dokkoida!? was all of this, but, perhaps aided by a more concise storyline, it was the most expert of the 2004 class of Westwood dubs. As a total work, from beginning to end, leads to minor roles, this is the best produced comedy dub in Ocean’s catalog. Brad Swaile, even in his typecast young milquetoast male lead, sounded renewed to my ears, in a role (Suzuo, transformed by a power suit into Dokkoida) that allowed for a great range of inflection, timid to foolhardy. Nicole Bouma, also somewhat typecast as yet another plucky young (or young-looking) girl—Suzuo’s alien guide to using Dokkoida, Tanpopo—gives a similar effect. The most fun here, however, comes out of the increasingly strange supporting characters, from many of the Ocean talent group’s finest: Sharon Alexander, Nicole Oliver, Paul Dobson, Cathey Weseluck, Ted Cole, Kelly Sheridan, Russell Roberts. And Tabitha St. Germain, as evil, young, and comically inept space princess, Edelweiss, often, as St. Germain can do, stealing the show. It was a delight to discover this show and dub, even as, of all of them from that year, I came to it much later.
More current for me at the time was the last Westwood dub released in 2004, which may also be Bakewell’s best: Popotan. All of its main cast have been mentioned so far—Loewen, Oliver, Cummer, St. Germain; and Nicole Bouma, in her finest hour with Ocean. Her middle sister, Mai, in the inside joke of the show’s fans, is really what the show is about—as it’s difficult to ascertain what the actual plot, such as it is, means (outside of the fan service). Light, sometimes titillating, comedy abounds here, but the story of how three sisters—Mai, childish Mii (Loewen), and older Ai (Oliver), plus their stoic maid, Mea (Cummer)—jump forward in time in search of some lost part of their past, and for the dandelion-like popotan, turns ever more melancholic. And Mai takes the brunt of it. Bouma, so little often given the opportunity to voice a slightly older teenager as she does here, is almost a breath of fresh air, and doesn’t pull her punches with the emotional, stubborn, girl. And in a year of many fine, and many different, performances, this was one of the most memorable.
I’d learned of this series when I picked up Animag issue 1 in the late 80s. It became my gateway to the world of Mobile Suit Gundam. Reading the synopsis for it was an addiction even before I actually got to see the show during the tape trading days. The story, music, mecha designers were all top notch, and for many years I wanted to see this show come to the U.S. so I could buy it officially. Eventually, it did, as other Gundam shows came after Gundam Wing proved to be a success on Cartoon Network. Wing and other shows were released intact here.
Eventually, it did, as other Gundam shows came after Gundam Wing proved to be a success on Cartoon Network. Wing and other shows were released intact here. So when I and others went to get the Zeta box set, we weren’t amused to find the opening and closing songs removed with no warning. Also, the subs were dubtitles, strictly emulating what the English cast was saying as opposed to the different words the Japanese cast were saying. The actors themselves weren’t bad at all. In fact they sounded pretty good and age appropriate, though at times tried to emulate the animation’s mouth movements a little too closely. In the closing credits, the Japanese seiyuu are listed alongside their roles, while the English actors… are listed alphabetically with no corresponding roles. The Ocean Group did a nice job with the performances as a whole (probably while working a bit with Sunrise there) but there’s only so much credit to give without guessing and after paying for a set with certain elements missing, it a little annoying to see Zeta Gundam given the same treatment the Black Jack dub actors got. I was told though after several years I could find the cast info on Anime News Network.