Your Brain on Toons- What Makes Anime Adaptions Work? (Part I)

Having been an anime fan for some 13 odd years now, I’ve seen a lot of stuff. This also means that for better or worse, I’ve sat through a lot of anime adaptions and the various debates that come with them. I’ve seen many an argument between how X-anime compares to Y-manga and what it did or didn’t do, with such discussions continuing on as fiercely today as they did when I was a teenager. As for me, my perspective’s shifted quite a bit compared to my earlier days of fandom, and as I’ve started learning more about how the industry at large tends to function, I’ve also found myself pondering a certain question: Just what the heck qualifies as a “good” anime adaption? The answer is a complicated one, and one that I have quite a bit to say about so I’ve decided to do a pair of articles on it. We’re going to be taking a look at some of the key factors in an adaption, and what does or doesn’t work for them so with that in mind, let’s get started.

 

The Purpose of an Adaption

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When looking at the basics of anime adaptions as a whole, it’s first important to point out some of the fundamental differences between them and most adaptions in western media from Hollywood or on U.S. TV. For the most part, when an adaption is made in the west, it’s designed to be its own product. This means for instance that while Batman: The Animated Series and the numerous Batman comics in existence may both have Batman in the title, their overall success is largely independent of each other, and will have little, if any, material properly tying them together. In fact, in some cases the success of said animated version could lead to it having its own entirely different line of comics or merchandise, and its overall survival is dependent on how well it stands on its own.

Anime on the other hand, works pretty differently. Whereas most western adaptions are designed to be mostly separate entities to their source material, anime adaptions are often made with the explicit intent of drawing attention to said source material, with the publishers of the original work usually having a pretty direct hand in the production. This means that anime adaptions in effect, generally serve as a “commercial” of sorts for whatever anime, game, novel, etc. that they were based on with one of the primary goals being to help sell more of it. However it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that anime adaptions aren’t meant to do well by themselves, and under ideal circumstances, their success should result in selling lots of shiny discs and merchandise, the same as any anime-original work would be expected to do. What it does do though, is place slightly less of a burden on the adaption to sell itself, and in turn, lowers the risk of it being a total financial failure. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but the important thing to understand here is that anime adaptions are almost never designed to be standalone works in regards to their source material. With that established it’s time to move onto the biggest question:

 

So What Makes an Anime Adaption “Good”?

                                  katekyou_hitman_reborn_v09_c078_lj.reborn78_19      reborn

This is the million dollar question when it comes to anime and it’s something I’ve pondered a lot over the years. There are a variety of factors that affect the quality of an adaption from timing to the production staff and it’s hard to get into specifics about all of them, but in terms of broad strokes, it mostly boils down to two key points:

      *Being a decent standalone product

                                *Highlighting the strengths of the source material

Now that first one might seem contradictory given that earlier I mentioned that anime adaptions are pretty much never meant to be completely standalone works, but that’s only under the strictest definition of the term. Most anime adaptions won’t give you a complete story, but giving audiences something of a thematic resolution, or offering a good enough stopping point that you aren’t overtly pressured to seek out the source material usually works out pretty well. A good example of these would be something like winter 2016’s Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, which chose to center the anime around the theme of loss, and while it doesn’t even begin to resolve the long term mysteries surrounding it’s world and how the characters got there, it resolves said theme well enough that while it certainly invites audiences seek out the original novels in order to know what happens next, it also does enough to be more than satisfying on its own. Being a good standalone product can also mean something as basic as having a really polished looking production. The recent adaptions of One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 are both pretty strong instances of this, and while both stories feel like they’ve only tapped the surface of what’s available to them, those shows are so much of a visual spectacle that they’re worth giving a peek regardless, and they’ve both proven successful in attracting an large audience. In short, the basic idea is that while an anime adaption doesn’t exactly need a definitive ending to be successful, at the very least there needs to be enough on display that anyone not already familiar with the original work won’t feel blatantly shortchanged by checking it out.

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The second criteria of “highlighting the strengths of the source material” is where things get more complicated. Many hardcore manga/light novel fans (and I’ve been guilty of this myself quite a few times) tend to take that as meaning that an anime should stick as close to its source material as possible, but that kind of thinking is a bit misguided. Anime is its own medium, and as such changes are pretty much inevitable when translating it over from the original medium of the source material. This also ignores the fact that much like the original authors themselves, anime staff members are creatives too if not more so (something of which gets lost when adaptions are often judged by the studio that worked on them rather than the individuals), and their own influences and biases are bound to affect the material in some way. Even anime adaptions that have been praised for how closely they stick to the manga like the 2011 version of Hunter x Hunter still included a few notable deviations, such as the late introduction of a key character, as well as many of the events in the back half of the Chimera Ant arc being re-arranged to be more cohesive.

That said, being as 1:1 with the source material as possible is usually the safest method for anime adaptions to take in regards to highlighting what works about it, and it’s the one that most tend to go for more often than not. Of course, it’s important to highlight that it may typically be the safest option, it’s not without its own share of risks. It can sometimes result in something that feels like its playing things a bit too safe and can subsequently keep an adaption from reaching its full potential. Some examples would be things such as the infamous first season of Sailor Moon Crystal which felt so slavishly faithful to the manga that it came off as an outdated mess, or more recently, spring 2016’s My Hero Academia, whose sluggish pacing worked well for the first few episodes as it gave more time to the protagonist, Deku’s origin story, but ultimately came back to hurt it for its last third as its first major battle slows to a crawl.

Besides the usual 1:1 method though, there are still a couple of other ways anime adaptions can achieve the goal of highlighting what works. One other way is through the anime staff re-arranging or cutting material in other to focus on the strongest parts of the original work. The most notable example of this in recent years would be the first season of Tokyo Ghoul in which the director Shuhei Morita decided to remove most of the manga’s worldbuilding in favor of focusing primarily on the conflict between humans and ghouls, and Kaneki’s eventual breakdown from being caught in the middle of those opposing sides. While this didn’t exactly go over too well with manga fans who were angry about what got cut out, it provided newcomers with a more cinematic experience that better suited the needs of the medium, and served as pretty effective commercial for drawing new people towards the manga as its sales have gone up dramatically (unfortunately the second season, Root A couldn’t quite follow up on that approach but the less said about that the better).

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Taken to an even larger extreme though, it’s also possible for an anime adaption to forsake the story of its original material almost entirely and still be relatively true to its source by sticking to its core themes, bringing it more in line with western expectations of how adaptions work. As I said before, anime tends to avoid this almost entirely, but there’s a few examples, such as the Gungrave anime taking a by-the-numbers revenge story for a third-person shooter game and turning it into a compelling mafia drama, or more famously, the 2003 version of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime which diverges from the manga’s storyline in favor of its own while still paying tribute to its themes regarding sacrifice and humanity (albeit with very different conclusions on those points).

Having consumed more manga than I’d care to admit, I used to typically lean towards the adaptions that stuck closely to what I first read, but in recent years I’ve gained a lot more appreciation for the ones that go the extra mile in trying to create something that stands out, and I honestly kind of wish more would take on those kinds of risks, if only because those are the ones that tend to be more memorable for better or worse. Of course the success of such adaptions usually requires extremely capable staff members and a smooth production cycle, both of which are luxuries most anime aren’t granted with, and the aforementioned risk of potentially isolating the fans of the original work means that most production committees will steer clear of that approach. Still, it’s important to understand that an anime adaption doesn’t have to necessarily be an exact recreation of its source material to work, and that there’s a few ways to succeed in that area.


And with that we’re done for now. I’ll have the second half up next week where we go into the more painful side of things: when anime adaptions fail.

Part II >>

The Sounds of Dubbing IV- Gintama

 

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Synopsis: Aliens have taken over Edo period Japan, and everything from giant robots to space technology has taken over everyday life. However one day, a young man named Shinpachi Shimura has an encounter with a wavy-haired samurai named Gintoki Sakata, one of the last surviving warriors of the Joi Rebels who fought against the aliens, and one of the few people remaining who still carries the soul of a samurai. Shinpachi decides to work for Gintoki as part of his “Odd Jobs” group of handimen, and together with a strange alien girl named Kagura, the trio gets involved with a variety of increasingly weird characters and adventures.

Intro: When Crunchyroll first announced last year that they were venturing into the world of home video releases and dubs, I was the most curious about Gintama. It always struck me as a show that would be nigh impossible to dub, both due to it’s length, and it’s hefty amount of Japanese culture-centered humor. Sentai Filmworks took a stab at it a few years back when they licensed the first Gintama movie and the results were…less that stellar so I wasn’t too sure how a second attempt would pan out, and even more so when I was hearing suggestions that it would be done through the Canadian dubbing pool, who hasn’t seen much work in recent years. So with all that in mind, it’s time to see if the second time’s the charm


 

Rating Scale

Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but  an overall bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece, Guin Saga)

Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly good but decent enough that if you ignore the existence of the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)

Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is more technically competent in a few areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)

Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)


 

 

Voice Direction

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Even when it comes to comedies, good vocal direction is always an important element to take into account as a stiff performance can make even some of the best jokes fall flat. In that respect, it’s pretty ideal that this show’s ADR Director turned out to be Karl Willams, a long time director at both Canada’s Ocean and Blue Water dubbing studios, and whose work includes some of the talent pool’s most iconic dubs such as Death Note and Inuyasha. All those years of experience certainly show here as he does a great job of handling the show’s comedic timing, helping the actors to successfully deliver on a variety of exaggerated punchlines, and while there’s certainly a few stiff line reads here and there, the actors manage to land their jokes more often than not, and I was pleasantly surprised that the dub had me laughing almost as much as I did listening to the Japanese track.

Of course it’s also important to take into account that Gintama is a series that can often be as heartwarming or dramatic as it is funny, and the ability to switch between those moods on the fly is also pretty important when it comes to a successful dub. It’s a little harder to get a read on how the more dramatic areas of the show will be handled from what’s currently available, but just going off of the finale to the Genderbending arc, it seems like the direction’s certainly there enough for that too, albiet not quite as much as with the comedy. Given that the dub’s starting off so deep into the material it’d feel a little unfair to expect too much right out the gate, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it’s direction, and it looks to be in good enough hands that it’s likely to improve with time.

 

Scripting

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Of all the aspects of a Gintama dub, I was the most intrigued/worried about, it was probably the dub script. As I mentioned in the intro, Gintama is a pretty culture-specific comedy, and while it’s certainly no stranger to mocking popular Western media in the same way mocks a lot of Japanese media, it usually leans towards the latter, and trying to translate around those jokes always seemed like too big a task to make a dub feasible. While as of this moment, I’m unaware of who the main scriptwriter for the dub was (or if wasn’t some kind of group effort by some of the crew at Crunchyroll), it seems as though the decision was made to leave pretty much all the jokes as is, and instead rely on the high energy of the vocal performances to help sell the comedy. It’s a pretty understandable approach since Gintama wouldn’t really be itself without it’s bizarre sense of humor, and it’s one that works in some ways, and falls flat in others, as a lot of the slapstick and references that seasoned anime/video game fans would get, are still just as funny in English, while some of the occasional wordplay puns like the ones in episode with the Japanese history lesson, sound a little on the awkward side. A bit of looser scripting might have helped with the latter a bit more, but speaking honestly, I can’t really think of around that without completely changing the jokes involved, so in the end this was probably the right call. The scripting’s certainly not perfect, but there was pretty much never going to be a perfect solution to this area of the dub, and as I said regarding my One-Punch Man review, the issue of a dub script being too faithful is a far better one to have than it being too loose, so I can certainly live with the lesser of the two evils.

 

Casting

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While not quite as big a hurdle as the dub script, the casting was another area where I was really curious to see the results. Not only has Gintama been around long enough that anyone familiar with the show is probably pretty attached to the Japanese cast, but said cast is comprised of some of the best actors that side of the industry has to offer including names like Tomokazu Sugita, Rie Kugimiya, Akira Ishida and god himself Norio Wakamoto. Living up to such a strong cast was always going to something of a tall order and one made harder by the fact that Canada’s talent pool isn’t as established as they used to be in their prime. Fortunately though, Karl Willams and the fine folks at Crunchyroll, managed to put together a pretty nice looking cast of Canada-based veterans.

Micheal Daingerfield (Inuyasha: The Final Act’s Sesshomaru, Mobile Suit Gundam 00’s Johann Trinity) seems to have been an excellent choice for Gintoki as he does a solid job of getting across the character’s crass attitude and sarcasm while also managing to nail down his rarely seen serious side in a few scenes. Cole Howard (Law of Ueki’s Kosuke Ueki, Kingdom’s Xin) is an equally strong choice for Shinpachi as he gets his straight man antics down pretty quickly, and while his exaggerated retorts don’t always hit their mark, his delivery is strong enough for the punchlines to get their message across. Jocelyne Loewen (Boys Over Flowers’s Sakurako Sanjo, Megaman NT Warrior’s Yai) on the other hand is the weakest link of the main trio so far, as her voice sounds a little too normal compared to Rie Kugiyama, or even Luci Christian’s brief take on her in the movie’s dub since Kagura doesn’t really sound the same without her accent, and while Jocelyne Loewen’s performance is good enough to get a few laughs across, it doesn’t quite feel like she has the character down yet.

The rest of the cast is a little bit more of a mixed bag. Some like Andrew Francis (NANA’s Takumi Ichinose, Infinite Ryuvis’s Airs Blue) and Janyse Jaud (Inuyasha’s Kagura, Shakugan no Shana’s Margery Daw) feel like solid choices for Sakamoto and Tae respectively, and nail their quirks down pretty well, while others like Marlie Collins’s Tsukuyo and Vincent Tong’s (Death Note’s Tota Matsuda, World Trigger’s Souya Kazama) feel a little underwhelming, and seem to still be in the process of feeling out their characters. Of course as with the voice direction it’s more than a little unfair to compare these guys to actors who had been playing their respective characters for over 250 episodes by this point, so I certainly wasn’t expecting anything near the level of the performances by the Japanese cast, but even with that in mind, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, it did feel as though the actors were getting a better grasp on their characters with each passing episode (some faster than others) so there’s a strong chance that with a bit more time, this cast could really go a long way in making the characters their own.

 

Final Thoughts: Dubbing Gintama was pretty much always going to be something of a thankless job, and with one failed attempt already in existence, it seemed weird that Crunchyroll of all companies would be the ones to try again. However, this second attempt managed to greatly exceed my admittedly low expectations, and the dub turned out to be pretty funny. While I’m not totally in love with all of the casting choices so far, the majority do seem to have been well thought out, and I don’t have too much doubt they’ll get better with time. This certainly isn’t in the same league as the Japanese track, nor do I think anyone was really expecting it to be, but it’s definitely a much better attempt than the last one we got, and one that’s probably worth your time checking out if you’re either a newcomer to the series, or just curious to give it a listen.

Rating: Good

 

 


And that’s it for the Gintama review. Feel free to let me know what you thought about the dub if you’ve seen it and if you’re curious about my general metrics for critiquing dubs, you can take a look at that here. Till next time.

Review: Voltron Legendary Defender Season 2- Building on Success

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Synopsis: Long ago the leader of the Galra race, Emperor Zarkon began his conquest of the universe, and the extermination of the Alteans. The only force capable of stopping him was a weapon known as Voltron, but it was sealed away along with the Altean princess, Allura. 10,000 years later, a group of young space pilots from Earth stumble upon one of the robot lions that form Voltron, along with Allura but soon discover that Zarkon is still alive, and has already seized control over most of the known universe. Now these pilots must become the new Paladins of Voltron and use it’s power to defeat Zarkon once and for all.

The Review

At this point it more or less goes without saying that the first season of Voltron: Legendary Defender was a massive success. It managed to pull off the extremely difficult task of being both appealing to the nostalgia of the old fans while, creating a lot of new ones, and it’s brought the franchise the most amount of buzz and popularity it’s seen since the 80’s with the original series. Of course with all that success also comes the risk of things potentially falling apart at the seams, and given how badly the staff’s previous series The Legend of Korra ended up imploding on itself, I have to admit I was bit afraid of this potentially suffering the same fate. So with all that on it’s plate, does this season do a great job of living up to the first?

Fortunately the answer is a resounding, yes. The season kicks off, pretty much exactly where the last one ended, and despite the roughly 6-month gap, it feels like the show never really left. The strong mix of action and comedy that made a lot of the show’s first season work is still in full effect here, and the chemistry between the paladins remains as strong as ever. None of this should be too surprising since, production-wise, this second season was originally meant to just be the back half of the first, but I’ve seen plenty of similarly produced shows where that approach backfired, so I’m glad to say that this series is still as fun as ever.

Of course, while the second season manages to maintain pretty much all of what made the first work, it also manages to throw in a few welcome improvements. One of my biggest issues with the first season, was the Galra felt a little too one-note as antagonists, and were vastly in need of some fleshing out to keep from come across as too generic. This is largely addressed here in the form of introducing a rebel Galra cell working against the empire, which helps to add some much needed shades of grey to the overall conflict, while giving the second season a slightly heavier tone than the first. It also helps in making the stakes of the season a lot higher, as much of it is spent building up to a big confrontation with Zarkon himself. Although while it’s obviously way too early in the show’s run for that to actually go as planned, it manages to throw in a few good curve-balls (especially regarding the fate of a certain character), and the season finale is about as wonderfully climatic as giant robot shows get.

Though while this story stuff is all well and good, the real appeal of Voltron lies in it’s fun characters, and this season manages to outshine the first in that area too. As much as the first season did a great job of making all of the Paladins endearing, Keith in particular felt like a bit too much of a blank slate for his supposed importance to the story, especially given that he’s known as the protagonist in all the other franchise incarnations. Thankfully he’s given a lot more to work with here, and a fair chunk of the season is spent both exploring his origins, and setting him up for a future leadership role, helping to turn his character around significantly. Allura also benefits from a bit more focus as her hatred for the Galra clashes pretty heavily with the need for an alliance with the Galra rebels, and both Allura and Keith’s respective character arcs end up tying pretty heavily into the season’s larger conflicts.

The animation, also manages to step things up from the first season as the animators from Studio Mir continue to go all out in their homage to the “sakuga” style of Japanese animation. There’s a ton of really fantastic action sequences sprinkled throughout the season, making for some surprisingly intense fights, and the 3DCG for the robots still does a great job of mixing well with the show’s 2D animation, for some solid mecha battles. The final showdown of the season in particular is really something to behold, and stands as some of the best action choreography I’ve seen from the mecha genre in quite a while.

There was a lot for Voltron’s second season to live up to, and I’m happy to report that this one managed to be even stronger than the first. Everything from the stakes, to the character writing is doubled down here, and it all results in a fun ride from start to finish. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few hiccups, as much like the first season the comedy can some times be hit or miss, and it does occasionally cut a bit too much into the serious aspects, but for the most part these are minor gripes, and nothing that’s really manages to slow down the show’s momentum. All in all, the second season does pretty much exactly what it needs to in terms of building on the first, while sticking to what made it work, and given that it more or less ends on the same type of obnoxious cliffhanger, I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for a third.

Overall: 8.9/10

First Impressions- Winter 2017 Anime (Part 2)

It’s time for round 2 of the winter anime season. I’ve already burned my way through a few things, but there’s still plenty more to go through, and a lot more potential suffering to be had so let’s get to it

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

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elDlive

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Synopsis: “Mumbling” Chuta Kokonose doesn’t have many friends. In fact, the only conversations he has anymore are with voices inside his head. Little does he know that this voice doesn’t mean he’s crazy. It just means he has an alien living inside his body!

First Impressions: Once upon a time I was a huge fan of Reborn, and while the final parts of the manga soured things for me, I still feel enough fondness for it, that I’d be more or less willing to check out anything else Akira Amano put ot. That’s where this series comes in, and having set my expectation levels somewhere around moderate, I more or less got what I figured I would here. There’s nothing particularly standout about the storytelling here as it’s all pretty by-the-numbers but mostly entertaining, and the tone hearken’s back more towards Amano’s gag series routes than the action heavy material from the later parts of Reborn, although that could certainly change given Chuuta clearly has some sort of ominous backstory. The one major feather in it’s cap though is some solid visual direction as the show has some really nice scene transitions, and while the color pallette isn’t exactly mindblowing, it feels lively enough to match what this is going for. I was pretty much going to watch this one either way, but for right now it seems like a moderately good way to spend Sunday afternoons

Rating: Good

 

Idol Incidents

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Synopsis: The story is set in a parallel Japan very similar to the modern Japan we known today. Increasing income divide, creeping environmental pollution, unsolvable garbage problems, childcare waiting lists being disputed while those directly involved aren’t present, repeated cases of corruption… Japan’s government, entrenched in its own vested interests, can do nothing about the abundant problems and discontent throughout the land. Now, at long last, idols are taking a stand to rescue a nation with no way out! The Heroine Party, the Sunlight Party, the Starlight Party, the Bishoujo Party, the Wakaba Party, the Subculture New Party, and the SOS Party: idols from these seven idol political parties who have become Diet members representing each prefecture will crash through the sense of stagnation that surrounds Japan with their song and dance! They will bring back the people’s smiles and envelop Japan in their shining aura!

First Impressions: From high strung comedies to action shows, idol shows have been inserted into just about everything at this point, so idols fusing together with politics was pretty much just a matter of time. On paper this sounds like a wonderfully dumb premise as it seems like something that could generate a lot of comedic mileage. In execution however, it’s a pretty standard idol show, and the politics hook just comes off more as awkward than funny. From the characters, to the tone, everything feels too safe and cookie-cutter for how potentially funny it could have been and while it’s not exactly short on visual gags, it really needed to be executed in a manner as over-the-top as possible to really work. There’s hints of that towards the end as we get a Love Live esque musical number towards the end, but it’s enough to elevate the rest of it, and nothing here really grabbed me. Still it’s an idol show and a fairly harmless looking one so if you’re into that sort of thing this might work out for you, but I’ll probably end up skipping this one unless I’m really starved for Sunday shows.

Rating: Decent

 

Gabriel Dropout

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Synopsis: An angel at the top of an angel school has descended to the human world! However, she has already acclimated to the life of the human world so much that she ends up leading a self-indulgent life, skipping school all the time and being absorbed in online games. Gabriel soon forgets about her original goal to make human beings happy and has turned into a lazy and hopeless angel, or a “sloppy angel” in short. Amazingly, she swears to continue to fully enjoy the pleasure of various entertainments of the human world.

First Impressions: I wasn’t originally planning to watch this one originally, but today was light on premieres so I figured I’d give it a shot. This turned out to be a pretty wise decision on my part, as this one actually turned out to be rather enjoyable. Anime having fun with classical archangels and archedemons isn’t a particularly new thing as we got The Devil is a Part Timer a couple of years back, and while this certainly doesn’t seem like it’ll be nearly as clever as that, it’s seems like another okay take at the concept. Archangel Gabriel turning into a NEET seems like kind of a weird thing, but having her be the snarky one seems rather appropriate, and I got a few laughs out of Satan being a chunni since that seems like a gag that’s a lot truer to form (not sure what’s up with Raphiel being a sadist, but I don’t recall everything about the Archangels so it’s possible there’s something in the stories to go along with the joke). Nothing here was too mindblowing, but it certainly made me laugh more than some of the other “comedy” premieres I’ve sat through this season so that counts for something. For now this seems like a solid watch, and I’m curious to see how much mileage it can get out of it’s premise (I’d certainly be curious to see what it’s versions of Micheal and Lucifer are like)

Rating: Good

 

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department

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Synopsis: “ACCA” is a giant unified syndicate residing in a kingdom split into 13 autonomous regions. ACCA was formed back when there was threat of a coup d’etat, and it has continued to protect the peace of civilians for almost one hundred years. Jean Otus, the vice-chairman of the inspections department at ACCA headquarters, is one of the most cunning men in the syndicate’s history with the nickname “Jean the Cigarette Peddler.” Whimsically puffing his cigarettes, he wanders through the 13 districts, checking to see if there is any foul play afoot. Meanwhile, Jean is monitored by gazes, threatening rumors, and… snack time. Jean’s quiet everyday life slowly gets swallowed up into the world’s conspiracies!

First Impressions: As the director responsible for bringing us Space Dandy and One-Punch Man, Shingo Natsume has made quite a name for himself in the last couple of years. Given that this series is carrying over some of the staff from the latter, that made this one a potential darkhorse for the season and one that I was pretty eager to check out. However if like me, you were coming into this expecting a sakuga-fest ala Natsume’s previous titles, this…definently isn’t that. Instead what we get here is a somewhat low-key spy show ala last year’s Joker Game, and much of this first episode is spent giving us a rough idea of the protagonist’s personality and setting up the various procedural work that’s to be expected in this kind of show. Unfortunently that means this is pretty lacking in the excitment department, but at the same time this premiere doesn’t make much in the way of any notable mistakes, and exhumes just enough confidence and style to work as a competent genre piece. The last few minutes of the episode suggest things might get more thriller-esque later on, but I’m not exactly holding my breath on that, and it feels like it’ll probably keep things more on the slow, methodical side. All that said, this show’s genre is one that I’m usually pretty happy with, and while I wasn’t exactly thrilled by what I watched, I was certainly intrigued, so for now I’m willing to see where this goes.

Rating: Good

 

Hand Shakers

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Synopsis: Tazuna is a high school student, living in Osaka, who loves to fiddle around with machines. One day, he receives a repair request from an university laboratory. He accepts the request and ends up meeting a girl named Koyori, who has been bedridden for a very long time. Suddenly, Tazuna and Koyori get pulled into a whole different world called “Ziggurat”. In this world, there are Hand Shakers, two people who touch hands and create the Nimrod. Their goal is to defeat other Hand Shakers in order to gain an audience with “God”, who will grant them wishes. Protect with your own Hands!

First Impressions: So out of the new shows this season, this was one of the ones I was the most curious about. While GoHands’s previous series, K: The Animation, was a pretty big exercise in style over substance, I enjoyed it’s first season quite a bit, and figured that a series by mostly the same people could at least be fairly entertaining. Sadly though, it turns out that this show is bad. Like REALLY bad. So much so that I was getting PTSD flashbacks to last winter’s Divine Gate, and that’s something I never wanted to experience again. Much of the episode is spent as one big “how we got here” moment in an attempt to add clarity to it’s super awkward opening scene but somehow manages to come out as even more confusing by the end of it. About all the show really manages to establish is that the protagonist has some weird obsession with fixing things, and that he has some sad backstory involving his dead sister that’s now being projected onto some white-haired loli. Aside from that, most of the episode is just one big overly-long fight scene and it feels like an absolute mess.  The minimal explanation wouldn’t be too much of a deal breaker normally, as K’s first episode was pretty similar in that respect, but it’s script was just grounded enough to follow, where as this is all over the place.

Further adding to the show’s sins is that it’s also horrendously ugly. GoHands’s weird obsession with bright filters has always looked a little jarring, but this show looks like a spectacularly technicolor-ed mess, and the “dynamic” camera angles that are clearly meant to make the action look more bombastic just come off as obnoxious (the hefty amount of 3DCG doesn’t help either). To make matters even worse, said camera angles are also used rather skeevisly for boob jiggle fanservice, which comes off as downright gross in regards to one of the female characters who spends every scene being abused in a way that’s clearly supposed to be “sexy”. Pretty much everything about this is one big NOPE, and while I certainly wasn’t going to be surprised if this one ended up being a stinker (K’s second season was kind of a letdown), I sure wasn’t expecting anything this horrible, and of all the bad things I’ve sat through so far this season, this one’s easily the worst. Stay far, far away from this one.

Rating: BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD

 

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

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Synopsis: Miss Kobayashi is your average office worker who lives a boring life, alone in her small apartment–until she saves the life of a female dragon in distress. The dragon, named Tohru, has the ability to magically transform into an adorable human girl (albeit with horns and a long tail!), who will do anything to pay off her debt of gratitude, whether Miss Kobayashi likes it or not. With a very persistent and amorous dragon as a roommate, nothing comes easy, and Miss Kobayashi’s normal life is about to go off the deep end!

First Impressions: Kyoto Animation is synonimous with high quality productions and solid content, but every now and then they tend to dip into the anime well and put out a low-key light novel adaption that ends up with better production values than it probably deserves. This season that distinction goes to Dragon Maid, which is an odd but mostly un-funny comedy about a lesbian dragon maid who decides to work for an office lady after the latter invites her over in drunken stupor. What ensues is a solid 23 minutes of gross out humor, boob jokes and lots of over-excited yelling, none of which managed to get a giggle out of me the entire time. My standards for anime comedies usually aren’t too high, but nothing about this one clicked with me, and I spent half the episode waiting for it to be over. Since this is a KyoAni show, it pretty much goes without saying that it looks good, and there’s some nice stuff on display here from the how the maid girl’s dragon form is animated, to some of the visual gags, but none of it’s really enough to change the fact that the comedy didn’t work for me and nothing about it left me curious for more. Of course everyone’s taste in comedies are different so maybe this one will work out well for other folks, and I don’t want to be too hard it since it’s not as though it’s attempting to be anything more than a low-end comedy, but this one’s a definite skip for me.

Rating: Bad

 

Chaos;Child

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Synopsis: Shibuya, 2015. In a city recovering from the “Shibuya Earthquake” which devastated it six years ago, Takuru Miyashiro, a student at the newly built private high school “Hekiho Academy” investigates a series of serial killings known as “The Return of the New Generation Madness” as part of his work for the school’s newspaper club…

First Impressions: Looks like it’s time for yet another semi-colon show, and unlike Occultic;Nine which was apparently just a light-novel adaptation, this one’s the real deal. It also happens to be a sequel to Chaos;Head which was the first of these to come out and easily the weakest of the bunch. This is supposedly due more to poor choices made by the adaption than anything else, but it still left something of a bitter taste in my mouth, so you can probably imagine my annoyance when the first 20 minutes of this 47 minute long premiere turned out to be a literal recap of Chaos;Head. Unfortunently the new material here hasn’t done much to engage me either, as none of the main characters really do too much to make themselves endearing here, with the focus instead being almost entirely on the mystery that the show’s setting up. Nothing about said mystery really did too much to make me feel like it was worth sticking around for, but offers just enough suspense to keep things from getting boring. For all these complaints though, it’s far from the worst thing I’ve had to sit through while going down the list of winter premieres, and none of it’s choices have struck me as particularly awful so far. In a stronger season I’d probably give this one the boot, but since there’s nothing else really competing for it’s attention on Thursdays, I may give it a couple more episodes and see if things improve.

Rating: Decent


And that’s it for me and the winter season. There’s still a couple of small premieres left and a few things I didn’t cover, but none of them seem like things that would appeal to me so this is probably as good a cut off point as any. By this point I’m used to jumping the gun on declaring a season to be weak, only to later eat my words and find enough enjoyable stuff to get by, but for the first time in a while I feel confident enough to say with absolute certainty that this is a really weak season. Usually I can find at least one or two non-sequels that feel compelling but so far the sequels (which I didn’t cover here since I felt they’d be redundant this time around) really are the best this season has to offer. Surprisingly though I don’t feel as frustrated by this as I’d expect since not having too much stuff to keep up with means I can finally tackle more of my massive backlog pile, but weak seasons tend to affect everyone, including the industry so in that respect it’s disappointing. At any rate I’m pretty much done here, and until next season, stay animated.

 

First Impressions- Winter 2017 Anime (Part 1)

It’s the start of a new year, which also means it’s the start of a new anime season. Outside of a handful of sequels, I’m more or less going into this season blind, so hopefully I’ll be able to find a few gems worth keeping up with. Of course it’s far more likely I’ll have to burn my way through some stinkers first so without any further ado, let’s get started.

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .


Akiba’s Trip: The Animation

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Synopsis: Based off the hit game comes a new series about the danger lurking in the Otaku heaven of Akihabara. Vampires with an ability to take over anyone they bite seek their prey  in this anime fan’s paradise. When Tamotsu Denkigai encounters one, he nearly loses his life until the mysterious Matome Mayonaka revives him! Now part vampire, he forms a group to protect the streets of Akiba. fighting to keep the streets safe.

First Impressions: The only thing I knew about this one coming in was that it was being done by GONZO, who’s gone through some rather strange transformations since their bankrupcy a few years back and that it apparently had something of a lewd premise. Having watched the first episode, the latter is certainly…a thing, but my main form of curiosity came from the fact that it’s the first literal simuldub we’ve gotten since Space Dandy, and was made available less than an hour after the JP broadcast. Fortunently it doesn’t sound as rushed as that would imply, and everything here was perfectly servicable, if not great. As for the show itself, I find myself feeling rather mixed. Everything about it’s premise seems like it would be my kind of stupid, but there’s also a bit of a “self-aware” otaku edge to it, that feels slightly off putting to me, almost as though the show is trying to have it’s cake and eat it too. Of course that kind of thing can work for me (I enjoyed No Game No Life despite it’s various problems) but it usually has to feel completely over the top in all aspects and this felt a bit lacking. Still it certainly wasn’t boring, and it’s got some really fun animation so between that and the fact that it’s dub being available right off the bat meaning I don’t have to devote too much focus, I can probably be inclined to give it a couple more episodes.

Rating: Decent

Masamune-kun’s Revenge

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Synopsis: As an overweight child, Makabe Masamune was mercilessly teased and bullied by one particular girl, Adagaki Aki. Determined to one day exact his revenge upon her, Makabe begins a rigorous regimen of self-improvement and personal transformation. Years later, Masamune re-emerges as a new man. Handsome, popular, with perfect grades and good at sports, Masamune-kun transfers to Aki’s school, and is unrecognizable to her. Now, Masamune-kun is ready to confront the girl who bullied him so many years ago and humiliate her at last. But will revenge be as sweet as he thought?

First Impressions: So going off the premise alone, this show seemed like it would be a bit too mean spirited for my blood, and the first episode more or less cemented those fears. Fat shaming in and off itself is a tired trope and one that anime never does particular well and this pretty much continues the trend. Neither the heroine or the protagonist come off as endearing in any respect since the former is basically a jerk and the latter is just faking any form of kindness. The fact that we’re supposed to on some level, root for him giving her comeuppance by crushing her feelings just makes it all the worse, and while it’ll obviously go through a more traditional romance route at some point, there really isn’t anything here to convince me it’s worth sticking around to see how that turns out. Mean spirited comedies only ever really work if said meanness can also be pointed towards itself, and this seems way too self-indulgent for that so I’m not sure what the appeal here is supposed to be. I guess if you’re just attracted to rom-coms in general, something here might click with you, but for me it’s a total pass.

Rating: Bad

 

Saga of Tanya the Evil

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Synopsis: It is June of the year CE 1923. A young girl with blond hair and blue eyes, Tanya Degurechaff, has entered the final curriculum of the Imperial Military Academy and is training at the third patrol line in the northern military district, the Norden Theater, as part of her service to the force. Her training, the first step toward a brilliant career as an aviation mage, should have gone off without a hitch… but things took an unexpected turn.

First Impressions: This was another series that I was aware of soley by it’s absurd premise, but unlike Masamune-kun this one seemed like it had the potential to be entertaining. The first episode is pretty much a solid achievement in that respect as it does a solid job of establishing itself as a war drama with fantasy elements. Those fantasy elements in particular get some time to in the premiere, and I really like its sense of presentation. This is the first series helmed by the bizarrely named Studio NUT but aside from some awkward CG in the beginning, you’d never know it, as it’s a strong looking production, and there’s some solid combat sequences thrown into mix. As for the story itself though, it feels very much reminscent of last season’s Izetta: The Last Witch and while that one also had a pretty solid start it eventually devolved when the writer’s usual bad habits sunk in. This is a somewhat edgier take on that setting, so between that and our protagonist being rather…twisted it’s hard to say whether or not it’ll suffer the same fate (though I suppose if we can avoid having Tanya and her subordinate getting into wacky fanservice hijinks we should be alright). Still, while I’m feeling a bit cautious, there’s a lot to like about this premiere, and I’m willing to take a gamble on it

Rating: Great

 

Fuuka

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Synopsis: New meetings always come suddenly! The protagonist, Yuu Haruna, moves into a new town where he meets a somewhat strange girl who doesn’t have a cell phone. The girl, Fuuka, seems to have a strange allure that draws people to her, very much like a summer breeze. Looks like Yuu has been caught up in one wild love story!

First Impressions: So full confession here: I’ve actually read a fair chunk of the manga for this one (mostly as a result of boredom on a quite morning off), so I came into this pretty aware of what it currently is and where it’s inevitably heading. What it currently is, is a fairly by-the-numbers fanservice romance show, with almost all of the usual tropes that implies, meaning that whether or not you can get through these first two episodes (they must really be a hurry to get to the actual show) depends on your tolerance for that sort of thing. Where it’s headed though is a bit more…interesting to say the least, and given that this is a series made by the same guy behind the polarizing romance shows Suzuka and A Town Where You Live, it’ll certainly be something to see the reactions when it gets there. As such I’m more or less in it for that reason as weird as it sounds, and while I normally don’t like to be this coy about things, saying anymore would probably hamper the experience for better or worse. At any rate I’m pretty much on board this train till we get to “twist” but as for anyone else, I guess it’s up to your level of curiosity

Rating: Just Here For The Twist

 

Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel

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Synopsis: Goryoukan Academy is a new private senior/junior high school for girls with a vast downtown campus. This highly popular school has “another face” — a secret hidden side. It organizes and trains the special unit Fifth Force to protect the world from invisible supernatural entities known as “Oburi” that are devouring the world. A team of five trained with powers against the Oburi is to be chosen from the student body to perform missions. A new team leader has been appointed to assemble the five students.

First Impressions: Well I wasn’t really expecting too much out of this one as I came into it mostly expecting it to be something of a fanservice/action show hyrid. What I got instead was something more akin to a gender reversed version of last season’s Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru where it’s a cute girls doing cute things type deal with some action stuff mixed in and a generic fantasy plot. Unforunently the former is 100% not my thing under most circumstances, and the latter didn’t offer nearly enough background details or anything else of interest to compensate. This left me feeling rather bored throughout and ultimately just waiting for the episode to end. As a positive it has some rock-solid production values, from it’s animation to it’s camerawork, and the few bits of action we do get look pretty cool, but sadly it doesn’t change the fact that there wasn’t really anything here of substance for me, and while I imagine this show’ll probably have it’s audience, I probably wouldn’t rank among them.

Rating: Bad

 

Seiren

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Synopsis: Shoichi Kamita is an ordinary high school boy, who is faced with the university entrance exam and worried about his future. This campus romantic comedy, “Seiren”, which means honest in Japanese, depicts his pure relationship with three different heroines. Each story is the unique and mutual memory between him and the heroine.

First Impressions: It’s been a while since I’ve heard of one of these alternate universe rom-com stories, featuring a protagonist romancing a different girl across several different takes, but I’ve always found the idea to be potentially interesting. Still I’d be lying if I said I had any high expectations and what we got in this first episode is more or less what I expected. Everything here is fairly light from the writing to the minimal fanservice, which means it’s more or less accessible to audiences of both genders and seems relatively harmless, but also not terribly interesting. Depending on how far it takes each individual story it’s possible at least one could amount to something notable but for now my expectations aren’t too high and I don’t see too much indication that it’ll rise above  being fluffy genre fare. Compared to Fuuka, though this at least feels a bit less rote, and all of it was inoffensive enough that I could maybe see myself tuning for more if my schedule isn’t swamped for this season (which doesn’t seem too likely for the moment).

Rating: Decent

 

Interviews with Monster Girls

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Synopsis: Monsters of legend walk among us, going by the name “demi-humans.” Ever since he’s discovered the “demis,” one young man has become obsessed with them. So when he gets a job as a teacher at a high school for demi-girls, it’s a dream come true! But these demis, who include a rambunctious vampire, a bashful headless girl, and a succubus, have all the problems normal teenagers have, on top of their supernatural conditions. How to handle a classroom full of them?!

First Impressions: Monster girls are a tired enough premise from anime at this point, that I usually try to ignore them unless there’s something else that sticks out. However, Summer 2015’s Monster Musume turned out to be a lot of fun, despite it’s over the top nature, and it managed to make me feel a bit more open about what could be done with them. All that said, this is about as far south of that show as you can get, as instead of being a crazy fanservice harem show, this is much more of a chill slice-of-life thing that happens to be centered around monster girls. These kinds of shows can be a bit hit or miss for me, but I really liked this one as the girls all feel pretty endearing so far, and it’s kind of refreshing having an adult protagonist for this kind of story. While a lot of the show’s premise seems like it could easily veer into harem show territory, everything here seems perfectly harmless, and the relationship between the protagonist and his monster girl students manages to avoid any serious suggestions of future creepiness. It’s brief pokes at general monster lore are also pretty nice, if not particularly notable, and between that and the rest of it’s atmosphere it looks like it’ll be a nice thing to watch on quiet Saturday afternoons. I’m in.

Rating: Good

Toon Talk- The Best of Anime in 2016

Well it’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally reached the end of 2016. It’s been a very…negative year to say the least in regards to world events and celebrity deaths (and I’m more than a little concerned about if we’ll be able to survive that first one), but it’s been a pretty alright year for Japanese cartoons, and a fair amount of solid stuff managed to make it’s way down the pipeline. So for now let’s forget about all the bad stuff, and take a look at some of the best that 2016 had to offer in the world of anime.


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This category goes to things that aren’t exactly show specific, but nevertheless wanted to point out. That includes theme songs, characters and stuff related to English dubs. Anyway let’s get started:

Best Anime Opening– 99 by Mob Choir (Mob Psycho 100)

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It’s been a fairly solid year for anime openings, and while there hasn’t been an abundance of standouts, there’s always been at least a few each season that managed to leave a mark. For me though, none have left as big an impression on me as Mob Psycho’s. To be honest when I first heard this song, I really didn’t like it, and thought it was a bit too Engrish-y for me, but the more I heard it every week, the more it stuck with me, and by the time I actually discovered how much some of the lyrics tied into Mob’s coming of age story, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s accompanied by some bombastic visuals as well as some of the most seamless scene transitions I’ve ever seen, making for a spectacle that’s equal parts catchy and breathtaking. 99 may not have gotten off to the best start with me, but it’s stuck with me more than any other opener I’ve heard this year, and even if you don’t care for the song itself, it’s hard to deny just how well executed of a 90-second music video it is.

Honorable Mentions: History Maker by Dean Fujioka (Yuri on Ice), The Day by Porno Graffiti (My Hero Academia), Great Days by Karen Aoki and Daisuke Hasegawa (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable)

 

Best Male Character– Yoshikage Kira (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable)

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I could probably think of more compelling male characters if I wanted, but none have proven to be as consistently entertaining as Kira. For parts 1-3 of Jojo’s, Dio was pretty much THE villain, and while the Pillar Men were fun in their own right, there was no getting past the pure ham that comprised most of Dio’s evil antics. Amazingly though, what makes Kira such an interesting villain, is that in a lot of ways he’s almost Dio’s total opposite. He doesn’t particularly engage in ham (or what constitutes as ham by Jojo’s standards) and instead opts for a more pragmatic approach to his villainy, and his humble goals of just wanting to live a quiet life, strike an interesting contrast to the usual villain goals of world domination or power. Most of all, he’s a villain that actually progresses in becoming stronger, much in the same way you’d generally expect the heroes to, and by the time he’s managed to work his way towards becoming a truly horrifying threat, it’s as shocking to the audience as it is to the heroes. This shift in expectations was enough to really make Kira stand out as a villain, and while he’ll probably never be as beloved as Dio, I found him to be just as fun.

Honorable Mentions: Yuri Katsuki (Yuri on Ice), Mob (Mob Psycho 100), Izuku Midoriya (My Hero Academia)

 

Best Female Character– Tsumugi Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

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Again, I could probably come up with someone better if I tried but gosh darn it, I really want to give this one to the adorable 4 year old. Portraying kids as well…kids has always been a challenge for most forms of media and the same goes for anime. The last time anime notably managed to get it right was with Naru from Barakamon, and while I found her endearing, I didn’t quite see her as the soul of the show in the same way that many others did. Here though, the stage really belongs to Tsumugi, and her infectious nature really helps in keeping Sweetness and Lightning consistently heartwarming. She really feels like an actual little kid from her curiosity about the things around her, to spontaneous tantrums that result from the tiniest problems, and all of those little quirks help in making her an absolute delight to watch. For all of that though, the real reason she’s topped the list for me is that her cute expressions managed to kill me every episode. Like seriously it should be illegal to make something this adorable *dies*

Honorable Mentions: Kayo Hinazuki (Erased), Nico Niyama (Kiznaiver), Asuka Tanaka (Sound!! Euphonium 2)

 

Best English Dub– Your Lie in April

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I already talked about this one in my 25 Days of Dubs list so I won’t go too much into it, but this dub was a real standout. Patrick Seitz may not direct stuff often, but when he does, he really knows how to deliver. Everything from the direction to the scriptwriting works extremely well, and they’re matched by some equally great performances. Max Mittleman’s Kousei does a fantastic job at selling the character’s depression, and Erica Lindbeck’s Kaori works just as well, with the two playing off each other pretty well. The rest of the actors are strong too, and it’s a super-solid effort from top to bottom, as each of them manage to pull off the hefty amount of turmoil displayed throughout the series. There’s been some other solid dubs this year, but this one was easily the best of the bunch, and if you haven’t given it a peek yet I highly recommend it.

Honorable Mentions: Rage of Bahamut, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

 

Best English Voice Actor– Max Mittleman

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While things managed to pick up a bit towards the end, this has been a fairly lukewarm year for dubs, and while there’s been some good individual performances, I haven’t seen much in the way of actors consistently hitting all the right marks. Of course there’s always an exception and this year that crown goes to Max Mittleman. While he’s only snagged two lead roles this year (and one is much more widely recognized than the other) his work on both proved to be excellent, with his aforementioned Kousei managing to standout as a very emotional performance, while his Saitama proved to be a lot more deadpan and comedic than I ever expected from him. Both roles showed that he has quite a bit of versatility, and his smaller roles this year have managed to work out pretty nicely as well. He’s well on his way to becoming the next JYB or Bryce Papenbrook of the California dub pool, and going by some of the work he’s displayed this year, it’ll likely be a title that’s well earned.

Honorable Mentions: Ricco Fajardo, Jad Saxton, Erika Harlacher

 

Best Japanese Voice Actor– Tasuku Hatanaka

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I’ve been meaning to highlight some of my favorite Japanese VA’s for a while now, so I figure that now is as good a time as any to start. I’d first heard Tasuku Hatanaka as Yuma in Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal and given that Zexal is well…garbage, that didn’t exactly leave me with the best first impression of him. His work as Ushio in Ushio & Tora on the other hand, managed to pull a complete 180 for me, as he did a great job of selling the brash but endearing nature of the character, and his delivery of Ushio’s breakdown during the final arc of the series, really stood out to me as one of the more memorable performances I’d heard on the Japanese side of things this year. His Ikoma from Kabaneri, while less compelling than his Ushio was also a really solid performance, and there’s a very unique quality to his voice that really sticks out amongst the usual stock anime leads, and feels a lot more rough and grounded. I’m glad to see that he’s gradually getting more work these days, and while he may have gotten off to the wrong foot with me, he’s since become a pleasure to listen to.

Honorable Mentions: Megumi Han, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Akira Ishida

 

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This category is centered around genre stuff. Unlike the best series which we’ll get to afterwards, this for things that stood out really well as a genre piece moreso than as an overall series. That said there’s still plenty of good stuff to be found here, so let’s take a look:

 

Best Comedy Series– Keijo!!!!!!

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It’s been a really weak year for anime comedies (though coming off of something as off the wall as Mr. Osomatsu, there was nowhere to go but down) but a couple of good ones managed to work their way through the cracks. Among them was, Keijo which to be perfectly honest I wasn’t even going to watch at first. Almost everything about it’s premise seemed like an excuse for gross fanservice so I was happily surprised when it not only turned out to be a lot cleaner than I expected, but way more entertaining than it had any right to be. Keijo is completely aware of how silly it’s premise is, but rather than simply going the skeevy route, it has fun with it, and treats the “sport” as though it’s legitimate competition with everything from training arcs to “sad” character backstories, which sounds awkward in theory, but the show does a good job of making it all work. What makes it a great comedy though is all in the Keijo battles, as the crazy special attacks are all delightfully ridiculous, and over-the-top, never failing to deliver at least one or two good laughs. It feels strange saying good things about the show centered around bikini butt battles, but it’s certainly earned that much, and while the premise might more than a little off-putting, if you’re looking for a good time, this one’s more than likely to keep you entertained.

Honorable Mentions: Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto, Taboo Tatoo, Dagashi Kashi

 

Best Action Series– Thunderbolt Fantasy

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When I first heard that Gen Urobuchi was doing a show about puppets, I was more than a little disappointed since I was really looking forward to his return to anime scriptwriting. Needless to say I was surprised when said puppet show, not only turned out to be good, but is also quite possibly the single most entertaining thing the man has ever written. The story follows a lot of the usual fantasy beats, but it has some solid execution both in part due to the show’s rich character dialogue as the conversations between the core cast are almost always excellent, and the over the top action action sequences, as the fight scenes have some surprisingly good action choreography and special effects which all make for a real treat. Of course if you’re a fan of the Booch’s usual sense of style there’s still some of that here too as he sprinkles in a few messages regarding tradition and what really lies beneath any “heroic” legacy, but he’s mostly here to entertain this time around, and if you found Fate/Zero or Madoka to be a bit too dour, this one’s a lot lighter in comparison. Urobuchi’s return to scriptwriting may not have happened the exact way I expected, but I’m more than happy with what we actually ended up getting, and I’m glad that there’s more of it coming our way in the future.

Honorable Mentions: Mob Psycho 100, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Diamond is Unbreakable, My Hero Academia

 

Best Drama Series– Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

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It always feels a bit pretentious to say that something is “for adults”, but there’s really no other way to accurately describe this one. The series is a slow moving drama, and centered around an artform that’s about as strictly Japanese as it gets, which makes it a tough sell for both younger audiences and anime fans at large, but for all it lacks in broad appeal it makes up for in execution. The tragedy concerning the lives and respective downfalls of Yakumo and Sukeroku is a compelling one and the innate struggles concerning the former’s sexuality and the latter’s sense of identity really helps in painting a picture of what it was like to struggle as an artist during one of the harshest time periods in Japan’s history. I also found myself really getting drawn in to the show’s frequent demonstrations of Rakugo demonstrations, and they did an excellent job of simultaneously showing the insane level of skill required for the craft while also using some of the pieces as solid metaphors for some of the events that were going on around them. As I said before though it’s a very slow moving series, and I’m not really surprised at how much it flew by the radar for most people, but for me it was easily the most moving anime drama to come out this year, and one of it’s best shows in general.

Honorable Mentions: Yuri on Ice, Orange, Sound!! Euphonium s2

 

best-of-2016

And now we’ve finally arrived at the best series for the year. You may notice that I have two series listed here instead of one, but that’s because I’ve picked the best based on two sub-categories: best adaption and best original work. While both adaptions and original projects both carry the intent to pick up an audience, they’re generally trying to accomplish different things as an adaption has to be a good piece of entertainment while maintaining the strengths of it’s source material where as an original work needs to stand completely on it’s own two feet and draw in a crowd on it’s own merits. As such I feel it’s only appropriate to bring up which two series did the best at tackling those things so without any further ado, here they are:

 

Best Anime Series (Adaption)– Mob Psycho 100

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One-Punch Man was one of the biggest mainstream anime successes in recent memory, and as a series by the same author, Mob Psycho 100 had some big shoes to fill. Fortunately the team of animators at BONES and director Yuzuru Tachikawa of Death Parade fame were up to the task and delivered on an adaption that not only went toe to toe with it’s predecessor, but for me, exceeded it. As an adaption one of the biggest difficulties concerning this series was whether or not to stick to the original author, ONE’s, crude artstyle considering that One-Punch Man did not. However Tachikawa and co. made the decision to stick to that style, and while it might have cost the show the opportunity to enjoy the same level of mainstream success as it’s sister series, it gave the animators free reign to go all out with the show’s art design, making for one of the most impressively animated shows of the last decade, and giving it a unique visual aesthetic that really stands out from just about any other anime made in the last few years.

Of course while the show’s visuals are part of it’s appeal, the real heart lies in it’s storytelling, and it’s portrayal of Mob’s journey through adolescence. A lot of Mob’s issues concerning his abilities and his humbled attitude, seem reminiscent of Saitama from OPM at first glance, but it quickly becomes clear that his issues are less about his overwhelming talent causing him to hit wall, and more learning to deal with the reality that his abilities alone won’t get him on a fast track through life. It’s not a gigantic shift in perspective, but it’s enough of one to make Mob’s story his own, and he’s joined by a fun cast of supporting characters, all of whom manage to do a good job of standing out on their own. Especially Reigen, who managed to go from semi-annoying comic relief in the show’s early episodes, to it’s moral center and easily the best written character. All in all, Mob Psycho turned out to be a fantastic ride, and while it may not have been able to step out of the shadow of OPM’s popularity, it was certainly able to shine on it’s own as a stellar series.

Honorable Mentions: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Sweetness and Lightning

 

Best Anime Series (Original)– Yuri!! on Ice

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So before this series even began, I was already pretty sure I’d like it. Sayo Yamamoto is a director with a lot of style, and her work on Michiko and Hatchin really won me over with it’s flare and strong feminist commentary. What I wasn’t expecting though, was exactly how much I’d end up digging this show, and I sure as heck wasn’t expecting so much of the anime fandom to latch onto it that it’s become the biggest mainstream success of the year. In a lot of ways though, it’s kind of fitting that this show would end up becoming so widely beloved, because love itself is what really lies at the core of the series.

Yuri on Ice is about love, and love in various forms. Familial love, sexual love, and most of all, being able to love yourself, as told through Yuri’s journey of self-discovery and his realization of the significance behind the various relationships that surround him. What’s really impressive is that none of this is every explicitly stated through the usual hamfisted means we’ve come to expect from most anime, and Yuri’s coming to terms with these feelings comes off in very much the same way you’d expect of someone his age in real life. Although, as is widely known by this point, one of the biggest highlights of this show lies in Yuri’s relationship with Victor, and the fact that their romance is portrayed in a way that’s just blatant enough that any denial of their sexuality would be delusional, while also having enough subtly and nuance to feel like a genuine relationship between two adults rather than the usual “will they or won’t they?” antics of anime, and I feel as though it’d mostly draw the same kind of reaction from me even if one of them was a woman.

The show isn’t without it’s problems of course, as it mildly suffers from some heavy repetition in it’s latter half, and the overambitious nature of the production in regards to animating every one of it’s figure skating scenes, leads to some serious woes. Ultimately though, these issues feel like minor gripes in comparison to everything else it achieves and between it’s stellar soundtrack and fun cast of characters, it’s hard not to get lost in the magic of everything it’s attempting to do. Yuri on Ice is by no means a perfect show, and if I were grading on consistency alone, Rakugo would probably beat it out as my favorite show this year, but this one spoke to me, and apparently a lot of other people in way that nothing else this year did, and for a show with about as anti-mainstream a premise as gay figure skaters, that’s one heck of an accomplishment.

Honorable Mentions: Thunderbolt Fantasy, 91 Days, Flip Flappers


And that’s it for me this year. A big thank you to everyone for reading my crappy little blog, and while it’s hard to say exactly what the future will bring for next year, I plan to keep writing as much as possible, and I’m looking forward to pumping out more work. Until then, have a happy new year, and stay animated.

The Sounds of Dubbing- 25 Days of Dubs (#5-1)

25days

In honor of the holiday season I’m counting down a list of my 25 favorite dubs of all time between December 1st and Christmas. I’ll be adding a new entry each day so be sure to check back for my thoughts on each dub as we make our way through December.  To keep things simple my criteria for these is that they have to be from a TV anime or OVA since including movies would make things a bit convoluted, and it’s being kept strictly to things I’ve actually seen so certain “classics” like Haruhi or the Berserk 1999 dub aren’t gonna make the cut since I have yet to actually get around to them. With all that said, enjoy ^_^

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet 


 

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ADR Director(s): Kevin Seymour (Code Geass, Akira), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Naruto, Digimon Tamers)

ADR Script: Marc Handler (FLCL, Code Geass)

Recorded at: Animaze (Manga Entertainment)

Synopsis: It is the year 2029, and as many rush to embrace the changes that cybernetic technology bring to mankind, the seedier side of humanity is even quicker to take advantage of it. This series follows Public Peace Section 9, a government organization that plays behind the scenes to stop the worst of these criminals. Join Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team as they take you through an incredibly vivid world filled with plots of such depth and intrigue as is seldom seen.

Thoughts: Ghost in the Shell has endured as one of the most iconic sci-fi franchises in anime, if not media in general, and there’s been a variety of iterations over the years. Out of all of them though, the Stand Alone Complex TV series stands at the head of the pack, and so it’s quite fitting that it also has the best dub out of the franchise. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s performance as Motoko is almost as iconic as the character herself, and while there’s been many an interpretation of her, none have come close to capturing the level of charisma and authority of McGlynn’s, and for me at least, hers is the definitive version.

The same pretty much goes for the rest of the cast as well. Richard Epcar’s (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusader’s Joseph, Bleach’s Zangetsu) Batou is an equally memorable performance and so much so that the actor himself has gone out of his way to voice the character across various incarnations of the franchise, while some of the other Section 9 cast members like Crispin Freeman as Togusa and William Knight (Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan’s Nurahiyon, Naruto’s Danzo) as Chief Aramaki brought a level of energy those characters that other dubs in the franchise haven’t come close to imitating. It’s just a really strong dub in general, and the combination of McGlynn and Kevin Seymour’s super strong directorial work here really helps to add some polish to the show’s stellar cast. GiTS is a franchise that will likely go on for years to come, but as far as Stand Alone Complex as it’s dub are concerned, both stand in a league of their own.

 

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ADR Director(s): Mike McFarland (Blood Blockade Battlefront), Colleen Clinkenbeard (My Hero Academia, Yona of the Dawn)

ADR Script: Jared Hedges (Dragonball Z, Yu-Yu Hakusho)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: Once upon a time, two brothers passed the happy days of their childhood by studying alchemy, which is governed by the equal transfer principle: an eye for an eye — you can’t get more than you give. But these brothers tried to defy that law, and a horrific accident resulted. Now, the older brother, Edward, is called the Full Metal Alchemist because of his metal limbs, and the younger, Alphonse, is a soul without a body, trapped within the confines of an automaton. Together they search for the power to restore themselves, to find the lives they lost so long ago…

Thoughts: Going off of one of my earlier entries, if Yu-Yu Hakusho is the dub that helped to turn Funimation’s reputation around, then Fullmetal Alchemist is the one that firmly cemented it. When FMA first made the anime scene it was a gigantic phenomeon, and there was a lot riding on Funimation getting the dub right. Fortunately they managed to meet those expectations and then some, making for one of the most iconic anime dubs to ever hit the market. While Vic Mignogna’s (Ouran High School Host Club’s Tamaki, Level E’s Prince Baka) Edward might not be quite as strong as Romi Park’s (but like I mentioned in an earlier entry, Romi Park’s in a class of her own so that’s not much of an insult) but it’s still an extremely solid performance, and the rest of the cast more than compensates. Aaron Dismuke (Blood Blockade Battlefront’s Leo, Corpse Princess’s Ouri) and Maxey Whitehead (Dimension W’s Elizabeth, Bacanno’s Czeslaw) do great work as Alphose in both incarnations of the franchise while the notable mainstays like Travis Willingham as Colonel Mustang and Laura Bailey (Soul Eater’s Maka, Glitter Force’s Emily) as Lust were roles so well performed that they pretty much helped in propelling those actors to stardom.

Both versions of the series feature top-shelf talent, from Chris Patton (Akame ga Kill’s Run, Black Cat’s Creed) to Kent Williams (Yu-Yu Hakusho’s Narrator, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple’s Akisame) and even Troy Baker (Naruto’s Pain, Code Geass’s Schnitzel), with both also benefiting from a solid dub script and excellent voice direction, helping to capture so much of the humanity and drama that made the series so beloved in the first place. Funimation’s put out a lot of strong dubs over the years, but this is easily their best work, and after having delivered on such high expectations, it’s easy to see how they’ve gained so much goodwill.

 

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ADR Director: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn

ADR Script: Marc Handler

Recorded at: Animaze (Bandai Entertainment)

Synopsis: Follow interstellar bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black as they scour the galaxy for criminals with prices on their heads. Hoping to escape their past, they live on the spaceship Bebop, but it’s a dangerous business and old enemies don’t forget easily. Allies come from unlikely sources, however, as they find comrades in the beautiful swindler Faye Valentine, the genius child hacker Ed and the genetically engineered ‘data dog’ Ein. Will they be able to help each other though their respective struggles, or is their fate really inevitable?

Thoughts: Well it was pretty much a matter of where not if Bebop would spring up on my list, but that pretty much speaks to how influential both the show and its dub were to the western anime market at large. While there’s a few more decent dubs from the yesteryears of anime than is given credit for, for the most part, dubs were once considered something of an afterthought and weren’t taken nearly as seriously as they are today. However Bebop managed to change things for the better by bringing out a level of quality unlike any of the other dubs from its time, and even some dubs today, setting a golden standard for future works for to follow. There’s not much I can say about the cast that hasn’t been said already, but it really is difficult to understate the lead performances in this show as his Spike Spiegal is what helped to cement Steve Blum’s reputation as one of the best VAs in the business and he’s joined by Beau Billingsea (Digimon Adventure’s Ogremon, Gungrave’s Bear Walken), Wendee Lee (Bleach’s Yoruichi, Digimon Adventure’s T.K.) and Melissa Fahn (Digimon Tamers’s Rika, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works’s Rider), with the latter two having become voice acting staples in their own right, and all of them demonstrating some of their best work in this series.

The performances here all carry a very natural quality to them that very few dubs have been able to imitate, and everything from the show’s zaniest antics to its most dramatic stakes all come across as genuine and the cast members rarely miss a beat. It also serves as another example of where being flexible in the translation for the dub script can be to the dub’s benefit, as much of the dialogue here is refined to sound smoother in English and just about all of it works. Most significant of all though, is Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s voice direction for the series, as she manages to bring out the best from nearly all the actors involved and the end result is incredibly smooth pretty much all across the board. From great casting, to great scripting to great voice direction, Bebop more or less paved the way for anime dubs, and while that’s been slowly taken for granted over time, it’s also something that should never be forgotten.

 

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ADR Director(s): Jamie Simone (Afro Samurai, Only Yesterday), Suzanne Goldfish (Sailor Moon, K: The Animation)

ADR Script: Jamie Simone, Liam O’ Brien(Naruto, Gun x Sword), Ardwright Chamberlain (Digimon Adventure, Naruto), Sam Regal (Tweeny Witches, Megaman Starforce)

Recorded at: Studiopolis (Viz Media)

Synopsis: In Sternbuild City, corporate logos not only cover billboards, but also the costumes of the super-powered heroes that act as its protectors. Veteran and newcomer warriors of justice alike compete in a reality TV show that offers points for apprehending criminals while giving champions’ sponsors a chance to promote their brand. When the low-ranking Wild Tiger loses his backing after a string of outrageous, botched rescues, he finds himself paired with an up-and-coming spotlight-seeker called Barnaby. But with their wildly different personalities, will the pair be able to save their beloved Sternbuild City and win the game show, or will their constant tension be the undoing of the world’s first hero team?

Thoughts: Tiger and Bunny was one of my favorite shows of the last decade, and one that was filled to the brim with a very western style of flavor. It pretty much goes without saying that I was really looking to its dub, and the end result both met and exceeded those expectations. Viz Media and Studiopolis managed to assemble an all-star cast for this dub, featuring the likes of anime regulars like Jamieson Price (Bleach‘s Zangetsu, Fate/Zero‘s Rider), Kari Walgren (Durarara‘s Celty, Fate/Zero‘s Saber) and Micheal Sinternklass (Bakuman‘s Mashiro, Urusei Yatsura‘s Ataru), to names that are a lot harder to come by these days like Daran Norris (Digimon Frontier‘s Mercurymon, Fist of the North Star‘s Rei), Jason Spinsak (Zatch Bell‘s Kiyo, Scry-ed‘s Ryuho), and Beau Billingsea, all bringing their A-game to the table and all brought together under Jamie Simone’s rock solid direction. The scripting here is just as noteworthy, as it stands as what is probably my go-to example of how to do liberal translations without distorting the original intent of the story. Almost every bit of dialogue that’s changed here is done so for the specific purpose of sounding more like native English, and it both allows for a bit more fun with some of the comedic scenes, while also allowing some of the heavier character interactions to flow more naturally, accomplishing pretty much everything a good translation is supposed to do.

For all that though, the dub wouldn’t be nearly as strong without its two lead actors and what they bring to the table. While Wally Wingert’s (Bleach‘s Renji, Zatch Bell‘s Brago) Kotetsu sounds a bit younger compared to Hiroaki Hirata’s performance, it still hits just as strong, and he does a fine job of playing the washed-up old dork. Similarly Yuri Lowenthal’s (Persona 4: The Animation‘s Yosuke, Naruto‘s Sasuke) performance as Barnaby also hits all the right notes, and gave him an opportunity to display something a bit more on the natural side compared to some of his other work around that time, while also making good use of his more melodramatic tendencies for the character’s harsher scenes. Both performances are great and the chemistry between them always sounds genuine, making all their interactions a blast to watch. All in all this dub is really good at pretty much everything it does, and so much so that Sunrise actually managed to have it air on TV in Japan as an example of what good English dubs are really capable of. It’s hard to get much more praiseworthy than that, and while this dub may not have quite gotten the level of attention it needed to (it really needed to hit the US airwaves rather than Japan’s), for me it’s easily the best one of the last five years, and one of the finest examples of dubs in general.

 

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ADR Director: Patrick Seitz (Your Lie in April, Blazblue: Alter Memory)

ADR Script: Patrick Seitz, Taliesen Jaffe (Ergo Proxy, Read or Die), Micheal Sorich (Digimon Adventure 02, Digimon Tamers)

Recorded at: Salami Studios (Viz Media)

Synopsis: Dr Kenzo Tenma is a genius surgeon working in post-Cold War Germany who has a bright future ahead of him. He is admired by his colleagues, loved by his patients, and due to marry his boss’ daughter, the beautiful Eva Heinemann. One day, when two patients in desperate need of emergency surgery are wheeled into his hospital, Tenma faces a terrible choice of saving the orphaned boy who came first or the mayor of Düsseldorf, whose recovery would raise the hospital’s profile and boost his own career. Against the demands of his superior, Tenma does what he believes is right and saves the child. However, his decision not only damages his prospects, but unleashes a chain of events so horrific that it might have come from the depths of his worst nightmares. Laden with guilt, Tenma begins a journey across Germany in search of a formidable young man who will challenge his morals, his love for life, and his very sanity.

Thoughts: When I was thinking about what would qualify as the strongest dub I’ve seen, I knew right away I had to go for something featuring a large ensemble cast. While there’s almost always instances of individual performances sticking out among the crowd in shows, it’s the stuff that gives focus to the largest amount of characters possible that really tests the quality of how well a series is acted as a whole and for me, I can think of no better example than Monster. Naoki Urasawa’s masterpiece is a work that truly defines what it means to be human, and at what point someone can no longer be redeemed. As such it required a certain touch in order to best convey those themes, and Patrick Seitz’s proved to be the perfect match. His vocal direction here is strong, bringing out the best from virtually all the actors involved, making it sound less like an anime dub and more like a live-action drama, with every display of emotion and drama coming off as genuine and powerful.

The actors themselves of course, are where this dub truly shines, and despite the massive cast assembled of the course of the show’s 75 episode run, almost all of them manage to be distinct and memorable. Performances like Liam O’ Brien’s Johan and Karen Strassman’s  (Code Geass‘s Kallen, Persona 4: The Animation‘s Nanako) Nina do a fantastic job of conveying their respective character arcs and the extent to which their belief in human goodness is tested, while on the other end of the spectrum Keith Silverstein’s (Hunter X Hunter‘s Hisoka, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s Speedwagon) chilling work as Johan manages to sell every ounce of the villain’s inhumanity and sounds unsettlingly creepy at every turn. The rest of the ensemble is stellar too, from Richard Epcar’s Lunge to Tara Platt’s (Buso Renkin‘s Tokiko, Tiger & Bunny’s Agnes) surprisingly strong delivery as the snide Eva, bringing in a performance that sounded a lot more natural than a lot of the other work I’ve seen her in. Honestly the work here is so strong all across the board that it’s hard to choose a standout, but if I had to, the prize would likely go to Patrick Seitz himself as Grimer, with his portrayal of the character’s final scene, standing out as one of the finest performances of acting I’ve seen just not in anime, but media in general. While I can certainly think of more fun examples of a good ensemble cast, to me the real test is how well the actors can express the various emotions of their characters, and as far as that goes, this is the one that really stands above the rest.


And that’s it for my favorite dubs. Thanks to everyone for reading and I hope you enjoy the rest of the holiday season. I’ll be back next week with my Best of 2016 highlights for anime but until then, stay animated.

<- #10-6

The Sounds of Dubbing- 25 Days of Dubs (#10-6)

25days

In honor of the holiday season I’m counting down a list of my 25 favorite dubs of all time between December 1st and Christmas. I’ll be adding a new entry each day so be sure to check back for my thoughts on each dub as we make our way through December.  To keep things simple my criteria for these is that they have to be from a TV anime or OVA since including movies would make things a bit convoluted, and it’s being kept strictly to things I’ve actually seen so certain “classics” like Haruhi or the Berserk 1999 dub aren’t gonna make the cut since I have yet to actually get around to them. With all that said, enjoy ^_^

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet 


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ADR Director/Script: Alex von David (Blue Exorcist, Kill la Kill)

Recorded at: Bang Zoom! Entertainment (NIS America)

Synopsis: Ryuuji Takasu has an eventful life: his classmates think he’s a delinquent due to his ‘killer’ eyes; his crush Minori seems ever out of reach; and he’s just had an unfortunate encounter with ‘palm-sized Taiga’ – a feisty and dainty wench in his class. With different cleaning habits and tempers, the two clash like night and day; that is, except for the fact that Taiga and Ryuuji have crushes on the other’s good friend! With school rumors abounding, the duo must now work together to play matchmaker for each other. Who will end up with their true love?

Thoughts: For a long time, Toradora was one of those shows I had always meant to get around to watching but for one reason or another never actually did. So when the dub was first announced, and made available on Crunchyroll no less, I was figured it was as good a time as any to check it out. Admittedly I wasn’t expecting too much from the dub initially since while I liked most of the VAs in it, I figured that I knew what they were capable and the same went for Alex von David who I found to be really consistent as a director but not quite what I’d call amazing. Needless to say I was pretty surprised when the dub turned out to not only be good, but downright incredible and it really made going through the series a memorable experience for me.

While I liked Erik Kimerer’s (Accel World’s Haruyuki, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic’s Alibaba) work up to this point, I also found him to be a bit inconsistent at times. However his performance here as Ryuji is easily the best he’s ever done, and also served as a good demonstration that he could do pretty well outside of his more traditionally heroic type casting. I was equally impressed by Christine Marie Cabanos (Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Madoka, Kill la Kill’s Mako) as I honestly wasn’t too big on her up till that point, but she really excels here as Minori and turned in a grade-A performance that I wasn’t even sure she was capable of.

Although while the cast is excellent across the board, the real star of the show here is Cassandra Lee Morris (Yu-Gi-Oh GX‘s Yubel, Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Kyubei) as Taiga, with her performance more or less serving as the heart and soul of the dub. I’m generally not a fan of Taiga’s tsundere-loli archetype (and even less when I know she was originally played by Rie Kugimiya, who while a good actress, has done that character type so many times that they all just kind of blend together for me) but Cassandra Lee Morris does an excellent job of making the character feel genuinely endearing, and does well at serving up both the soft and brash sides of her without going too heavily in either direction. All of these fine performances come together really well under Alex von David’s strong direction, and even among his solid track record, this is by far his best work. This dub was really something of a welcome surprise for me, and while I didn’t expect a whole lot coming in, what I got coming out was enough to easily mark among some of the best work I’ve seen.

 

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ADR Director: James Corrigall (Zoids, Mobile Suit Gundam 00)

ADR Script: Stephen Hedley (The Law of Ueki, Kurozuka)

Recorded at: The Ocean Group (Geneon USA, Funimation)

Synopsis: Rokuro Okajima is a small-time salaryman who is carrying documents for his company, when the ship he’s traveling on is attacked by pirates. Kidnapped, he discovers to his dismay that his employers’ main concern is to ensure the documents don’t get into the wrong hands, even if it means sending the carrier to the bottom of the sea. Now, with his former life ruined and his kidnappers seeming comparatively friendly, “Rock” decides to join their merry band of mercenaries, and sets out with a new career to the shadier corners of the South China Sea.

Thoughts: Black Lagoon is more or less the anime equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster so it’s not particular surprising that it would sound strong in English, but even keeping that in mind it’s still incredible just how fun it’s dub is. The cast features a variety of crazy and/or sinister performances such as Patricia Drake’s commanding presence as Balalika or Tabitha St. Germain’s (Shakugan no Shana’s Shana, Elemental Gelade’s Aljenna) Roberta perfectly demonstrating how terrifying she can be beneath her initially unassuming exterior.

Of course the real prize here goes to the two leads. Brad Swaile (Dragon Drive’s Reiji, Mobile Suit Gundam’s Amuro) does a solid job of portraying Rock’s gradual transformation from an empathetic optimist to a manipulative cyni and delivers on a very grounded performance, even among a cast of hams. Maryke Hendrikse’s (.hack//Roots‘s Tabby, Mobile Suit Gundam 00‘s Wang Liu Mei) Revy on the other hand, is pure unadulterated fun almost every time she’s on screen selling every ounce of her perpetual rage and insanity, while also knowing when to dial things down for her more introspective moments. The dub also benefits from a really fun script as it opts to dial up the amount of swearing to eleven and while that sounds like a bad idea on paper, it’s exactly what something as action movie-esque as Black Lagoon needed and it really helps to add to the overall aesthetic of the series. While I’ve watched a lot of fun dubs over the year, very few have compared to Black Lagoon in that department, and even though it’s been close to a decade since I first listened to it, it’s never failed to put a smile on my face every time I come back for another look.

 

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ADR Director: Kevin Seymour (Akira, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)

ADR Script: Liam O’ Brien (Naruto, Gun x Sword), Marc Handler (FLCL, Tenchi in Tokyo), Mary Claypool (El Hazard, Hyper Doll)

Recorded at: Animaze (Bandai Entertaiment)

Synopsis: In 2010, the Britannian Empire enslaved Japan using powerful mecha known as Knightmares; in the aftermath Japan was renamed Area 11, and its people began a hard and terrible existence. Lelouch, a Britannian student living in Area 11, has grown up hating the Empire and everything it stands for. One day, in the middle of a terrorist attack, Lelouch meets a mysterious girl who grants him the ability to control minds. Can he use his new power to fight for freedom, or will his hatred twist his good intentions into mindless acts of vengeance?

Thoughts: This was the final dub produced by Animaze and the late Kevin Seymour, and it’s one that really demonstrates the power of the legacy they left behind. Code Geass is a super over-the-top show with super over-the-top voice acting to match so attempting to match that level of energy in English was already set up to be something of a challenge to put off but Kevin Seymour proved he was more than up to the task and assembled an all-star cast of VA’s all elevated by his stellar sense of direction. Trying to match the sheer ham of names like Takahiro Sakurai and god himself, Norio Wakamoto would be a difficult climb for most but Yuri Lowenthal (Naruto’s Sasuke, Hellsing Ultimate’s Pip) and Michael McConnieh (Hunter x Hunter’s Narrator, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans’s Lieutenant Crank) managed to pull it off as Suzaku and Emperor Charles respectively with other big names such as Crispin Freeman (Hellsing Ultimate’s Alucard, Naruto’s Itachi), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Sailor Moon’s Queen Metalica, Naruto’s Kurenai) and Steve Blum (Digimon Tamers’s Guilmon, Naruto’s Orochimaru), filling out the rest of the cast, making for a great experience all across the board.

Once again though, the show really goes to Johnny Yong Bosch’s (Trigun’s Vash, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Johnathan) performance as Lelouch, giving off a level of arrogance and audacity that was unlike anything else he’d done up until that point. It worked so well in fact that it not only matched Jun Fukuyama’s original performance, but in some instances, outright surpassed it for me, and given that the character was originally made with Fukuyama in mind that’s saying a lot. There was clearly a lot of energy going into this dub, and it’s one whose popularity has managed to persist pretty well over the years.  It’s sad knowing that both Animaze and Kevin Seymour are gone, but as a final hurrah, this dub was certainly a good note to go out on.

 

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ADR Director: Karl Willems (Inuyasha, Cardfight Vanguard)

ADR Script: Stephen Hedley, Michelle Clough (My-Otome, Pretty Cure)

Recorded at: The Ocean Group (Viz Media)

Synopsis: Have you ever felt like the world would be a better place if certain people weren’t around? Such grim daydreams might occur when watching the dismal daily news, but on one fateful day, Light Yagami finds that these daydreams can become reality. By pure happenstance, he comes across a black notebook entitled “Death Note”, whose text within states that whoever’s name is written on its pages will die. With the aid of the death god Ryuk, Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of its corruption, ushering in a new era of purity one death at a time. But as Ryuk foretells, Light’s actions will not go unchallenged…

Thoughts: Death Note was the other super-ham show of decade next to Code Geass, and between the two it’s enjoyed a bit more in the way of popularity in the west. This is large in part due to its strong dub, and it’s one that’s become nearly as memorable as the show itself. Mamoru Miyano is one of the hammiest actors in the Japanese side of voice acting no matter what he’s in so going head to head with that is no easy feat but Brad Swaile’s Light is every bit as wicked and over the top as Miyano’s, making for a delightful spectacle across the show’s 37 episode run. Alessandro Juliani’s (Ranma ½’s Prince Toma) L on the other hand, is a pretty notable departure from Kappei Yamaguchi’s performance since it sounds notably more mature, but it works well and he manages to capture all of the character’s quirks and childish tendencies. Brian Drummond’s (Black Lagoon’s Benny, Dragon Drive’s Mahiru) Ryuk works pretty similarly in that respect, as it’s a lot raspier than Shidou Nakamura’s but it’s just as sinister and the rest of the cast is strong too, with all of the performances proving to be a perfect match to their Japanese counterparts. I honestly had a hard time deciding whether or not to place this one above Code Geass, but I think this dub edges out just a little bit more in the ham factor, and the fact that Brad Swaile was able to deliver lines as ridiculous as “I’ll take a potato chip and eat it” without missing a beat is a feat unto itself. As a whole, Ocean’s track record is a bit mixed when it comes to their dub output, but this one is by far their strongest effort, and one that’s become something of a classic for me.

 

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ADR Director: Justin Cook (Fruits Basket, Kiddy Grade)

ADR Script:  Jared Hedges (Fullmetal Alchemist, Gangsta)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: Yusuke Urameshi was a normal middle school punk until he was hit and killed by a car, while saving a child. His selfless action earned him the right to gain his life back and serve as a detective of the spirit world, keeping the world of the living safe from a myriad of demons. But being reborn has its price: Yusuke must hatch a spirit beast that will develop according to his actions, and if he doesn’t act in a good and honest manner, it will eat his soul. Can Yusuke protect the human and spirit worlds and still manage to save himself in the process?

Thoughts: While Funimation currently enjoys a mostly well-deserved reputation as one of the best in the business when it comes to anime dubs, this wasn’t always the case. In fact for a lot of their earlier years, they were despised much in the same vein as 4Kids for their work on the old Dragonball Z dub, and the numerous problems that came with it. However there was one dub that managed to help turn their reputation around, and that distinction belongs to Yu Yu Hakusho. Like the Dragonball Z dub of old, there’s a lot of liberties regarding its scripting and it’s distinctly snarkier and more potty-mouthed than its original Japanese counterpart, but unlike with Z, YuYu’s dub actually knew where to draw the line, and never veered too far off course from it’s source material, making for a sharp, energetic script that actually helped to make the show a bit more fun during some of the few slow parts of the series. Of course while the script is fun, the dub cast is even more so, and they’re a blast to watch. Justin Cook’s Yusuke served as one of the most memorable anime performances from my childhood and it one that was constantly filled with attitude as he delivered every bit of the character’s brash personality. Equally memorable was Chris Sabat’s Kuwabara, and while the voice itself is admittedly pretty silly, his actually delivery is really strong, and he manages to make it work, even during the character’s more emotional moments.

The other members of the cast are all strong too, and many of the performances here served as introductions to some of my favorite actors, from minor ones like Ed Blaylock (Fairy Tail‘s Master Jose, One Piece‘s Sengoku  as one Yusuke’s sadistic teachers, to Robert McCollum’s (Psycho-Pass’s Kogami, Drifters‘s Nobunaga) chilling work as Sensui, the latter of which has gone down as one of my favorite villain performances in anime and turned the character himself into one of my favorites as well. While the series is regarded as something of a classic, it’s a shame that it isn’t as well remembered as Funi’s old Z dub because despite being from around the same time period, there’s really no comparison when it comes to their quality, and with how much went into this one, it’s easy to see how this was the one that helped to turn Funi from reviled to beloved.


<- #15-11

The Sounds of Dubbing- 25 Days of Dubs (#15-11)

25days

In honor of the holiday season I’m counting down a list of my 25 favorite dubs of all time between December 1st and Christmas. I’ll be adding a new entry each day so be sure to check back for my thoughts on each dub as we make our way through December.  To keep things simple my criteria for these is that they have to be from a TV anime or OVA since including movies would make things a bit convoluted, and it’s being kept strictly to things I’ve actually seen so certain “classics” like Haruhi or the Berserk 1999 dub aren’t gonna make the cut since I have yet to actually get around to them. With all that said, enjoy ^_^

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet 


 

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ADR Director(s): Lia Sargent (Gatekeepers, The Big O), Joe Romersa (Street Fighter Alpha, Fist of the North Star)

ADR Script: Steve Nattow, Trina Watton

Recorded at: Animaze (Geneon USA)

Synopsis: “Vash, the Stampede” – worth 60 billion dollars to the one who can turn him in. Bounty hunters everywhere are on the lookout for this legendary gunman, not to mention insurance agents Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson, who are tasked with preventing any potential damage that this Vash can cause. But with 60 billion on his head, Vash is not an easy man to find.

Thoughts: The now dead Animaze was once revered as the Holy Grail of anime dubbing studios, and their track record more or less speaks for itself. One of the series that helped cement their reputation was Trigun, and it’s a series whose dub is still pretty well respected to this day. What’s likely the most notable thing about this dub for many is that it’s the one responsible for kickstarting the voice acting career of the now super iconic Johnny Yong Bosch (Bleach’s Ichigo, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Johnathan) and to this day, his Vash still stands as one of his strongest performances. The way he nails both the perpetual goofball and deeply tortured soul that make up both sides of Vash’s personality makes for a powerful performance and it’s easy to see how his work here helped to turn him into such a popular actor. Jeff Nimoy (Digimon Adventure’s Tentomon, Zatch Bell’s Kanchome) also does great work as Vash’s buddy and overall thematic opposite in Wolfwood, and the rest of the cast is strong too (plus it’s worth noting that the now equally iconic Bryce Papenbrook was also in this dub as Young Vash in the flashback episodes), with the majority of the performances holding up really well despite the age and time period of the dub. This is a dub that helped to launch a couple of noteworthy legacies, and while Animaze may be gone, it’s hard to imagine their work on this dub will be forgotten anytime soon.

 

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ADR Director: Taliesen Jaffe (R.O.D-The TV, Nazca)

ADR Script: Taliesen Jaffe, Mike McFarland (One-Punch Man, BECK)

Recorded at: New Generation Pictures (Geneon USA, Funimation)

Synopsis: Alucard is a vampire who works for Hellsing – an organization responsible for hunting down and destroying other vampires. In these dark times, whoever is bitten by a vampire turns into a ghoul — with the exception of Seras Victoria, Alucard’s newly created and appointed apprentice. Now, Seras must serve her master, Alucard and work for Integra Wingates Hellsing. Nefarious vampire activities are being reported throughout England, and it all traces back to the organization named “Millennium”. Will the Hellsing organization, under the command of Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing, be able to prevent a full scale war? Or will the world become a battlefield of destruction?

Thoughts: Crispin Freeman (Naruto’s Itachi, Eureka Seven’s Holland) is one of the most popular and well respected voice actors in the industry, but this wasn’t always the case. Back in the yesteryears of his early work on NY dubs, his track record was less than stellar, and while he did have a couple of highlights, his reputation left much to be desired. However one role of his helped to change that perception, and it belongs to his Alucard in Hellsing. I haven’t seen the original Hellsing TV series (and given that Ultimate is more or less the definitive version I don’t see a need to) but even just going off of his performance in the Ultimate OVAs it’s easy to see why it helped transform him into such an icon as he pretty much chews the scenery every time he’s on screen, and his powerful baritone gives off a sense of presence and menace that makes his Alucard as cool as it is frightening. Even though his voice for Alucard has carried over onto a lot of his other performances this is the one where it clicks the best and it’s really impressive, even by Crispin Freeman’s usual standards.

Of course while the show mostly belongs to Crispin Freeman, the other members of the cast are great too, as the dub features a wide variety of talent from well-known veterans such as Yuri Lowenthal (Gurren Lagann‘s Simon, Bayonetta Bloody Fate’s Luke) and Kari Walgren (Durarara’s Celty, FLCL’s Haruko) to actual British actors like Steve Brand for Father Anderson and Victoria Harwood for Integra (with my personal favorite being Gildarts Jackson’s ultra-hammy performance as The Mahor). Bringing in foreign actors is almost something of a rarity for voice acting in general so seeing it actually applied to a dub really shows how much they went the extra mile on this production. Virtually every second of the dub bleeds cool, and even when the series itself eventually slows down into a series of long-winded monologues the performances still manage to carry on strongly enough to keep things from slogging. It’s easy to see why this one’s so well regarded and for a series with as much over-the-top cool stuff as Hellsing, it’s nice to see it got the dub to match.

 

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ADR Director: Christopher Bevins (Drifters, Jormungand)

ADR Script: Jared Hedges (Dragonball Z, Gangsta)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: Hana is a nine-year-old girl who lives in constant fear of her abusive family; Michiko is a sexy woman who has just done the unthinkable: broken out of the impenetrable Diamandra Penitentiary. After Hana is whisked away by Michiko, who claims to be her mother, the duo sets forth on a high octane ride towards freedom. In the streets of Brazil and aboard Michiko’s motorcycle, Hana and Michiko will look for Hana’s long lost father, try to learn to co-exist and get along together, and stay one step ahead of the police and afro-clad Atsuko.

Thoughts: While Christopher Bevins has been directing at Funi for a long time now, there was also a long time where I found his track record to be inconsistent and for every good dub he put out there’d be one that I found a bit questionable. However there was one work of his that managed to pull a 180 on my opinion of his skills and has since made him one of my favorite directors from that area, and that distinction belongs to Michiko and Hatchin. Between Sayo Yamamoto’s sense of style, and the obvious parallels to works by Shinichiro Watanabe, this was definitely the kind of show that needed a strong dub, and thankfully Bevins delivered. At this point, Monica Rial (Penguindrum’s Ringo, Drifters’s Easy) has been in at least 70% of all the Texas anime dubs ever made, and her work while consistent, is also fairly predictable, but the performance she brought for Michiko is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from her as she delivers every ounce of the character’s gruff, woman-child attitude with finesse, and it’s by far my favorite thing from her. This was also another dub that properly me introduced me to a VA that I’ve since become a fan of as Jad Saxton (Log Horizon’s Akatsuki, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash’s Mary) plays off of Monica Rial really well as Hatchin, and the chemistry between the two really helps to carry the dub. This level of energy carries on through the rest of the cast as well, with the other big standout being Akron Watson’s (Jormungand’s Wilee) Satoshi, as he does a great job selling the villain’s mix of menace and false bravado. It was nice to see Christopher Bevins put out such a strong dub and he’s been continuing to put out solid work ever since.

 

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ADR Director: Tyler Walker (Fairy Tail, Ninja Slayer)

ADR Script: Eric Vale (Baki the Grappler, Basilisk)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: It’s the 1930s, and Mafia groups fight for supremacy in American cities. Young Firo joins the secretive Camorra group; a meek street boy, Jacuzzi, finds himself the leader of a gang of thugs; an alchemist is producing a liquor of immortality, and a homunculus tries to retrieve it; and upbeat thieves Isaac and Miria head to New York after failing to strike gold in California. They ride the novel train, the Flying Pussyfoot, across the continent. However they find themselves embroiled in a ruckus caused by gangs, terrorists, serial killers, and others as multiple stories intertwine and unfold on this fateful ride. All are haunted and hunted by the legendary Rail Tracer…

Thoughts: This is another big ensemble show, but where it’s sister series Durarara falls a bit short regarding it’s dub, this one succeeds. While I like the most of the performances in Durarara, it was easy for them to get lost in the shuffle, and not all of them carried enough presence to make each of the characters distinct. Not so with Bacanno’s dub though, as this one does a much better job at giving each character’s performance a real sense of presence, and there’s rarely a dull moment no matter who’s on screen. From mellow performances like Todd Haberkorn (Fairy Tail’s Natsu, Claymore’s Raki) as Firo to show stealing ham like Bryan Massey (Dragonball’s Oolong, Overlord’s Cocytus) as Ladd Russo or Jerry Jewell (Casshern Sins‘s Dio, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple‘s Odin) as the Rail Tracer, there’s a ton of memorable work in this dub, and it does well in making the most out of every character. It’s helped by some attention to detail regarding both the script and the voice direction doing its best to match the time period of the show, and while the barrage of New York accents could have easily been a distraction, they’re given just the right amount of restraint to work and it helps to give the dub a bit of extra flavor. This dub’s a prime example of how to do ensemble performances right, and given how heavily reliant the show itself is on it’s wide cast of characters, the extra touches here are greatly appreciated.

 

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ADR Director: Christopher R. Sabat (Solty Rei, Speed Grapher)

ADR Script: John Burgmeier (Darker Than Black, Dragonball Z)

Recorded at: OkaTron 5000 (Funimation)

Synopsis: Five years have passed since Goku and his friends defeated Piccolo Jr. and restored peace to the planet. Gohan – Goku’s son – and a variety of good, bad, and morally ambiguous characters are back, and perpetually not ready for action! Aliens, androids, and magicians all hatch evil plots to destroy the world and it’s up to Goku to save the Earth once more – that is, once he and his comrades train plentifully in preparation.  Enemies will become friends and power levels will rise to unimaginable levels, but even with the help of the legendary Dragon Balls and Shen Long will it be enough to save Earth from ultimate destruction?

Thoughts: Dragonball Z is indisputably the most iconic anime series in the west, and many of us grew up watching Funimation’s original dub. However while that dub was often held up through the years as a beloved classic, in truth its quality was frankly…pretty bad. From Saturday morning cartoon style dialogue, to heavy amounts of overacting, the old Z dub just doesn’t hold up all that well, and while I was once among those who defended it against the naysayers who proclaimed it was but a shell of what the series actually is, in hindsight it’s kind of hard to deny they had a point. There enters Dragonball Z Kai, and while this half-hearted attempt at a remake didn’t do a ton to elevate itself over the original anime (well aside from improved pacing up until the Buu Saga) it gave the dub a second lease on life, and this time Funimation made sure not to waste it.

Much of the old cast returns and better than ever with Sean Schemmel’s (Shaman King‘s Amidamaru, Giant Robo‘s Tetsugyu) Goku having improved dramatically after finally managing to capture the spirit of the carefree nature of the character as opposed the more superhero-esque performance of the old dub, while Christopher Sabat’s hammy Vegeta, managed to gain enough nuance to capture every ounce of his prideful attitude without overselling it as much as he did in the old days. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the few major recasts that do happen are pretty much all for the better such as Colleen Clinkenbeard’s (One Piece’s Luffy, Yurikuma Arashi’s Yurika) Gohan sounding much more child-like than Stephanie Nadolny’s did in the old dub, with Chris Ayres’s (Devil May Cry‘s Sid, Gantz‘s Kei) Freeza in particular being the biggest standout, as his pitch-perfect take on the character’s arrogance and gentleman-like facade is a welcome departure from the infamous “evil Grandma” voice that comprised Linda Young’s performance. The scripting here is solid too, and while does include a few of Funimation’s usual liberties, they’re never intrusive enough to distort what’s happening, and it manages to capture the spirit of the Japanese version in a way that the old Z dub never did, making it by far the best translation Funimation’s ever given to the franchise. This was the dub that the diehard Dragonball fans were waiting for and while it might have taken Funimation nearly 15 years to finally get it right, this one proves that it was certainly worth the wait.


<- #20-16                                                                                                                                                                       #10-6 ->

The Sounds of Dubbing- 25 Days Of Dubs (#20-16)

25days

In honor of the holiday season I’m counting down a list of my 25 favorite dubs of all time between December 1st and Christmas. I’ll be adding a new entry each day so be sure to check back for my thoughts on each dub as we make our way through December.  To keep things simple my criteria for these is that they have to be from a TV anime or OVA since including movies would make things a bit convoluted, and it’s being kept strictly to things I’ve actually seen so certain “classics” like Haruhi or the Berserk 1999 dub aren’t gonna make the cut since I have yet to actually get around to them. With all that said, enjoy ^_^

*All series synopsis from Anime Planet 


 

 

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ADR Director: Christopher Sabat (Blue Gender, Case Closed)

ADR Script: Mike McFarland (One Punch Man, Hyperdimension Neptunia), Colleen Clinkenbeard (Moonphase, Samurai 7), Sean Micheal Teague (Case Closed, BECK)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: Twelve years ago, an incident known as “Blast Fall” unleashed major destruction and chaos. Now, years have passed, and mankind has learned to adapt by incorporating cybernetic limbs into its citizens. Roy Revent is a bounty hunter known for his violent acts towards criminals due to the loss of his daughter in Blast Fall; and when a criminal tries to take revenge on Roy, an unknown girl falls from the sky and saves him. She has no memory of who she is, or where she came from. With the help of Miranda, his boss and landlord, he takes in the girl and gives her a name of Solty. What is the real identity of Solty, and what caused Blast Fall?

Thoughts: This is one of Funimation’s lesser known titles from the mid 00’s but it’s one that’s stuck with me over the years and largely due in part to how much I liked dub, or more specifically a certain performance in said dub.  It’s rare for a single performance in a dub to elevate the whole thing for me but Chris Sabat’s Roy Revant stands as one of my favorite roles for him, and for a long time it was my favorite before his Vegeta got better. While Chris Sabat has a pretty remarkable voice range, he tends to lean towards sounding on the gruff side for a lot of his work, and I ran into quite a few situations where I felt it didn’t always work (His Zoro in OP having been my go-to example, although I’ve warmed up to it with time). This however, has always been my go-to exception, as having him play a grumpy middle aged dad not only allowed for his usual sound to actually fit, but also allowed for a chance for him to demonstrate a bit more of his emotional range compared to most of his other work, and it still stands as one of his stronger performances

Though while I’ve gone on and on about Chris Sabat in this show, the rest of the cast works well too as it was the show that first introduced me to Carrie Savage (Fairy Tail’s Lisanna K: The Animation‘s Kukuri, ) in her role as Solty and I’ve enjoyed her work ever since while other Funimation regulars like Colleen Clinkenbeard and Luci Christian (My Hero Academia’s Ochako, Corpse Princess’s Makina) all pop here, bringing their usual brand of solid performances. The show itself on the other hand isn’t anything particularly special but it still holds up fairly well compared to the other GONZO shows of its day, and my somewhat strange appreciation for this dub has kept me coming back to revisit it every now and then. I feel sort of awkward having this dub so high up on my list, and especially when it’s mainly based around my feelings about one performance from it, but it’s still a pretty good one, and if nothing else it’s a nice example of why Chris Sabat is one of the best at what he does.

 

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ADR Director/Script: Patrick Seitz (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Blazblue Alter Memory)

Recorded at: Bang Zoom! Entertainment (Aniplex of America)

Synopsis: Kousei Arima was a genius pianist until his mother’s sudden death took away his ability to play. Each day was dull for Kousei. But, then he meets a violinist named Kaori Miyazono who has an eccentric playing style. His monotonus life was about to change forever.

Thoughts: It feels a weird to include a dub from this year on the list (especially when it hasn’t been a particularly great one for dubs in general until recently) but I was so blown away by it that I felt I had to include it here somewhere. While Patrick Seitz is well regarded for his work as a voice actor and a script writer, he’s not often used as a voice director and it’s a shame too because his track record is consistent enough that he could really stand to be used more in that area. This dub in particular marked his first major anime directing gig in a while (well I guess Blazblue technically counts, but did anyone really watch that show?) but he certainly hasn’t lost his touch as the dub’s direction is downright fantastic, and his doubling as the script writer really helps to emphasize how much work went into this one and it really shows.

This dub served as Max Mittleman’s (Aldnoah Zero’s Inaho, A Lull in the Sea’s Hikari) third leading role in an anime, and while he’ll likely be better remembered this year for landing the role of Saitama in One-Punch-Man, his performance here as Kousei is just as strong if not more so, and he does a wonderful job of portraying the character’s inner turmoil and depression.  Playing opposite him is Erica Lindbeck (Coppelion’s Ibara, Aldnoah Zero’s Yuki) as Kaori, who despite my initial reservations about the casting choice, delivers an equally powerful performance and they’re joined by a strong supporting cast including Erica Mendez (Sailor Moon’s Haruka/Sailor Uranus, Kill la Kill’s Ryuko), Erik Kimerer (Accel World’s Haruyuki, One-Punch Man’s Speed O’ Sound Sonic), Erika Harlacher (Hunter x Hunter’s Kurapika, The Seven Deadly Sins’s Elizabeth) and Wendee Lee (Bleach’s Yoruichi, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Lisa Lisa), with all of them delivering on some stellar work. Patrick Seitz may not direct anime as often as I’d like, but this one’s a great example of what he’s capable of and it easily stands as not only the best dub of the year, but one of my personal favorites.

 

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ADR Director: Jason Grundy (Chaos; Head, Medaka Box Abnormal)

ADR Script: Andrew Rye (Eden of the East, Desert Punk)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: In a dark future, the world is in ruin and everything is slowly crumbling away into dust. Humanity is almost extinct, while robots desperately seek out new parts to replace their rusting bodies. Their only hope for survival is to devour the one known as Casshern… or so they believe. Meanwhile, Casshern himself has lost all memory of his past. Why are these robots attacking him? Did he really kill the one known as Luna; the Sun that was called Moon? And why is he, alone, unaffected and undamaged by the ruin?

Thoughts: Casshern Sins is a show that’s practically overflowing with melodrama, and it can be difficult to balance that sort of thing without getting to the point where it can’t be taken seriously. The series itself managed to avoid crossing that line, and cemented itself as one of my favorites in the process, so needless to say I was pretty pleased to see that the dub did an equally effective job of knowing where to toe the line, and the results were pretty great. Eric Vale (Desert Punk’s Ganta, D. Gray Man’s Krory) is general best known for his hammier performances so seeing him play a character like Casshern was a welcome surprise to me when I first saw the dub, and I was equally amazed at how much vunerability he brought to the character and while it’s a striking contrast to the more intentionally robotic performance that Tohru Furuya in the Japanese track, it works just as well and holds up as one my favorite performances from him.

This dub was also the first I’d heard of Brina Palencia (Durarara’s Valona, Fairy Tail’s Juvia) who played Lyuze, and she’s since become one of my favorite actors as Lyuze in particular is the one character who’s angst can get overwhelming if done wrong, and her delivery here does a great job of portraying the constant anger without being too over the top. The other cast members do well too from Monica Rial’s (Penguindrum’s Himari, Yurikuma Arashi’s Ginko) sugar sweet Ringo to Trina Nishimura (Attack on Titan’s Mikasa, Gai-Rei-Zero’s Kiri) dishing out a chilling performance as Luna with the one sore spot for me being that J. Paul Slavens (One Piece’s Wyper, Basilisk’s Jingoro) didn’t carry anywhere near the amount of presence that Kenji Utsumi did for Braiking Boss (may he rest in peace). It’s a great dub for a beautiful show and while it could have very easily gone wrong, I’m certainly glad that it managed to come out so strong.

 

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ADR Director: Eric P. Sherman (Argento Soma, Gungrave)

ADR Script: Kristi Reed (Accel World, Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne)

Recorded at: Bang Zoom! Entertainment (Geneon USA)

 

Synopsis: Samurai Champloo is all about style, from the dj-style scratching scene changes to the hip-hop-inspired soundtrack to the eclectic character design. Mugen’s fighting style is a funky meld of capoeira and limb-cutting, and Jin is the dramatic foil; he is all steel and old-school samurai style. What binds them together is the desire to test each other’s abilities, and a promise to a girl named Fuu: to find the samurai that smells of sunflowers, who plays a pivotal role in her past. Together they travel through edo-era Japan, finding battle and comedy wherever they stop.

Thoughts: Shinichiro Watanabe’s unique style of anime has always done pretty well at capturing an aesthetic that appeals to western audiences, and even a series about medieval samurai is no exception. Given that, it’s no surprise that his stuff also lend themselves pretty well towards English dubs, and Champloo’s is a great one. The core trio composed of Steve Blum (Naruto’s Orochimaru, Durarara’s Kadota) as Mugen, Kirk Thornton (Rurouni Kenshin’s Saito, Blue Exorcist’s Father Fujimoto) as Jin and Kari Wahlgren (Durarara’s Celty, Fate/Zero’s Saber) as Fuu, all have great chemistry, and play off each other really well while also really helping to highlight each character’s personality with Steve Blum’s Mugen being the standout, even if it’s not quite as well regarded as his spike. As the series is pretty episodic in nature, the focus Is primarily on these three, but the other members of the cast as just as fun, and includes voice acting veterans such as Dave Wittenburg (Naruto’s Kakashi, Digimon Tamers’s Henry), Micheal McConnieh (Hunter x Hunter’s Narrator, MAR’s Babbo), Lex Lang (Aldnoah Zero’s Cruhteo, Blue Dragon’s Blue Dragon), all of whom do well at bringing the weird and wacky world of Samurai Champloo to life. Honestly I don’t have a whole ton to say about this one, but it’s been held up as one of the classics for good reason, and much like with the show itself, it’s hard not to have a good time watching the dub.

 

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ADR Director: Mike McFarland (Attack on Titan, Blood Blockade Battlefront)

ADR Script: Aaron Dismuke (Nanbaka, Fairy Tail), Josh Grelle (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans, Bodacious Space Pirates), Monica Rial (Ben-To, Gatchaman)

Recorded at: Funimation Studios

Synopsis: In modern day Tokyo, society lives in fear of Ghouls: mysterious creatures who look exactly like humans — yet hunger insatiably for their flesh. None of this matters to Ken Kaneki, a bookish and ordinary young man, until a dark and violent encounter turns him into the first ever Ghoul-human half breed. Trapped between two worlds, Ken must survive the violent conflicts of warring Ghoul factions, while attempting to learn more about Ghoul society, his newfound powers, and the fine line between man and monster.

Thoughts: When simuldubs (formerly known as broadcast dubs) were first announced my feelings were a bit mixed. On the one hand the idea of getting dubs out a faster rate sounded appealing and if done right had the potential to be a game changer, but on the other hand I feared that it would lead to lower quality productions as a result. However there was one simuldub that managed to toss aside those fears, and that would be the one for Tokyo Ghoul. Mike McFarland’s track record as an ADR Director pretty much speaks for itself at this point so when I heard he was directing it I figured it’d be good but I was still blown away at just how much he was able to get out of it on an initially limited schedule. While I was about as mixed on Austin Tindle (My Love Story’s Suna, Assassination Classroom’s Karma) as I was about the idea of simuldubs in general up to that point, his portrayal of Kaneki has since turned me into a huge fan of his work, as he manages to real sell the contrast between Kaneki’s human side and his inner ghoul, and sometimes to a very chilling effect as the character goes down a path of self-destruction.

He’s joined by a cast of Funimation veterans such as Monica Rial, J. Michael Tatum (Black Butler’s Sebastian, Attack on Titan’s Erwin) and even Mike McFarland himself, as well as a few lesser known names such as Kenny Green (One Piece’s Jango, Desert Punk’s Rain Spider)for Mado, all of whom bring their A-game for this dub. The scripting here works well too, and while it does get a little overly-liberal in some instances, it never veers too far off track (especially in comparison to how some other Funi dubs have gone) and captures the spirit of the series pretty well. It’s such a solid dub that’s almost hard to believe that half of it was done on a tight schedule, but it just goes to show how good of a director Mike McFarland is, and while most of the other Funi simuldubs haven’t quite reached this level of quality, it’s still nice to know that even under those circumstances, it’s totally achievable.


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