I've not written one of these in while, but after watching the first thirteen episodes of Bamboo Blade I just couldn't keep my thoughts to myself.
Tyler Walker (1-9), Chris Cason (10-13)
Andrew Rye (1, 3, 8-9), Jack LaRouche (10), Luci Christian (5, 7, 12), Tyler Walker (2, 4, 11)
Cast (Part 1)
Tamaki Kawazoe - Cherami Leigh
Kirino Chiba - Luci Christian
Sayako Kuwahara - Brina Palencia
Miyako Miyazaki - Leah Clark
Satori Azuma - Carrie Savage
Toraji Ishida - Ian Sinclair
Yuuji Nakata - Chris Burnett
Danjuro Eiga - Sean Michael Teague
Yoshikawa - Stephanie Young
Reimi Odajima - Monica Rial
Kenzaburou Ishibashi - Christopher Sabat
Tamaki's Father - Mark Stoddard
I first watched Bamboo Blade
in Japanese via fansubs, but did not complete the series since it was licenced half way through my watching. It has been nine months since Funimation announced the licence to Bamboo Blade, and my copy of part one finally arrived this week, so I decided to take a look at it.
My first impressions as I took the DVD out of the plastic wrapping was that the cover was plain and it didn't especially stand out. It wasn't vulgar like some other covers, but it does have a bit too much green. The case itself is a pretty standard keepcase with two hubs on the one side of the case, in keeping with other Funimation releases that have used keepcases. The inside cover is a very plain orange pattern which is supposed to look like bamboo, with just the episode names written down. I can't help feeling that with such an attractive main cast they could have had images of the team on the inside cover and still managed to tell us the names of the thirteen episodes.
The content on the DVDs is just as sparse as the inside cover of the case, with the only extras to speak of are the now standard clean opening and closing themes. There are preview trailers, which are also listed as extras, but they're not really extras, they're more advertisements than an extra.
Before I go on to look at each character individually, I should point out that while I did watch these thirteen episodes in Japanese first, I did not watch the english dub with the Japanese voices in mind. I am reviewing the dub on its own merits rather than comparing it to any preconceptions I got from the Japanese version.
A very quiet character, I was quietly confident myself about the casting of Cherami Leigh when she was announced. I would like to say that she didn't disapoint, and in some aspects she exceeded my expectations, but at the same time there are some moments where something sounded a little off. Tamaki is a very cute character, very much triggering any feelings of moe people have towards shy quiet girls, but at times she sounded too muted. Very similar to her performance in Shuffle, her performance is damaged by the fact that at times I needed to turn the volume up to hear her speak. Other than the volume issues, and a few niggling issues over how muted some scenes are, I found Cherami Leigh's portrayal of Tamaki to be well acted. The moments where she opened up or got passionate about something (usually anime or kendo) showed a different side to Tamaki, and it is a side of the character I hope to see more of in the second half of the series.
The most predictable of the casting decisions, Luci Christian was the obvious choice to voice the energetic and somewhat hyperactive Kirino. As much as I enjoy to hear actors being challenged by their roles and as much as I like to hear new voices in unexpected places, I will definitly say that Luci Christian was the right choice for this character. The only complaint I can really make about the performance was the big problem when actors get typecast. At times I felt like I was not hearing Kirino Chiba, but in fact I was listening to Luci Christian. It is a very natural voice for Luci, and most people who have heard her in a dub in the past should be able to recognise her again here. Outside of the recognition issue, the performance is as near to perfect as you can get. At times it felt like Luci was chanelling Kirino through her voice, and I forgot that it was Luci voicing her, but then something clicked and again the facade fell through and it was again Luci.
A character of two voices, I was intregued when Brina Palencia was cast as Sayako. I have heard a lot of Brina Palencia in the past, but there are a lot of times when I am surprised by her vocal range, so I didn't know what to expect. What we got for her Sayako was a voice not too far departed from her award winning performance as Maho in Beck. Sayako is a very simple character with a very complex set of challenges for the actor. She is often thrown all around the vocal spectrum with her impulses and cries of both joy and despair, and Brina Palencia managed to maintain a consistant character throughout the changes. After her introduction episodes Sayako seems to calm down somewhat and become Kirino's partner in crime. At this point she moves into the background and makes way for other new characters. It's a shame because of the five girls, the one that sounds the most natural is Sayako.
Okay, I'll admit. I was wrong about this one. When the cast was announced I was adamant that they had gone for the safe casting decision rather than the more adventurous casting decision that my instinct as a dub fan told me was correct. Leah Clark is another actress that I have heard a fair bit from in recent years, but I liked what I heard from her as the bubbly and lovestrucky Miyako Miyazawa, or Miya-Miya as she is called in the show. A character of two different personalities, Miya-Miya requires two disctinct voices that sound different but sound close enough to be the same person. Leah Clark is cringingly lovey-dovey when she is acting all sweet, but when something annoys her she instantly changes to something else. It's when we get to meet the darker Miya-Miya that we really get to the core of the character, and correctly, that is where the core of her performance is.
The last of the five main characters to make her speaking debut in the series, Satori was as much of a tease as a funimation licence announcement is. She was actually the third of the girls to appear in the anime, but she was always just walking through the scene not talking, her status was just a recurring background character. This was until towards the middle of the second disc, when she was finally discovered by the characters and we were introduced to the Chika Ogiue of the Kendo world. Carrie Savage was the obvious choice to voice the character, but just like with Luci Christian that is primarily down to how good she could make the character. Unlike Kirino however the nagging awareness that you're listening to Carrie Savage isn't as bad, and you can often forget that she's the character. Having only really moved into the limelight in the last few episodes of the volume I haven't really got to know Carrie's Satori yet, but the first impressions are definitly positive.
(Ian Sinclair, Chris Burnett, Sean Michael Teague)
In a show with five very big personalities, the male leads can often be forgotten, but that is not going to be the case here. The three main guys are all characters in their own right, but the one that comes first on the list is Ian Sinclair as Toraji Ishida. Filling the 'irresponsible teacher'
position in Bamboo Blade, Toraji is what you'd expect from such a character. I've not heard much from Ian Sinclair in the past, but I was impressed with him here. The role of 'striaight guy'
is taken by Yuuji Nakata, voiced by Chris Burnett. Another actor who has only really moved into the forefront of Funimation dubs recently, I again haven't had enough experience of him to compare roles, but I felt he fit the role. I wasn't blown away by his performance, but I could find no faults with it either. The final member of the three guys is Danjuro Eiga, the funny little man who has the inappropriately good looking girlfriend. Dan is voiced Sean Michael Teague, and out of the three male characters, it is Sean's portrayal of Dan that impresses me most. Dan is the strangest character and the hardest one to get right, yet somehow it just sounds right.
...And the Rest
Sometimes in dubs you can hear fantastic performances as the major characters, but the dub falls apart the moment somebody in the background opens their mouth. Thankfully that's not the case here. From the characters who appear a few times, to the background characters, all of the voices fit the faces, and there are no real problems. Of the recurring characters, one in particular stood out and impressed. That is Monica Rial as the scary stalker girl, Reimi. I haven't heard much of Monica Rial's creepy voice, but it's definitly a part of her vocal range that I would like to hear more from in the future.
Bamboo Blade Part 1 is available now from FUNimation Entertainment.