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Being a Brief Discussion of Anime Dubs: Kamichu, Volume One
By Way Jeng
August 01, 2006
Hello! It's time for another look at anime and English dubbing. This week I'd like to take some time to discuss Kamichu, one of the most compelling shows released in some time. This show offers viewers a story focused on likeable characters, an excellent dub, and an extraordinary urban fantasy setting particularly well suited for fans of Japanese culture.
Megan Harvey plays Yurie, the main character for the series. It's a good performance on every level. The character's innocence and emotions come across well, and the delivery rarely falters. Ms. Harvey handles the vocal foley, also known as the reactions, with particular ease. She gets the character's childish and whiney moments just right. These little bouts of insecurity and petty annoyance, balanced against her overall optimism and good intentions, keep the character vulnerable in the wake of her godly powers.
Erika Weinstein does good work as Mitsue. The performance ranks among the slowest and lowest of the main trio, which fits the character's responsible attitude well. The first couple episodes show a few rough edges to the voice, generally because the delivery is a bit too slow or Ms. Weinstein sounds older than her character. These qualities become helpful as the series progresses. Mitsue occasionally serves as a medium for a god named Yashima, and Ms. Weinstein's slow, stately delivery during these scenes make the situation feel believable.
Lulu Chiang completes the trio of main characters in the role of Matsuri. She brings tremendous energy to the role and does solid work through the volume. Viewers should take note of Ms. Chiang's performance in the third episode where Matsuri declares that she won't allow the unfortunate circumstances plaguing the town from stopping her plans to escape debt.
Kamichu's dub sounds very good in this first volume. The actors almost universally have a clear vision for their respective characters. Yuri Lowenthal plays Yashima, the local town god with aspirations to rock stardom. Rachel Hirschfeld delivers a solid performance as Miko. She's particularly adept with her character's crying. The cast has some trouble synching to the lip flaps through the first half of the volume. Overall it's not a major concern, and hopefully the series will improve in this regard in future episodes.
Kamichu attempts an ambitious story concept. It starts with the idea that a little girl becomes a god, and never looks back. By the end of this first disc it doesn't apologize, rationalize, or even explain how the girl becomes a god. Instead the series concentrates on what happens next.
Kamichu is a phenomenal example of well-executed storytelling. It takes the basic setting of everyday Japan and supposes that a little girl could become a god. It's far from the most unlikely story anime has ever told, but the unassuming elements of the world make it all the more fantastic. This isn't a show that demands that the audience believe in witches, wizards, kings, and vampires. There are no giant robots, no planet-destroying lasers, and no glowing rocks that mysteriously power ray guns. The series instead simultaneously asks for more and less suspension of disbelief because it posits that common folk beliefs are true. The episodes delve into the daily life of this newly minted god. She struggles with how to interact with other gods, wonders what kind of god she is, and deals with people trying to exploit her.
Like so many great stories, Kamichu's greatest success is that it makes its disparate elements work cohesively. Many shows succeed at making a few elements work and tack on the rest. Audiences forgive the show because it's more successful than it's not. But forgiveness and net success isn't the same as seamlessly integrating story elements that all work. Kamichu does the job so well that it's not even clear that the show has done anything at all. The drama and suspense have energy and power. They feel sincerely tense, and the story puts its characters in real danger. The comedy and slow scenes feel just as honest. The series never goes too far in one direction to over-weight itself. It feels very much like a slice-of-life series, but it's definitely more than that. Each episode has enough drama and tension to make such a description inaccurate. Yurie has to do more than go through school life as a god. She certain does that, but she also has to worry about averting calamities and fulfilling people's requests. But through it all, she's still an ordinary girl living in extraordinary Japan.
This setting poses a unique challenge for American viewers. Most fans become used to aspects of Japanese culture appearing in anime. Long-time fans will probably find many aspects of the series familiar, particularly the school sequences. But Kamichu's reliance on folk mythology draws on a collective cultural awareness that American audiences lack. Most of the time that would mean frustration or confusion for viewers. That's always problematic to some degree, but in this case the show poses a more subtle danger. Kamichu's setting is simultaneously more and less fantastic than it may seem. It's quite likely that the show's creators expected the audience to have at least some familiarity with the spirits and gods that inhabit the world. The show is so drenched in Japanese culture that it's impossible to surmise otherwise. Viewers who fail to take the Japanese tradition of folk mythology into account may overestimate the show's fantastic qualities.
Kamichu's slow pace and lack of either fanservice or slapstick comedy may deter some viewers, but Kamichu is still one of the most exciting and interesting shows to come along in a long while. The world feels lush and detailed. The stories have drama, pathos, and enough comedy to make them well worth watching a few times. It's a comfortable feel-good show with something for just about anybody. Viewers looking for a new show should keep Kamichu near the top of the list.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2006 by Way Jeng