2008 Anime Dubbies Award (Mania.com)

Date: Friday, March 20, 2009

The Dubbies are the year end awards given out and decided on by the English Track forum. For the final three categories (the “best actor, actress, and dub” of the year), nominations are drawn from the monthly ADR Awards winners from throughout the year. The Best Director and Writer are submitted at the end of the year by nominators. As are the Overlooked categories: last chances, so to speak, to recognize performances that dub fans missed but belatedly loved from 2008. Two wildly different titles appeared to dominate the Dubbies this year, with two wildly different flavors of dubs; but English Track fans loved both, plus a couple other winners they’d not like anyone to forget about. Enjoy, below, the reasons why all of these are deserving.

Best Overlooked Actor for 2008: Dean Redman as Dutch for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage
Best Overlooked Actress for 2008: Kari Wahlgren as Kagami Hiiragi for Lucky Star
Best Overlooked Dub of 2008: Welcome to the NHK
Best Writer for 2008: Stephen Hedley for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage
Best Director for 2008: Kyle Jones for Kanon Best Actor for 2008: Chris Patton as Yuuichi Aizawa for Kanon
Best Actress for 2008: Patricia Drake as Balalaika for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage
Best Dub for 2008: Kanon

Best Overlooked Actor for 2008: Dean Redman as Dutch for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage (Ocean Studios)

Sometimes, the most important part of a voice acting performance can be getting the sound of the voice right. Other times, it is more important that the role be voiced well, with the right intonation, the right feel to the vocal inflections, and the proper accent/usage/pronunciation. Of course, it is always best if both of those facets of a voiceover performance can be matched, and matched well, and certain roles would be laughable if even one or the other were "off." Dutch, the hard-nosed "entrepreneur" who runs the Lagoon Company in the shady fictional South Seas port of Roanipur, is a role where you need both to succeed.

Dean Redman, the actor who voices Dutch, does so admirably. The sound of his voice has the right amount of gruff world-weariness that a man such as Dutch would be expected to have in the real world. A man who has seen all manner of venality and brutality, but knows that the only way forward is the path of survival. Not justice. Not fairness. Survival. What makes Mr. Redman's performance all the more powerful, however, is not just the suitability of the sound of his voice. For he also brings to the role a very subtle, yet quite powerful, sense of ease with his surroundings that makes Dutch all the more believable as a character in what is most definitely a cartoonish and high unreal world. The world of Black Lagoon has more in common with a Tarantino film than much of the real world. This is not to dismiss the extremely dangerous, pirate-infested waters of the South Seas that exist in the real world today. But while many of the other characters in Black Lagoon are really little better than caricatures, there is a mature sensibility, a sharp attention to tone and delivery, that makes Dutch a fully realized character. His deep baritone can be either playful or menacing, as Dutch in turn must play either role. It is a commanding performance, one that should have been recognized earlier. And now it is.

Best Overlooked Actress for 2008: Kari Wahlgren as Kagami Hiiragi for Lucky Star (Bang Zoom!)

Sometimes, it is a thankless role to play the "Straight Man." The quirky characters garner more attention from the audience, since their quirks stand them apart from "normality." In the highly regarded dub to Lucky Star, the two quirky female roles, Konata Izumi (played by Wendee Lee) and Akira Kogami (Stephanie Sheh), have been duly recognized with Monthly Awards. That has unfortunately had the effect of leaving aside the "normal" character of Kagami Hiiragi, played to absolute sarcastic perfection by Kari Wahlgren. And that is a shame, for much of what makes Lucky Star as enjoyable as it is is the quick comebacks and anguished cries of exasperation that we get from Kagami in response to Konata's latest otaku excess.

While Ms. Wahlgren has played this type before, this performance might very well be her best one, as the put upon and exasperated onlooker to the nerdy train wreck that is Konata. In this respect, her role as foil to the tiny, but long-haired otaku mistress is as central to the success of the show as the role of Kyon is in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Both are observers from the outside of a person who is extremely unusual, from their "normal" perspective. And yet, they must interact with this strange being and find some means of surviving in their world. Ms. Wahlgren does that beautifully, with a tone and delivery that quickly veers from natural and calm to the heights of exasperation and frustrated disbelief. Her quick asides, delivered with perfect comedic timing (even while having to try to match the lip flaps!) help to provide the perfect check to Konata's wild exuberance. A thankless role, to be the straight woman to a quirky character, but finally, we can extend our thanks to Ms. Wahlgren for making us laugh along with (and oftentimes at) the zany antics of the pint-sized female otaku whom Kagami grudgingly befriends.

Best Overlooked Dub of 2008: Welcome to the NHK (Amusement Park Media)

It doesn't come as a huge surprise that many may have not heard the dub for Welcome to the NHK. Given the issues associated with its release schedule as well as covering subject matter that may cause some anime fans to take a hard look at themselves, the show is likely one that was not high up on many “Must Watch” lists. This is unfortunate, as NHK is one of the most solid dub efforts put out during 2008.

While Chris Patton has come to be a staple for playing young leading male roles in the ADV talent pool, his portrayal of 22-year-old Not in Employment, Education, or Training (NEET)/hikikomori Sato Tatsuhiro is quite a departure from his previous works. In his performance, Patton doesn't hold anything back during Sato's darkest moments of being consumed by paranoia, depression, and self-hatred. At the same time, he doesn't make Sato come across as a completely pathetic loser that the audience doesn't care one way or another if he succeeds with overcoming his mental disorders or not. These glimpses of hopefulness that Patton provides, even if they lead to another downturn, are what keep the audience wanting Sato to ultimately overcome his problems.

Stephanie Wittels, relatively new to the dub scene, proves that she has some serious acting chops with her portrayal of Misaki Nakahara, a girl who befriends Sato with hopes of curing him of his hikikomoriness. It doesn't take long though before Wittels shows that Misaki is not as together as she seems to be, and relies on her daily counseling sessions with Sato to keep her from giving in to her mental anguish. Wittels does a fine job of conveying Misaki's insecurities with her vocal performance, while not coming across as too meek or needy.

Greg Ayres plays Yamazaki Kaoru, Sato's otaku next door neighbor. Yamazaki is the most stable of three main characters, but is not without his own problems. Ayres usually excels at playing these nerdy, second fiddle types, and here is no different. He also brings a bit of passion and intensity to the part, be it when angry at Sato for suffering another relapse, or excited about the prospect of creating a successful dating sim.

Likewise, the supporting cast, including such vets as Monica Rial, Christine Auten, and Luci Christian who is quite impressive as the anxious and pessimistic Hitomi Kashiwa, do an outstanding job. Overall, the cast and director John Swasey deserve much kudos for Welcome to the NHK. With the entire series now available on DVD, hopefully dub fans who overlooked it the first time around will consider checking it out.

Best Writer for 2008: Stephen Hedley for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage (Ocean Studios)

Dubs which garner sincere followings tend each to have a unique language. As much as the director and actors are responsible for expressing that language, the writer--the person responsible for adapting the translation--is key in making that language accessible. Making it unique and giving its words as memorable a presence as the performance which conveys them is what separates interesting and enjoyable dubs from powerful and entertaining dubs. Black Lagoon is powerful, even as it is stupefyingly entertaining, and the script from Stephen Hedley (from a translation by veteran Paul Baldwin) is unique enough to pull it, and the wonderful performances based from it, off.

The material is to his great benefit, as its over-the-top cadre of action movie and pulp fiction tropes allow for a freedom and even experimentation beyond what most other anime series can comfortably contain. Verbose speeches full of camp and morbidly serious sincerity in alternating lines, and absurd action movie references driven home with expletive-laden superlatives, share room on the actor's page. While so much of the language, or its use, is based on Western action motifs, it is wrapped often in the more Japanese styling of effusive exposition and explanation, and Hedley, with Baldwin, translates this meaningfully, most aptly from not shying away from carrying it through to English. These are loquacious bad guys, there's no way around it, and the appealing aspect of their language is sometimes in how they say it more than what they say. There are terms and wordplay that really haven’t been heard in anime--and not just through a high incidence of creative cursing. Where Hedley truly excels is in how the rich but seemingly simple-defined characters are enlivened with their language in the show, not in successfully telling their back stories or growth, but by giving them souls--as dark or screwed up as each may be--and truly making them “characters” as defined by personality or actions, not simply design or purpose. Hedley's language tells these stories, and the story of Black Lagoon.

Best Director for 2008: Kyle Jones for Kanon (Amusement Park Media)

The seamless joining of sound and image should be the goal of every ADR director. You can have the most beautiful animation imaginable, but if the "voice" given to it cannot match that beauty aurally, then the work can only be, at best, half-great. Fortunately for those who are fans of the show Kanon, Kyle Jones is one of those directors who tries with all his strength and skill to aim for that seamless combination of beautiful sound with beautiful pictures.

It starts with the casting. Yuuichi Aizawa, the slightly melancholic (underneath that surface of non-chalant, prankster ease) lead needed an actor with great range and the ability to change from lighthearted to heavily dramatic on the turn of a dime. Mr. Jones tapped the experienced voice actor Chris Patton and drew out from him a complex and dynamic performance that truly brought the character to life. For the very important leading female roles of Nayuki Minase and Ayu Tsukimiya, the directorial decisions he made concerning the voices deployed by Jessica Boone and Brittany Karbowski, respectively, were both brave and inspired. While Mariko Kouda and Yui Horie, the seiyuu who originated the roles, fell within the normal "cutesy" ranges most anime fans are all too familiar with, Mr. Jones hit upon the choice of a slightly lower, ever so slightly more mature sounding register for the two roles. Both actresses have played roles where they have pitched their voices much higher, so a mere copy of the "sound" of the original performances could have easily been achieved. Instead, Mr. Jones has helped to shape two performances that reveal a much greater depth to these two characters who might otherwise be dismissed as one-dimensional "moe" objects. From Ms. Boone, we have a portrayal that highlights Nayuki's good sense, but which also brings forth moments of great passion and sadness when called for. From Ms. Karbowski, a role which might otherwise elicit little more than coos of affection or eye-rolling glances of dismissal (depending on your opinion of her character), we have a performance that instead shows us a little girl struggling with the same memory issues that the male lead Yuuichi deals with. While the cute catchphrase uguu is retained, there is a sense of struggle in her performance, a grappling with a truth that is she just cannot quite reach.

Overall, the direction is tight, with characters displaying the right levels of emotion at all times. Mr. Jones' expert command of the emotional level is part of what helps to keep Kanon from boiling over into an over-melodramatic mess, which it could have easily been without a character director watching its every step.

Best Actor for 2008: Chris Patton as Yuuichi Aizawa for Kanon (Amusement Park Media)

We rely on our memories without question. They help to define us as we are now by telling us who we have been. For Yuuichi Aizawa, however, the protagonist of the Kyoto Animation adaptation of the visual novel ren'ai game Kanon (by Key/Visual Art's), memory is an obstacle. Even though he visited the unnamed city where Kanon takes place seven years before the story "present," he cannot fully remember anything about that time. In order to show that lack of memory and certainty, there is a breathiness to Mr. Patton's delivery at times that ably demonstrates his character's indecision and uncertainty. But Yuuichi is far more complex than that. He is also a joker, a prankster who enjoys teasing the girls. A trait that Mr. Patton effortlessly instills into the character. Yuuichi is also giving and kind, and those facets too are perfectly expressed in the tone, tenor and modulation of the voice Mr. Patton gives to Yuuichi.

If one of the true tests of acting is the ability to display a wide range of emotional states, and to do so with an air of "authenticity," then Mr. Patton passes that examination with flying colors. There is a realness to his Yuuichi. You can feel his sadness and joy. You can feel his heartbreak and elation. When his memories finally come flooding back to him, the viewer as well is flooded with feeling. Through a rollercoaster of emotions Mr. Patton takes the audience along for a memorable ride with his skillful portrayal of a young man in search of his memories.

The key to his performance lies in his delivery and the modulation of his voice. From his tone alone, you can sense his emotional state. With subtle variations, a little breathiness here, a much more solid tone there, he manages to not match, but enhance the visual image that the animators have created. We can see Yuuichi yell or laugh, but those images would be but empty miming without hearing those emotional states in Mr. Patton's performance. Not only in those moments of bombast and explosive emotion, but equally in the quiet moments, those times where an actor needs to do no more than speak in a calm and soothing manner. It is a performance that perfectly captures the tides of feeling that his character experiences.

Best Actress for 2008: Patricia Drake as Balalaika for Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage (Ocean Studios)

Balalaika, boss of Hotel Moscow, the Russian Mafia of Black Lagoon, was an occasional but tantalizing supporting character in the show’s first season. Her voice, Patricia Drake, promised a bewitching depth which was tasted but not fully appreciated in those first 13 episodes. With the second season, The Second Barrage, Balalaika gains a commanding share of the lead in the story and its punishing narrative force, and Drake takes advantage in as ruthless and irresistible a manner as befits the character itself. It is the most powerful performance in Black Lagoon, a dub already full of gut-wrenching work, and the single best female performance in 2008.

The Second Barrage is bookended, and largely dominated by two multiple episode arcs which revolve around the character of Hotel Moscow and Balalaika, particularly the relationship between her and her core members, all former Soviet special forces, bound by honor and blood and a ruthless self-possession of their shared destinies. The ostensible main cast of Black Lagoon, the Lagoon Company employees, are side players in all of this, and often even pawns. So too in the dub does this power shift manifest itself, as Patricia Drake comes to the forefront, not so easily with more lines, but with such a larger share of the emotional weight. In the first arc, summed up as “Hansel and Gretel”, in which two demented children run amok among the criminal underworld, Balalaika, in a manner, is awoken to the beast she had been hinted at being. She calls down the sophisticated and precise military punishment of her group to halt the reckless bloodbath, and here Drake first fully engages with a withering and unexpected portrayal of weary menace and coldhearted calm. Its smooth, cunning power is arresting and chilling, but also offers a base from which Drake propels the role into something more complex and unnerving.

The final arc of Black Lagoon, its longest between its two seasons, finds Balalaika and her group, with Rock and Revy of Lagoon (the established main characters of the show) in tow, in Japan, playing for and against Yakuza gangs in a cat-and-mouse grab for power—with the art of war more in use than mere political machination. Before this, Balalaika was shown as a ruthless, unforgiving, tactically-minded leader in such times of war, but at other times, when she was less threatened, she would be bemused and slightly cajoling, and Drake deftly transitioned between the two modes, from grave to flippant, with commanding presence. Yet the Hansel and Gretel situation may have forced Balalaika to reassess the means to her ends—not to repent, but to reaffirm. Drake finds here what is true of Balalaika, that, like everyone else in Black Lagoon, she is where she is because of tragedy and mislaid opportunity; her unyielding commitment to seeming evil gives meaning to the path she chose and commands for others who depend on her. So every word and demonstration and exchange is weightier than it had been before—Balalaika is more serious, and Drake is more invested in the woman’s control and poise, more than almost any other actor in the cast is in any other character, yet without being brooding or losing the grim mirth of el Capitan. The result is Drake’s superb dominance of core values in Black Lagoon: implacable violence and tragedy, irredeemable living and honorable if empty death, with pitiless amusement for it all.

Best Dub for 2008: Kanon (Amusement Park Media)

It is likely a surprise to no one that Kanon, directed by Kyle Jones at Amusement Park Media, won the award for the Best Dub of 2008. It is simply one of the best executed dubs made during that year. Kyle Jones' position as one of the great ADR directors of the current age of anime dubbing is without question. His ability to handle both comedy and drama with equal strength is something that few can match. At times, the Kanon dub does tend to veer into the realm of the melodramatic, but considering the material and situations that are involved, it is entirely appropriate. From lighthearted comedy to the very depths of heart-tugging drama, the dub conveys emotional range at exactly the right levels required. The material is treated with great respect, and in turn a masterpiece of a dub was created.

Solid performances across the board are what make this show special. It will be hard to find another actor who will match up to Mr. Patton’s award-winning work in this show. From his playful, teasing persona in the beginning, through the anguish later on, it is a portrayal that has captivated the audience. His is not the only bravura performance in this dub. Brittany Karbowski and Jessica Boone both show great emotional range throughout the production. They are equally effective both in moments of light comedy and at times of great dramatic depth. Tiffany Terrell won two Monthly ADR Awards for her affecting portrayal of Makoto Sawatari, in a performance sure to bring a tear to every eye in the house. Maggie Flecknoe and Melissa Davis as well hold their own whenever they are on screen. The supporting cast of Caitlin Glass, Greg Ayres, Natalie Arneson, Joanne Bonasso, Jay Hickman, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and many others all play their parts with skill and deftness.

Many scenes will surely stick out in the memories of those who have seen this work. From near the very opening, when Nayuki first scolds Yuuichi for being "a liar," through the heartbreaking decline of Makoto, the high drama tinged with sadness of Mai Kawasumi, to the stark shocks faced by Nayuki and Yuuichi towards the end, with occasional bouts of humor focused on, of all things, jam, Kanon presents both the ecstasy and the agony of feeling. We are fortunate that the cast and crew of Kanon have produced a dub that captures all of those feelings and expresses their presence so firmly with only the sound of the human voice.

While perfection is hard to achieve, Kanon is a dub that will be remembered for the high level of talent and the powerful performances contained within it. While 2008 may have been a year that presented many challenges to the entire anime dubbing industry, Kanon is a reminder of the high level of achievement that was possible amid the turmoil and uncertainty. Therefore, let us salute the director, cast, and crew of Kanon for their accomplishment.

Series: Black Lagoon, Welcome to the N.H.K., Kanon, Lucky Star