Eigo kudasai (English, please): The One With The I's (Mania.com)

By:G.B. Smith
Date: Friday, March 27, 2009

I"s OVA/I"s Pure OVA Boxset:
dubbed by New Generation Pictures, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.
directed by Jonathan Klein

Voice Fit: B/B-
Delivery Flow: Varies. Some B+. Others B to B-/C+
Emotional Feel: All over the place, from B to C-

Subs-Dub script: very close, with only slight divergences at times, mainly for length and lip flaps. A couple of major rewrites, but they do not obscure the original meaning.

When the source material is your enemy

It has been quite some time since we have had the chance to hear a new anime dub from acclaimed West Coast dubbing studio New Generation Pictures that has not been named Hellsing. I believe the last non-Hellsing dub I heard from them was the fairly well-regarded Ergo Proxy dub. So, I was pleased to learn back near the beginning of last month that lo and behold, a new anime dub from them not named Hellsing was about to be released. Since I do not play video games and am not a fan of Hellsing, this was a chance to see, and more importantly hear, something new from a studio with a solid track record for quality. The new show was the boxset release by VIZ Media of I"s/I"s Pure, a pair of OVAs from earlier this decade, adapted from a long-running (15 volumes in all) manga by Masakazu Katsura. It tells the story of Ichitaka Seto, a young high school student who is deeply in love with the popular Iori Yoshizuki, and who spends a great deal of time trying to work up the courage to tell her that he loves her.

It is a bit like Ah! My Goddess, but without the goddesses. Or the humor. Or the lead characters that I could really care in any way about. Enough content discussion. There will be a full review forthcoming from Chris Beveridge shortly. Our concern is the dub.

What can I say about this dub? You can see from the marks given it above, that this is not going to be a glowing review. But if there is one thing I have always disliked about simplistic letter grades, it is that they do not allow you to convey the delicate shades of meaning that a real review must strive to impart to the reader. So, I am going to try to make my meaning clear, while also trying to be concise. Since my strongest personal feeling towards this show, and this dub, is one of impatience. To make things clear from the start, I am disappointed in NGP, but I must qualify that disappointment by noting that I believe they were faced with a rather bad situation from the start. Source material that was not particularly good. Sometimes, a good dub can transcend that source material and create an enjoyable piece of entertainment even if the show itself is nothing remarkable. That is not the case here. Whether the material has dragged down the dub, or the dub could never find a means of improving the materia, is hard to say.

I"s OVA

A two episode OVA, we are presented with a story so frightfully bad, I refuse further comment. I will stick to the dub.

One thing to note is that the pronunciations of names are very "authentic" to the Japanese, with the result that they sound slightly stilted in English. While the actors are carefully pronouncing the names, their deliveries take on a slightly staccato sound that breaks up any natural flow to the line reads. I understand that these decisions are almost invariably licensor requests, so I do not ascribe this fault directly to the dubbing staff and actors. But it starts things off on a slightly awkward footing.

The central problem with this dub, the dub for both I"s OVAs, is that most of the cast sound like they are members of the Talking Dead. There is a serious lack of life in their deliveries. I can almost imagine some of them rolling their eyes at the lines they were asked to read. Others simply looked at the script, said their piece, and then moved on. I have said before, and I will say again, that a show will rise or falls based upon the performances of its leads. You can have bad recurring characters. You can have downright awful incidental and walk-on roles. But you absolutely must have solid leads, or the whole edifice falls to the ground.

Darrel Guilbeau is not bad or horrible as the main character Ichitaka Seto. It is not that he has a repellent voice or that he seems to lack acting ability entirely. It is just that his performance is so staid and lacking in life that I feel like the character must be dead inside. Opposite to him is the talented Erika Weinstein, who has been quite good in several other roles. But not here. Here, her Iori Yoshizuki is the perfect match for the lifeless Ichitaka. Ms. Weinstein gives Iori a good, cute girlish voice, but why is there so little life in it?

Almost everyone is sounding dead. Why is almost everyone sounding so dead?

About the only two performances I can review without feeling tired are those of Mike McFarland as Ichitaka's friend Teratani and Carrie Savage as Ichitaka's childhood friend (and rival to Iori for Ichitaka) Itsuki. McFarland's Teratani is a touch over the top, but that is closely in line with the on screen presence, so it fits.

Ms. Savage uses a more "natural" range, not the higher pitch many of us would associate with her voice usually. I think it fits the character well. There is a slight touch of stiltedness here and there, but she removes it fairly quickly in (which is good, since there is not all that much room to do so in this short OVA). In the flashback part of this show, she uses the higher pitch we often hear from her and it seems far livelier than her more mature voice, and much livelier than much of the rest of the cast.

I am not even going to mention the ghost.

I cannot really say more about this one. It goes by very quickly, and what there is, I do not think I want to remember too much. So, let us move along

I"s Pure OVA:

After the (thankfully) short OVA, a later 6 episode OVA was produced which seems to be an abridged version of the entire manga, which had already been completed by this time. Instead of one particularly annoying incident, we can view a whole series highlighting, it seems, nothing but them. Thanks.

As for the dub

Ms. Weinstein still sounds dead. And Mr. Guilbeau does not have too much life either. In the short OVA, I could understand it if the leads had some trouble trying to get into the roles and to feel the emotions of their characters. There is so little time to do so. But at this point (this is assuming that I"s was dubbed before I"s Pure), I would have hoped that they might have been a little more in touch with their on screen alter egos.

Listen to the two of them speaking in the library in the very first episode. Ichitaka should be shy and nervous. Instead he sounds dead and flat. Was Mr. Guilbeau trying to sound non-chalant? Perhaps, but he comes off more as dead than non-chalant. As for Ms.Weinstein, listen very careful to her delivery.

Iori: "You may not be very happy working with me but let's at least try to enjoy doing this."

The cadence is all wrong. Listen to Shizuka Itou's Japanese version. She has a breezy "let's try to make the best of a bad situation" feel to her delivery. Weinstein has this odd rise and fall of inflection that is more like she is bored or rolling her eyes. She is very flat in her delivery, and she is in thrall to lip flaps. Matching = good. Thrall = bad. The strange (or is it strained?) tone and the flat feel make for an un-compelling portrait of the young actress (did I mention that Iori is a talented budding actress? You would never know from the performance).

Mr. McFarland is pretty good as the much more grounded version of Yasumasa Teratani in this version. His voice is much more modulated and it suits the more calm incarnation of his character in this outing.

With the second episode, we get the entrance of the childhood friend/rival for affection Itsuki Akiba (funny how Teratani and Itsuki, along with several others, suddenly get full names in Pure). And we should be thankful for Ms. Savage's entrance, because she breathes life into this dub, including into Mr. Guilbeau somehow, even though they do not record together but in isolation, with her entrance. Compared to many of the other performers, her delivery is far more natural and believable, not the wooden, "I-am-reading-this-from-a-script" performance we are getting much of the time. As I said, Mr. Guilbeau's Ichitaka seems to get a little better in his scenes with Itsuki. It may be that the character is somewhat more alive in those scenes. When he is with Iori, he is far less lively. The two of them are like cardboard cut outs. It could be the dialogue. It is mind-numbingly boring. They are the most bland screen couple I have seen in a while.

By the time the third episode rolls along, the actors seem to be picking it up a bit by this episode. There is a slight improvement in the life that they put into the characters. But it is only a slight improvement. Not a massive one.

With the fourth, we get the second major breath of life into the show, with the entrance of the mischievous Izumi Isozaki, played by Elle Deets. The voice is very familiar, but I do not recognize the name. Regardless, she has a lot more life in her. There is an expressiveness to the voice delivery that is sorely lacking in several others.

Sadly, that breath of fresh air comes to an end as we finally come back to the "present" (most of the show has been a series of snippets from the present, where Teratani and Ichitaka are headed to Shibuya to meet up with Iori and Morisaki for a karaoke group date on Christmas Eve, with extended flashbacks showing some god-awful mess that Ichitaka or Iori has gotten into that only serves to keep them from becoming the couple they seemed destined to be. As I said above, this show is like watching Ah! My Goddess, but with only half the entertainment). I say sadly, because without either Itsuki (reduced to a fleeting appearance here or there) or Izumi (whose story has been told to completion and will not appear again) to keep the show breathing on its own, we come back to the Cardboard Couple.

Iori: "Well then, I guess it's about time we cut the cake."

"Well then, I guess it's about time"sounds fine and natural. "we-cut-the-cake"suddenly very stilted. I will blame our old friend lip flaps for this one, but it is jarring to hear what begins as a fairly natural line read turn into a stilted mess at its end.

Iori: "Why? Why are you so curious to know who it is I really like?"

Dead. Flat. Dead. Listen to it. It is like she is bored or something. Reading it straight off the page.

With the fifth episode, it is clear that Guilbeau has slowly improved over the course of the show. Listening again to his declaration of love for Iori, it does sound fairly believable. But then, when the two of them are together in the Starbucks, it is back to the old deadness. There is just no chemistry between these two.

When we at last, mercifully, come to the final episode, we can truly make a comparison. Listen to Teratani and Ichitaka interacting. While they are not great, they have more of a natural chemistry when speaking opposite to each other. On the contrary, Iori and Ichitaka have about as much chemistry as lead and water.

For the end, we get quite a bit of melodramatic nonsense, which brings forth the requisite amount of emoting, well, somewhat. At least Mr. Guilbeau, Mr. McFarland and Hunter MacKenzie Austin seem to have some emotion in them. I am not entirely certain of Ms. Weinstein, whose character cries, but cries without any feeling in her tears.

Final Thoughts:

When I learned that we would be getting a new dub from New Generation Pictures, I considered that a good thing, since they have been the dubbing studio that has produced several classic dubs, including Hellsing (I may not like the show much, but I recognize the quality of the dub), Girls Bravo (utter fluff, but a first-rate comedy dub), and R.O.D. the TV series among others. So it is very disappointing to have to be so negative about this recent production. As I noted, the source material here is not very helpful. "You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear," as the old saying goes. The dub, however, does not rescue the show. With few exceptions, the performances are lifeless and lack both natural delivery and emotional depth. I kept on waiting for the performances to click, to reach that moment where I could hear what I could even with my nearly non-existent knowledge of Japanese somewhat hear in the Japanese audio track: the emotional connection between the viewer and the performer. I never got that connetion.

Next time: I cannot say what will be reviewed next, since, I have not decided. Something old? Something new? We shall see. Thanks for reading.



Series: I"s/I"s Pure