Eigo Kudasai (English, please): Slave to Dragons and Watery Ends (Mania.com)

By:G.B. Smith
Date: Friday, September 03, 2010

Now that both new seasons of the long-running franchise The Slayers are out, and with the Blu-ray editions shortly to be released, perhaps now is a good time to take a look at the dub for the new episodes of this series. I will also have a couple brief comments about the second half of My Bride is a Mermaid, the first half of which I reviewed back in July.
Slayers Revolution and Slayers Evolution-R
Released by FUNimation Productions, Ltd., Flower Mound, TX.
Recorded at NYAV Post, New York, NY.
Line Producer: Michael Sinterniklaas
ADR Directors: Marc Diraison, Michael Sinterniklaas
Head Writer: John Burgmeier
Back in ancient days, well, ancient in terms of most anime fans' point of view, in the era of the 90s Central Park Media, the now-defunct New York anime distributor, licensed The Slayers, a swords and sorcery action comedy that starred the, at the time, ubiquitous seiyuu Megumi Hayashibara, who also sang the opening and ending songs (so even if you have watched the show only in English, you have heard her voice). For those who have seen nothing of the franchise, it spawned three TV seasons and a series of movies and OVAs from 1996 through to the mid-2000s, and after a brief hiatus, has reappeared with two new TV seasons in just the past couple of years. To sum up very briefly, the show focuses on the exploits and adventures of Lina Inverse, a female sorceress who has a prodigious appetite and great magical power, but small stature and a slight build. She was very sensitive to that slight build, especially in terms of her chest, which was constantly called small by everyone around her, though she is not actually as flat as the stereotypically flat-chested characters in anime of more recent creation. Over time, she gained a band of friends and fellow adventurers consisting of a witless swordsman named Gourry, a sword-and-spell wielding tough guy (literally tough, as he is a chimera with harder than normal skin) named Zelgadis, and a cute, perky princess named Amelia. Also commonly seen was the affable but probably evil monster Xellos, who oddly seemed to take a liking to Lina and her friends, helping them as much as toying with their lives. The initial villain that Lina had to face was a powerful mage named Rezo the Red Priest, who had a reputation as a great healer, but also harbored a terrible secret within him: a powerful demon god was sealed into his eyes (which rendered Rezo blind), who if released would try to destroy the world. While Rezo and the demon god were defeated and thought destroyed much earlier in the franchise, I mention him now since he makes a reappearance in these two new seasons of the TV series.
Lina was something of a thief and tomb robber, though she was also on the side of the good guys, fighting powerful evil villains during her many adventures. I am not about to recount them all in detail. The new seasons, Revolution and Evolution-R are not completely inaccessible to new viewers, but unless you do read up some basic summaries about what occurred in the first season of the franchise, it will be pretty apparent to you that you are missing something while watching.
Everything old is new again
The original dub for the TV series (we will leave aside the movies and OVAs, since they were licensed by (the now-defunct) ADV Films, and recasting occurred for almost all of the major roles including Lina Inverse) was produced by TAJ Productions in New York, a company known at the time for their involvement in Pokemon, as well as the Irresponsible Captain Tylor, which was probably one of the best dubs of the end of the 90s. The Slayers, while it had its merits back then, was not quite up to the same caliber as Tylor, mainly because of weaker performances in most of the incidental and more minor roles, and even in a few of the major roles during the first season, roles which were recast during that very first season in two significant cases. It might not be so bad to frame this review as a comparison of the performances then and now. For that reason, I also watched for the first time in many years about a half dozen episodes of the second season, Slayers Next, as many of the major characters (though not all) were voiced by the same actors as now.
Lina Inverse, then as now, was and is still voiced by veteran actress Lisa Ortiz. If there is one constant about this franchise, it is that her performance has stayed consistent (and good) over the course of more than a decade. Ms. Ortiz has a rather distinctive voice, which in some ways is hard to describe in words, but if you have heard it, you know it. While she does have some range (and it is always nice to hear her in different modes, such as her role in To Heart), her Lina Inverse is probably one of her iconic characters. Listening to her from the late 90s and listening to her now, what is amazing is how quickly she was able to get back into character and keep her voice largely consistent even though nearly a decade passed between her last recording for Slayers Try back in 2000, and the first episodes of Revolution, presumably sometime during the second half of 2009. (Though note that if you listen to the very first episodes of the first season, Ms. Ortiz sounds slightly rougher, less polished than she does later in the same season and in the following seasons. It did take a while before she settled on what would become the iconic Lina voice).
Lina Inverse is a rather cantankerous figure, a real spitfire who is full of spunk and sass. Ms. Ortiz is able to bring back the attitude and fire to the role which she pretty much infused it with from the very start. Lina is on a constant hair trigger, and one little comment about her chest or perceived insult will often get her to unleash a Dragon Slave: a destructive spell which seems to have the explosive impact of a small atomic bomb. Not that Lina is a completely one-note character vocally, as she has her softer side come out on the rarest of occasions, as well as the ability to show fear when her elder sister's name is mentioned. All of these vocal shifts are ably handled by Ms. Ortiz, who does a very good job of expressing Lina's various moods.
Her longest-serving sidekick and self-appointed protector is the swordsman Gourry, a dumb meathead who is, however, very capable with a blade. Eric Stuart continues in the role, and again provides a performance that blends quite well with the earlier works. Gourry is a bit of a ditz, and Mr. Stuart uses a voice that conveys the right feel for that: the idea that not too much is going on inside of Gourry's head. He can also display appropriate seriousness when called upon, just as the character Gourry, while an airhead, is a very capable swordsman and projects a serious demeanor when engaged in combat.
There have also been some important recasts which have now stuck, for the best. Zelgadis was originally something of a villain, but one who was brought around to Lina's side for various reasons. The original vocal performance for Zelgadis in the first season was also rather disappointing (I heard it again a few months ago and so this is not drawing on distant memory), but then there was a change of voice occurring with episode 18: Crispin Freeman, at the time a young and rising talent in the New York dubbing scene, took over the role. The change stuck and he has voiced the character ever since (including one of the ADV-licensed movies). Interestingly, when listening to his performance in Next, and comparing it to his performance in Revolution and Evolution-R, it sounds like he was using a slightly lighter tone in the earlier work, while now he keeps his Zelgadis firmly in his lower, more menacing register. I am not sure if this is a deliberate choice, since some of the comedic scenes in the new seasons might work just as well with his slightly lighter tone (which sadly we do not hear much of in recent times, as he is prized by many casting directors, I am fairly certain, for that deeper and more penetrating low tone). If it is a deliberate choice, perhaps it is meant to convey how the character has become more serious and perhaps slightly darker over time, as he continues in his (apparently fruitless) quest to return his body back to its original, fully human, form. We are all familiar with Mr. Freeman's acting talents, and he provides Zelgadis the full range of emotion with conviction.
Amelia, the Seirune princess and obsessive fighter for justice, also had a different voice at the very beginning of the show, but was later played by well-known voice actress Veronica Taylor, who has continued to play the role throughout all of the TV seasons. Amelia has a naive quality that Ms. Taylor conveys very strongly with just her voice. Whenever Amelia gets into one of her "JUSTICE!" fits, the voice catches perfectly the mixture of naive idealism and lack of experience that sums up Amelia. Her voice also plays well against Ms. Ortiz's, with Lina being very sarcastic, and therefore slightly grating (deliberately) at times, while Amelia is all sweetness and light, a voice that would be sugar if it were a food. It is a voice that is begging to be taken seriously, but one which we cannot take seriously. Exactly as it should be.
New Voices
Besides the returning cast, there have also been a group of new voices who make their first appearance with these two new TV seasons: two recastings and several new characters. A major departure from the earlier TV seasons was the recasting of the role of Xellos, the powerful monster who sometimes helps, and sometimes plays with (for his own amusement) Lina and her friends. In the early seasons (he first appeared in Next), Xellos was played by David Moo. In the new episodes, Michael Sinterniklaas takes over the role, and he does a good job of doing so. While his Xellos sounds quite different from the old Xellos, the tone and tenor of his voice and the playful feel of his voice match the onscreen image and actions of Xellos very well. I have to admit that the original Xellos did not quite sound entirely right to me, when placed against the image of Xellos, but Mr. Sinterniklaas' voice sounds much more suited to the visual image, a slightly cheerful, quite affable, bad guy who is not quite a bad guy. When he does not feel like it, anyway.
In addition, these two seasons see the return of the Red Priest Rezo, the powerful mage who had within his eyes the bound soul of the Demon God Shabranigdo, who was unleashed and defeated back in the first season of the franchise. It appears, however, that Rezo was not entirely destroyed, as his soul was transferred into a magical device, the Hellmaster's Pot, before he was killed, along with Shabranigdo, by Lina. This is important because of new characters who are introduced in these two seasons, who also have a connection to the Red Priest. Played by another actor before, in the new episodes the voice (and for the most part, we only hear the disembodied voice of Rezo) is now Liam O'Brien. 2009 would seem to be his year of playing mages, as he had a fairly good-sized role voicing a mage in the game Dragon Age. The voice his gives Rezo is quite apt, a voice filled with both longing and a certain weariness, the weariness of having long been denied the thing that one has wanted for a great many years.
Moving on to entirely new characters, two stand out in terms of their importance and screen time: the prince in disguise Pokota and the wily old law enforcement official Wizer. The new seasons start with Lina and Gourry meeting up again with Amelia and Zelgadis in the land of Ruvinagald, where Wizer (Jay Snyder) is an Inspector for the kingdom. At first, he appears very happy to see Lina Inverse and invites her into the kingdom, but it was a trap, as his goal was to arrest her for the crime of being Lina Inverse. Apparently, being Lina is a crime, but it is not unreasonable: the kingdoms' army, especially its new fleet of magical tanks, have been attacked recently by a magic user wielding the Dragon Slave, a spell which is very strongly associated with Lina Inverse. Mr. Snyder is quite adept with Wizer, making his voice quite charming and persuasive when Wizer is seeking to lure Lina into his various traps (she escapes on several occasions), while he can also be forceful and commanding, or outraged and exasperated, as the occasion demands.
Where things get more complicated is when it is revealed that the one actually throwing around Dragon Slaves is not Lina, but a small stuffed animal that vaguely looks like a rabbit, named Pokota. Pokota is really a prince of the lost and cursed kingdom of Taforashia. In the past, his land fell under a horrible disease, the Durum Plague, and when all looked like it was lost...Rezo the Red Priest came to help them. As there was no cure for the Durum Plague, Rezo decided that the best he could do for them was to seal all of the people of Taforashia in stasis, promising to unseal them when a cure for the plague was discovered. What surprises, and discomforts, Lina and her friends is learning that the seal on Taforashia still remains, even though Rezo himself, so they thought, had been permanently eliminated. Once he was dead, the seal, as it was powered by his magic, should have been destroyed. Pokota was once a young human boy, but after his people were sealed, Rezo transferred his soul (and that of one of his friends) into animal bodies, with which they would be able to protect the sealed kingdom and try to seek help. Pokota is voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey, who gives him a slightly raspy voice, a trait that is fairly common with young boys being voiced by women in anime. She does a good job of bringing out his anger and frustration, as none of the other kingdoms apparently sent any aid to help his land (as far as he was aware), as well as his heartbreak upon learning later that all of the people in whom he placed his trust, his companion Duclis, the Red Priest Rezo who came as a "savior," had, in fact, betrayed him and his hopes for Taforashia's salvation and revival.
There are many other hidden gems and small treats in this dub. Stephanie Sheh and Troy Baker pop up in a few roles. And where else will you be able to hear Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) playing a headless knight? If there is one thing that definitely has improved with time and the move to NYAV Post, it is the quality of the incidental and episodic characters. They are now voiced at a much higher level of quality and professionalism than was common at the time of the first three seasons' dubbing.
Final Thoughts
When it was announced that FUNimation had acquired the new seasons of The Slayers, there was much uncertainty among fans of the long-running franchise as to how they would approach the dub. Would they use the actors that ADV had used for the OVAs and movies? That would have made a certain amount of sense to many, as they could have brought them in to do the work in-house. Therefore, it came as a big surprise when it was announced that they would be reforming the original New York cast used for the previous TV seasons, handing off production to NYAV Post, a dubbing house I really wish we could hear from more regularly. Under the direction of Mr. Sinterniklaas and Marc Diraison, the original cast, including Mr. Freeman who has since moved to California, has come back to deliver performances that provide a nearly seamless transition from the old seasons to the new. As Mr. Sinterniklaas also has many connections to the Los Angeles dubbing scene, we get other top names from that region making an appearance in this dub as well. While I have never been a great fan of the franchise (personally, the humor is not to my taste), I can applaud the effort taken in making this a quality dub for the show, and my hat is off to FUNimation for taking the trouble to provide continuity for older fans, and to Mr. Sinterniklaas and the talented group of actors who made this a dub that stands up quite strongly to current standards of dubbing, which are more exacting than things were back in the late 1990s.
Mermaid Update
I also had an occasion to complete watching the second half of My Bride is a Mermaid, which I review back in July. I am happy to say that the strong points of that dub continue into the second half, with strong performances from all of the actors. I am still greatly impressed by the freshness of Alexis Tipton's voice and performance in particular.
We get one very notable addition to the cast in the second half: Trina Nishimura becomes a regular presence as Akeno Shiranui, a Trainee Swordswoman who works for the Mermaid Government (which is apparently headquartered in Kyoto). She comes to Saitama in order to test how well the merfolk who are there can pass for human beings, especially Sun Seto. If any of them fail, she has the power to send them back to the water, for good. While the voice and performance is not an innovation for her (it is just another riff on her stiff-girl voice that she has used for Akira Takano in School Rumble and Shigure Kosaka in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple), she does it quite well, which serves in a way to help define the character in a short amount of time (I have not checked out the original track for her, but assume a similar type of voice which had the same effect of sketching the character without the need to waste episodes in defining her personality).
That is all for this edition. Thank you for reading. 

Series: Slayers, My Bride is a Mermaid (Seto no Hanayome)