Eigo Kudasai: This Side of Paradise (Mania.com)
Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2010
A sharp and intriguing show gets a sharp and intriguing dub.
Eden of the East (11 episodes)
Dub Produced by FUNimation Productions, Ltd., Flower Mound, TX.
Line Producer: Mike McFarland
ADR Dir: Mike McFarland
Head Writer: John Burgmeier
Script Writer: Andrew Rye
With Kenji Kamiyama, the man behind Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, directing andwriting, Chica Umino, the manga creator of Honey and Clover, designing the characters, and Production IG providing the animation, there was quite some interest in the new work that premiered on Fuji Television's noitaminA animation block on April 9, 2009, called Eden of the East. The story revolves around a mysterious young man named Akira Takizawa, or at least that is the name that he goes by, since he has amnesia and cannot remember his real name at all. Takizawa wakes up one day naked holding a gun in one hand and a strange cellphone in the other, standing outside the White House in Washington, D.C. It just so happens that at the same time, a young Japanese tourist named Saki Morimi is there as well, intending to throw a quarter into the fountain in front of the White House to make a wish come true. Of course, it is not as easy as it once was to do that, since now the White House has a large perimeter fence that keeps the public far away from it, a result of the September 11th attacks, which are referenced a couple of times in this series.
Through a series of events, Morimi finds herself tagging along with Akira as the two return to Japan (while Takizawa's name is fake, he is apparently Japanese), just in time to witness the aftermath of a horrible act of terrorism. A missile of some sort struck a neighborhood in Tokyo. This was not the first time this happened, as a much more significant attack involving ten missiles occurred some months previously, the famous "Careless Monday" incident, given that name when the Prime Minister said that carelessness led to the event, which was fortunately not a deadly one as for some mysterious reason, no one died. As Saki becomes more and more interested in Akira, the mystery surrounding him and his phone becomes more and more complex, eventually involving a corrupt cop, a hospital director, a psychopathic modeling agency CEO, and 20,000 NEETs ("Not in Education, Employment or Training") who disappeared in odd circumstances. Over time, Akira learns that he is a Seleção, a member of group of twelve people who have each been given a phone and a 10 billion yen line of credit which can be spent however the person likes, with certain restrictions. They have been tasked by a mysterious man, only referred to as Mr. Outside, with the goal of trying to save Japan from the malaise in which it flounders (this is a real world reference to the fact that Japan has never fully recovered from the Lost Decade, the long period of stagnation that has followed the bust of their boom at the end of the 1980s). The television series, which runs for eleven episodes, does not even answer all of the questions posed, and FUNimation, which distributed the TV series, will also be releasing the two follow up movies that should answer more of the mysteries. But for now, let us look at the dub for just the series.
The show mainly focuses on two important leads, but also gives prominence to a large number of minor and supporting characters whose impact on the story can be fundamental. First off, let us look at those two leading characters, Akira Takizawa and Saki Morimi.
Takizawa is played by Jason Liebrecht, an experienced actor who originally got his start at Monster Island Studios in Austin, Texas, the secondary studio that ADV Films ran during the boom years of anime, when they could not dub all of their shows at Industrial Smoke and Mirrors, the main in-house dubbing operating in Houston. After Monster Island ceased operations, as the number of shows needing to be dubbed diminished along with ADV, some of the actors found work elsewhere, including a few others who have found their way to the Dallas area where Flower Mound is located. Mr. Liebrecht has since landed quite a few major roles, including Kouhei Morioka, the male lead of MoonPhase, and Syaoran, the male lead of Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, two very different roles. He has shown great range, from young teens males to much older sounding young men. For Akira, he employs a voice and range somewhat more in line with his earlier performance as Kouhei, though here he is much more carefree and light with his delivery and timing, in keeping with Takizawa's very laid back and carefree personality.
There is something very irresponsible about the way Takizawa acts, perhaps an effect of the amnesia, which was apparently artificially caused on the instructions of his former self, and that lack of concern for the consequences of his actions is well conveyed by Mr. Liebrecht's tone and voice. But that is not the only path in which his performance shines. I think his best work comes in episode 7, where he tries to offer some psychological counseling to the very disturbed Diana Kuroha Shiratori (Christine Auten), the aforementioned psychopath. In the scene where he is trying to reason with her, to discover why she feels it necessary to go around picking up stray male losers and emasculating them (yes, snip snip!), there is a sincerity to his attempt to reach her, damaged goods that she is, that is very tender. That kind of range, the ability to be utterly carefree and unconcerned at one moment, but also caring and sympathetic at another, is worthy of note. In all, a fine performance that suits the character perfectly.
Leah Clark voices Saki Morimi. Ms. Clark is an actress with an interesting diversity of roles herself, having voiced such polar opposites, in many ways, as Nodoka Miyazaki in Negima and Eri Sawachika in School Rumble. Recently, she gave us all a wonderfully twisted and well-nigh deranged high school kendo club member in Miyako Miyazaki, the seemingly perfectly sweet and demure girlfriend of the lumpen Danjuro Eiga, who uses that saccharin veneer to cover up a heart filled with rage and venom. Which is why having her play Saki Morimi, a shy wallflower of a young woman just out of college, did not immediately strike me as the first choice I would have made, had I been casting the show. Thus all the more my surprise when I first heard part of this dub a few months ago and saw what she brought to it. The voice is cute, sweet, soft, and slightly hesitant, exactly as it should be. I have not quite heard her at this exact register before, with this much tight control, trying not in any way to sound controlling or powerful. It is a voice that conveys a feeling of weakness without being a weak voice. It is not that Saki is a weak character, she shows an adventurous streak at times, but she is not the heroic character that Takizawa is slowly revealed to be, heroic in the sense of being larger than life and more than willing to strut upon the world stage as a player, not a spectator. And this distinction between the two is partially demonstrated by how well Ms. Clark uses her voice to make Saki take a step back or two in the scenes she is in. She does not disappear, nor hide in the background, which would be wrong, but I get the impression of Saki being slightly uncomfortable in dealing with others at times, and that discomfort is admirably conveyed by Ms. Clark's performance.
More than just bit players: the Seleção
Akira and Saki have more screen time than just about any other character, but several other characters, including one whom we never really see in the flesh (for good reason) play important roles.
Foremost among them is just a disembodied voice on the other end of a phone, specifically the special cellphone that Takizawa carries around. As mentioned before, Akira has access to a large line of credit. For more complicated requests, for example, buying an entire shopping mall, he can make use of the services of a concierge who is named Juiz. Juiz is voiced by Stephanie Young, whose sexy voice has been heard a number of times in minor roles in FUNimation dubs, though she has also had the occasional lead role in which she has shown some range, particularly as Clare in Claymore. Here, however, she is in full sex goddess mode, though with a catch: Juiz sounds almost like a computer-synthesized voice, balanced in tone and lacking emotion. Not that the performance is completely lacking in subtle vocal cues at times. Even though she stays cheerfully computerized throughout the show, she is not without personality. In episode 7, for example, as she delivers the line "Even though you are now guilty of abusing state power, I still pray for your continuing service as a savior," there is a playfulness to the delivery that is very nice. That same playfulness comes out again later in the episode when she says to Akira "You're such a violent savior. I pray you will show more restraint in the future." The reason for her sounding the way she does is revealed later in the show.
As part of his attempt to regain his lost members and find out what exactly a Seleção is (for the curious, the name itself will be explained late in the show), Akira sets out to contact other members, though he does not start down this path until he is himself first targeted by another holder of a phone. This man is Yusei Kondo, a corrupt detective in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. Having nearly spent all of his money, it is revealed that if you spend all of it, you will be killed. Thus, Kondo attempts to steal Akira's phone in order to get more money. Unfortunately for Kondo, after seizing Akira's phone, he learns that each phone has fingerprint recognition protections built into them, and only the rightful owner can use the phone and access the money tied to it. Kondo is played by Chris Sabat, who uses a slightly less gruff version of his normal low range, yet one infused with weariness and cynicism which is entirely in keeping with the character. Of course, his villainous behavior catches up with him in the end, though in his final moments, he imparts some important truths about the entire Seleção thing to Akira, after handing back his phone to him: apparently, they are all involved in some kind of complex game, but one that will prove fatal unless you win it. He advises Akira to contact more Seleção if he wishes to learn the entire truth about his past.
Thus Akira starts his quest to contact more of the Seleção in order to learn more about himself. Along the way, he does meet several of them (not all twelve are seen in the television series). The next member of the elaborate "game" that they are all playing whom he meets is the kindly Dr. Hiura, who used his money to build a hospital that tends to the elderly, a group he feels has been left behind by Japanese society today. The game is almost over for him, however, since he has used up just about all of his cash without winning the game by "fixing" the malaise in Japan. But learning of Akira's situation, he does help Akira by providing some more information about the entire web they are caught in, the creation of a mysterious figure known only as "Mr. Outside." Kent Williams, who played the villainous Father in Fullmetal Alchemist, is a much more kindly, grandfatherly figure here, with a performance that matches well. From Dr. Hiura, Akira learns a little more about how he was brought into this game, as well as more about a danger that Kondo had also mentioned: a person called "The Supporter," who is tasked with killing members of the Seleção who use up all of their money or do not use the money according to the rules set by Mr. Outside.
As he peers deeper into the mystery of this group, Akira eventually crosses paths with Kuroha, the sociopathic penis-cutter, played with a cold sexiness by Christine Auten. Kuroha is unhinged, but as is quite true to life, she does not go around acting frantic. No, she is quite calm, cold and collected. If anything she is bored and feels nothing. When she finally reveals her plan to Akira, it is delivered with a chilling deadness that is both repellent and a little saddening. Akira's nobility, however, and kindness somehow manage to break through to her, and she does soften a bit before she disappears.
The final three Seleção that we meet we mainly meet together at the end. They are Mononobe (John Gremillion), a former bureaucrat turned business executive, Yuki (Jerry Jewell), a weak and whiny young man, and Tsuji (Todd Haberkorn), a spoiled rich kid who resents being involved in this whole business, as he already had 10 billion yen to blow. The most vocal, and the only one who leaves a strong impression is Mononobe, who is commanding and menacing as portrayed by Mr. Gremillion.
Eden of the East
The other major group of characters are the friends of Saki Morimi, a group of NEETs who met in college and have decided to work together to create a paradise for NEETs, the so-called "Eden of the East." At the moment, Eden is a successful commercial site largely because of an image recognition application created by the shy Micchon, a talented programmer (Stephanie Sheh), which has led to it becoming a popular matchmaking site. Ms. Sheh makes Micchon appropriately pouty without falling into the common traps of being too irritable or striving to be cuter in order to make the character more likable. The leader of the group is Kazuomi Hirasawa (J. Michael Tatum), who is given a rather mature sounding voice, in line with several other performances by Mr. Tatum, with direct similarities to his voicing for Kyoya Ohtori in Ouran High School Host Club, a character that certain shares some similarities to Hirasawa. The only oddity is a brief outburst in episode 6 where Mr. Tatum takes Hirasawa up several steps, maybe even an octave, in one scene. Perhaps that was meant to show that he is still a young man, as the character is also only about 21. Also among her friends is Satoshi Osugi (Michael Sinterniklaas), a somewhat wimpy guy who has a big crush on Saki. Mr. Sinterniklaas does get Osugi down very well, seemingly clueless at first, with a vague and unsure feel to his voice, but morphing quickly to anger, especially in episode 5 where he goes into a drunken rage at one point, followed by increasing suspicion and paranoia when he begins to question exactly who Akira Takizawa is. Speaking of paranoia, I will end with Yutaka Itazu, nicknamed "Panties" (underpants in the subs), a reclusive shut-in who is also a brilliant computer programmer and friend of Hirasawa's, to whom Akira turns for help in trying to unwrap the mystery of his phone. Itazu, played by relative newcomer Newton Pittman voices "Panties" with a keen sense of fear and suspicion, worthy of a shut-in who sees conspiracies everywhere in the world, most of all, the shadowy Seleção who seem to be connected to the Careless Monday attacks and the disappearance of 20,000 NEETs from Japan. You could consider him the fourth Lone Gunman, and a properly voiced one.
As is usual with FUNimation, there are substantial differences between the dub script and the subtitle script. For example, in the very first episode, as Akira and Saki are walking out of the decrepit apartment building where he lived in D.C., he comments to Saki that things are getting uncomfortable. When asked why, he replies:
Sub: "If we're unlucky, the whole place could burn down."
Dub: "Nothing really, it's just a little toasty for my taste."
The rewrite introduces a horrible pun, which while slightly amusing, is not there in the original.
This is pretty indicative of the entire show. In general, the most important pieces of plot information are not changed, but the wording is sometimes very different.
Eden of the East is a show filled with mystery, raising question upon question, only some of which get answered for now. The dub, however, has answered the single pressing question that might be asked about it: is it any good? The answer is yes. Jason Liebrecht gives an easy and breezy feel to Akira Takizawa that perfectly suits his nature while Leah Clark's Saki Morimi has a winning sweetness and believability. There are no weak spots to point to, with the supporting cast being solid from top to bottom. There is a pace and rhythm to this dub that fits it naturally, ebbing and flowing as it moves from action to suspense to near paranoia. If you are interested in a show that keeps you guessing with complex plotting and mystery, matched by a dub that fleshes out the characters well, I can strongly recommend this show.
Series: Eden of the East