2008 ended on many mixed notes, and not just in English dubbing. As 2009 began, when December 2008 dubs were nominated and voted on, the outlook for anime in English audio started appearing less mixed and more approaching extinction. It will likely never go that far, but it's hard to blame some fans from thinking so. However, this is where things like the ADR Awards, and the English Track forum community which hosts them, can become more important, especially to those fans most depressed about potentially dire changes to come. This is a touchstone to why it can be worth it to have dubbed anime, and why it's worth it to support it.
Like the industry of dubbing, however, the ADRA will be seeing changes this year, too. Its format and what it covers will be changing in the months ahead to something which should keep pace with the shifting volume of dubs, as well as the shifting consumerism of dub listeners. The monthly nature of the award, in fact, may fade away in favor of longer, more sustained periods of dub releases. Input on these potential changes is requested in the current nominating thread for January 2009, open through March 1st.
In the mean time, enjoy thoughts on some strong finishers in what was, for all its trials and tribulations, a strong year for dubs:
Best Male Performance for December 2008: Yuri Lowenthal, Suzaku Kururugi, Code Geass Part 2
The line between heroes and villains is drawn very finely in the world of Code Geass. While Lelouche Lamperouge, the protagonist, may have a cause that is worthy of some consideration, his methods are despicable and need condemnation. The other side of the coin is Suzaku Kururugi, ably voiced by Yuri Lowenthal. Suzaku is more "heroic." His professed values of intending to improve the world by changing the system from within, to remove the disparities and oppression of the Britannian Empire by remaking it from the inside, are noble, to an extent. Lowenthal gives Suzaku a certain nobility in his delivery. Suzaku does not skulk or wheedle. Lowenthal speaks his lines in a clear voice, a straightforward voice. The only thing that ruins this heroic image is his loyalty to the Britannians, who are ruthless oppressors with little regard for anyone weaker. This gives a slight tragic edge to his character, an edge which Lowenthal does bring into his performance at appropriate moments. It can be a difficult job to voice an idealist, since we live in an age more suited to irony and insincerity in general. Lowenthal manages to infuse his Suzaku with a genuine sincerity and sense of belief in what he is doing that greatly enhances the portrayal. A lesser performance might, in fact, have made Suzaku seem less sincere.
Best Female Performance: Mela Lee, Rena Ryugu, When They Cry Vol. 6
In the final volume of When They Cry (of what's available and has been released here in R1 by Geneon and Funimation), the character Rena Ryugu, known for her love of things that are cute, or at least that she finds cute, falls into a downward spiral of madness fueled by rage and paranoia. Throughout the series, Mela Lee has been called upon to voice Rena through some very disturbing moments. She gives an intense performance these last four episodes, going straight to the edge, but without her commanding acting going over the top. And she is captivating in her portrayal, deftly fitting her characterization of Rena around the disturbing duality of sugary sweetness and insanity. It's hard not to watch, or listen, to her affecting portrayal of the shattered psyche of Rena during some of her most gut wrenching moments.
Best Dub for December 2008: School Rumble Second Semester Part 2
Once again, we recognize the great work being done by ADR Director Brina Palencia and the cast of School Rumble. The story of the odd love triangulations and tribulations of a group of…let's face it, they're really quite abnormal high school students. Kenji Harima (Brandon Potter), our reformed delinquent who has become an aspiring manga creator, has a powerful and completely one-sided crush on the ditzy, airy, really, there's not much there upstairs, Tenma Tsukamoto (Luci Christian). Throw in Tenma's wonderfully sweet (and psychic) younger sister Yakumo (Caitlin Glass); Tenma's close friends: snooty rich girl with a soft center Eri (Leah Clark), tomboy Mikoto (Brina Palencia) and terse, all too "professional" Akira (Trina Nishimura); an over the top class leader (Chris Cason); a meek yet super-humanly strong girl (Karen Ichijou: Carrie Savage); a strange and brutal foreigner (Lara Gonzalez: Monice Rial); scheming rivals (Jason Liebrecht, Travis Willingham); assorted losers…I mean…classmates of Harima and Tenma (Dave Trosko, Todd Haberkorn, Ryan Pitts, several others); and last but not least, the weirdo curry-loving, secret manga genius whom Tenma is in love with, again in a one-sided relationship (Eric Vale), and you get School Rumble.
The real key to this dub is in the timing. Comedic timing is an art. While the English VAs must match the lip flaps, they also have to deliver their lines in a way that make the jokes funny. This requires a natural flow and rhythm to the deliveries, which the actors manage quite well. In the final episodes of the show, we get especially standout performances from Potter as Harima, dealing with the various feelings that he is continuing to struggle with, and from Caitlin Glass as the sweet Yakumo, who discovers a secret feeling that has been building up inside herself for some time. Very strong work also comes from Ms. Clark, Ms. Christian, and Ms. Palencia in many key scenes. Overall, now that most of the show has been dubbed and released, we have for our listening pleasure one of the best dubbed anime comedies in recent years.