Anime is not all shiny box sets or television series. While they are not unknown here, in Japan, there are far more anime features in the local movie theater. And more than just Miyazaki. Today, let us look at a couple of anime features, one from a franchise which later spawned a television series, the other a movie which was preceded by a television series (though both, in the end, have their origins in popular manga).
Dive on in
Innocence (Ghost in the Shell 2)
Dubbed by Animaze, Encino, CA
ADR Director: Kevin Seymour
Voice Fit: A
Delivery Flow: A-
Emotional Feel: B+
Mamoru Oshii’s love letter to basset hounds.
We all know it is true. Mr. Oshii is in love with basset hounds. They are the defining image of Innocence, the sequel to the first movie based upon Masamune Shirow's manga Ghost in the Shell, about the future where man and machine have become so closely tied together than the line between humans and androids has become rather thin. But enough about them, basset hounds that is. Let us move to the dub.
Which dub? You may well ask that. In its original release in North America by Go Fish Pictures (a subsidiary of the Dreamworks studio), the film was released without a dub…and with inadequate subtitles for most viewers. The subtitle track was actually closed captioning, which is not the standard for most subtitled anime releases in North America. After a storm of protest, corrected discs with a real subtitle track were eventually released, but Go Fish's (and Dreamworks') plans to make a positive impression on the anime market were pretty much in tatters.
In the United Kingdom, the distributor there, Manga Entertainment (UK), provided a dub. Not only a dub, but one involving most of the Animaze cast from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex television series, which was released by Manga Entertainment (US) and Bandai Entertainment Inc. in North America. This dub was not produced by Animaze, the original dubbing studio, but was instead handled through "Epcar Entertainment," obviously a temporary grouping formed for producing this specific dub. For the longest time, therefore, the only method by which someone in North America (the Region 1 DVD market) could hear the movie dubbed, was to import the R2 from the United Kingdom (or the Madman Entertainment R4 release, which used the Manga UK dub) and have a region-free DVD player (or computer).
All of that changed last year when word came out that Bandai Entertainment Inc. had acquired the rights to release Innocence here in North America from Go Fish Pictures, and intended to release it with a dub. At first, there was some confusion over whether it would be released with the Manga UK dub, or with a new one, perhaps by another studio (as part of Bandai's dubbing weirdness, they had released the two GiTS:SAC compilation movies with newly created dubs with a completely new cast from Ocean Studios in Vancouver instead of Animaze in California). In the end, we learned that the truth was to be stranger: the new editions of Innocence, including a Blu-ray release (which was used for reviewing purposes here), and a DVD release, would contain not only the Manga UK dub by Epcar Entertainment, but also a newly recorded dub, with the original Animaze cast, handled in the usual manner (produced by Bandai in association with ZRO Limit, recorded at Animaze).
Of course, while it seemed that we dub fans were to be spoiled for choice, in the end, it was not so perfect. While I have not had the time to listen to the Manga dub completely, I can confirm what a few early purchasers started to complain about in the Anime/Manga forums on this site: there was something wrong with the Manga dub. The pitch is off, quite considerably. Everyone sounds like they have a bit of a cold, or are deliberately lowering their register about an octave or so (some not quite that drastically, but still much lower than their usual range). Apparently, in the PAL to NTSC transfer (those interested in the technical issues, please use everyone's friend Google, this is a dub review, not a technical discussion of video transmission standards and the oddities that plague moving from one system to another), the audio became affected. While it is possible for a good mixing engineer to correct the pitch problem, apparently there was neither the time, nor the inclination (or perhaps the money) to do to. Therefore, the Manga UK dub, as we have it on the R1 release, will be nothing more than a curiosity. I do not review curiosities unless they amuse me.
So, let us turn to the new dub by Animaze.
In a word, the dub is good, but I have a few caveats to throw in there. The dub suffers from a very serious defect. Not in the intentions of the localization staff or the performers. It suffers from being much too faithful to the intentions of the original director, Mamoru Oshii. For in Innocence, Mr. Oshii has created an entertainment dud. The visuals are absolutely stunning, even more so on an HDTV and on Blu-ray. But the story and the dialogue are about as exciting as reading a treatise on some esoteric subject that none of us would particularly like to read while trying to be entertained. The philosophical musings of someone incredibly pretentious. The dub is faithful in following the tone and feel of the original, resulting in performances that are rather subdued and on occasion outright dull. You may wonder how I can give this dub a positive grade, but please keep in mind, the dub is doing its job admirably. It is the material that wastes that effort.
So, what is Innocence the dub like? There was some question about the opening dialogue with the helicopter: to my hearing, it was definitely Cantonese. Apparently, the Manga UK dub used something else.
Overall, the tone and mood of the entire movie is somber. For example, even without the pitch problems that plagued the Manga UK dub, the Animaze dub also features the cast playing things a bit lower and slower. For example, William Knight, the voice of Aramaki, the head of Section 9, not a very highly pitched voice to begin with, is a little lower and more somber than usual. While Aramaki could have a slightly playful edge to his voice at times in the television series, here, he is all business, and quite deadly serious about that business.
The two main leads for this outing, Richard Epcar as the seemingly brutish (but actually quite intelligent) cyborg Batou and Crispin Freeman as the more "human" (less cybernetically enhanced) Togusa are pretty much as they always are in the SAC dub, but also more subdued somehow. It is as if somebody had killed their dogs (which could have happened, but did not, to Batou) and made them both rather annoyed and weary. You can sense it in the slightly slower pace of their deliveries at times. The very melancholic feel to their voices. It is in the air. It is in the water. It is in the constantly displayed pictures of basset hounds everywhere assaulting the viewer.
The dialogue is definitely much more stuffy and pretentious. That is all Mr. Oshii, of course. Quite a lot of quotations from people whom you might think would be famous, but are not always so.
On occasion, in the Animaze version, there are some amusing changes in the dialogue from what the sub track would seem to show is the Japanese original. For example:
Batou and Togusa, riding in the elevator after visiting the Police Lab:
Sub: “Hell, neither one of you has a face that I’d wanna see in the mirror.”
Batou: “Hell, the last thing I want to see in the mirror is your ugly reflection.”
The ugliness was apparently only implied in the original, or maybe not. In the dub, the implication is made manifest. So, there was an attempt to make the dub script a little less opaque at times, though by removing the ambiguity, they may have also made it less engaging for the viewer.
The subtitles on the odd occasion have a strangely British flair to them.
Togusa speaking to Batou after meeting with Aramaki to discuss the case:
Togusa: “Dunno, but the old man’s worked up over it.”
sub: “The Old Man’s got his knickers in a twist over it for some reason.”
Well, I say there, chaps…the subtitler fancied himself a boffin of English slang. But I think that makes for a little dodgy translation at times.
At other times, the dialogue is far more natural where the subtitles can be somewhat overly colloquial:
Batou: “Then let’s go do this, partner”
sub: “Then saddle up, partner”
I didn't realize that Batou was John Wayne reincarnated.
About the only returning performer who seems to have any fun at all with her performance is Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who makes a brief reappearance as a "fragment" of the Major, Motoko Kusanagi, who fused with the Net at the end of the original Ghost in the Shell feature. From her first brief piece of dialogue, "You’ve stepped inside the kill zone,” spoken only in voice over when Batou is inside a convenience store, Ms. McGlynn seems far more alive than the cardboard cutouts that pass for the rest of the characters.
Ms. McGlynn is the only one with a little more life in her voice. She is not as subdued and flat as the others. But it is not that she is bouncy or anything like it. It is more that her character, now at home with being meshed into the entire Net, has a detached bemusement when viewing the problems of corporeal beings. There is a wry good humor to her performance. Whosever choice it was, it was not a bad decision, as it seemed to match the Major’s view of normal existence at this point.
There are other minor roles of some note. Travis Willingham gives a good performance as the hacker Kim, who tries to play mind games with Togusa and Batou. Laura Bailey turns up as a scared little girl, whom she infuses with the right amount of fear, and petulance, in her brief time on screen. Michael McCarty gets a few good moments as the Section 9 regular Ishikawa. All of the other minor roles are well executed.
So, what do I have to say about the Animaze dub? It is not bad. It gets the job done and matches the tone and tenor of the movie quite well. What flaws there might be, in terms of entertainment, lie more at the feet of the original and its idiosyncratic creation, than with the dubbing and localization team. While this review might seem to be negative in tone, it is not meant to be. I applaud the team at Animaze for providing a very appropriate and suitable dub for this feature. But, they have also succeeded in reminding me how much the movie itself bored me.
Remembrance of things (and people) that have passed
Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody
Dubbed by Studiopolis, Studio City, CA
ADR Director: Wendee Lee
Voice Fit: A-
Delivery Flow: A-
Emotional Feel: B+/A-
As a strong contrast to the pretentious philosophizing of Mamoru Oshii's take on Ghost in the Shell, I decided to next check out the first (there are two later ones) feature to be created from the shounen megahit franchise Bleach, created by Tite Kubo. The cast is the same as that of the TV series, which has been running on broadcast television for some time now. And the movie dub is not in any significant way different from that television dub, also produced by Studiopolis.
Johnny Young Bosch's Ichigo Kurosaki is about as ornery as usual. Michelle Ruff is her usual serious self as Rukia Kuchiki. She is still as amusing as usual when she engages in attempts to explain things to the rather oblivious Ichigo, such as in the cutsey bit near the beginning where she lays out the problem with Ichicgo leaving his body just anywhere instead of using his substitute soul Kon.
The freshest and newest voice in this dub is the new character Senna, a young Soul Reaper whom no one has ever heard of, and who has no memories herself of which squad or which division of the Soul Society she belongs to. Played by the relative newcomer Gina Bowes (credited as G.K. Bowes), Senna is very playful and childish. There is a natural spark to her performance that really enlivens things when she is on screen.
In contrast, many of the other regular characters are far too serious and sober. Urahara (Michael Lindsay), Capt. Hitsugaya (Steve Staley) seem to suffer quite a bit from it at times.
Another new addition for this outing is Troy Baker as the chief villain, Ganryu. He provides a good solid villain voice, at times playing it to the hilt as villains in these types of shows should.
On the other side of the ledger, David Lodge as the incorrigible Kenpachi Zarak is just plain nuts, which fits the roles perfectly. The actor is definitely having some fun with this role for the all too brief time that he is on screen.
In general, the voices are all basically the same as they are in the TV series. If you have watched a significant number of episodes of Bleach, then you have heard almost all of these performances before.
There is one featurette of particular interest to dub fans included as an extra on the extras disc: a behind the scenes look at the production of the movie. In there, we get to see some of the voice actors and the director, Wendee Lee, talking about their involvement in the production of the dub. There are some useful insights in there, including a moment when Ms. Lee speaks about how Mr. Bosch keeps “a very tight gauge on what’s natural for the character and what isn’t,” serving as almost something of a sounding board for her direction. I would say that I do agree with her assessment there for the most part. Mr. Bosch does match the level of what is happening on screen quite well.
If you are a fan of the Bleach television dub, then this will be more goodness for you. Studiopolis, while they do not have any fanboys, unlike a few other studios, do produce dubs of a high standard. Bleach is a good example of that. The performances match the level of the material very well, and the casting choices are well chosen. Some actors seem to have a little more liveliness in their performances than others, but that can be the result as much of the type of character they have to play as much as anything else.
Next time: taking a break from current and recent releases, I might take a walk down memory lane and look back at a dub from what some people are now referring to as the "Golden Age of English Anime Dubbing," since, well, we are now possibly past that. Or, I might look at something more recent.