When Geneon shut its doors temporarily in the fall of 2007, many fans were left wondering what would happen to their unreleased and incompletely released licenses. Including this show, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Over time, dub fans learned that localization work was being done: first, that a subtitle script was being prepared; then later that the show would indeed have a dub. What surprised most people at the time was that the names of the actors that were revealed were names largely unknown to even many of the more knowledgeable fans of R1 anime dubbing studios.
The mystery and uncertainty only grew, as there was no word as to which studio was producing the dub, nor any idea of who was serving as director. While some of the voice actors made an appearance in the AnimeonDVD forums, none of them would (or could) give any further information about who was running the show. It was a particularly observant fan who brought it to the general attention of us all that the first disc of Nanoha had among its credits, listed in small print on the back of the keepcase, a note about the "English DVD Version Produced by Geneon Entertainment (USA) Inc. in association with WPG Ltd." (There are no on disc credits, in English, of any sort). One of the actresses involved with the dub did mention that "WPG" stood for World Production Group, but would not (or could not) provide any further details, other than that this outfit was also created to produce the Familiar of Zero dub, which had previously been a complete blank as far as who produced it.
At this point, the name of the director and ADR script adapter are still complete mysteries. Therefore, any credit, or blame, that will be assigned to them, can only be assigned to faceless entities, unless they would be willing to step forward and claim ownership of this work. After they read this review, there should be reasons why they should be proud to come forward, and reasons why they might prefer to stay hidden.
It should be noted that this dub was completed some time ago, very likely in 2007.
Enter the Magical Girl
If you are going to have a show called "Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha," you are going to have to have a Magical Girl. Now, Geneon, knowing that magical girl anime sells about as well in R1 as refrigerators do in the Artic Circle, decided to drop the words "magical" and "girl" from the title, but they could not drop the magical girl. So, our heroine is one Nanoha Takamachi, a third-grader with an unquenchably sunny disposition (don't they always have that?). She is played by Cristina Valenzuela, a.k.a Cristina Vee, who was also the lead in the Familiar of Zero. At the start, she was slightly less fluid than she was in FoZ, partially I think due to the strain of trying to maintain her pitch, which was necessarily higher for this role. She does smooth out over the course of the next several episodes, and by the second volume (episodes 6+), she is already quite fluid and very clear in her diction and delivery.
A minor debate has arisen with people competing to say which more famous voice actress Ms. Valenzuela seems to be channeling: some have opted for Carrie Savage. Others for Kari Wahlgren. Myself, I must go for the third option that some others have put forward: Lisa Ortiz. At times, it is frankly uncanny how much Ms. Valenzuela can sound like Lisa Ortiz. But it is unfair to dismiss her performance as merely a work of vocal mimicry, since I doubt that that was her intent. In addition, there are plenty of occasions where Ms. Valenzuela clearly sounds like…well…of course…herself.
And overall that is a good thing. For Nanoha is the emotional center of the show, and Ms. Valenzuela is up to the task of bringing that emotion into her performance. Unrelentingly cheerful at times, Ms. Valenzuela ably conveys that cheerfulness, alternating with those bouts of doubt and uncertainty that affect all magical girls on occasion (as called for in the Giant Handbook of Magical Girl Tropes® [17th edition, revised]).
Friends and Family
Once we move past the lead character, things become a bit more murky. First the Friends, then the Family.
From the beginning, we are introduced to Nanoha's two close school friends, Arisa and Suzuka. I am not going to say much about Arisa, since she is uncredited and no one has come forward to claim her. I will say that perhaps that is just as well, since I was not terribly impressed with the performance, which I found rather stiff, inflexible, and lacking in a genuine emotional feel to it, improving only slightly towards the end of the show. Suzuka, voiced by Xanthe Huynh, on the other hand, was pleasant enough to listen to, even if it was not that challenging a role, and thus, did not elicit a performance that left a strong impression beyond the notes I took while watching. It was cute, but I do not really have much to say beyond that, except that at times, she could be plagued by an issue that affected others in this dub, but I will get to that later when I talk about "the director."
Turning now to the family, I was satisfied enough with the parents, Shiro and Momoko Takamachi, played by Kaiji Tang and Michelle Ann Dunphy, respectively. Nothing really special stuck out about them. The siblings, Kyoya and Miyuki, however, I did find some fault with. They were both flat, both in delivery and in the emotional range that helps to separate the excellent dub from the underwhelming one. They reflected a larger lack of dynamic emotional range in many of the characters in the dub. I will stop here, however, since Kyoya and Miyuki are uncredited, so there is no one's performance to critique here.
Allies and Enemies
In the course of a Magical Girl show, besides the Generally Supportive Family and Friends™, there must also be a Mascot®, a Support Staff® and a Magical Girl Rival©®™. So let us turn to them.
How Nanoha acquired her magical powers is quite simple. While on the way back from school one day, she was drawn to an area of woods where she found a wounded ferret. Later, when a Big Scary Monster™ came to kill the ferret, Nanoha hurried to the rescue, sensing the danger psychically. Once faced with the BSM™, Nanoha was given a weapon to fight it: a small red gemstone that transforms into a pretty powerful fighting weapon. This would be Raging/Raising Heart (why the double name? I will get to that in the section on "Inconsistencies" below). An intelligent weapon which reacts to its master's thoughts, Nanoha employs the Raging Heart (voiced nicely by Bailey Chadwick) to defeat a strange creature, that is apparently powered by an ancient lost technology (wait, when did this suddenly become an episode of Galaxy Angel?). Nanoha defeats the creature, and also learns that the ferret can talk (and of course, he is not really a ferret as we knew from the very start and see again later).
Let us keep the plot summarization to a minimum. You can read the site review later. Nanoha learns that the ferret's name is Yuuno Scyra, a mage from another world who has come to Earth to try to track down and capture these pieces of lost technology (called the Lost Logia), specifically, the Jewel Seeds, one of which Nanoha has just defeated and sealed away in Raging Heart. Yes, this is certainly a magical girl anime. Cue the "Collect Jewel Seed of the Week" format. (Fortunately, things turned away from that before I decided it was time to throw out my DVDs).
Yuuno is voiced by Marianne Miller, and she does a pretty good job overall. At the very beginning, in some of the earlier episodes, I felt that Yuuno was perhaps a touch too girlish (though that is not entirely out of place, Yuuno is not the most Manly Man kind of boy), but she improved significantly over the course of the show, and by the last volume, she sounded quite comfortable and natural in the role. That "girlish" touch had also largely disappeared.
Advancing a bit further into the story, Nanoha and Yuuno eventually team up with a group called the Time-Space Administration Bureau. Working directly under the captain of the TSAB's flagship, the Arthra, Lindy Harlaown, Nanoha and Yuuno get involved in the larger events that surround the recapture of the Jewel Seeds. Lindy Harlaown, a kind, laid back mature female voice, is a decent performance, but there is no name attached to it that can be verified, so I move on. Lindy's son, Chrono Harlaown, a first-class mage and commissioned officer of the TSAB, is, however, credited, so I will talk about Lauren Landa's performance here, even though I have more to say about another role of hers. As Chrono, Ms. Landa is quite good. While I was quite sure it was a woman providing a boy's voice before I checked who had played the role, it is a believable enough voice. More importantly, Ms. Landa is one of the actors in this dub who can deliver some emotional oomph to her line reads. Listen to the scene in Episode 11, where Chrono talks about how it is impossible to regain the past. You can hear the emotional pull of his words. Well done.
Enter the Rival
Of course, it would not be a magical girl show if there was not a rival, an equal for our heroine in power, but devoted to a less noble cause, which turns out to be misguided rather than evil, resulting in…okay, enough about magical girl show clichés.
Fate Testarossa, a mage clad in black with sad eyes, as Nanoha says again, and again, and again…is Nanoha's rival in the race to recapture the Jewel Seeds. Fate needs them for her mother, Precia, who needs them for…plot stuff I will not talk about.
Fate is voiced by Jennifer Alyx. In the Familiar of Zero, Ms. Alyx played the shy, taciturn Tabitha. Here, she plays the shy and not given to speaking much either Fate. The two performances bear quite a bit of resemblance to each other up until the end, where there is a subtle change in Fate which I will not discuss. You will have to see that for yourself. It is appropriate for the character. There is a serious lack of any depth or feel to this performance, but that might be deliberately intended, as a reflection of who Fate is and what she has gone through. So, it is on target.
Fate has a familiar, a powerful ally in her fights, Alf/Arf/Aruf (I will get to this in a moment). Voiced by Lauren Landa, Arf is quite the sexy beast, while also showing a strong amount of care and concern for her mistress. There is quite a lot of passion in her voice when she speaks about Fate. I give Ms. Landa credit for pulling off two rather different roles in this dub (Arf and Chrono) and doing so quite well.
There is one actress who is clearly having too much fun with her role, and that is Julie Rei Goldstein, who plays the malevolent, vicious, vile Precia Testarossa. An insane and powerful mage, driven mad because of an old loss, Precia is inhuman in her treatment of her daughter Fate (though why she is so inhuman towards her daughter is explained by the end). Ms. Goldstein gives Precia a breathy at times, otherwise overly exultant, voice that teems with bile and scorn. Scenery-chewing villains are a staple of most entertainment, and Ms. Goldstein tears up an entire prop storage room with this role. At times, she is completely certifiable, and that is exactly what one should expect.
If there is one major problem with this production, if you are wondering why I cannot place this dub, despite some rather enjoyable individual performances, in the top rank of dubs currently being released today, it would be because of the level of inconsistency in the direction, the localization, and the performances.
Beyond the core group of major characters, there is a noticeable drop off in the quality of the voices and the performances in the lesser and incidental characters. Characters such as Nanoha's older brother and sister are quite flat and uninspiring. Very minor characters, such as two TSAB operatives involved in the Final Battle near the end, in Episode 11, are a study in contrasts. The First Soldier (so I will call him—I have no crediting information to work off of) to speak sounds about as lively as a wooden plank. The Second Soldier is far smoother and natural, but therefore all the more jarring when paired up with the first one.
Even among the core groups, there are differences. Ms. Valenzuela, Ms. Landa, Ms. Goldstein, and Ms. Miller are all providing good, solid performances. Ms. Huynh, Ms. Alyx, and a few uncredited ones are quite serviceable. But then there are others, as noted above, that are just flat or uninspiring.
It is only natural that the dub script and the subtitle script should diverge, which they do quite sharply in this title, but the manner in which they diverge at times is less than optimal. The meaning of the dialogue does not veer away too far, but it seems no one was there to check on whether the dub script and the subtitle script would agree on important things that really should be agreed upon: such as the names of characters.
For example, in the dub, Nanoha's weapon is referred to consistently as "Raging Heart," one of the two possible ways of interpreting the Japanese original. In the subtitles, in the first volume, it says "Raging Heart," only to be replaced by "Raising Heart" from volume two onwards, in accordance with the "official" transcription from Japan. The original plan was to retain the usage "Raging" for the first series, switching to "Raising" for Lyrical Nanoha A's. The change was made partially for the subs (through no fault of the subtitler, as subs with "Raising" for the first volume were provided, but apparently not used, perhaps because of the lateness of the change), but was not made in the dub, which seems to have kept to Plan A. But what does this say about the communication between the Japanese licensors and the dubbing staff?
Another amusing inconsistency is Arf. In the first volume, the dub calls her "Alf" (for the most part). In the second volume we have "Arf." Finally in volume three, we are greeted with "Aruf" in the dub. The subtitles, following the official name list, have "Aruf" from the very start. I appreciate that the dub script is consistent in each individual volume, but please, who was in charge here and why did they not just decide on one? Who was minding the store for the dub?
The inconsistencies in pronunciation, the uneven level of the performances, and some further points I am about to make, all point to a lack of direction, or else a director who was operating under severe limits of time and budget. If it was a case of the latter, then I sympathize and can applaud that so much good was done under such adverse conditions. If, on the contrary, the unevenness was due to a lack of care or commitment, I have no such sympathy.
Regardless of all else, there are two things that bothered me. One, a strange inconsistency in what is a deliberate choice, and two, an over-adherence to the sanctity of lip flaps. I will take the second one first. As an example of Lip Flap Syndrome, I present Suzuka in Episode 3. While the three girls are happily chatting away with each other, at one point we get a close up on Suzuka, so there is no way to get around flap matching entering into the director's mind. But what comes out is an instance of where we get flap matching causing the dub to sound very stilted. When Suzuka says "Thank you for stopping by today," that is not exactly what we hear. We hear "Thank you for stop-ping-by-to-day." The jarring effect comes when the "camera pan" [it is not live action, obviously there is no camera being panned in real space] takes the shot away from a close up on Suzuka, her later dialogue is quite fluid and natural sounding. I would rather violate the laws of lip flap and have a more natural sounding line read than to have perfect flap match that-re-sults-in-lessthanbelieve-----a-----ble line reads.
Another instance, which has the further effect of giving us Weird Sounding English, occurs in Episode 4. Suzuka's young maid, Falin, in response to a request from her older sister and senior maid Noel, also falls prey to Lip Flap Syndrome.
Japanese track: "Hai. Yokai desu, onee-sama."
Subtitle (Andrew Kent): "Yes, roger sister." [Slighty odd, but that is kind of what it says].
Dub script: "Got it. I'll help you get things ready, my sister."
The "my sister" sounds really quite odd, and is a great example of Weird Sounding English caused by over fidelity to flaps. Listen to it for yourself, do not just read my words here. You will see what I mean. There are quite a few instances of Lip Flap Syndrome, affecting quite a few different characters at different times.
One strange directorial decision was apparent in Episode 9. It was not important, but it struck me as odd [though only because I had the subtitles on while watching, I must admit]. At the end of a regular class session [everyone familiar with anime set in Japanese schools is well acquainted with the "Rise" "Bow" routine], Suzuka expresses her worry for Nanoha at this point by thinking about her, speaking her name inside her head in voiceover. Except that it is completely cut out of the English version. It is there in the Japanese, I checked it, but it has been removed from the English.
Further, in Episode 10, when Nanoha is having a telepathic [mages can use telepathy] conversation with Lindy Harlaown, the telepathic communication in the Japanese was replaced in the English version with the voiced dialogue that Nanoha was having with Arisa and Suzuka (they were playing a video game at the time), which was only muted in the background behind Nanoha's voiced over telepathy in the Japanese.
So, that is consistent, so what is the problem? Well, in Episode 12, when Nanoha comes home, this time the dub does include both the voice over telepathic communication and the openly spoken dialogue, as is found in the original track. Why suddenly now does the dub do what was omitted twice before? Especially when the omission in Episode 10 was quite an important omission?
Such inconsistencies lie with the director. The director is the one who makes decisions of this sort, unless there are orders coming down from On High (meaning the Japanese licensor or the Geneon production executive, and that latter can sometimes be safely ignored). And so the fault, and I do think inconsistencies of this sort are a fault, lies with the director.
Lyrical Nanoha, having its origins in a fandisc spinoff of a minor character from an erogame (Triangle Hearts, wiki it for information), is far better than such a pedigree would lead one to expect. The dub as well is a bit better than one would expect from a studio which refuses to openly name itself. But not that much better. There is an unevenness not only to the general tone or feel, but also in the caliber of the performances and the appropriateness of the casting on occasion. There are several A rank performances that shine quite well. But there are also a number of middling and several mediocre ones that drag this down from being in the top rank of dubs currently in release. In time, some of these voice actors can join the ranks of the top class of talent in the Los Angeles region. Others might find themselves a place among the unheralded small part players who help to provide the necessary support that every dub needs in minor and incidental roles. As an independent group, however, there is quite a bit of work to be done to compete with the more established studios.
Lyrical Nanoha Complete Set
Released by Geneon Entertainment (USA)
Distributed by FUNimation Entertainment
Dubbed by Geneon Entertainment (USA) in association with World Production Group Ltd.
Running Time: 325 Mins.
Directed by Director X
Adaptation Script by Adapter X