Best Student Council
Dubbed by ADV Studios, Houston, TX.
ADR Dir: Christine Auten
Voice Fit: A-
Emotional Feel: A-/A
Delivery Flow: A-
Can a mediocre show have a good dub? Time and again, the answer to that question has been yes. But does a good dub necessarily save a mediocre show? That is an interesting question.
At the beginning of 2007 (therefore the dubbing started in 2006), ADV Films released ?????, (Gokujo Seitokai), translated into English as "Best Student Council." The story follows the rather unfortunate orphan Rino Rando, whose only companion in the world after her mother's death is a hand puppet named Pucchan. Not just any hand puppet, Pucchan apparently talks, and even moves somewhat, completely on his own. A mysterious benefactor, Mr. Poppit, sends the young orphan to go to school at the elite Miyagami Academy, paying for her fees and setting her up in an apartment.
Since comedy loves misfortune, of course, Rando comes to her new home only to find out that it has burned down, along with all of her possessions, which had been sent ahead. Forlorn, she makes her way to the school, hoping to find relief there. Through a series of fortunate events (or were they so "randomly" fortunate?), Rando finds herself elevated to join the Miyagami Academy Maximum Authority Wielding Best Student Council, also known as the Best Student Council. The President, Kanade Jinguuji, seems to take a liking to young Rando for some reason, and all of the poor orphan's needs are taken care of, as members of the Best Student Council live in a special dorm, have free room, board and tuition, and live a rather charmed life.
Enough about the show, let us talk about the dub.
Directed by Christine Auten, the dub to Best Student Council does a fairly good job in terms of casting. In the dual leading roles of Rino Rando and Pucchan, the talented and versatile Kira Vincent-Davis shows off her remarkable vocal artistry and ability, giving these two characters two very distinct voices. Rino is a well-meaning, gosh-darn likable 14-year-old girl, and is given a sweet and slightly soft voice to bring out those traits. In the completely opposite direction there is Pucchan, a rough, raspy, and sarcastic bundle of criticism and condescension (if this was not a show aimed at a relatively younger audience, he undoubtedly would have been foul-mouthed as well). But Pucchan is also very perceptive and honest, and loyal to Rino Rando, who was put into his care by Rino's dying mother with her final breaths.
At this point, you might expect a regular roll call of roles, but I do not plan to do that this time. Instead, I want to discuss the dub in broad strokes, bringing in performances and voices as they fit. The primary dynamic between Rando and Pucchan is expertly handled by Ms. Vincent-Davis, as she brings both characters to full life. There is a distinct difference in personality between the two. We all know about Ms. Vincent-Davis' broad range (think about the worlds of difference between Valkyrie of UFO Princess Valkyrie and Chihuajuan in Princess Tutu), but the ability to separate Rino and Pucchan into two distinct, yet related (since everyone thinks that Rino is just using ventriloquism) voices. There is a natural chemistry with the other characters as well, especially with Hilary Haag (Kaori Izumi—note: I dislike how they pronounce her name KAY-ori in the dub), whose irritated frustration plays very well off of Rino's cluelessness, and Pucchan's biting commentary. Also of note is how well Kelly Manison's sweet President Jinguuji serves as a maternal voice of comfort and understanding to Rino's veil of ignorance and lack of self-awareness.
One of the other great pairings of voices is Shelly Calene-Black's stern and almost martial Council Vice President Nanaho Kinjo, who rubs up against Luci Christian's much smoother, more calm, or so it seems, Council Vice President Kuon Ginga (do not ask me why there are two VPs). The two make a great pair, with Ms. Calene-Black flying off the handle while Ms. Christian coolly responds to the various situations that arise to challenge the Best Student Council. It is also a good example of appropriate casting, as Ms. Calene-Black's voice lends itself to exasperation well, while Ms. Christian gets to show us her ability to restrain emotion and emphasis, traits that are not as strongly on display in some of her signature roles, but ones she does very well.
The reason why I bring up pairs is because this dub largely works as pairs or groupings. Single speeches are not really this show's strong point, nor do they register as strongly as when two or more characters are working together as a group. The strength in this dub lies in the solid casting of voices against each other. In the various groupings, the Assault Squad, the Student Council Executives, Rino and the President, Rino and Kaori, Rino and Ayumu Oume (Monica Rial), an early friend and classmate, the voices work well, either in competition, or in completion, of each other.
The dub is not flawless. Certain voices, such as Ann McPeters' not very convincing 11-year-old Maachi Hisakawa, sound off. But they do not ruin the overall strength of the dub.
But then we return to my original question: can a good dub save a mediocre show? In this case, I am not entirely sure. I do not hate Best Student Council, not by a longshot. It has several enjoyable moments, and some moments that were funny in spite of what they were trying to accomplish, not because of it. Some jokes were recycled too many times (Brittney Karbowski's much put upon Council Treasurer Mayura Ichikawa was a very well executed performance, but one which verges on becoming a one-note affair with too much repetition). Yet, despite a dub that has many admirable strengths, one that hits the comic notes well and can deliver on those tender emotional moments that can bring a tear to the eye of the most jaded fan, the show itself never really rises above the level of a C+ to B- for me. If the dub were bad, it would most certainly be a C+/C show, and one where I would have to consider listening to the original track, to see if the performances there could bring any more life out of it (which is not a guarantee—often poor shows are poorly acted in any language). The actresses (and it is overwhelmingly actresses) do their best to bring the material up a notch and they succeed, but there is only so far that the dub can go in improving the overall experience. There are limits to everything, and there is only so much that great performances can do to infuse a mediocre show with more humor and more life than was given to it by its creators.
Next month, time and tide permitting, we will be taking a look at the dub to Claymore, which should see its final volume released then. Keep listening to dubs.