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Lost in Translation

By Allen Divers     October 22, 2003

With the end of the year almost upon us, its time for Lost in Translation to begin looking back at the year. Well, I'm not really going to look back at the whole year, just try to catch up on a few things I've missed thanks to a busy schedule filled with other writing projects. The good thing for me is the fact that my freelance writing has picked up, the bad news though is none of it has involved much interaction with dubs. While I've been busy with other works, a lot of major dubs had some sneak peeks at the bigger conventions of the year. For me, three significant series made their appearance at July's Anime Expo.

Being a strong industry show as well as a major fan show, it's no surprise that many companies preview some of their major works at Anime Expo. While the industry is often behind closed doors making deals, fans have the pleasure of sitting in dark rooms with big screens, watching first cuts of anime often still in pre-production for their North American release. New favorites and old favorites made their appearance as Bandai previewed Witch Hunter Robin and Big O II and AnimEigo previewed the Urusei Yatsura movie, Only You.

Witch Hunter Robin

Witch Hunter Robin is one of those shows that simply drags the fans in with its dark gothic look. Bang Zoom took the reigns of the dub for Bandai and screened the first two episodes at Anime Expo this summer. Fans in attendance got to hear a rough cut of an outstanding English soundtrack with a group of well cast actors. The cast features many of the big names in the California acting scene such as Crisping Freeman in the role of Amon, Wendee Lee in the role of Miho and relative newcomer, Kari Wahlgren in the role of Robin. While the previewed mix of the show was a bit rough, the overall feel and ominous tone of the original soundtrack was quite evident in the English version. Borrowing a bit from his Alucard portrayal, Crispin builds Amon as a dark character with a haunting past. While there is a bit of emotion in Crispin's portrayal, it doesn't come across as the playfulness of his Alucard role. The show, obviously, centers around Robin and Kari fits well in the role of the demure young witch. Seemingly innocent, yet worldly, Kari's portrayal fits the character of Robin well.

Starting up their anime club support for the new year, Bandai sent out screeners of this show, featuring the first five episodes of the series. The English soundtrack now has that polished feel and the members of my club are already clamoring for more.

Big O II

The anticipation for Big O for watching the industry was quite different than for other shows. Big O fits into a unique niche where the North American release actually prompted the creation of a second season. Big O II also represents the first anime that Cartoon Network put up the cash for production of the series. There was one major hurdle this show had to face; Because of the fact that it was a North American company putting up the funds to continue this series, many felt that the Japanese creators would make compromises to fit the show into the standard North American mode. Also, the fact that Cartoon Network was directly involved, many felt that this meant they would want a product that would be easy to put on television with little or no editing. As the credits rolled and the show jumped right into the action, doubts were put aside as the two episodes previewed pulled no punches.

I only had one real disappointment with the new dub. The original actor for Norman, Richard Barnes, was the only exception to the returning cast. The new actor, Alan Oppenheimer, does a decent job of mimicking the original portrayal, but the different voice is noticeable. Another major change with the cast is the fact that Lia Sergeant, portraying Dorothy, takes on the roles of ADR director and script writer. As for the fear that the show would be compromised with its North American co-funding, the second season has managed to pull many more surprises out of its hat than the first as it has played out on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block. There have been major revelations for all the major characters and the second season has managed to create more questions than answers.

While the dub is strong, the production values put into the actual animation have been very impressive. Big O has always had a very unique look and feel, but what really sets off the new episodes is the quality of the actual animation. While it is the norm for the first episode to have high quality animation, what was impressive was to see this quality carried out through the rest of the new series as well. It was also a very important move for them to keep as much of the original cast as possible. Without Lia Sergeant and Steve Blum in the roles of Dorothy and Roger Smith, the show would have alienated much of the original audience and Cartoon Network would have lost a serious gamble. As it stands, and if Cartoon Network is true to their word, Big O II may be followed by Big O III. Based on the success of the thirteen new episodes, Cartoon Network mentioned the possibility of another twenty-six episodes to follow.

Urusei Yatsura - Only You

During the AnimEigo panel at Anime Expo, Robert Woodhead made sure to mention that he had just handed over the Urusei Yatsura movie, Only You, to the staff of Anime Expo for a premier during the con. After the panel, I introduced myself to him, and made mention of the fact that I write this column for Anime on DVD. His response after that was for me to pass on a message. It seems there was a bit of concern that the studio behind the dub of Only You was more experienced with dubbing Hentai. He said that at great expense, he had commissioned new scenes for Only You to make the dub staff right at home.

Now, before I get too many emails on this one, let me assure you that he was thoroughly attempting to pull my leg. No new scenes were created, and well, Ataru did not get his wish of an all out orgy with the girls of the show.

So, on with the dub of this show; Urusei Yatsura is one of those classic series that sits on the shelves of many of us old school fans. While many of the younger generations of anime fans enjoy the show, it's mostly us old farts that are putting out the money for it. Urusei Yatsura also has a poor history when it comes to dubs thanks to AnimEigo's bumbling attempts at ADR in the early 90s. When sub fans argue that dubs are bad, invariably they point to this series as the prime suspect. They of course fail to mention that the dubbing happened over ten years ago, and often don't bother to look at how the industry has gained a lot of experience at ADR.

There's one other thing that hampers a new dub of this series, the fact that many of the fans have now been tuned in to the original Japanese version. After the failure of their dub, AnimEigo continued on with the release of the series sticking it out with a subtitled version only. They've managed to put out quite a bit of the series on VHS, then Laser Disc and now on DVD. When it comes to what sounds right, it's often what fans have become used to. So, while I prefer my anime in English, I was squirming during the showing of the new dub for Only You. For me, the voices just didn't sound right, and well, to be honest, the acting was a bit humdrum as well. Ataru wasn't lechy enough, Lum wasn't sweet enough and Mendou wasn't very overbearing. Again, much of this is the fact that every time Lum opened her mouth; I expected the voice of Fumi Hirano.

The movie itself isn't exactly the best either, sticking with pretty much the same old plot that the TV series relied on. The script does the best it can with such overused material, but in the end, you can't save a mediocre movie even with the best of intentions. The sad part is that AnimEigo is praying on success for this dub with plans to create dubs for the rest of the movies and OVAs they have the rights to as well as talk about tackling a dub for the TV series again. While having a dubbed product does help bring in new fans, you have to wonder how many of the newer anime fans will react to a series that unfortunately shows its age.

After the Expo

Coming out of Anime Expo, these seemed to be the big dubs to watch. Since then, each of these shows have made their way out to the public and are having an impact on the anime industry. While it does seem that Anime Expo is all about the Anime, there's also a bit more to be learned from interacting with the industry at the convention. While at Anime Expo, I finally got to meet Jonathan Klein, co-founder of New Generation Pictures, producer of many of the more innovative dubs in the market today. Before meeting in person, Jonathan has always been kind enough to pass along a few tidbits about the projects they are working on, even taking the time to discuss my reviews on his company's work. Meeting and talking with him at Anime Expo also helped give me an idea on the differences between the California recording scene and the Texas scene of which I'm most familiar.

Up until the beginning of this year, most of New Generation Pictures work has been with Pioneer (now known as Geneon). They started off with Amazing Nurse Nanako and took a few risks with dubs of Hellsing and I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs. Featuring a mostly British cast, Hellsing proved that a great Japanese series could be made better and Strawberry Eggs showed that a fan friendly dub steeped in Japanese culture could work. NGP has moved on to do work with another California based company, Bandai. The first work for Bandai appeared recently and is another fine example of what can be done with a dub.

Spirit of Wonder

Spirit of Wonder represents the first major work for Bandai conducted by the folks at New Generation Pictures. Obviously Bandai is quite pleased with NGP since NGP is working on Bandai's release of Tenshi no Shippo. Spirit of Wonder is a period piece, set at the beginning of the 20th century in Bristol, England. The cast list is the standard who's who in California anime voice acting and fits well with the overall feel for the show. Sticking with the simple theme of scientific exploration, the main story as well as the two complimentary tales stick with very simple plots and rely more on the portrayal of the characters than the visuals seen on the screen. Much of the story truly sits with the dialogue and character interaction which is portrayed very skillfully by the actors involved with the show.

While the dub is a solid effort of skill and hard work, I have one complaint with the whole work. Spirit of Wonder is a period piece with a cast of British characters, so then, where are the accents? NGP did a solid job using British actors to keep the accents authentic in Hellsing, so why couldn't they do that here? While accents can often make or break a dub, it was a disappointment not to hear them here when NGP has a solid record of doing them right. With this being their first major work for Bandai, NGP may have taken the safe road for this new dub, just to avoid any trouble. Still, despite my disappointment, the dub is still very enjoyable and works well with the overall theme of the show.

Out with the words of wisdom

Despite the fact that I took a considerable break from writing about Dubs, there seemed to be one thing on everyone's mind. Week after week, I continued to receive emails asking me virtually the same thing. It's amazing to see that one series that I've talked about on several occasions has managed to capture everyone's attention and has been the single driving show of the entire industry.

That's right, folks, I'm talking about InuYasha. Since my last column back in the days of summer, I've received nearly 350 emails asking me about this show.

So, to answer your questions, yes, InuYasha is coming back to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, and yes, there will be new episodes. Also, most season collections on Ebay of the series are bootlegs and that's right, those movie discs for sale on Ebay are also bootlegs as none of the movies have been released in North America as of yet. Viz is continuing to dub new episodes of the series as quickly as they can and even more episodes will appear on Adult Swim in the future.

So, as fans, you can rest assured that InuYasha will be staying around for quite a while. In Japan, episode number 129 just premiered and Rumiko Takahashi continues to draw the manga. So, with a hearty "sit boy!" I leave you with those words of wisdom!

Allen Divers

Freelance Writer & Adventurer

boxie [at] azraelproductions [dot] com


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