Nowadays it seems as though people are so accustomed to top quality dubbing; this is more of the standard these days rather than the exception, which wasn't necessarily how things were in the '90s. Around this period, the consensus was that dubbing just wasn't very good at all, and "efforts" such as most of the output from Streamline and Manga UK often fell into truly dreary territory. However, there were some notable exceptions to the rule, and Record of Lodoss War OVA, dubbed by National Sound for Central Park Media in 1996, was one of them. That said, reactions to this dub have been wildly divided; as with another famous fantasy Anime series, Slayers, Lodoss's dub has gone on many fans' best or worst dub lists. In spite of the naysayers, though, it has had its share of loyal fans over the years (Mike Toole on AnimeJump.com, for instance).
In spite of its weaknesses, though, Lodoss OVA has its share of memorable vocal performances which really carry the dub as a whole. It's interesting to note that at the time, most of these actors were unknowns, but most would go on to have fairly successful careers in dubbing. The man responsible for bringing them in is none other than Bill Timoney, who not only voices the young hero, Parn (more on that later), but happened to help scout out the talent for the dub and even directed the first eight episodes. The previous ADR director had been called off to do another project, hence why Timoney had to fill-in. That said, the dub starts out somewhat stiffly in the opening three episodes, but by episode 4, the actors all settle into their roles and turn in fine work. Of the performances, here are the ones that really captivate me the most:
PARN (Bill Timoney) -- No, it wasn't Bill's first role in Anime, but the actor claims that it was his breakthrough and one of his favorite characters. Billy has a very good "young leading man"'s voice which works well for heroic roles of this type. Unlike his television counterpart in Lodoss TV, Timoney provides range and enthusiasm; his scenes with Deedlit (particularly the dance scene in episode 5 as well as everything from episodes 11 to the end) and his action bits are among the highlights of his performance. Some might argue that his voice is a bit "rough" sounding, but this works in favor of the character as a reckless, impulsively heroic knight wanna-be. There are a couple of places in the beginning which sound somewhat tentative, but otherwise it's a solid performance overall, and, as mentioned, it is superior to that of the TV series.
ASHRAM (John Knox) -- This is yet another role that really stands out. I don't think Knox has done much Anime other than Lodoss, which is a shame, because his role of this ruthless yet honorable knight is amazing. He has an appropriately deep voice which is more than appropriate for the character, and while he comes across as rather stoic sounding, this is how Ashram should be. Only in several moments do a few lines come across as cold reading, but somehow this works in favor of the character instead of against him.
KARLA/LEYLIA (Simone Grant) -- A sorely missed actress, fans probably remember her best for her role as Boogiepop Phantom. Her performance as Karla, the unstable witch who threatens Lodoss, is something of a precursor to that role. She intones her lines in a cold, icy monotone, which emits both a devilish aura and commanding presence that sends chills up one's spine. Her sinister cackling is spot-on, too. This lasts until episode 9, where she becomes the kind, gentle priestess under the witch's control. There are also several instances where she can be heard as several different female characters: the Zaxon mayor's daughter Liara, Princess Fianna of Valis, etc., and while this does cause for some disconcertation, there's no denying that it's unfortunate that Grant is no longer with us. Lodoss is a fine example of her talent.
SHIRIS (Karen Smith) -- Rough and ready, with an aggressive quality and understated sassiness. That sums up Karen's Shiris, in a nutshell. There are several places where she overacts, but since her character screams quite a bit in her first appearance (and with occasionally mellodramatic dialogue), it's unavoidable. Her exasperation provides a nice contrast to her more stoic partner's deadpan responses.
I neglected to mention the performances of Bob Barry as the raspy-sounding Emperor Beld, J.W. Gunther as King Fahn (who at times sounds a bit like Patrick Stewart), and Dick Rodstein as the great sage Wort (who is really just a more weary-sounding version of his narrator voice, albeit effective overall); all three are decent, but they don't really strike me as memorable as the guys I mentioned above.
One thing I neglected to mention is that the opening and ending theme songs for Lodoss OVA are translated and sung into English. Mike Alben and Peter Fish somehow manage to transform the Japanese-written lyrics into something palatable (if at times a tad cheesy), but it is the beautiful voice of Lisa DeSimone that really make these new reinditions soar. She sings with a lot of emotion and passion, giving these tunes the sort of "timeless" quality they deserve. Like the dub, these songs are grossly underrated and always a pleasure to listen to for each episode.
No one will argue that Lodoss OVA's dub is on par with today's standards, but even having said that, it has aged fairly well for a 1996 production. In today's light it probably doesn't compare, but as an older dub, it's above many other English tracks from its era. And it is superior to the more uneven (and inconsistent) Lodoss TV dub, Chronicles of the Heroic Knight, which followed approximately four years later.