Saturday, October 16, 2010

Upcoming Reviews

Hello again, FightingDreamer here, and I want to use this post to preview some of the upcoming reviews from both myself and Jon, as well as Fantasy Dub Casts that I have planned. In short:

Upcoming FightingDreamer Reviews-Baccano!, El Cazador De La Bruja, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Paranoia Agent, Koi Kaze, Princess Tutu, Aquarion and Yu Yu Hakusho.

Upcoming Jon reviews: Akira, possibly Jungle Emperor Leo and Wings of Honneamise.

Upcoming Fantasy Casts: Mahou Sensei Negima, which would be a full, manga-based series rather than the previous two series or the current manga-based OVAS (which are good, but I'd prefer a whole show), Heroman and Naoki Urasawa's Pluto.

Stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fantasy Dub Casting: Yotsuba&!

Welcome to a new feature for Anime Dub Reviews! Fantasy dub casting threads pop up all the time on animation community sites/fansites, so I thought it would be a great idea to share some of my own (and hopefully Jon will get involved too). I won't be limiting myself to any particular dubbing studio, and I'll also cast actors who don't do a lot of dubbing but do extensive voicework where I see fit. I'll also, if the first title I'm doing wasn't an indication, occasionally do manga that don't have an anime adaptation yet. With that intro out of the way, let's begin!

Yotsuba&! is a charming, hilarious manga from Kiyohiko Azuma, the creator of Azumanga Daioh, and I'm rather baffled that it hasn't gotten an anime adaptation yet. If it ever did, however, these are who I'd want to play the various characters:

YOTSUBA KOIWAI (Laura Bailey)-I had to think long and hard about this one, going through several choices in my head, but I ultimately decided on Laura. She has a great, youthful sound to her voice in many of her roles, and she can certainly get high-pitched. Combine that with the enthusiasm of, say, Tohru Honda, and you have a perfect match for this ridiculously energetic little girl.

MR. KOIWAI/"DAD" (Steve Blum)-Well, he just looks like a Steve Blum character to begin with. I know that sounds weird, but go look up an image of him and you'll see what I mean. That aside, Blum has a great, naturally casual sound to his normal voice, and this gets brought out in a lot of his best roles (particularly Spike Spiegel). But he can also get crazy and hyper, and that combination fits Yotsuba's adoptive father who's practically a big kid himself like a glove.

TAKASHI TAKEDA/"JUMBO" (Crispin Freeman)-This is another one I thought about for a while, but I ultimately decided on Crispin because I really like hearing him do straight-up comedy. He doesn't get to do it a whole lot, although he's certainly brought deadpan humor to many of his badasses, but when he does the results are always magnificent (see Chobits for a great example). Add the fact that he can make his voice pretty darn deep, and you have a great fit for Koiwai's freakishly tall best friend.

FUUKA AYASE (Wendee Lee)-Yeah, yeah, I know: "She's in everything, FD!" Y'know why? 'Cause she's good. And I have a feeling that she could knock Yotsuba's teenage neighbor who often gets caught up in the little girl's adventures and provides some relative sanity to the proceedings out of the park.

ASAGI AYASE (Grey DeLisle)-Grey is one of my favorite voice actresses, and she's played at least one incredibly memorable "older sister" in the psychotic Azula from Avatar: Ther Last Airbender. However, she's also played more "cool big sis" type characters such as Frankie from Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, and I have a feeling that voice and performance type would work perfectly for the equally cool Asagi.

ENA AYASE (Lara Jill Miller)-Ena is Fuuka and Asagi's younger sister, and she almost immediately hits it off with Yotsuba, exhibiting as much curiosity and wonder about the world as her friend. Lara can do that type of role in her sleep.

MRS. AYASE (Kath Soucie)-What can I say? Kath's really, really good at playing moms. Next!

MR. AYASE (Michael McConnohie)-Considering how often he plays villains or tough guys, Michael is surprisingly adept at playing dads, although they sometimes turn out to be evil as well (Code Geass anyone?). Ergo, he'd be perfect for the laid-back, kindly Ayase patriarch.

MIURA HAYASAKA (Mona Marshall)-OK, part of this is just amusing to myself: Miura often gets mistaken for a boy, and Mona's played a lot of young boys, so to hear her apply her usual young boy voice to a young girl would be pretty amusing in theory. That said, Mona could also act this part really well, especially since Miura is relatively down-to-earth compared to the rest of the cast.

TORAKO (Cricket Leigh)-I decided to pick Leigh, who played Mai in Avatar: The Last Airbender, for this role because I think her deadpan performance in that show, with perhaps a little more comedic energy, would work wonders for Asagi's chain-smoking, "cool" best friend.

YANDA (Vic Mignogna)-The great thing about Vic is that his voice can suit heroes, villains, nice guys and jerks equally well, and Yanda is a pretty big jerk, albeit in a funny way. So I think Vic could be quite a comedic highlight when he pops up.

That's it for now, but be sure to keep an eye out for more entries in this series as well as more dub reviews.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Audiences in North American hadn't seen a theatrical release of a Ghibli film since 2005's Howl's Moving Castle, and even then, the box office take for that film in America was considerably lower than that of Spirited Away and many miles beyond its gross in Japan.  Despite this, though, in August of 2009, (roughly around ten years after the first Disney-dubbed Miyazaki, Princess Mononoke, hit the screens), Miyazaki's newest tale about a goldfish aspiring to become human had a wide-scale release in North America.  With rave reviews and a gross of $15 million, it holds the rank of being the highest grossing Ghibli movie in America.  Of course, that doesn't amount to much since the film already made a massive amount of money in its native country, but either way, it was a solid dent for both Disney and the house of Totoro.

While longtime Miyazaki fanboy John Lasseter resumes his role for supervising the dub, Ponyo has a different team at its helm.  This includes scriptwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T.), and executive producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, and a huge roster of all-star names... including the offspring of the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana.  The selection of the latter was a sour sticking point for purists, who naturally were prepared to write off the whole dub.  As such, Ponyo has fallen victim to the usual love/hate reaction that Disney's Ghibli dubs typically receive--high acclaim from most critics and viewers, but harsh detraction from naysayers.  (In fact, this writer recalls running into a little girl who hated the Ponyo dub simply because she couldn't stand Cyrus.)  Yet as with any of the Ghibli dubs, the key to enjoying Ponyo is not with bias against any of the performers, nor as a comparison tool to the Japanese version--but simply on its own merits.

And the good news is that Ponyo acquits itself very well. Mathison's script is fluent and natural for the most part, avoiding the occasional stilted sentence now and then (part of that problem is more due to the animation than the acting).  Surprisingly, it's even nearly identical to the subtitled script of the Japanese version, with the exception of several lines (or at least that's the "official" subtitles on the R1 DVD release; I'm not sure how they compare to the R2 DVD). Of course, what really matters is how good the vocal talents are in order to breathe life into the dialogue to make it sound as fresh and fluent as possible.

SOSUKE (Frankie Jonas): Harsh detractors of Disney's dubs have been overly critical about the casting choices for the lead characters (e.g. the leads in Laputa, Michael Keaton as Porco Rosso, and the sisters in Totoro), and many of them were filling their ammunition for this casting choice, the youngest member of Disney's popular Jonas Brothers band.  Having had no such problems with the aforementioned examples (and not the least bit familiar with that group), I wasn't about to put that much burden on him, and I am happily surprised to announce that he surpassed my expectations.  Frankie does a GREAT job in this role, sounding very natural and comfortable throughout.  His scenes with Lisa and the title character are credited by the exuberance he brings to the role. Only one crying scene in the first half after he loses Ponyo comes across as less convincing, but not enough to bring down the overall quality of his performance.  I tip my hat to this guy--he really is quite good.

PONYO (Noah Cyrus):  This is a trickier performance to evaluate. Voiced by the little sister of Hannah Montana 's Miley Cyrus (another point of contention for detractors), Ponyo surprisingly doesn't talk until about midway through the first quarter. And when she does talk, you should prepare to cover your ears: SHE YELLS MANY OF HER LINES LIKE THIS. On one hand, it is appropriate for the character, as she is, after all, an extremely hyperactive girl totally thrilled to be part of humanity.  On the other, though, there are many moments when she goes overboard... to the point where she becomes the most grating element of the entire dub. Fortunately, she tones it down in the latter half, and never fails to deliver childish exuberance. Whether that's a compliment to the character or a detriment is up to the viewer.

LISA (Tina Fey): Sosuke's mother, Lisa, is my favorite voice in the whole dub. It's funny that I always find one particular actor that ends up "stealing the show" in any Disney Ghibli English track, and Fey takes the spot. She imbues her character with just the right amount of spirit and personality and sounds very much like the sort of mother anybody would want to have.  Her exasperated scenes and concern for Sosuke are handled in a way that feels very natural to both the character and her overall performance.  Particularly memorable is the scene where she expresses frustration with her husband for not returning to his family (and her subsequent "request" to tell Sosuke to flash the signal message "B-U-G-O-F-F").  The manner in which she delivers this scene is hilarious and priceless.  All in all, an excellent job all around.

KOICHI (Matt Damon):  Lisa's husband, the seafaring Koichi, has a surprisingly small part.  Since his screentime is limited, it's more difficult to evaluate his performance as a whole.  That said, Damon does do a fine job with what he has to do, which is mostly either excitement over seeing Sosuke flash a signal to his ship, stumbling his way through thunderstorms, or even calling out at the end.

FUJIMOTO (Liam Neeson):  Ponyo's father is some sort of magician whose primary concern is to bring balance to the ocean (mainly by creating jellyfish from his magic elixirs) and becomes rather nerotic when his youngest daughter gets into trouble... to the point where he has to try to bring her back.  It should come across as no surprise that Mr. Neeson nails this role, having proved himself capable of doing dramatic voiceovers for characters like Aslan in the Narnia movies.  Contrary to the King of Beasts, however, Neeson gets to show emotions of exasperation and frustration.  He never holds back in those moments (the scene where he tries to stop Ponyo from turning into a human is especially funny), and is overall a very nice presence in the cast.

GRAN MAMARE (Cate Blanchett): In many ways, this is a very effortless performance... but I don't mean that as a criticism at all. Blanchett's portrayal of this sea goddess isn't that much different from Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. Employ the character with that same serene tone of voice and add a vocal reverb, and there you go! It may come across as somewhat distracting, but all in all it works in her character's favor.

YOSHIE (Betty White): Miss White plays one of three elderly women who live at the Senior Citizens' Center. Her character gets to speak most of them, and it sounded fine to my ears. Nothing that I'd write home about, though.

NORIKO (Cloris Leachman):  One of my major disappointments of the dub. Her Dola from Castle in the Sky was, and remains, one of my favorite performances from a Ghibli dub ever, but here she doesn't have anywhere nearly as much lines or screen time!  And whenever she does talk, she doesn't have very many lines.  Her acting sounded fine, but if I were casting this movie, I'd select her as the next character I'm going to bring up.

TOKI (Lily Tomlin): Of the three elderly women, only Toki has a distinctive personality, a cantankerous pessimist who always sees the negative side of things. Vocally, Tomlin is fine for the part and sounds appropriately sharp and snappish, but as mentioned, I'd swap places with Leachman for this part.

KUMIKO (Jenessa Rose): This little classmate of Sosuke's makes a brief appearance, and is as childish and priggish as you'd expect.  Her insult of Ponyo is impeccably done, as is her subsequent crying scene.  No problems.

I had a hard time identifying the incidental cast, but I did notice names like Crispin Freeman, Colleen O'Shaughnessy, Seth MacFarlane, and others in the credits. I've never had problems with these minor parts, and this is no exception, but I didn't really pick out anybody from my first time around.

No dub is perfect, though, and, aside from my quibbles about Cyrus and Leachman, there were two other things that irked me.  While Mathison's script is smooth for the most part, it oddly decides to include Japanese "honorifics" into the dialogue. This includes phrases like "san" and "Sensei". Past Disney dubs have avoided this to prevent confusion with audiences unfamiliar with Japanese culture, but as this is supposed to be a translation for a mainstream audience who doesn't resort to subtitles, it comes across as jarring and out of place. Not that it takes me out of the film, but I did find it distracting.

My second, and only really major problem that I have is the handling of the film's end title song. The first half is actually pretty faithful to the original version, with Frankie and Noah delivering the childish-sounding vocals that accompany the credits over some beautiful still-shots. Unfortunately the second half devolves into a blasty techno-style remix which is subsequently less cute and clearly more of a marketing ploy.  Considering that the rest of the movie contains a luscious score and a breathtaking opera number for the opening credits, it's a very odd, unfortunate addition... probably the only major problem I've ever had with any of these dubs.  In all fairness, though, it only appears at the second half of the credits.

All in all, Ponyo's dub is pretty good. Not five-star material, but it does its job well. I don't think this will be the sort of dub to challenge fans that predetermine to cast off Disney dubs, but if you don't go in with that attitude, it's easier to appreciate the dub as a whole. Not the best Disney-Ghibli dub I've heard, but watchable nonetheless, Ponyo gets a passing grade as an English track.