The Dub Track
Urusei Yatsura: Only You

by Ryan Mathews, Jul 24th 2003

The Dub Track

by Ryan Mathews

Before I begin this month's review, I want to add a quick word about another dub, a dub that's incredibly good, but so difficult to review in detail that I'm sure I'll never bother. The anime, released by ADV, is called Colorful. It consists of countless dozens of slightly off-color sketches about men and the women they stare at, and it features some of the best comedy dubbing I've ever heard. I mean, I thought Excel Saga was funny, but this made me laugh hard enough to annoy my girlfriend. At the end, I learned that one of the reasons the comic timing was so dead-on is that ADV had hired comedians to play several of the parts. If you haven't seen this anime yet (and you don't offend easily), I highly recommend checking it out.

Urusei Yatsura: Only You

When I learned that AnimEigo was going to dub the classic Urusei Yatsura film, Only You, I remember being slightly surprised. Was AnimEigo really going to try dubbing "UY" again? Hadn't they learned their lesson all those years ago, with the infamous "Those Obnoxious Aliens" dub? Obviously not, as explained in ANN's interview with Scott Carlson. They were committed to doing UY again, and getting it right this time. Still, especially considering that AnimEigo was using a new dubbing studio, I couldn't help but worry that they'd bitten off more than they could chew.

First off, UY is a comedy, a rather wacky one at that. I'm sure many actors would agree with me when I say that dubbing comedy is much more difficult than dubbing action or drama. With the latter two, the actor's sole concern is nailing his or her portrayal of the character. With comedy, the actor has to get the characterization right, but at the same time, he or she has to be funny. That's an order of magnitude more difficult than it sounds, especially when the humor is character-driven, when what is being said is not particularly funny, but how it is being said is.

Secondly, Only You has one of largest casts of any anime movie I can remember seeing. Keep in mind that this was the first movie for the popular TV series. The director wanted to use every recurring character that had appeared in the show, and did. I counted over twenty named characters as I watched. That's characters with names and specific known personalities, not "soldier #2". Many of these characters have as few as two lines, yet added together they take up a considerable portion of the screen time. That's one heck of a lot of acting talent to round up, especially considering that it's a new dubbing studio.

But AnimEigo was determined, and they did it. They sent me a screener, too, which is why I can offer this review several months in advance of the DVD release.

In a nutshell, given the complex difficulties involved, this dub is about as good as I figure it could possibly be. It has problems, and I can offer some serious criticism, but when I imagine this dub with all its problems fixed, I hear a dub that's not significantly better.

Let's start off with the good. Quite clearly, the greatest amount of thought went into the casting of Shannon Settlemyre and Steve Rassin as Lum and Ataru, and it shows. The two give the strongest performances in the dub, good enough to carry it through some of the weak spots.

Rassin was the most impressive. That they actually found someone who could do Ataru's high-pitched giggle and make it sound good was amazing enough, but Rassin does Ataru's "serious" voice well too, even when he has to rapidly switch between the two, such as the scene with Lum on the observation deck.

Settlemyre's Lum is less distinctive, but a good voice nonetheless. Her voice is just high-pitched enough to be cute, not enough to be squeaky. Thankfully, the director decided against attempting some English equivalent of Lum's curious Japanese speech patterns.

Since I didn't have the presence of mind to ask for a cast listing, those are the only two actors I can name. They weren't the only two actors I liked, however. Ten's voice was well-done, childlike but gravelly. Elle was particularly good, able to switch from giggling lovesick girl, to seductress, to cold-hearted princess, and be believable each time. And the best laugh I had from a voice alone had to come from Rei, who has so few lines you can count the words on your fingers. When Rei stands there, looking all noble and handsome, then opens his mouth and this dumb-ox voice comes out, the effect is hilarious.

But as I said, I have criticisms. One of the more subtle ones regards Mendo. The actor's portrayal of Mendo's character is more or less on target, which makes it hard to put a finger on my problem with it. Essentially, he just isn't particularly funny. This gets back to the problem with dubbing comedies. The humor in Mendo is very subtle. He's "over-the-top serious". He lives every moment as if it's an important scene in a movie with himself as the hero. In the opening of Only You, he threatens to kill Ataru for marrying someone other than Lum. I remember this being very funny in the Japanese version. In the dub it came off as perfectly normal. Similarly, Megane is another "over-the-top dramatic" character in the Japanese, always pontificating in formal language, who came off as too ordinary.

As you move down the list of characters in order of importance, there is a noticeable drop in the distinctiveness and quality of the acting, the result, I fear, of just too many characters and not enough actors. Coming up with a unique voice for each of twenty-plus named characters, all of which are being dubbed for the first time and many of which have but one or two lines, is a tall order. So as you might expect, many of the young female characters sound similar, especially Benten and Shinobu. There is a rough, inexperienced quality to many of those performances. The nadir has to be the captain of Elle's spaceship, who reminds me of a young female anime fan, with talent but no experience, stepping in front of a mike for the first time. But then, like so many other characters, she only has two or three lines.

I could go on about more characters, but I fear this review would soon be as long as the movie. So I'll finish by saying that I enjoyed the dub more the second time around, when I watched a second, final-cut screener. Since the second cut wasn't that much different than the first, I attribute this to my getting over the shock of the voices being different from the Japanese. You might enjoy this dub more if it's your first exposure to UY.

Despite my criticisms, I judge this to be a good first effort. Hopefully it can expose those few fans who just won't read subtitles to Urusei Yatsura.


Rating: ** (out of 4)

Vital Stats:
Released by: AnimEigo
Dubbed by: Swirl

Cast
Lum - Shannon Settlemyre
Ataru - Steve Rassin


Clips: Thanks to Anne Packrat for her audio-editing skill!
Agree? Disagree? Have a comment about a dub, or just about dubbing in general? Let me know! (mathews1 at ix.netcom.com)

The views and opinions expressed in The Dub Track are solely those of Ryan Mathews and do not necessarily represent the views of Anime News Network or its sponsors.


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