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The Dub Track
Excel Saga

by Ryan Mathews,
When I heard that ADV had picked up Excel Saga, my delight at the prospect of seeing this anime in English was tempered by the knowledge that the dub was sure to be a disaster. I mean, how do you dub something like Excel Saga? Excel is one of the most terrifying motormouths ever created, like Sana from Child's Toy, only less coherent and on crack. Even if you manage the translation, even if you find an actress who can play Excel, how can you work with this insanity and make it funny in another language?

Well, ADV pulled it off. Not only that, but they've created what is easily the best dub of a comedy I've ever heard. Excel Saga loses not one bit of humor in the transition to English. In fact, for American audiences, the dub is probably funnier.

The most important part of Excel Saga is, of course, Excel, played with sheer manic intensity by Jessica Calvello (Yuri in Original Dirty Pair). Calvello has stated publicly that Excel is the most difficult character she has ever performed. Her doctor must agree, because on his orders, she won't be finishing the series for fear of permanent damage to her voice. Listening to the dub, I can understand her doctor's worries. Calvello holds nothing back as she plays the role, screeching at the top of her lungs when called for (which is most of the time). I say this without intending hyperbole: That woman either has a throat of iron or a high threshold of pain. I find it hard to believe any normal actress could swallow after a session of playing Excel.

Calvello's Excel is dead-on perfect, an incredible achievement. If I was going to nitpick, I'd say that she can be a bit hard to understand at times, but she's Excel, for cryin' out loud. I daresay the original Excel was a little hard to comprehend for her original audience. Those of us who can read English subtitles are spoiled.

Excel's partner, Hyatt, is essentially the anti-Excel. Whereas Excel is nigh-indestructible, Hyatt continually dies. Excel spews a million words a minute; Hyatt rarely says much of anything. Hyatt is given a gentle, weak voice by Monica Rial (Miharu in Gasaraki). It's the voice of a girl who's using the very last of her strength to tell you she's fine and that you're so sweet to be concerned.

Excel's boss and love obsession is Ilpalazzo, leader of the secret conquest organization ACROSS. Jason Douglas (Leon, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040) voices the character, giving him the slightest effeminate tone as befits his bishônen looks. Douglas is wonderfully deadpan, making the ridiculous things Ilpalazzo does all the funnier.

The downtrodden Watanabe (Jay Hickman), the impulsive Iwata (Mark Laskowski), and the quiet Sumiyoshi (no one, he speaks in text), three guys who are constantly impacted by ACROSS' schemes, despite the fact that they've never met Excel, work well as a kind of comedy sideshow. Hickman and Laskowski display excellent comic timing as they rant and rave, although most of the humor here comes from the script and not the characters themselves. Later, they are joined by the sexy Matsuya (Tiffany Grant, Asuka in Evangelion). Matsuya is described as being "one quarter British", and Grant does a slight English accent for her first line, but quickly drops it, all for the better in my opinion.

Excel Saga is famous for its menagerie of wacky characters, such as Menchi, Excel's canine "emergency food supply", barked by Hilary Haag (Nene, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040), or "The Great Will of the Macrocosm", given a loving, motherly voice (when not in bed with her favorite ghost) by Kelly Manison (Haruka, Nadesico), or Nabeshin, the mysterious hero sent perfectly over the top by Brett Weaver (Gai, Nadesico). But stealing the show is Pedro, played by Rob Mungle (Goto, Nadesico), the Mexican construction worker killed by Excel's incompetance in the first episode and doomed to wander the remainder of the series as a ghost. In one of the few examples of how a dub can truly outdo the original, Pedro gains the hispanic accent he always deserved (he had an American accent in the original).

I could go on for pages pointing out more great individual roles, but perhaps the biggest star of this dub is Matt Greenfield's ADR script. As I said earlier, translating something this wacky and allowing it to remain, not just funny, but truly hilarious, is a great achievement.

Rating: **** (out of 4)
(Review based on episodes 1-6)

Vital Stats:
Released by: ADV Films
Dubbed by: ADV/Industrial Smoke and Mirrors
Director: Mark Greenfield

Excel - Jessica Calvello
Hyatt - Monica Rial
Ilpalazzo - Jason Douglas
Menchi - Hilary Haag
The Great Will of the Macrocosm - Kelly Manison
Nabeshin - Brett Weaver
Pedro - Rob Mungle
Watanabe - Jay Hickman
Iwata - Mark Laskowski
Matsuya - Tiffany Grant

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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