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The Dub Track

by Ryan Mathews,
As I've stated in a previous column, I don't get paid for this gig (which is the way I want it), so my choice of anime to review is limited to what I buy, not counting the rare screener. Luckily for you, dear reader, I buy a lot of anime.

But every now and then, a deadline will approach and I'm left staring at my collection wondering what to review. This one? No, not timely enough. That one? No, I'd have to watch it again, and it was awful. This other one? No, it didn't credit the actors, and I don't have enough time to play detective. Then, just as I'm about to resign myself to the best of a set of bad choices, fate provides a better one.

This time, it came in the form of a PlayStation 2 game purchased by my gamer girlfriend. I'd been aware that the game .hack (pronounced "Dot Hack") was packaged with an anime DVD, but I figured that it would be nothing more than a free taste of .hack//SIGN, the much anticipated TV series that's a companion to the game. I was surprised to find instead a completely original anime OAV.

The anime is pretty good; especially considering it's primarily an "omake" to the video game. It looks gorgeous, and should, considering that both Studio Ghibli and Gainax worked on it! More relevant to me, it sports a dub by ZR0 Limit and Animaze, the studio behind such great dubs as Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. It even had individual credits for the actors. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Sadly, this is not "A-list" Animaze. You won't notice many of your favorite actors here, save noticeably for Crispin Freeman, whose character has only one line in the first episode (and whose fame wasn't gained with Animaze anyway). A quick look on the Internet provided extensive voice acting credits for only a few of the actors, the rest being relative rookies. The dub, while not horrible, is rather uneven.

Michelle Ruff (Kasumi, Hand Made May) is the voice of Mai Minase, the main character. Just prior to the opening sequence, she and her friend Tomonari (Anthony Pulcini) were playing "The World", the massively multiplayer online RPG central to the .hack universe. Both he and she fell into a coma. She recovered. He did not. The plot of the anime revolves around her attempt to solve the mystery of "The World" and bring Tomonari back.

Mai spends most of the first episode as if in a daze, lifeless and withdrawn. It's not clear whether her state is due to the trauma of nearly being rendered vegetative by the game, or whether she was always like that. (A brief flashback from right before she played the game implies she was always introverted.) Ruff plays much of the episode as if Mai is sleepwalking — whether or not it's due to confusion about her character's motivation is a matter for speculation. Even a bitter argument with her mother (played chillingly by Leslie Hicks) doesn't cause much of a raised voice.

Ruff's semi-conscious Mai plays in stark contrast to Junichiro Tokuoka, a former "World" programmer who, intrigued by her mysterious recovery, recruits her help in solving the mystery surrounding the game. Tokuoka, played by Jamieson Price (Duke Red, Metropolis), is so extroverted it's almost ridiculous. Price bubbles over with friendliness and enthusiasm as his character stalks Mai from scene to scene. To be fair, that characterization isn't wrong — Tokuoka is putting on a display of affability to win Mai over. But seeing as how Tokuoka is supposed to be a mysterious character that we don't entirely trust, I feel Price could have turned it down at least one notch.

I liked the performance of Kirk Bailey as Masaya, Mai's upperclassman friend. Mai clearly has a crush on him, but Masaya sees her as a little sister and this comes through perfectly in Bailey's performance. The scene where he tries to talk Mai out of further contact with Tokuoka, referring to him as a "middle-aged stalker" is one of the best in the episode.

Uneven though the acting is, it's not that bad, and the dub would have rated higher were it not for the script. This dub saw the return of something I thought I'd seen the last of years ago: the unnatural pause to fit the lip flaps. Most ADR scriptwriters these days have gotten adept at crafting dub lines that lip sync well with the animation. This dub, however, has a few moments where an actor stops talking for no reason other than that his or her character's mouth is closed.

This isn't a horrible dub by any means, but it's certainly not up to the standards set by Animaze's other dubs. In a way, it reminded me of "old-school" Animaze, i.e. pre-El Hazard. I won't protest too loudly, provided Animaze confines such efforts to video game extras, but let's hope their mainstream anime dubs continue to feature the high-quality writing, acting, and directing we're used to.

(The all-star cast appears to have been reserved for the game, which features Wendee Lee, Lia Sargent, and Sandy Fox, as well as
several other recognizable voices. I'm waiting for a friend to finish the game so I can watch the credits.)"

Rating: ** (out of 4)

Vital Stats:
Released by: Bandai (packaged with .hack PlayStation2 game)
Dubbed by: ZR0 Limit/Animaze
Director: Kevin Seymour

Mai - Michelle Ruff
Junichiro Tokuoka - Jamieson Price
Masaya Makino - Kirk Bailey
Tomonari Kasumi - Anthony Pulcini
Harald Hoerwick - Crispin Freeman
Mai's Mother - Leslie Hicks

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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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