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The Dub Track
Heat Guy J

by Ryan Mathews,
After watching the first episode of Pioneer's Heat Guy J, I was so disappointed in the dub that a rant against Pioneer began forming in my mind. By the time I'd finished the first disc, the dub had grown on me, and I realized just about all the criticism in the planned rant was horribly unfair, so I threw it out. But I still can't help feeling a little grumpy about Pioneer.

Upon reflection, I've decided my grumpiness toward the company stems from three things:

  • Pioneer's panel at Anime Expo was so un-enjoyable that Anne and I left early. The main reason: Pioneer doesn't seem to care about the fans enough to have a representative that actually speaks English. The young woman who chaired the panel was certainly friendly and enthusiastic, but she was maybe 75% fluent at most. She was very difficult to understand, and yet she was the only person on the panel who spoke English to any extent at all. It was a far cry from the days of Chad Kime et al. It gave me the impression of a company that had grown distant from its fans.
  • The feeling of distance was enhanced when I learned Pioneer would not be releasing the third Tenchi Muyo! OAV series. Worse yet, the response when asked about that title, "Who don't know who has it, but it's not us," strongly implied that Pioneer no longer even cares about a show that used to be their flagship product, not to mention a fan favorite.
  • Their dubs just ain't what they used to be. This is the company that gave us dubs like El-Hazard, Dual, and Gatekeepers. I had become used to sitting down in front of a Pioneer dub, secure in the knowledge that the vocal performances would be so smooth and natural that one could swear the script had been written in English originally. The last three dubs I've reviewed from Pioneer were Hellsing, which finished as an amazingly good dub but had to overcome a rough first volume, Gatekeepers 21, a disappointing follow-up to the original with some awkward performances, and now Heat Guy J.

Heat Guy J is dubbed by Bang Zoom!, or as I sometimes like to refer to them, "Almost Animaze," since they draw from the same pool of actors as the studio that once did most of Pioneer's dubs. Bang Zoom's record is hit-and-miss. I'd qualify this one as a near miss, maybe a graze.

To be fair, Heat Guy J isn't a bad dub. But I can't say with honesty that it's a good one, and it sure as heck isn't up to the standards of Pioneer of old. What you have in Heat Guy J is a dub where a few excellent voices carry what would otherwise be a horribly mediocre effort. As I prefer to do, I'll start with the excellent voices.

The star of the show is Daisuke "Dice" Aurora, J's partner and controller. Dice is played wonderfully by Steve Cannon (Arc in Arc the Lad, Kamui in X (TV), and a ton of other memorable roles). It would have been so simple to play this character as a "young hero" cliché, but Cannon adds another dimension. His Dice is youthful and confident but never over-confident, and there's a layer of professionalism in his voice. You can tell the character cares about his job.

Bob Pappenbrook (Katsuhito and Nobuyuki Masaki in the later Tenchi dubs, also Flint's dad in Flint The Time Detective) brings more out of the role of J than I thought was there. After all, J is an android and speaks in a near monotone. Yet Pappenbrook can make him sound serious, gentle, or concerned with just the subtlest of changes to his performance. His voice is also mixed well, with the bass pumped way up to give a deep, rumbly tone to even his most casual utterances.

But stealing the show far and away is Johnny Yong Bosch as psychotic young crime boss Claire Leonelli. Bosch is, of course, best known as "Mr. Nice Guy" Vash the Stampede in Trigun. He's played villains, most memorably Reiji in Gatekeepers, but although his villainous performances have been decent, they hadn't yet approached the level of his performance in Trigun. In this dub he blows right past that level. Bosch's Leonelli isn't just good; he's downright creepy. Homicidal insanity drips off this character's voice.

Other good voices include Kay Jensen (Miu in Gatekeepers 21, only much less squeaky) as Kyoko, Dice's suffering supervisor, and Sandy Fox (A-20 in .hack//SIGN) as the (ahem) disturbingly precocious photo girl Monica.

That's the good, now on to the bad.

The acting quality drops off severely as you move away from the main characters. Ken Edmundo, (Sparky Thornton) the police officer who spars verbally with Dice, is an utter cliché, shouting most of his lines at Dice. Most of the villains are uninspired. The robot J fights in episode 1 sounds awful, with unnatural pauses in his dialogue and no motivation to his speech. Yes, J speaks in a monotone as well, but as I said, his actor manages to make something out of it. I was also unimpressed by Boma (Edward Villa), the "werewolf" from episode 4. He's supposed to sound deep and scary, but honestly, I thought he sounded bored.

The script could also use quite a bit of work. There was more than one occurrence of an unnatural pause in the middle of a sentence, the hallmark of translated dialogue that hasn't been sufficiently tweaked to fit English voice rhythms (as well as something we should have seen the last of years ago). The script is filled with awkward-sounding moments, like when Edmundo "insults" Dice by calling him "Mr. Special Unit From the City Safety Management Agency." Okay, it's probably an accurate translation, but it just sounds odd. No "mister" slam should take that long to say.

I'd give the dub four stars for the main characters, and two stars for all the rest, so I'll average it out to three. Thanks to those main characters, it's an enjoyable dub—but just barely. I'm still hoping for better from Pioneer in the future.

Rating: *** (out of 4)

Vital Stats:
Released by: Pioneer
Dubbed by: Bang Zoom!
Director: Eric P. Sherman

Daisuke - Steve Cannon
J - Bob Pappenbrook
Kyoko - Kay Jensen
Claire Leonelli - Johnny Yong Bosch
Ken Edmundo - Sparky Thornton
Monica - Sandy Fox
Boma - Edward Villa

Clips: Thanks to Anne Packrat for helping me choose the clips and editing them.
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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