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The Dub Track
Haibane Renmei

by Ryan Mathews,
Ah, New Generation Pictures, my old friend. We meet again. Yes, New Gen has done yet another dub, allowing me yet another chance to feel like the cruel professor who picks on the popular kid. I'm half-convinced that the folks at New Generation think I have it in for them. Just once, I wish they'd do a dub I could rave and cheer about, so I can show I'm not prejudiced against them. (My revised rave for Hellsing doesn't count.) Haibane Renmei comes close, but a few glaring flaws keep me from recommending it unconditionally.

One of those flaws is most definitely not their choice of lead. Carrie Savage (Fuko in I My Me, Strawberry Eggs) plays Rakka, the newborn Haibane, and her voice alone is almost enough reason to watch the dub. Savage exudes a sense of cute bewilderment that makes her character just adorable. Haibane Renmei is such a sweet and whimsical anime, and both of those qualities come through in Savage's performance.

Reki, the "older" Haibane who serves as a big sister to Rakka, is voiced by newcomer Erika Weinstein. There's a convincing air of calmness and maturity in her performance, appropriate for the second oldest Haibane (at 7 years). She plays well off Savage's Rakka — their scenes together are absolutely charming.

I wasn't as enthusiastic for the voices of the remaining Haibane (save for Nemu, who has too few lines in the opening volume to judge fairly). Hikari (Hunter MacKenzie Austin, Madoka in Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko) is the best of the three, her voice bright and lively, fitting well with Hikari's sunny personality. Zarah Little (Chiaki, NieA_7) gives an unpolished, though by no means bad, performance as Kana. Since Kana is a tomboy, Little's blunt acting style fits the character. And I loved J-Ray Hochfield as Niea in NieA_7, but as Kuu, the youngest Haibane, she often sounds awkward.

Every time I watch a New Gen dub with young characters in it, I always come back to the same complaint: this obsession they have with casting to the age. If the character is a young child, they will cast a young child to play the part, refusing even to consider that an older (dare I suggest adult) actor who specializes in portraying children might do a better job. Yes, casting children ensures that you get a realistic child voice. It also ensures that you get an extreme lack of experience. One of the big problems with this casting philosophy is that children in anime are often portrayed as being more mature than their age would imply. I have no problem with casting real little kids as the Little Feathers. The kiddie Haibane behave like real children, with "real children" dialogue, so the fit is perfect. But Kuu, who in appearance is maybe 11 years old, has dialogue which is a great deal more sophisticated. Hochfield sometimes appears to have trouble pulling it off. (Please note that I don't know Hochfield's age, but she sure sounds like she's yet to see high school.)

Another thing I hate about child actors is that they have parents. The last time I gave a less-than-glowing (and I mean that literally) review of a child actor, I was treated to an hysterical, enraged, practically incoherent email from the young lady's mother — one year later. I was afraid she'd died of a stroke after writing the letter and that I'd be blamed. But such are the hazards of the reviewing business.

This philosophy of "Do what we consider right, worry later about making it work" is deeply ingrained in New Generation, so I'll simply have to learn to live with it. Another "right thing" they did, which didn't bother me, but may bother you, is a lack of attention to lip sync. One common complaint of those who put down dubs is that the translation suffers from being edited to fit the lip flaps. New Gen gets around this by ignoring lip sync for the most part. If you don't mind (I barely noticed) you'll appreciate the more precise translation this allows. On the other hand, Anne, my sound clip editor, found it very distracting. There was one scene in particular where the lip sync was so utterly disregarded that the soundtrack didn't even seem to fit the animation.

Despite its flaws, this nevertheless is an enjoyable dub. One thing on which I would like to compliment New Gen is the attention paid to incidental voices. On the first volume there are several characters, such as a shopkeeper, who appear only once, yet are very well done. Savage's voice is wonderful, and the awkwardness in the some of the other performances isn't so bad. In fact, over time it will probably sound cute. And Haibane Renmei is nothing if not cute.

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

Vital Stats:
Released by: Pioneer
Dubbed by: New Generation Pictures
Director: Jonathan Klein

Rakka - Carrie Savage
Reki - Erika Weinstein
Kuu - J-Ray Hochfield
Kana - Zarah Little
Hikari - Hunter MacKenzie Austin
Nemu - Kirsty Pape

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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