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The Dub Track
Last Exile

by Ryan Mathews,
Another Bang Zoom dub this month. If it seems I've been giving them a lot of attention lately, it's because they've been dubbing a lot of attention-worthy anime. They've quickly become the primary dubbing studio of Geneon/Pioneer. It's getting hard to buy any selection of new titles without hitting at least one of their dubs.

One of the latest is Last Exile, an anime second only to Wolf's Rain on my personal "most anticipated" list. When I learned that Bang Zoom would be doing the dub, I was a little disappointed. As I've stated in previous reviews, Bang Zoom's efforts to date have been a mixture of hit and miss. They've done some good dubs, but quite a few forgettable ones as well. Given just how phenomenally good Last Exile is, I felt it deserved the attention of a more consistent studio — Animaze or New Generation for example.

After having heard the dub, I'm happy to say my fears were groundless. Last Exit is, without a doubt, the best Bang Zoom dub of all I've experienced, and certainly one of the best dubs of 2003.

But before I get to the review, I'm afraid I have to rant about something.

After I'd finishing watching the dub, having thoroughly enjoyed it, I got out my pen and paper and prepared to jot down the actors and characters, the better to rave about them all. Only I couldn't. There were no individual credits, just a list of actors. Who is playing whom was kept secret. My pet peeve had returned.

I have been ranting about the idiocy of refusing to give individual voice credits for years, both in "Last Exit" on the original Anime Web Turnpike and on Usenet before that. What drove me nuts was more than just not knowing the names of my favorite actors. It was that nobody could give me a reason why. I don't mean a good reason. I mean any reason.

If I asked an anime company representative, invariably I'd be told that the decision wasn't theirs, that it was up to the dubbing studio. If I asked someone in the voice acting industry, I'd receive some hand-waving answer about "the union". Sometimes I'd be told that the dub in question was non-union work, so the actors needed to stay out of the credits to avoid getting in trouble. When I would point out that the actors names are in the credits, just not next to the characters they play, I would get a blank stare and a shoulder shrug. It was as if no one knew.

(Later someone wrote me with a theory that what's being hidden by not revealing who played what character is the number of "loops" recorded by each actor, since union rules require a certain pay scale per loop. But isn't non-union work non-union work? If the union can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the actors aren't being paid union wages, does that somehow make it union work? I find that hard to believe. Besides, the same actors who hide behind pseudonyms at conventions are never shy about revealing what characters they've played. It makes no sense.)

But one thing is for sure: they're all terrified of that union. When I met a well-known voice actress at a convention some years back, I made the mistake of almost referring to her by her real name rather than her pseudonym. She waved me off as if she were afraid officers of the SAG Secret Police would jump out from behind a potted plant and haul her away. What a strange, mysterious union the Screen Actors Guild must be. Apparently they don't care whether or not you follow their rules, as long as you pretend to. Or am I to believe the union officials really don't know the truth?

It infuriates me that I can't tell you that certain actors are the same guy, or that certain women are the same actress, infuriating because you already know it! Anyone with hearing in one ear knows that Spike in the Cowboy Bebop movie sounded the same as he did in the series, knows that Sasami's voice remained constant through all the various versions of Tenchi Muyo!. Yet if I were to state what is obviously implied by that, I'd burn so many bridges, I could forget about getting another interview for the rest of my career.

So, given that the average anime fan can tell that these voices sound the same, am I to believe that the folks at SAG can't? Heck, they could look up the dub at ANN or Crystal Acids, or even IMDB.com, same as I do, and learn information that's not in the credits. What kind of idiots do these people have to be not to figure it out? Or am I right in thinking that all SAG wants is the appearance of obeying the rules?

I thought anime was past this. New Generation, ADV, Coastal, and until now, Bang Zoom, were all giving individual credits. With Animaze pretty much dormant, only Ocean was holding out, and even they list actors by character on the Inu-Yasha dub, so I figured there was hope they'd come around for their Bandai work as well. And now this.

I'm tired of it. After this column, I refuse to review any anime where I can't get information on the cast, either from the credits or on the web. What's the point? "Such-and-such a character was given a marvelous performance. < A>Wish I could tell you by who!"

But anyway, a few brief words about Last Exile.

As I said, it's a wonderful dub. I especially liked the chemistry between the two main characters. I find such chemistry even more amazing when I remind myself that the two actors were never in the studio together.

Lavie is clearly played by Kari Wahlgren. I recognize her as the voice of Risky in Risky Safety and Hitomi in Figure 17. With her distinctive cute-tomboy voice, Walhgren has quickly become one of my favorite actresses. The role of spunky young Lavie is a perfect fit for her.

Klaus is played by Johnny Yong Bosch (best known as Vash in Trigun), but it wasn't until the second or third episode that I realized it. Bosch is showing a great deal of range, even when the character, an idealistic young man, is a type he's played before. Klaus is a counterweight to Lavie, as calm and gentle as she is loud and brash. Bosch gives one of his softest performances, which is why it took me so long to recognize him. Despite his laid-back nature, when the chips are down, it's Klaus who is often the one who takes charge. Bosch really shines at those moments, the idealism coming through in his voice like a young military officer reciting an oath.

Alex, the captain of the Silvana, is a dark, brooding, mysterious type, so he's played by, who else, Crispin Freeman. He doesn't have many lines in the first volume, but my initial impression was very favorable. I have to wonder, though, if he's in danger of being typecast.

That's it as far as voices I can recognize. There are other actors I would like to compliment, such as those who played Mullin (the disillusioned rifleman aboard the battleship in the first two episodes), Al (the young girl), and others. But I don't know who they are, so the review will have to end here.

Rating: ***½ (out of 4)
(Review based on episodes 1-4)

Vital Stats:
Released by: Geneon (formerly Pioneer Anime)
Dubbed by: Bang Zoom
Director: Eric Sherman

Cast (as recognized by ear):
Lavie - Kari Wahlgren
Klaus - Johnny Yong Bosch
Alex - Crispin Freeman

Clips: Thanks to Anne Packrat for helping me choose the clips and editing them.
Addendum #1: I've noticed that all Bang Zoom dubs list Eric Sherman as the director. I'm beginning to wonder if I should be crediting a second individual as well, perhaps the ADV Engineer. I find it hard to believe that Sherman is directing all these dubs himself. First off, how would he find the time? Secondly, the dubs just seem too different in quality to be the work of the same man, especially this dub and Witch Hunter Robin.

Addendum #2: Am I the only one who thinks "Geneon" would be a better name for a utility company than an anime distributor? Geneon's logo even resembles that of Enron, a squared-off "G" balanced on a corner.

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 this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of Anime News Network or its sponsors.

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