Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh on Gundam UC

by Todd Ciolek,

Michael Sinterniklaas and Stephanie Sheh are no strangers to the dubbing game. Sinterniklaas has an extensive history in directing dubs at NYAV Post and lending his voice to all sorts of animated roles, from Xellos in Slayers to Dean in The Venture Bros. Sheh's appeared in a vast lineup of anime and video games, along with her experience in scripting and directing dubs.

Yet Gundam UC is a unique project. A new OVA series set within the Gundam franchise's original Universal Century canon, Gundam UC, also known as Gundam Unicorn, adapts Harutoshi Fuku's novels into a big-budget space war of mecha and ideals. Bandai's intent on releasing each of the six episodes in America as soon as it's available in Japan, and they've turned to Sinterniklaas and Sheh to dub it quickly.

You'll also hear them in Unicorn: Sheh plays disguised royal emissary Audrey Burne, and Sinterniklaas is the crazed Sleeves pilot Angelo Sauper. The two of them found time during the New York Anime Festival to explain just how they're tackling the simultaneous release and accelerated schedule of Gundam UC, with the help of Sunrise's Akane Hagino.

Anime News Network: How did you get started with Gundam UC?

Michael Sinterniklaas: I worked with Sunrise one time before on an unprecedented project: the first time a show was ever simulcast, fully localized, on television. It was Kurokami. It aired day and date, same episode, fully dubbed. It was incredible, but it was a very hard assignment, and the producer we worked with ended up working on Gundam Unicorn, which is also a simultaneous release.

Stephanie Sheh: Was that the master plan all along?

Sinterniklaas: Yeah, was Kurokami your way of grooming me for Gundam Unicorn?

Akane Hagino: No, I didn't know.

What was your first exposure to Gundam?

Sinterniklaas: I used to build the model kits when I was in high school. Lucky for me, I grew up in New York City, so I could go to Chinatown and get all manner of imported toys and games. So my first exposure to Gundam was the toys. I think the first model I put together was a Jegan.

Sheh: My first exposure was Gundam Wing.

Sinterniklaas: Oh, because of the pretty boys.

Sheh: [laughs] …Yes.

Gundam Unicorn is coming out fairly slowly, and it has a whole series of novels to adapt. How much access do you have to the overall storyline?

Sinterniklaas: Gundam Unicorn is a fairly complex project. We're receiving the materials that are being produced at the same time, so it's not like we're starting at the beginning of a series that's been completed. Fortunately, because we're working directly with Sunrise, we have access to the Japanese creators as well as Mark Simmons, who has a PhD in Gundam.

Sheh: Plus our producer is reading the novels.

Sinterniklaas: I wish I could read the novels, but they haven't been translated into English, so I'm harassing my producers to read me bedtime stories from the books.

Sheh: And she'll tell us if something happens while she's reading it.

Sinterniklaas: There's a lot of backstory that doesn't actually surface, but it informs all of our choices in casting and directing.

How do you choose the cast for the series?

Sinterniklaas: NYAV Post is tasked with finding a cast, but it goes through approvals with Sunrise and Bandai, and we have edifying conversations about why this or that voice suggests things about the character.

Do you have to pass anything by [Gundam creator] Yoshiyuki Tomino? I understand he's not involved very closely with the project.

Sinterniklaas: No, Tomino hasn't been a part of our casting or the day-to-day production of it. His influence is felt, or at least I think it's his vision for the show. Since Unicorn continues the original timeline of the series, I think there are deliberate nods to his original intention with things like wiping out an entire class of people just standing around. They didn't do anything. A ship comes through, and they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, and now everyone's just evaporated.

Except for the main characters.

Sinterniklaas: And Haro.

Did you get to choose which parts you wanted to play?

Sheh: [laughs] If only it was like that. I read for all of the female characters, but there are only about three in the first episode. But once they cast me as Audrey, they decided to also cast me as Haro.

And what's that like?

Sheh: Like playing the Tachikomas in Ghost in the Shell.

Sinterniklaas: I really like your Haro. Not to dissect the intention of Haro, but I think you do a good balance of being cute but also android-y. It's only two or so words an episode, but it's great.

How did you approach Audrey's role? In all of the anime and game roles you've had, is there any character that Audrey's close to?

Sheh: No, actually. I'm usually playing super-shy high school girls or completely bipolar types, and Audrey's more like a normal girl. I think the girls I play are usually more immature.

Sinterniklaas: But there's a balance there. She's got a lot of responsibility, but she's also really young.

Gundam has a high body count. Have any of your actors been shocked by their characters' deaths?

Sinterniklaas: We don't usually tell them they're going to die. One actor, Sean Schemmel, plays two fairly prominent supporting roles in the first episode. He's a great screamer, so he plays the teacher, Mr. Bancroft, and we put a little bit more reaction in his death, which you can barely hear, than in the Japanese version.

Sheh: It's tricky in terms of casting, because you'll get these smaller characters, and if you cast a different person for each part, it costs a lot of money and a lot of time. But because it's Gundam, we have no idea whether or not those small characters who have just one line end up being full-blown characters, and you don't want to cast the same actor in a major story arc where he'll have to talk to himself.

Sinterniklaas: And that's a big part of the discussion that we have in calls with Japan. And I have a huge beef with hearing a great lead cast, and then you'll hear some incidental character, a villager or something, who comes by and they sound so terrible that it just takes you out of the moment. So I like to use great people in small parts as much as possible. There's a Zeon pilot who just has a few what-the-hell lines and gets gang-mauled by Federation pilots in the first episode, but he brings a lot of energy and fear to that part, and I think it's important to have someone good.

So no one's there to just do a death scream?

Sinterniklaas: No, everyone gets established, and I think that's Tomino's original idea. These people are civilians and they have lives. They're ordinary people, and I think it's important to establish that before they just die, or else there's no cost.

The character of Full Frontal is reminiscent of Char Aznable, so did you try to match his voice to the actors who've previously played him?

Sinterniklaas: Because there's so much confusion about Full Frontal, we felt it was appropriate to get a new actor.

Sheh: There's been a lot of time since a new Universal Century Gundam story in terms of production, but the story picks up close to where the other anime series left off. The character we're doing is still in his thirties, though, but the actors who voiced him are older. So we decided to cast based on the character now.

Sinterniklaas: It was important that he sound baritone but not too old. We went with someone who sounded commanding, but also thirty and not fifty.

Sheh: In Japan, they're used to hearing a certain actor as Char, and he's the only actor who's voiced Char. It's iconic.

Sinterniklaas: And we don't have that here.

Was there any thought of renaming Full Frontal?

Sinterniklaas: No. It's Gundam. It's not like any other show, and that would be too drastic of a change. It's already in the books.

Hagino: We knew that Full Frontal means something in English, but we thought that fans would be mad if we changed it.

Sinterniklaas: I blame dirty-minded fans, because Full Frontal can also be an attack. [laughs] So get your mind out of the gutter. It's how he fights. Not in the buff.

Do you have a favorite scene in the first two episodes?

Sheh: My favorite is where Audrey goes “I don't need you” to Banagher when he's asking her to need him. So cold! My favorite scene for Michael's character is where he's fighting and it's almost…erotic.

Sinterniklaas: He's not the kind of character I've typically played. There's something…off and kinky about him. Is kinky the right word?

Was any scene particularly hard to do? What was the hardest translation?

Sinterniklaas: I think it's the scene you just talked about. Banagher has this emotional intuitive moment that he can't explain. He's speaking about something he can't define, so he's saying things like “I need you to need me.” And that sounds a little bit weird, but that's because he can't understand what he's going through. Something is awakening in him. But when I watch it, I feel the audience response is “ohhh” and it makes sense. But that was the hardest scene. Fifteen seconds of screen time, and we did it for hours.

One last question, and it's the nerdiest. Will you slip any Venture Bros. references into the Gundam Unicorn dub?

M: [laughs] I am a classically trained actor and I don't know if it would be relevant or even applicable.

S: They're so different, tonally.

M: But it would be cool if we could draw in a mecha-Shiva fighting a Gundam, and I would like to see Dean playing with a Gundam model kit sometime.

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