Posts Tagged ‘buso renkin’
Buso Renkin closes out the series with a few good stories and a shaky ending.
The second half of Buso Renkin starts exactly where we left off. Victor is being resurrected as he drains the life force of everyone in the school. Tokiko and Kazuki take him on but completely overmatched, Kazuki will be forced to trade his life and humanity for the power of the black kakugane giving him uncontrollable power and causing the fight against Victor to end in a draw.
It’s not until after this battle that Kazuki will learn the full gravity of what he’s done. Powered by the black kakugane, the Alchemist Army can’t allow him to live. Kazuki, Tokiko and a new ally will make the trek to the place where Tokiko got Kazuki’s kakugane in the first place to try and find answers. Along the way they’ll run into trouble though in the form of four elite alchemist warriors including Captain Bravo.
While this is going on, another elite alchemist warrior named Chitose will be tasked with finding the team that will ultimately find and eliminate Victor.
Good and the Bad
Continuing with the trend that started with the first set, the introduction to the second half of the series is very well done. With the start of the second half, a new villain is introduced right away and immediately made into the primary focal point of the episode. The transition between the plot of the first half and the plot of the second is seamless to watch and moves in a very quick pace.
Buso Renkin does a lot of great things with the first few episodes of this set. Moving in a way that defies the shonen genre arc pattern, the story will move in ways that audience members won’t see coming. The shift to making Kazuki the target instead of the hero is a bold move that will keep audience members guessing as to what will be coming next.
The writing staff does a great job with the interweaving storylines that constantly float in and out of episodes. Along with Kazuki and his search for answers with Tokiko, there is also the story of Kazuki being hunted by not only the elite warriors but his mentor Captain Bravo. Papillon returns for the second half as well and finally there is the story of Chitose and her search for a Victor team. All of these stories are complex in their own ways and all of them will take turns that are far from predictable.
What makes these stories work so well are the characters though. Buso Renkin does one more great thing for itself by evolving its characters. Every character that returns for the second half has evolved or grown in some way. Kazuki shows the most growth immediately when he realizes what his new powers mean while Tokiko will show growth in her relationship with Kazuki. The most growth seen for any of the characters though will come from Captain Bravo.
While he served as the primary source of comedy in the first half (along with Papillion), in this half Captain Bravo will become much more somber. Charged with killing his own protégé and subordinate, the audience will get to see brand new sides to this character. New parts of his past will be revealed slowly including his time as a young warrior.
Despite all this, there are a few things that Buso Renkin either does to sabotage itself late. The easiest one to point out are the Buso Renkins themselves. In the beginning, all of the kakugane and their powers made sense and were completely believable. Nothing ever stood out as so fantastical that they defied any suspension of disbelief but as the series wears on, they just start to get more and more insane.
One of the warriors chasing Kazuki, Hiwatari, has a Buso Renkin that produces a giant napalm bomb. Later in the series we will see Buso Renkin of the military dog which produces two robot Dobermans and even later than that the audience will hear Buso Renkin of the missile launcher. Eventually it was just too difficult to get behind the more ridiculous of these but luckily this was just around the end of the series.
The ending to Buso Renkin itself is weak to say the least. With the very real shift from a more comedy based series to a much more dramatic one, Buso Renkin attempts a lot of things with its ending. In the final three episodes, the series will set up the final battle well. I have to admit that when Mahiro got a little choked up, I did too. Once that battle begins though, it all goes downhill and Buso Renkin proceeds to rob the audience of everything they’ve invested their time for.
All throughout the final episodes I waited to see the battles that had been building since the beginning and instead received two very anticlimactic finishes. Tokiko’s past will remain a mystery to the audience, perhaps this is something that is resolved in the manga but why bother even bringing it up within the series if they weren’t going to do anything with it?
The last two nagging complaints lie with the final two episodes. In episode twenty five the episode will do something every few seconds in order to serve as a reminder for the audience. If I tell you what it is, it will spoil a big part of the finish so I’m going to hint around it instead. When you see the episode, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. It happens every few seconds, comes with its own metallic chime music and does nothing but redundantly remind the audience of what they already know and kill time.
The last complaint lies in the final episode’s ending credit sequence. During this sequence, there is a short animation drawn in manga style. Complete with word bubbles. That no one bothered to translate or even create subtitles for. If you don’t speak Japanese it’s fairly easy to follow what’s going on but it would’ve been nice to know exactly what characters were saying.
The clichés infect the musical department as well. Every episode in this half will feature the typical action trumpet music that plays in and out of eye catches and episodes. They are annoying but after awhile you are able to tune them out if you try hard enough. Aside from that, the background music in this half really did a phenomenal job of amping up the drama. The theme from Kazuki’s black kakugane transformation in episode fourteen stood out as great in particular.
Starting with episode fifteen, a new ending theme will replace the old. The new theme is titled ‘Itoshiki Sekai’ sung by Aya Kagami. The thing that struck me as odd about this song is that the lyrics mostly would be attributed to Papillion and even the ending theme features him. The song itself is well fitting of the character and has a very creepy sound to it.
Dub vs. Sub
Both casts had their pluses and their minuses during this set. Karen Strassman remains a plus for the dub cast with her still sickeningly sweet performance as Mahiro. David Lodge’s voice for Angel Gozen remains one of the most irritating things I’ve ever heard in my life though it’s hard to tell if it’s just the voice or the voice in combination with the character. Other standouts for the dub cast come from Caroline Kinsolving as Alexandria late in the series and Deborah Sale Butler as Chitose.
The Japanese cast had their own standouts. Aya Hirano impresses me once again with her performance as Mahiro, not only because of how good it is but how strong her range is to make me completely forget that it was her for most of the series. Ryoka Yuzuki remains the strongest of the cast though putting out an amazingly varied performance as Tokiko.
The only extra attached to this set is a special behind the scenes feature on disc three. In this twenty five minute feature, audience members will be taken behind the scenes during the dub recording and meet various member of the dub cast as they talk about production. The interviews with the actors really do not go into the series that much beyond the actor’s impressions of their characters but fans who are interested in some behind the scenes footage or some little secrets of the industry should check this one out.
Overall, I’m pleased with how this series turned out. The ending came across as an anticlimactic letdown but the buildup was a thrill. I may not recommend this series to everyone that I meet, but the action and progression of the characters will warrant a return spin through my player at some point. Recommended.
Final Grade: B-
|In Part II of my interview with Karen Strassman, the conversation moved further away from her past and got more into her present and future. In this final section of the interview, Karen talked with me about some of her favorite roles, Buso Renkin, Lucky Star, When They Cry, being irritating in the voice booth and much more.|
~ But alright, so I want to go ahead and start talking about some of the more specific series that you’ve been in. Last year in particular you were in two series that were never really given their chance: Fate/Stay Night and When They Cry. So, the first one I’d like to ask you about is When They Cry where you play one of the supporting roles Miyo Takano.
Karen: Uh yeah. Creepy, that whole series was so creepy.
~ When you started to get further into the series and you started to see more of the character and what kind of role she really had in everything that was going on. How does that change your performance when the character shifts like that and you have to deal with these new nuances?
K: Um, I think you just have more information to play with. Like, and in a way it’s good that I didn’t know everything. In the beginning because then my performance is real ambiguous, because I wasn’t sure either. So in a way I didn’t have to risk giving anything away because it was more ambiguous because even I didn’t know. And as I got more and more information and everything, I just had more specifics to play with. And I had more information behind me and more kind of subtext. But still my character you never really knew that clearly what her story was. And I have some questions like you know, I was like well… is she a bad guy? Did she do it? Or is she just obsessed with this? Or does she just love freaking people out? Or is she just sick? laughs
~ Alright, with May coming to a close 2008 has been a fairly good year for you so far anime wise. Last month it was Buso Renkin, Code Geass, this month it was Lucky Star. With Buso Renkin, Mahiro Muto is so sweet that she could send someone into diabetic shock. I’m mentioning this to highlight to how many different types of characters that you play. And so, with that many varieties of characters, do you have a different characterization process you go through for your different characters or is it pretty much the same process no matter what you’ve playing?
K: Well, at the beginning of the series when you’re kind of creating the character. Usually for anime, it usually is a combination of what was done in Japanese and there some are series where they us to come as close to the Japanese as possible and there are some series where is some leeway and we kind of work to create the character that works the best in English that doesn’t have to completely match the Japanese.
And that’s just depends on the series, what the client wants. And then it’s just depends on what they look like, depends on the Japanese and we just kind of with the director we just kind of work, usually it takes just the first session and we develop the character together. And then as you move on through the series, I just kind of sink into the character and get to know them better and better and get more and more comfortable with them.
I’ll say something else, for each character there is often kind of a theme to them. Like the scenes for Mahiro, Rene (Veilleux, ADR Director) and I would always joke that when she was just really annoyingly cute then we knew it was right on. When we would play it back and sort of cringe and laugh at the same time, then we’d be like “That’s it! Alright, next loop.”
For example, a character that I’m doing for Lucky Star (Miyuki Takara) right now is so cute but she’s so cute in such a different way. She’s not like annoyingly cute, she’s like, you know, Ooh you just wanna hug her cute. She’s just so sweet and innocent. And you know with her glasses and her pink hair, and that’s just a really different kind of cute. We looked for the most sweetest, endearing kind of cute for her. She would never ever in a million years be annoying. So that’s just a whole different country of cute.
~ Do you have a favorite type of character to play? And is there anything that you’d really like to be able to play but just haven’t had a chance to try it?
K: Sexy and evil characters are really fun. I enjoy those a lot. I had a lot of fun as Shinanora in Gun Frontier.
Have you seen Gun Frontier?
~ Um… no, not yet.
K: Aww, you’re no fun. She was just this sexy dripping character. All the men were just falling all over her. And that’s the show with Tahiro.
~ So there hasn’t been any thing that you haven’t been able to really just challenge yourself with or is it one of those roles that you’ll know when you see it?
K: I guess when I see it I’ll know it. But I will say that one of the things that I love about anime too is that I get the opportunity to do stuff that’s more realistic. Like I just got cast in Monster! And it’s just a really realistic show and I love that. I really love realistic drama. And I love that. I also really loved this show that I did a really long time ago, Habane Renmei.
~ Oh yeah, that’s a classic.
K: And I loved that show. There was just something very surreal and real about it at that same time. You know, it wasn’t cartoony and it was kind of dark. I really enjoyed that. I start to look back on the work that I’ve done and I just have so much affection for so many things. So many things that I’ve done. And there’s one show that I can’t remember the name of, and I was a drunk mother. And she took absolutely terrible care of her kid and was just drunk all the time. And she was a drama queen. And I just loved that role. And one of the fans will probably be able to identify the role if you write about this in your interview and will write it up.
~ I really want to ask you about Hitomi in Appleseed. If you look up on my website, my reviews of Appleseed aren’t great but despite that Hitomi was a really interesting character. When it comes to something like this where it’s very futuristic and your character is a bioroid, what kind of thought do you put into your characterization?
K: Hitomi was really moving to me. She was really endearing. She’s one of those characters who wanted to be human. And you know underneath it all, whether or not she talked about it, all she wanted to know was what it would be like to feel. That’s how I played her anyway. I played her as a machine and she is but she’s not supposed to have a soul or be human but she does. And she wants to be human underneath it. And one of the tricks for me playing a character is that I fall in love with them. For who they are.
~ Appleseed was a fairly big project and the sequel was pretty huge. Lucky Star this month has a pretty huge following behind it. Are you still at the point now where being in a project that has a bit more of a following behind it makes it a bit more fun or exciting? Or is every job just a job no matter how big it is?
K: It’s fun when there’s hype around it. Of course it is. And it’s fun when I walk into the studio for Lucky Star and Alex (Von David, ADR Director/Writer) is reporting on what all the fans are saying, it’s added fun. It is fun. But I think what makes me like a show or love a show is more about loving the show, loving my character and loving the people I work with. And I’m so lucky; Alex for Lucky Star is an awesome director. And a lot of the time I’m looking forward to getting to the studio and working with the people I get to work with. But of course! When it’s getting a lot of hype, its fun!
~ So at this point what I’d like to do is ask you about a few of my favorite roles that you’ve done. What I’d like for you to do is tell me not only what you liked most and least about the character but also most and least about performing them in the booth.
~ Miyo Takano from When They Cry:
K: What I liked best about the character was how creepy she was. What I liked least I guess wanted her to have a bigger role. And what I liked best about working with her was working with Kristy (Reed). Kristy an awesome director and awesome human being and it is always a pleasure to work with her.
~ Mahiro Muto from Buso Renkin:
K: What I loved about recording Mahiro Muto was making her as irritatingly cute as possible. And what I disliked the most about Mahiro Muto was how irritiating she was. And what I loved best about working on her in the booth was getting to work Rene Veilleux. Rene is an awesome director. He’s so much fun to work with. And we just had so much fun on that series together. So I was got a call and I got to go yay, I get to play with Rene. And I get to be cute and obnoxious.
~ 1st Lt. Su-Ming from Flag:
K: What I loved about that character and that show was how realistic it was. And whenever Tony (Oliver, ADR Director) was directing me he’d constantly say ‘Play it down, make it more real, make it flatter,’ we were just going for really simple. Makin it real, ya know? And I love that, as I mentioned before I just love the realistic stuff too. It just harkens to features and cinema and I like that a lot. And she was just very very smart. Very smart, very controlled, very… you know she had a mission, she was on target. There was nothing else, she was very single focused my character. I enjoyed the challenge of doing that, ya know?
I think what I like least about it is again I would have liked for her to have been a bigger character. And I would’ve liked to have spent more time recording her. And I know that this might sound redundant but what I liked best about recording her was getting to work with Tony. Tony is just another director that has years and years of experience. And knows his stuff and is a fabulous human being too.
~ Petit Charat from Di Gi Charat:
K: Aww, I think what I liked best about that was… *laughs* it was just so cute and weird. And what I think was sometimes the most challenging for me was that there was a lot that was just surreal and out there. And a lot of it I just really didn’t understand so I guess I just had to really let go of understanding it. You know because I like to understand things and sometimes it was just so out there and abstract and weird. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I’d ask and try to figure it out. And the director, Fusako Shiotani, was someone that I don’t get to work with often. But she is great.
I’ve worked with her on a couple of projects but she loved the show and really got the show. Like in ways that I couldn’t even begin to get it. She was really able to translate to me what she wanted. So that was just super fun.
~ Miyuki Takara from Lucky Star:
K: I love Miyuki. One of the things I love about Miyuki, she is so sweet. And so caring and so… she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. And she is very unpretentious and unassuming and she just wants to help people. And there’s one episode there’s something wrong and she’s lost her glasses and she couldn’t see the board and she had to ask somebody for their homework. And I forget but she asks one of the girls who lent her their homework or notes or something. But their notes were so bad that she couldn’t read them and they weren’t useful. But she pretended that they were useful and she gave them back because she didn’t want to hurt her feelings and then she went and got the notes from somebody else but made that girl promise not to tell anyone that she was using her notes.
She just wants to help people and she doesn’t want to hurt anybody. And she’s just very very sweet. And she never yells. And being an anime voice over actor where we come into the booth a lot and we spend a lot of time yelling or being hysterical. There’s something very relaxing about coming into a session and knowing ‘I probably don’t have to yell’ *laughs*
Um, what I don’t like about Miyuki? It’s really hard not to like Miyuki. I can’t think of anything right now that I don’t like about her. She’s just so likeable and sweet, you can’t not like her. And I gotta go back to answering the same way I’ve answered before; I love working with Alex. Alex is awesome and he’s really knowledgeable about the shows and he really loves the show. And we just have so much fun together, we just laugh and laugh. I just really look forward to working with him.
~ I’d like to jump back just a bit because I forgot to ask this when we talked about it. You mentioned that one of the things you liked least about recording Mahiro is that she’s so irritating.
K: But it’s also the thing I like best about her.
~ This is true. Have you ever had a character that was so irritating to you that recording them was a chore?
K: I’ve never had that. And for Mahiro, recording her was never a chore. You love to be irritating; it’s fun to be irritating. It’s wonderful to be that bratty little sister. But when he would play it back and I’d hear it I’d go ‘Oooh, that’s irritating. I didn’t know I could be that irritating. That’s scary.’ But I loved doing it.
~ If you were stranded on a deserted island with all your basic needs met. What three luxury items would you take with you?
K: I don’t know if this is cheating but I would want to take my computer. I’d want to have the luxury of having wi-fi. To write letters with all my friends since those are the people that fill my life. My most important things to me are my computer and my phone. *laughs* I think that’s all I need and maybe some music.
~ What are you looking forward to most this year that’s anime related?
K: I’m looking forward to continuing to do Lucky Star and just continuing that. I’m looking forward to Monster, I just think that it’s going to be a really interesting series.
~ Speaking of, are there any other projects that you can reveal at the moment?
K: Yes, I’ve just started a new show with Tony Oliver. You’ll have to look it up. It’s with Bang-Zoom. It’s under the name Karen Strassman. But I can’t reveal the title.
~ And finally, the question that I ask in every interview… do you have any parting words that you’d like to leave with your fans?
K: Yeah, first of all I just want to thank them for all of their support. And I guess this is kind of cliché but I just want to put the message out there to everybody to do what you love and to do it with care for all the people you’re working with and integrity and enjoy.
~ Good message to part on.
K: It’s a little cliché but to me it’s true and to me. And if I can add onto those as an addendum, so much of my success has been because of the wonderful human relationships I’ve had with people. And it’s because people have helped me and I’ve helped them. And we really enjoy working together. I mean I know I have a certain amount of talent but I think talent mixed with putting things in perspective. Anime is great but it’s not brain surgery, we’re not saving lives here. It’s just we just want to throw some good energy out at people so that people can take a break and be entertained.
It’s an interview that is a long time in the making. Earlier this year I got an exclusive interview with voice actor Karen Strassman (Rider (Fate/Stay Night), Petit Charat (Digi Charat), Miyuki Takara (Lucky Star), Kallen Stadtfeld (Code Geass) just to name a few) but the interview remained unedited for months due to various life conflicts. But now, part I of this interview has been posted. In part I of the two part interview, Karen talks about her start in voice acting in Europe, her first anime role in the states and more.
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Karen Strassman. Unfortunately, my life started to take drastic turns almost immediately after the interview was conducted and thus the interview remained unedited and untranscribed until now. So with that in mind, Karen Strassman isn’t a name that anime fans may recognize right away but a quick scan of her resume over the last few years may jog your memory. Rider (Fate/Stay Night), Petit Charat (Digi Charat), Miyuki Takara (Lucky Star), Kallen Stadtfeld (Code Geass), Hitomi (Appleseed), Miyo Takano (When They Cry) and many many more.
In the hour that I got to speak with Karen, we hit on a wide range of topics including her start in France, her new start in anime and some of her most memorable roles. In part I, Karen talks about the early career, some of the differences between recording in Europe and America and her first anime role.
~ So I’ m speaking with voice actress Karen Strassman. Thanks so much for taking time out of your hectic schedule to talk to me today. So before we start, how was skydiving a couple of days ago? Did you have fun?
Karen: It was such a bummer! California, where it’s beautiful everyday, it rained.
~ Oh that sucks!
K: We spent most of the day waiting to jump and they kept saying let’s wait two hours, let’s wait two hours. And we spent the whole day waiting because the weather wasn’t good enough. So I will be going back tomorrow.
~ Oh sounds fun.
K: I’m so excited, I can’t wait.
~ So alright, when did you first discover voice acting?
K: I first discovered voice acting when I was a student living in France. I was working there and I was studying there. I was teaching children how to speak English through acting. And myself and this other guy, we would be teaching classes all day long. And we’d kind of run workshops and animate them. And just help kids learn to speak English through little scenes. And, this was before the CD was born, and people were listening to cassettes. So this dates me a little bit.
But some French magazine editors came into our classroom and said they wanted to watch us work and we said fine. And afterwards they said we have a new French magazine called Hi Kids and it’s going to be for French children learning to speak English and we want to hire you both to do all kinds of characters for this magazine. And we went into the studio, you know, once a week or you know a couple of times a month or whatever. And they had us record all kinds of different types of characters that would go onto the cassette that would be sold with the magazine. And that’s where I first started to do voice over.
~ And so that’s where you got all of your training? Just sort of jumping in head first?
K: Just jumping in head first. And after that, I started dubbing French films into English in France. And I dubbed all kinds of French films into English. All different kinds of French stars I’ve dubbed their voices into English. So very often I would have friends travel on airplanes and watch French films and hear my voice. And then, there’s a tremendous amount of animation in France. And a lot of it they will do in English because it’s easiest to sell in that language.
And I just became a very successful voice over artist in France. And it just sort of happened. I was very lucky and my case is very different from a lot of people I know. But I never trained for it, I just learned while doing it.
~ So when you were first going into the booth with no training and no real idea, was it really intimidating or did you adapt really quickly to doing it in a professional environment?
K: Well, when I started it was just so much fun. It just wasn’t intimidating because it was this magazine that we were recording. And it was just fun! I just got to make up all these different voices. And it wasn’t like I was walking into Warner Bros. It was just a small little company and we were doing all these different voices for them.
The stakes didn’t seem high enough that it should seem intimidating. And then when I started to go into the bigger studios to start dubbing the films and everything, by then I was comfortable enough with everything that I was doing that… I felt a little clumsy with technique sometimes especially when you dub something or when you do ADR, there’s a lot of technique involved. But I was also very young and I think that I’m a very positive person and I tend to be pleasant to be around so people like me and I was young and sweet and so everyone happened to be very patient with me and teach me the technique. I was just a student; I was very young at the time.
~ So you’ve done a lot of work in Europe, you’ve done a lot of work over here in the states. So, besides the language differences, what are the most significant differences between how a project comes together in Europe as opposed to how a project would come together here that you’ve noticed?
K: In terms of ADR, or dubbing, you walk into a studio in America, and there’s a script in front of you. On the stand in front of the mic. And you record very small pieces of dialogue. So in America, you walk into a studio and look at a loop number. And the director will say ‘ok, let’s do loop number 31’ and you find loop number 31 and then they preview it. So you preview it and, say in Japanese if we’re talking about anime, and then you look at your sentence and then you would record it in English. And to record it, you would hear three beeps *beep, beep, beep* and then you start talking on the fourth imaginary beep. And you’re looking at the character’s mouth as you’re talking to make sure that the syllables and the expression and everything you’re doing suits, not only the mouth movements but everything like that.
In France, there have a very different technique. They have what they call a band rthymo. And in France what they do is you’re not really reading a script. So you walk in the studio and not only are you in a group with other actors, because in America you are the only person in the booth. And you record your lines one by one. Alone, without anyone else in the studio, except for the director and the engineer and everything.
In France, they get all the actors who were doing the scenes together and everybody stands up at the mic together and there is a line, which is the band rthymo, that is sequestered in the television or in the screen. So when you look up at the screen, you see a line of scripted text underneath it. And then there is on the screen a bar, and as the movie or the cartoon or the anime, as you’re watching it the words are scrolling along at the bottom of the screen and they pass by the bar.
And so what you need to do is read the word when it hits the bar on the screen. And that will correspond with when the word is in the character’s mouth. So you’re actually just reading the words right off the screen at the same time that you’re checking out the character’s mouth and what they’re doing on the screen. And you don’t memorize it ahead of time like you do in America and there are longer portions. The loops are much longer. And there might be five people standing up at the mic with you. You’re all reading your text off of the screen as you were recording it. So it’s very different. It was a very different technique
~ Did you have a system that was preferable to you or do you find either one perfectly fine?
K: I really enjoyed them both and I think each of them has its pros and cons. For one in Europe, it’s really fun because, first of all it’s like a party. There are four or five other actors in the room with you, and it’s a social event. It’s fun. And you all get to pool off each other in real life. So you’re all standing there and you know if the actor before you is really sad, you know, he reads his life really sad and I’m supposed to be empathetic or sad too I get to play off of him.
Whereas in America, a lot of the times you go to the studio and nobody else has recorded their lines yet. So you have no idea how they’re going to ask you a question. So in your head, you just have to imagine hearing them asking the question and answer it the way you think they might ask it to you. So in America you just have to imagine that they’re there with you. Whereas in France while I was working, they were right there so you get to play off each other. The other thing that’s fun about France while I was working there is you get to do longer portions. So you’re doing a much longer portion of the scene so you really get to play it out a little bit more. Which is just fun.
The advantage to the American ADR system is you can really perfect a line. Because it’s a very short portion, the loops are very small. And you can memorize your text and just really stare into that character and really perfect it because you’re not you trying to read the line off the screen at the same time as you’re trying to look at the character. So it’s a much smaller piece and you can really do much more detailed work in that way.
~ That makes complete sense actually. You are a highly accomplished voice actress and according to my research, you have been in 87 anime titles since 2002.
K: Wow! I’m impressed with that. *laughs* I didn’t even know that.
~ So do you remember back in 2002 when you did your first anime project?
K: Um… do you know what project that was?
~ It was the third season of Rurouni Kenshin.
K: Yes it was! I do remember that! I really liked the character I played (Itsuko Katsu). She was very moving to me. And the series was very moving to me. And all the traditional Japanese culture that was inserted into the series was, that’s what I particularly liked about it.
~ Do you remember what the audition was like for that?
K: I don’t. I don’t remember at all. I remember it was for BangZoom. And I remember I was just so new to everything in Los Angeles. You know, you come here and everyone knows each other and everybody knows the anime world. It’s all kind of a blur to me because I was so new. I just remember he (Eric Sherman) gave me a whole bunch of different things to read and I remember it was fun because I was an unknown quantity here and because in France, I worked so much because there is just such a small pool of voice over actors in France, in English. And so I was hired constantly and I would get all the lead roles and I would get to do all kinds of different roles because there weren’t that many of us. So we really got to cut our teeth on all kinds of different stuff.
Whereas in America they tend to kind of pigeon hole you a little bit because there’s so many people who can do so many things so they don’t ask you to do as much. And I remember I came in to audition and he just kept throwing things at me and I was like “Oh I can do that,”, “Oh I can do that,” and I remember people seemed to be very impressed and I didn’t quite know why because it was normal to me that I would be doing all different kinds of roles. But I guess there are some people here who just specialize in different things. There is a heck of a lot of voice over actors who have an amazing range here. It’s not like I’m rare in that way. I think it just seemed to be that I was a newcomer and they were kind of surprised that a newcomer would be able to do all those things.
But I don’t remember reading for the specific role. I just remember going in there and getting to read all these different types of roles and saying I can try that, I can try that.
~ So it was just mostly an open call audition that you remember?
K: It wasn’t an open call. I remember Mona Marshall is just such a generous wonderful human being. And she barely knew me but she got a sense of I guess my talent and a sense of who I am and she was the one who gave my name to Eric at BangZoom and she also gave me quite a number of other contacts. And she, you know, said tell them I sent you. And because of Mona Marshall I started working a lot in anime and in the voice over world she’s not just a talented actor but she’s also the most generous and wise human being. And if I may just sort of branch off to another subject if that’s ok.
~ Oh yeah, go for it.
K: But I wanted to say one thing about the circle of actors who do anime and the circle of voice over artists at least in Los Angeles that I know, is that people are just generally such lovely people. Because people love what they do, but they don’t necessarily feel the need to take themselves too seriously. And there’s generally just this sense of comradely and a sense of family and community and caring about each other and helping each other that exists in this community. And it’s one of the things that needs to be said and one of the things I love about it and it’s one of the things that I’m very grateful for. And Mona Marshall is part of that!
~ Maybe it’s just our inner geeks calling out to each other.
K: *laughs* Yeah yeah. So it wasn’t an open call, Mona Marshall had gotten me in there. I’ll tell you when I started walking in the door; people were right away so nice to me. There just isn’t that type of cutthroat competition that you might expect to find in other show biz so I feel so very lucky to be part of the community.
~ So you hit on this earlier and this time I’m actually going to ask you the question. So, you haven’t attended any conventions yet despite all the credits on your resume. Have you thought about putting out some feelings to see about being a con guest sometime?
K: Um… I might be, maybe. I don’t know I might start showing up occasionally. I don’t know.
Part II of the interview with Karen will cover much more including her current anime roles, some of her favorites, being annoying in the booth, a series that personally creeped her out and much more.
Don’t think of it as lacking in innovation, think of it as having tons of what you already know and love about the shonen genre.
In this modern world, people are killed secretly by creatures called homunculus. Homunculus were created many years ago through the power of alchemy but hidden away from the world. They are small robotic embryos that attach themselves to humans and devour the host’s brain and body until they are eventually able to take over the host body and eat other humans to survive. The ones who fight and kill them are alchemist warriors who have the other great discovery of alchemy, Buso Renkin, to fight with.
The first thirteen episodes of the first season are included in this set. The hero of this anime is Kazuki Muto who after wandering to the haunted factory behind his school is killed by a homunculus while attempting to save the life of a girl he sees there, Tokiko Tsumura. Tokiko is an alchemist warrior fighting in Kazuki’s town and intrigued by his act of bravery, gives him a kakugane which gives him a new life and the ability to wield a Buso Renkin, a powerful weapon powered by its owner’s will to survive and the powers of alchemy.
Unable to turn away from his new found power and desire to protect the world from the homunculus, Kazuki teams up with Tokiko to face off against the mysterious Papillion Masked Creator who is creating these monsters.
Good and the Bad
The first thing that anyone who picks up this package has to notice is the wonderful job that Viz Media did with the packing of this release. Normally packaging isn’t really factored into my reviews but the case for this set is very well put together with separate pages within the case for each disc. I did find that the special postcards that were included with the set tended to slide around which sometimes made it hard to close the case or keep the postcards in the case. If you plan on removing the postcards from the case for various display purposes, this won’t be an issue.
Getting into the anime itself, this anime almost lost me from the start with a very over the top bit of dialogue that forced me to roll my eyes. Getting past this initial hurdle, audiences are going to very quickly enter a world where over the top and shonen clichés are the norm. All of them are there for the audience: A clueless hero entering a world he knew nothing about, a desire to protect the innocent, new super fighting powers (with or without props, they’re both there), names for the attacks and weapons, the adorable female character and the tough female character. The only thing missing was a snarky female character though Tokiko certainly has some great snarky moments.
Breaking down those elements though, the audience is going to find that all of the representations are well presented. Mahiro is a very cute representation for the ‘little sister’ role and remains a very strong source of comedy and emotion throughout the thirteen episode set. Tokiko is also an excellent example of the tough warrior maiden character that every shonen series needs.
The story and writing in this series is exactly what you would expect with very few surprises being thrown at the audience. Despite its liberal use of clichés, the writing in this series remained strong throughout managing to pull me in with its action and its ability to connect to the audience on an emotional level early in the series driving them towards wanting to see more. The series does hit a very poor speed bump with its comedy though.
All of the comedy is basically visual gags with a few clever situational gags thrown in. This ended up being really disappointing since the writers rarely even attempted to use more clever forms of humor despite having characters that could support it easily. Captain Bravo alone could have managed at least a couple of scenes on his own with more clever dialogue but is just never given the opportunity. There were a few example of clever writing though. Kazuki was really written well as a rookie fighter and hearing the villains cut off his big hero speeches was a unique twist that made me chuckle a few times.
Over the course of thirteen episodes, audiences are taken through two connecting story arcs. While any description of the second story arc will lead to spoilers of the first, it can be said that the first story arc has an absolutely terrible ending and the second story arc almost falls into the same pit of early over the top writing that does a very strong job of pushing its audience away.
The second story arc suffers from its own set of problems really though. The introduction of new characters in the second story arc makes it episodic very quickly. The staff does a great job with combating this issue though by keeping the storyline strong throughout the episodes to tie them together firmly and keep the series moving at a very good pace.
The animation is very strong in this series. While the CG animation of the series was very noticeable, the battle scenes were very well animated and choreographed. While the weapons of the series tended to be a little impractical, they were innovative. This innovation in the weapons led to some very exciting battles worth watching. It is a little surprising to me how violent and bloody this series is though. While it is obvious that there is going to be violence and blood just due to its genre, it still managed to surprise me as an audience member the various ways that people were being killed.
Most of the music that stood out in this series was very nice Jazz melodies that melted well into the background. In particular fans should pay attention to the soft jazz theme during the episode five mountain scenes. Also very enjoyable was the Jazz themes that played during Mahiro’s Buso Renkin seminars. The battle scene music really came across well when I rewatched this series with surround sound. The strong orchestra music really played well with the scene and the strong brass really captured that shonen fighting spirit that heroes keep going on and on about.
Throughout the set the audio quality remains consistently strong with no detectable drops in quality.
Dub vs. Sub
Going back and forth between the English and Japanese casts, I just could not get behind Tara Platt’s performance of Tokiko. The difference between the performance from Platt and the performance of Ryoka Yuzuki in the Japanese cast felt like they were almost night and day in terms of inflection and emotion. While I could certainly hear the different intonations that Yuzuki delivered in her role, Platt delivers a performance that is flat and even throughout. She rarely changes her vocal tones and is always speaking in a very serious tone. While this makes complete sense for the character, it also makes the character very boring and hard to cheer for. Eventually I got used to the character and the flat tones but it did take awhile.
Karen Straussman as Mahiro, however, was very nice. The performance here was very nicely done though it’s so sugary sweet I can see it getting on the nerves of some members of the audience and sending someone into diabetic shock at some point. Another big plus for the dub cast was Spike Spencer in the role of Chono/Papillon. I can’t think of an adjective to describe the performance without offending one subset of the population or another so let’s just say… a foppish cream puff?
For this set, the edge in terms of performance really has to go to the Japanese cast.
There aren’t a lot of extras included with this set but the ones that are included are enjoyable for all members of the audience. All three discs have a commentary track on them with the first one hosted by Steve Staley (Kazuki) and Tara Platt (Tokiko). On the second disc is a commentary that I believe is hosted by Steve Staley and Spike Spencer. I say ‘think’ because the actors never actually introduce themselves on the commentary which left me having to figure out who was talking based on what they were saying about the characters. This commentary was the best of the three though as the actors (whomever they are) were really hilarious as they riffed on the anime and cracked jokes about the characters. The third disc commentary is with the ADR director and script adapter, Rene Veilleux and Donald Roman Lopez.
Also included on the third disc is a behind the scenes feature taking fans into the animation process of the series. While they don’t show anything particularly new that fans who have watched other extras of this nature haven’t seen before, it’s still worth checking out.
Despite a small effort on its own part to change my mind, this is an enjoyable release. While this is not the series that you would ever show to someone as a great example of the shonen genre, those who enjoy their anime filled with action and monsters and new powers are going to find little to be disappointed with here. As long as you take it at face value and don’t think about it too much, this is a nice set for an anime fan to kill a weekend with and with any luck, Viz will announce a release date for the last thirteen episodes soon.
Final Grade: 85% – B