Thursday, March 14, 2013

Day Seventy-three - xxxHolic: Season 1, Episode 1, or "There's a reason to buy anime, not watch it on Netflix."

Before I start the review proper, if you're not familiar with the series, xxxHolic is the story of a young man who can see spirits and a woman who can grant wishes. It's a basic fantasy premise that is heavy on artistic style and emphasizes balance and karma.

Now... time for a little rant.

While I'm not entirely a purist when it comes to dubbed versus subbed anime, I'd be lying if I didn't say, for the most part, that I prefer the original Japanese audio. Quality anime is produced with such care and devotion by its staff, and voice acting is usually no exception.

There are, of course, quite a few examples of quality dubs that have reached the States. Cowboy Bebop immediately comes to mind as one of those rare examples where the American dub almost outshines the source material.

In the case of xxxHolic, though, I cannot help but lament Netflix's system which doesn't allow you to choose which version of the show you'd like to hear. It's straight up English dub all the way and, while the folks at Funimation try, they're dub of xxxHolic pales in comparison to it's original track.

This fact is obvious from the moment the credits roll.

For some reason that I haven't been able to track down, the Netflix dub of xxxHolic uses an alternate take of "19-sai" ("19 Years Old") that is a much weaker version than the original. If you listen to both, you can definitely hear the loss of the really catchy keyboards and the unnecessary boost of the secondary voice tracking.

For anyone who has seen the series on DVD, this discrepancy is extremely jarring. It was like listening to only half the song.

Once the episode, itself, starts proper, you can kind of get the feel of the source material, but... there are quite a few jokes (as in, pretty much ALL of them) that are lost in translation.

This is especially true when it comes to Maru and Moro who are usually cute background characters. Because of the edits, their lines have more prominence and it's much more obvious when the phrasing it out of place and forced.

The same can be said of Watanuki and Mokona's voice acting. Todd Hakerborn and Carrie Savage do a subpar job of recreating the former's manic ennui and the latter's spoiled cuteness. Todd tries to perform Watanuki's comic asides (a lot of the character's mannerisms are based on a straight-man comedy routine), but can't get the beats right, and Carrie just can't get the emotive onomatopoeias at all, instead choosing to focus on just getting the lines out instead of HOW the lines are said.

Colleen Clinkenbeard, who also does the voices of Lilith and Tannis in Borderlands and has performed as an English voice actress in quite a few anime, does a decent job portraying the sultry tone of Yuko, but also has trouble capturing the character's playful sarcasm.

Now, I've railed against the voice acting enough... as for the actual story, plot, and art of the episode?

Discounting the voice acting, it's actually a rather blah series. A lot of the appeal of xxxHolic comes from the grand and meticulously detailed portraits the CLAMP manga group puts to the page. While there are several interesting recreations of their two-page masterpieces, they never quite make the transition... and the anime's attempts at filling in the blanks with faceless background characters never quite makes the grade.

The only thing that really makes the Japanese dub of the anime all that palatable is just how well done the voice acting is by Sayaka Ohara (Yuko), Jun Fukuyama (Watanuki), and Mika Kikuchi (Mokona).

This is especially the case with Mika Kikuchi. She emotes Mokona with such aplomb that I cannot help but suffer intense beats of emotion when I hear her hit those tremulous notes. My heart literally goes a-pitter-pat whenever I hear her.

The American dub? It never offers me those feelings... so I think I must do the hard thing and recommend that you NEVER WATCH this anime on Netflix. If the art intrigues you, go out and get the DVDs. While it IS out of print, you can still find the Funimation S.A.V.E. editions pretty cheap online (through Frys or independent anime stores like Robert's Anime Corner) and it is completely worth it to watch the series in Japanese... or, at least, to have the option, as it is not worth watching it this way on Netflix.

I wonder if they'd allow a petition to get both versions available to stream?

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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