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Media Blasters' Ai no Kusabi Blu-ray Review

As promised, here’s my in-depth review for Media Blasters’ Blu-ray for Ai no Kusabi. Although many of you may not be interested in this, I hope those who read this find this informative. If there are any questions regarding the Blu-ray, I’ll be happy to answer them. As a fan of both dubs and subs, I will do my best to write a fair and pragmatic assessment of the English dub. I’ll be rating the English dub (and the overall Blu-ray release) on a grading scale (A+ being the highest rating with F- being the lowest). For those who simply want to see the overall assessment, please skip down to the bottom of the review. Under the cuts, I labeled each section for convenience’s sake since my review is long. Although many might skip around and look at one or two sections, I highly recommend reading the section “Script”, because there is something that is exclusively included for the English dub that pleasantly surprised me and I think other fans might find interesting. ;)

First, here are images of the Blu-ray case. Nothing special, really. Follows the typical format you find on all DVDs/Blu-rays. The only special features included on the Blu-ray are the textless opening/endings and the promotional videos. Personally, I disliked how the Blu-ray is called the “Unchained Edition” just because Media Blasters added an English dub to it to distinguish it from their previous subtitled-only DVD release of Ai no Kusabi back in 2013. I feel like that that if they wanted to make the release truly special, they should’ve added stuff behind-the-scenes recordings/interviews, official artworks, and bloopers.





Next, I’m going to cover the English dub, which was already under heavy criticism from the fanbase even before its actual release. However, it’s perfectly understandable why everyone, myself included, felt extremely wary of how the English adaptation was going to be handled since Sentai Filmworks royally screwed up their English dub for DRAMAtical Murder.

The first thing I’m going to address is the casting choices for the characters. There were some fans that criticized the casting choices, particularly the voice actors for our leads, Riki and Iason. A few fans also questioned the casting choice for Aisha since Meli Grant is a woman, and Aisha is a male. ADR director Brittany Lauda addressed these concerns previously, stating that Aisha will be given an androgynous voice, due to DMP’s mistranslations spreading “confusion” among the fandom for misgendering him in the novels, in spite of the fact that Aisha is clearly voiced by a man in the Japanese version. Although many veteran voice actors/actresses were cast in the series, that doesn’t necessarily mean their voices are the right picks for the characters—something that fans were quick to point out as cast announcements were released.

While I do share some of the same criticism made by other fans, even after watching the English dub, I did enjoy the performances by all of the VAs and I do believe that they did good job. As I’m not familiar with Ms. Lauda’s other works as an ADR director, I was extremely worried about whether or not she was capable of directing the VAs properly and having them convey the range of emotions that embody these characters. I think the dialogue did sound natural and the lines had the right amount of emotion to them, so kudos to Ms. Lauda for her directing skills. :)

However, in regards to the actual casting choices, this is where my feelings are mixed. While Todd Haberkorn remains one of my favorite veteran voice actors in the industry and the mysterious Darren Mitchell (who fans still speculate to be Aaron Mitchell Dismuke operating an alias) performed well as Iason and Riki, respectively, I don’t believe they were the right choices for the voices of the main leads. Mr. Haberkorn’s voice is too light and raspy to be suitable for someone like Iason. Typically, I’m not one to expect the English VAs to sound 100% like their Japanese counterparts, but I do agree that Iason’s English dub should’ve be smoother and deeper like Tōru Ōkawa’s voice in order to reflect Iason’s dominance and presence as a ruthless, cruel, and confidently arrogant Blondie. I’m not questioning Mr. Haberkorn’s ability as a voice actor—his performance and his voice are two different matters and should not be confused for the other—but his voice doesn’t quite fit Iason since it doesn’t match that dominant tone/quality as one would expect from Iason’s character. If Mr. Haberkorn had deepened his voice, then it would’ve suited Iason much better. That said, while it's not the voice I exactly pictured for Iason, I loved his performace.

The same problem goes for Riki. Mr. Mitchell performed well as Riki, but the issue lies with the fact that his voice sounded too young and naïve for Riki. Although Riki is still a young adult, a huge part of Riki’s character lies in his strength and charisma—his defiant pride as a slum mongrel and leader of Bison. Long-time fans of the series know the kind of life Riki has led throughout his time in the slums and the hardships he goes throughout the novels, and how that shaped Riki’s cynical and tough personality. Unfortunately, Mr. Mitchell’s youthful voice contrasts too much of Riki’s character. Riki’s voice needs to be deeper and tougher to suit his rough-and-tumble personality and appearance. During the scenes where Riki becomes enraged, his voice deepens in order to convey that rage, and it was during those moments where I thought Mr. Mitchell almost nailed the voice befitting the charismatic and resilient gang leader of Bison.

I’m not going to spend too much time talking about the Blondies. The voices for the Blondies were great, and there really isn’t anything to criticize. Raoul’s VA, Chuck Huber, did a wonderful job, though I’ll admit that I thought his voice should just be a little deeper because Raoul’s physical appearance gives me the impression that his voice should be deeper to match, though probably not as deep as his Japanese VA. Aisha’s English voice was one I paid close attention to because of the aforementioned concerns. While I think Meli Grant did a splendid job at conveying Aisha’s annoyance over Iason’s attachment for Riki and his special treatment from Jupiter, Aisha’s voice sounded distinctly like a mature female to me. I haven’t been exposed to many characters who have androgynous voices, so my assessment could very well be off. I’d imagine androgynous voices are difficult to pull off, but Aisha’s English voice isn’t the kind of voice I’d mistaken for a boy’s, anyway.

I’m not going to talk about Katze that much, either. I think his English VA did well, but ironically, when I first heard it, I was really surprised by how deep Katze’s English VA was. I expected a voice that’s slightly younger for him, probably because his Japanese voice actors for the ‘90s anime and the remake always give him a voice that’s mature, but not too deep (since Katze is in his late twenties, I believe), so it’s very low and soft. His English voice was certainly surprising given how deep it was, but by no means was it bad, just different. Daryl’s English voice was very well done, and I have zero complaints. Y. Chang, who I knew as a popular YouTube artist who covers anime songs, fits Daryl’s character perfectly.

I’m not going say much on the Bison members, too, because I thought all of them were really good. Kirie’s VA definitely made him sound youthful and bratty, that’s for sure. XD Bryson Baugus was a good choice for Kirie, and I especially liked Matt Shipman’s voice for Norris, since it suits Norris’s age and appearance. Ricco Fajardo was perfect for Guy's voice. His tone and sound quality reminded me a lot of Guy's Japanese voice, and it fitted Guy's understanding and sweet personality. Sid’s voice was an excellent match, perfectly deep without making him sound too old. Luke’s voice was good, too, though I imagined his sound quality to be bit smoother since Luke’s English voice is gruffer than I pictured it to be.

I saved Mimea for last since the comparison between her Japanese VA and her English VA is probably the most drastic one. While Mimea’s Japanese VA gave Mimea a high-pitched and girly voice suitable for her age since Mimea is only 15-16 years old when she met Riki, Elizabeth Maxwell, a voice actress widely known for her seductive and mature voice, gave Mimea a voice that made her sound like an adult. I'm familiar with Ms. Maxwell’s voice from other works, so when she was cast, I was very surprised since she’s typically cast as adult female characters. Other fans who will hear her voice coming from Mimea’s character are probably going to have mixed opinions— I’d imagined one side favoring Mimea’s Japanese VA voice since her high-pitched voice is suitable for portraying a young teenage girl, while the other side preferring Ms. Maxwell’s voice because they don’t like how high-pitched Mimea’s Japanese VA is. Frankly, I like both, but objectively speaking, hearing such a mature and seductive voice from a character who is a young teenage girl is, without a doubt, odd. Again, it's different, but it's not bad. Ms. Maxwell's performance for Mimea was absolutely beautiful, in my opinion.

Moving on, the English adaptation of the script were done by ADR writers Mr. Shipman, who adapted the scripts for episodes 1 and 3, and Mr. Chang, who adapted the scripts for 2 and 4. Both ADR writers did a great job translating the scripts into English, and I’m relieved by how accurately they translated it while making sure to rework the script in order to sync the lip flaps for the dialogue, especially considering how poorly the subtitles were done on the Blu-ray by Media Blasters’ subtitles team. However, there are a few things I had a problem with:

1.) Obviously, the change in Riki’s age from fifteen to eighteen in the fourth episode. Granted, it’s not their fault, considering that Media Blasters already confirmed that they were so worried that Riki’s age was stated outright, they feared legal repercussions, and Kocha Sound (Ms. Lauda and Mr. Shipman’s recording studio where the English dub was recorded) had to do what Media Blasters asked of them. While Media Blasters or anyone else might not see it as a big deal, age plays a pretty important part in the series. Not only does changing Riki’s age in the fourth episode completely screws up the timeline in which the series takes place in, but aging Riki up also downplays the importance of age in the dark and immoral society that makes up the Ai no Kusabi universe. Fans of the series know that age is emphasized a lot in the series, and it serves to reinforce the corrupted world that Riki and the other characters are forced to live in.

2.) This is trivial, but I’m very particular about the use of terminology in the series due to the amount of effort Rieko Yoshihara-sensei put in to the world building aspect in the Ai no Kusabi universe. In the first episode, Iason tells Riki and Mimea that pets do not have the freedom to choose their pairing partners—a term that holds quite a bit of significance in the series—and it’s a term that is clearly kept and used in the Japanese audio. However, in both the English and subtitles of the Blu-ray, the term “pairing partners” is substituted with the word “mates” instead. Oddly enough, they kept the word “pairing” in the third episode, when Norris asks Riki’s relationship with Guy, noting that they haven’t broken off the “pairing” yet. I believe keeping the term “pairing” in the fourth episode and not introducing the term “pairing partners” in the first episode may be confusing for fans who are being introduced into the series for the first time via the Blu-ray release, because it’s a term that isn’t used in real life. The Ai no Kusabi universe has its own set of terms, so I was hoping that those terms would be kept from the get-go. I do wonder why it wasn’t used in the first episode, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the mouth flaps.

3.) The English script sticks pretty closely to the Japanese script, but there are a few instances where the lines are completely different from its original Japanese meaning and lessens the impact it has to the audience and the impression it’s supposed to leave on the viewers. Ordinarily, when ADR writers adapt the English scripts, they keep as much was the original meaning in the Japanese version while tweaking/changing the wording to make the lines flow easier and sound more natural (or make the lines even better) for Western audiences and match the lip flaps, which I’m fine with as long as it’s done tactfully, remains respectful to the characters/story, and the lines are delivered with the emotional intensity it’s meant to convey to the audience in that specific scene. When Iason is punishing Riki in the first episode for having sex with Mimea, Iason tells him this, “You are my pet. I will drive/pound that fact into the marrow of your bones”, but in the English dub script, Iason says, “Don't ever forget that you are my pet. And as my pet, you shall behave as I command you to." The Japanese line for this is definitely more powerful, as it emphaizes Iason's complete and ruthless dominace over Riki.

4.) A minor issue, but they pronounced Mimea's name differently in the English dub, and her name's pronounciation is inconsistent, as well. At first, they pronounce her name as "ma-may-ah" (I'm not good at writing IPA English, so please bear with me), but then pronounce like the Japanese audio does, so that threw me off a bit. Another minor thing I didn't like is the excessive use of profanity and slangs, which I felt was unnecessary and maybe a bit forced.

Now, to the pros of the English script:

1.) Said this before, but I’ll say it again: The English script is more accurate to the Japanese script than the subtitles. Kudos to Ms. Lauda and her team for translating the English script from the Japanese one as accurately as possible while adjusting the dialogue in order to suit the mouth flaps and et cetera during the dubbing process. And, of course, the voice actors/actresses performed wonderfully.

2.) Unlike the Japanese audio, Orphe, Gideon, and Aisha are clearly identified in the English dub by name. Not even the Japanese credits identify them individually, only crediting them as Blondie A, Blondie B, and et cetera. This may seem trivial, but I gotta give props to Ms. Lauda and her team for putting names to faces. Orphe’s name was the only one that spoken in the original Japanese audio, but not even the fansubs used it in their translations, so it’s something that a lot fans aren’t aware of if they’re not listening to the audio closely. It’s pretty easy to identify which Blondie is who among the trio based on their respective appearances and the context of the conversation in the first episode, but it was so nice just to hear their names spoken out loud for once in the anime.

3.) I saved the best for last! :D One thing that’s exclusive for the English dub is the additional dialogue sequences inserted in the second and fourth episodes by Mr. Y. Chang! This is brought up before in one of Ms. Lauda’s tweets from MB's Twitter, where she mentioned that she was doing a recording session for Mimea’s monologue with Ms. Maxwell, but at the time, it didn’t make sense to me since Mimea’s only “monologue” was her one-sided conversation with Riki at the start of the first episode and they should’ve finished that recording before that tweet was posted. Turns out that when adapting the script Mr. Y. Chang, he added dialogue based on the dialogue from the Ai no Kusabi Drama CDs to fill in the silent scenes in episode 2 when Iason goes to visit Jupiter in Jupiter Tower (Jupiter is referred to as female, in case anyone was wondering) and during the flashback sequence during Riki’s time as a pet in the fourth episode.
In the second episode, the additional dialogue is between Orphe, Gideon, and Aisha expressing their grievances over Iason’s behavior and Jupiter’s blatant favoritism of him. The fourth episode has a monologue narrated by Mimea, where she talks about Riki, their first meeting, and her love and admiration for him leading up their clandestine affair. Those scenes were amazingly well done, and it’s seriously awesome that the Blondies’ dialogue and Mimea’s monologue was taken from the Drama CDs. Unfortunately, I don’t know which Drama CDs these are from, only Y. Chang knows, so if anyone has a Twitter, please ask him at his account.

Finally, the subtitles for the Blu-ray release, which frustrates me to no end. While it’s an improvement from the horribly subtitled script Media Blasters had on the DVD release back in 2013, the subtitles are still filled with numerous grammar/spelling mistakes and mistranslations, many of them being the same mistakes found on the previous DVD release. I sent an email Media Blasters back when they first announced the Blu-ray release in attempt to send them feedback and help them improve the subtitles since the DVD script was absolutely horrendous. I even did a revised script for them that contained a lot of corrections to help them. Clearly, Media Blasters didn’t seem to take any feedback from the fans, even though there seem to be others who told them to fix their subtitles for the Blu-ray release.

When doing a comparison, yes, they did fix some of the translations, but definitely not all and not nearly enough. They misspelled Jena's name again; use really slangy words that doesn’t fit the setting or even the diction of the characters; they cut lines out unnecessarily, so what’s being said in the Japanese isn’t being conveyed to the viewers; and whoever did the script doesn’t seem to understand the basic rules of grammar or spelling, or even seems to be fluent in Japanese. The third and fourth episodes had the most grammar mistakes in them, but errors are shown in every episode, and one of the stupidest ones was shown in the first episode during the Blondies’ meeting after Riki nearly escaped security. During the meeting, Iason pointed out that Riki would have carefully planned his escape rather than fumbling around for an exit. However, the subtitles has Iason saying: "Evidently, it was carefully planned out and not done on impulse," the exact opposite of what was actually be said. Luckily, the English dub translated the line correctly.

An example of MB cutting out lines unnecessarily is the scene when Riki confronts the Jeeks in the second episode. Before the Jeeks got their butts kicked, Riki said this in MB's subtitles, "An eye for an eye. That's the slum way, right?" However, the original Japanese line is supposed to be "An eye for an eye. Throw in some muscle and bone. That's the way of the slums" Fortunately, the English dub translated this line accurately and didn't get it out.

Some many of the same mistakes from the 2013 DVD release came up again in the Blu-ray release, something that surprised me because I sent a revised script with comments and feedback pointing out MB's mistranslations and errors. I immediately contacted Carl Morano, an employee who I've spoken to when I was sending my feedback, to ask why the same mistakes were showing up and there still many more on the official release, despite them being fixed in the final draft. He replied:



This sounds harsh, but this sort carelessness is unacceptable for a licensing company, especially since the remake has only four episodes. Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed and dissatisfied with the subtitles.

Final assessment:

Casting: B

Performance: A+

Script: A-

Subtitles: C-

Overall: B

That's it for my review. Again, if there's any questions concering the Blu-ray, please feel free to ask me in the comments. To those who took the time to read this, thank you very much. :)

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Shannon McKee
Jan. 27th, 2018 07:49 pm (UTC)
I thought Guy's VA did a good job too, but I'm a little iffy on Katze's voice. It's also kind of weird how they pronounce Iason as "Ee-yason" instead of "Ee-ah-son" (it doesn't string the last two syllables as quickly in this version, which is how I've always pronounced his name).
utauda14
Jan. 27th, 2018 08:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah, totally! :D Ricco Fajardo did an amazing job as Guy, and it was such a perfect match for him. His English VA actually reminded me a lot of Guy's Japanese VA's sound quality and tone. I'm familiar with Mr. Fajardo's previous works in other shows, so I thought his voice fitted Guy very well, as it has the sort of understanding and sweetness Guy is known for (before, well, you know...) and it suited his appearance and age. His voice wasn't too deep or too light, and Mr. Fajardo nailed his performance. I especially liked the flashback scene in episode 2, where Riki gives Guy that bottle of Roger Lina and talks about his hatred for living in the slums. I think Mr. Fajardo made Guy sound more sarcastic than his Japanese counterpart did.

LOL! XD I know a lot of fans in the fandom have a debate on how Iason's name is pronounced. I always pronounced it as "Eye-son", since his name is the Ancient Greek form of the name "Jason".


Edited at 2018-01-27 08:08 pm (UTC)
balisarde
Feb. 12th, 2018 11:33 am (UTC)
Thank you!!
utauda14
Feb. 12th, 2018 07:16 pm (UTC)
Aw, you're welcome. :) Thank you very much for reading my review.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )