The Dub Reviewer: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

by Jon Turner

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Since its initial broadcast on Japanese television in 1989-1990, Gainax’s likeable but flawed TV series debut Nadia—The Secret of Blue Water has been dubbed into international languages around the world, but its English premiere in America was another matter.  In the early 1990’s, Carl Macek and his company, Streamline Pictures, produced an English version which only got about as far as eight episodes.  Interestingly, Macek has stated that he had planned to make some cuts in the latter half of the show (notably the “island/Africa” sequence, which, aside from episode 31, fell short compared to the show’s superb 22 opening episodes and final five) to eliminate what even the original producers felt was a lot of padding.  Due to financial difficulties, however, Streamline was unable to complete the dub, and in 1996, they went out of business and their license expired.  Since then, the show has been acquired by ADV Films (now known as Section 23), and provided a new dub at their now defunct Monster Island studios in Austin, Texas.  All 39 episodes (plus the lesser-known, often maligned theatrical film — which I will not cover here, nor will I the filler arc) were dubbed under the production period of a full year.

Although the website containing detailed information about how the present-day dub was produced is no more (one made by diehard Nadia fan Marc Hairston, who conducted interviews with the cast for a memorable article in a 2001 issue of AniMerica which this writer still holds onto to this day), it is unfortunate that this dub has never gotten the recognition it deserves.  Even today, there are naysayers who have given this dub the cold shoulder (including DVDTalk and the initial reviews of the first volumes by AnimeNewsNetwork — the latter volumes were more positively reviewed by Allen Divers), declaring it as a dub to avoid.  However, I think that doing so would deprive you of a charming, delightful dub that matches the tone of the show. According to the aforementioned source, the ADR directors, Charles Campbell and Lowell Bartholomee, cared about the quality of the show and worked hard to ensure that the dub would match its tone.  It’s not perfect, but considering that this show is set in Europe, watching this show in Japanese would seem odd.  No offense to the original Japanese voice actors, but there are many things about this dub which add in many ways to the show, particularly in the use of the accents for each character. While some, like Jean’s, are shaky in places, others, like the crew members of the Nautilus, work in their characters’ favor, as they are supposed to be survivors from around the world.  (And while your mileage may vary about whether they are effective or not, I personally applaud the folks at Monster Island for making such a daring decision.)

I have only heard samples of the first dub on CrystalAcids Database due to the difficulty of finding it.  As such, I will be focusing mainly on the performances of the principal characters from that version and this current one in this review.

NADIA (Meg Bauman, ADV dub; Wendee Lee, Streamline dub) — The first thing that struck me about ADV’s dub is that the three young protagonists who propel the plot are all voiced by actual children.  While there is an understandable air of inexperience in their performances, it also adds an intangible aura of realism and charm to the dub.  It’s also a refreshing change from hearing actors/actresses straining their voices to sound like children (no offense to said people, of course, it’s just nice to hear children sound like children for a change).  Of the three, it’s Bauman as Nadia who gives the stand-out performance.  This character is a very complicated one; moody, temperamental, stubborn, and suspicious about everything, yet has a kind, caring side that gradually transforms her as a result of her relationships with her new friends (notably her growing love for Jean).  There’s a complex array of emotions to be had with this character while maintaining a fragile childlike innocence, and Bauman nails all these emotions perfectly… to the point where it is hard to imagine anyone else voicing her.  It is also interesting to note that, like Nadia, she was fourteen at the time she recorded the part.  She even speaks with a neutral accent–a surprising choice, but it works well.
Lee’s take, on the other hand, I’m of two minds about.  I like the voice she uses, but on the flipside, it doesn’t come across as convincing to be a fourteen-year-old girl.  This aspect proves to be a major plot point toward the end of the show, as both she and Jean age by about a year.  Disappointing enough, but she also doesn’t emote as strongly as she should.  Especially weak is her confrontation scene with Gargoyle, “You are murderer!” she shouts, in a tone which is both lifeless and enough to make one cringe.  Unlike ADV’s Nadia, Lee also uses a French accent for the character.  I’m similarly split about this:  at times it works, but at others, it really gets in the way.  Wendee Lee is a talented actress, but if there’s anyone who I’d rather hear as Nadia, it’s Meg; she does the better job all around.

JEAN (Nathan Parsons, ADV dub; Ardwright Chamberlain, Streamline dub) — OK, here’s the voice which determines whether you’ll like ADV’s dub or not.  Like Bauman, Parsons (aged 12) has a very daunting task in his voice acting debut as Jean.  He has to be enthusiastic, genuinely charming, and express growth over the course of the show… all while speaking with a French accent.  As mentioned, this accent is on the thick side.  Many viewers have made the mistake of writing off Parsons’ performance alone due to the accent, as there are places in the early episodes where he obviously struggles to pull it off without sounding fake (he drops it at one point, too).  With each subsequent episode, though, Parsons grows more and more into his character… to the point where his accent sounds completely natural.  In a way, this, and a few moments where his inexperience shows, is complimentary to his overall performance at portraying Jean’s innocence and naive view of the world.  This issue aside (which is ultimately a dubious reason to write off his performance altogether, the dub, too, for that matter), Parsons brings an infectious exuberance and determination to the character which is impossible to dislike.  Like Bauman, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else other than him voicing this character.  One of his best moments, if not his best, is in Episode 15, in which he bears witness to the death of a loveable sailor.  While he admits on the DVD interview that serious scenes are not his specialty, he obviously gives his all to this moment, and his breaking-down at the end is genuinely heartrendering.  Another major important factor of his performance is how his chemistry with Bauman clicks.  This is because they both knew each other in real life as students at the Austin Musical Theatre, which explains why their interactions feel so natural and real in ADV’s dub.
He is also better than Chamberlain’s take on the character in Streamline’s version.  While this guy has more experience as a voice actor, there are several things that work against his performance as Jean.  No, it’s not the French accent, which is as shaky as Parsons’ is, but his voice sounds too mature.  I often steer around the argument of needing boys to sound young to represent children, especially if their acting is sound (in dubs such as Vic Mignogna’s Edward in Fullmetal Alchemist and, perhaps to a lesser extent, James Van der Beek’s Pazu in Castle in the Sky).  With Nadia, however, this flaw is detrimental to Chamberlain as the character is supposed to age by about a year by the end of the show, and as such, it works against the character.  Not only that, but his emoting sounds more artificial instead of genuine–a trend not uncommon with most dubs of the early 1990’s.

MARIE (Margaret Cassidy, ADV dub; Cheryl Chase, Streamline dub) — The third of the child trio, little Marie, is also voiced by a child actress, 11-year-old Margaret Cassidy.  That’s approximately seven years older than her onscreen character, but you wouldn’t even know this by hearing her performance.  From the start, she brings an intangible cuteness and charm to the character which makes her presence onscreen a delight.  For the most part, Marie gets to be happy and cheerfully childlike (especially when she’s playing with King), although she also does have scenes where she has to be serious and in tears.  One such moment in particular, ironically enough, is the episode where she is introduced.  This scene, in which she describes her parents being shot (and her subsequent heartbreak from learning that they are dead) is utterly believable, and really makes the audience share her trauma.  It must have been a lot of hard work for Cassidy to pull it off, especially since it was her first episode, but she does it beautifully.  Elsewhere in the show, she obviously relishes her character, and it pays off.  Her interactions with Parsons and Bauman also deserve a shout-out; she went to the same musical theater they did, which is why there’s a genuine attachment between all three that really comes across in the ADV dub.  Since the whole show rests on these three children, Monster Island deserves to be commended for bringing that extra punch of effort for their version.
In Streamline’s version, Marie (Mary) is voiced by Cheryl Chase, better known to viewers as Angelina Pickles but unforgotten by many as Mei in Streamline’s own dub of My Neighbor Totoro (arguably Carl Macek’s finest moment ever).  The tone of voice she uses isn’t that much different from her Mei, and the lines I heard from her sounded pretty decent.  However, I think Cassidy wins out, because she sounds more natural and cuter.

GRANDIS (Sarah Richardson, ADV dub; Melanie MacQueen, Streamline dub)
SANSON (Martin Blacker, ADV dub; Steve Kramer, Streamline dub)
HANSON (Corey Gagne, ADV dub; Tom Wyner, Streamline dub)
Aside from the children, the other main characters in the show are the “Grandis gang”, who start off as villains but ultimately turn into allies.  And like the children in ADV’s version, the three actors chosen to play their parts couldn’t have been better.
From the start, Richardson simply is Grandis.  She recreates the character’s fiery temper, amorous fickleness, and secret soft nature to a T and beyond.  It’s an over-the-top performance which works very well in her nature, making her all the more hilarious when things go wrong… which they often do.  It is interesting to note that while her character is Italian (or Spanish, it’s debatable), she speaks with a somewhat disciplined English accent.  This was because when she auditioned for Italian and Spanish accents, it sounded too much like she was in a pizza parlor(!), according to Hairston’s interview.  It doesn’t matter, though; it fits her character marvelously, and her grandiose relish for the role really comes through.
Likewise, it is very obvious that Blacker had a lot of fun voicing Sanson, who, like Grandis, uses a veddy British accent.  He also has a goofy, yet vain and expressive voice that works wonderfully with the character, and he lets loose every time Sanson goes over the top.  I really, really LOVE this guy!  Some other moments from him which I loved include his scenes with Marie, particularly when he breaks down into tears out of fear that she’ll die from a tropical illness.  It’s moving and genuine without feeling forced.  (Another particularly enjoyable bit that always leaves me in stitches is his rant in episode 12 about how he can’t standing eating “fish, fish, fish, FISH! ” before calming down in a more mellow tone, “Overall, I have to say I’m a bit tired of fish. “)  It is hard for me to imagine anyone else better voicing Sanson.
The third member of the trio, Hanson, is voiced by the rather down-to-earth, sometimes scrappy sounding tones of Gagne.  When he raises his voice, he is a hoot (particularly in moments where he argues with Sanson about using brute strength or lock-picking to get them out of a prison cell), but Gagne also handles the quieter moments very well.  I also found his scenes with Electra very sweet and heartbreaking.  One other interesting aspect is that he has a somewhat neutral accent.  I’m not sure why this was done, but strangely, this doesn’t detract from his character at all.
What really makes these three come alive is their chemistry; it is so natural you’d swear they were all in the recording studio together.  How anyone can write off their performances is totally beyond me.
But what about Streamline’s counterparts?  Well, I had no problems with either of them.  McQueen, Kramer, and Wyner all sound pretty good with their roles, and are roughly about on par with ADV’s dub, but I think I prefer the current voice actors for these parts a bit more.  Perhaps it’s because it’s bias, but that isn’t to discredit Streamline’s actors of these guys; they’re decent in their own right.

KING (Shawn Sides, ADV dub; Carl Macek, Streamline dub) — This character is a grey-colored lion cub who doesn’t speak a word at all.  Rather, he does a lot of growling noises, roars, or even purrs.  There have been lots of animated features where traditional voice actors have provided animal noises, such as Frank Welker as Abu the monkey from Aladdin and John Kassir as Meeko the raccoon from Pocahontas.  The voice actress behind this little guy is none other than Sides, who adds a bit of a high-pitched gargle to emphasize how much of a cub he is.  This is a very difficult task, and she manages it superbly.  (It is also interesting to note that she recorded all her lines before Cassidy’s Marie, which is what makes their playful relationship all the more natural.)
Interestingly enough, in Streamline’s version, King is voiced by none other than Carl Macek, who also serves as the opening narrator for the first episode.  Not having access to any clips of King’s performance, I cannot evaluate him altogether.

AYERTON (Jason Phelps, ADV dub; Bob Bergen, Streamline dub) — When we first meet this character in episode 3, he is a flamboyant and charismatic, but flakey and arrogant man whose main characteristic is bragging about himself.  He doesn’t show up again until much later in the island arc (where the writers clearly decided they needed another character); the Ayerton portrayed there is every bit as boastful, but he also becomes a bizarre whacko, ranting about ridiculous happenings on an island and trying to act like he is a Count from England.  Phelps is clearly having fun with this character, and, for all of the stupidities Ayerton is reduced to doing in the filler arc, he really lets loose and shows enthusiasm throughout.  One oddity is that he uses an American accent–which is somewhat strange when he is revealed to be from England.

Bergen is less manic in his approach with Ayerton, but then again he’s only featured in one episode in Streamline’s version (which stopped at 8 episodes).  The little bit of him I heard there sounded more like a mellow, easy-going but slightly over-the-top guy.  He sounded fine, but I think I prefer Phelps.

CAPTAIN NEMO (Ev Lunning Jr., ADV dub; Jeff Winkless, Streamline dub) — A professional accent coach and graduate of Yale, Lunning lends his voice to the mysterious leader of the futuristic submarine, Nautilus.  As required for the character, he brings a sense of intrigue and aloofness for his initial appearances.  It should also be noted that Lunning uses a sophisticated Indian accent, providing an exotic tilt to his performance.  This was a decision on the voice directors’ part, as they were trying to link Nemo to the origin of the “Mysterious Island” story (where he’s revealed to be a lost Indian prince).  It is not only an ingenious touch, it works excellently in the character’s favor.  There are a few scenes where he comes off as a bit stiff, but that’s more attributed to the mouth flaps than his actual acting.  In the later episodes, however, (particularly the final four) Lunning really gets into his role, whether he’s belting orders to his crew, or communicating intensely with Gargoyle.  One other thing that deserves mention is that in real life Lunning was Parsons’ director in a play the latter participated in, and he coached the boy into pulling off the accent.  Learning about this, the scenes where Nemo is educating Jean gave me the impression that I was listening to a real-life schooling session between Ev and Nathan.  I like this, as it brings a very natural touch to the performance as a whole.
In Streamline’s version, Nemo does not use an Indian accent, but he still has a deep voice.  This is provided by Jeff Winkless, who has had a career of being cast for random roles with varying degrees of success.  His Muska in the older dub of Castle in the Sky was a dreadful misfire, and he sounded rather cheesy (and artificial) as the evil Count Lee in Vampire Hunter D.  However, this is one of his better roles, in that he does succeed in bringing an edge of mystery to the character.  Having said that, though, I prefer Lunning, because he provides more of an “authoritative” tone that Winkless doesn’t necessarily bring.

ELECTRA (Jennifer Stuart, ADV dub; Edie Mirman, Streamline dub) — The first thing you’ll notice upon hearing Stuart’s performance as Nemo’s pretty but multi-layered first officer in the ADV dub is that she speaks with a British accent.  Again, this was a creative decision on the part of the directors.  Since Electra is a complex character, complete with a “no-nonsense” attitude, and an overcontrolled nature she tries very hard to display, it adds a depth of dimension to the role.  This is an excellent performance throughout, sounding very natural and distinctively memorable.  There are a few places at the beginning where her accent wavers, but I emphasize the word few.  Particularly spectacular are her explosive catfights with Grandis–she and Richardson obviously relish those scenes–and her emotional breakdown in Episodes 21 and 22.  The latter, especially, is utterly engrossing and powerful.  (Interestingly enough, Stuart, who was pregnant while recording the part, was going through labor at the time she delivered this particular moment; no wonder she nails it so beautifully.)  Anyone who says that English voice actors cannot emote should hear these two examples in the ADV dub–it’s the stuff of absolute excellence.
In Streamline’s dub, Mirman plays the character pretty much the same way, with the same light tone and also with a British accent.  While the performances in the older dub vary, I will say that she ties with Stuart.

GARGOYLE (David Jones, ADV dub; Steve Bulen, Streamline dub) — This is probably the only voice that took me a long time to get used to in the ADV dub.  Considering that Gargoyle is the major villain of the show, one would expect something menacing and vile-sounding.  Instead, Jones opts to give him a deadpan, casual sounding tone which I initially found off-putting.  As his performance develops, however, Jones begins to bring a depth of haughtiness and sarcasm, which actually works in favor of Gargoyle’s arrogance and his condescending attitude about humanity.  He even gets to do some really evil cackling in the last two episodes, to the point where you’ll be surprised that it’s the same actor.  Nowadays, I can’t imagine Gargoyle in English without Jones’ voice.
And that represents the problem with Streamline’s Steve Bulen, who takes on the challenge of the character.  While he has the right “sinister” tone, he plays him too much like a straightforward, run-of-the-mill villain instead of an arrogant being obsessed with restoring Neo-Atlantis to its former glory.  I don’t think this would work very well for the character, particularly in the final episode where he finally drops his mask.

These are all the principal characters that make up Nadia as a show.  The additional characters are similarly well-cast and give genuinely lively performances.  My favorites in particular include:  Edwin Neal as Jean’s fun-loving, jovial uncle (a deliciously funny role which only appears in episode 1), Lana Dietrich as the sourpuss aunt (episode 2), Eric Henshaw as the blustering Captain Melville, Maurice Moore as the doomed sailor Ensign Fait (another one-episode performance where he brings a genially friendly nature to this character which makes one feel all the more crushed as Jean is when he must sacrifice himself–the latter moment is amazing in terms of acting and emoting), Robert Rudie as the gentle whale Irion (his voice slightly amplified to emphasize his spirituality as a creature), and Russ Roten as the stentorian robotic voice of Red Noah, also amplified by electronic effects (this character is in the only “island” episode that Hideaki Anno would have saved, episode 31; as it ties in better with the central plot than the rest of the island/Africa episodes, I couldn’t agree more).

The crew members of the Nautilus are initially stiff in their first appearances, but they gradually get more comfortable in their roles as they go on.  It should be noted, though, that Dan Bisbee as the Primary Helmsman is replaced for the final four episodes by Brian Yanish.  The voice from the latter is slightly higher, although since we don’t see him again after episode 22, it doesn’t really matter.  Aside from that, other crew members which show distinctive performances are Greg Gondek as the Sonar Officer (who reveals himself to be a survivor of the ship Jean’s father captained), Werner Lang as the German-accented doctor, Amie Elyn as his granddaughter Ikoli, and Douglas Taylor as the cook.  Another performance that deserves mention is Billy Hardin as the Chief Engineer; he has a great character voice for this role and sounds very natural throughout.

I was unable to evaluate the performances of the supporting characters in the older dub, although most of them consist of Streamline regulars such as Cliff Wells, Michael McConnohie, Kerrigan Mahan, and Milton James… a considerably smaller ensemble compared to the dozens of actors assembled for the “walla” moments in the current dub.

One performance I neglected to mention is the disembodied voice whose gentle narration opens each episode (save for 36-39).  This voice belongs to the late Karen Kuykendall, whose elderly intonations give one the impression of a grandmother telling a child a bedtime story.  This is a nice touch and also works better than the opening narration in the first episode on Streamline’s version.  No offense to Michael McConnohie, but while he does a credible job, his deadpan delivery gave me the feeling that I was hearing a typical newscaster giving a cold read.

Vocal performances aside, the script adaptation, penned by Lowell Bartholomee, warrants a shout-out.  Rather than providing a literal word-for-word transliteration, he somhow skillfully manages to transform the literal, dull subtitle script into convincing, believeable English with little touches that give the characters more personality.  Even some occasional awkwardnesses in the original script, such as Gargoyle’s speech about the destruction of Sodom and Gamorrah, is corrected to fit better with the original Bible story.  There are also several moments where the characters in the original Japanese version speak English phrases.  Wisely knowing that using these phrases directly would feel out of place in the dub, Bartholomee rewords them into jokes that are still very much in line with the original intention yet pleasing to the English ear.  In other words, his script succeeds as both being smooth and natural while remaining faithful in tone to the original.

That said, I did have two minor quibbles in the final two episodes.  In previous combat scenes involving the Nautilus, a European-accented sailor sends his voice through the radio reporting the status of the submarine.  For the climactic battle between the newly supercharged spaceship and the crimson-colored flying saucer, there are lines from the Status Sailor in the Japanese version, but mysteriously they are not spoken at all in the dub.  Not that it affects the episodes too badly, but one moment in which Nemo reacts verbally to an announcement about the barrier weakening comes across as odd without the voice.  Furthermore, a space satellite, Slave Star Michael, is nuked in one blast from the aforementioned spaceship in a previous episode, but when Gargoyle and his minions decide to raise the saucer into outer space to use the more deadly Slave Star Lucifer, one technician says “transferring power to Slave Star Michael“!  This is an obvious error that will make even casual viewers scratch their heads.

Other than that, though, Bartholomee’s script job is a very commendable effort.  Even the songs in the (thankfully) last of the filler episodes (34, which is mostly a sequence of recapped footage accompanying character songs, although one of them serves as the focal point of this episode’s “plot”) are very well translated into English without diverting from the original intent.  As a nice bonus, too, the dub cast rises to the challenge of singing them!  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s Bauman’s Nadia’s songs that fare the best; as with her overall performance, her reindition of the original Japanese written songs are both beautiful and very haunting.  Not that the rest of the songs aren’t any well handled.  the Grandis Gang’s song is a hoot (particularly Blacker’s opening line), and Cassidy obviously has fun with her musical rant about grown-ups (there are a few places where she strains her notes, but I emphasize the word few).  Parsons’ vocals have trouble hitting high notes, but he acquits himself very well in the final two songs, particularly in the former where he’s supposed to sing off-key.  While this entire episode is not considered one of the best in the show by many (myself included), I do have to give Monster Island a shout-out for their efforts at translating the songs.

As mentioned, Carl Macek has stated that if he had been able to complete his dub of Nadia, he would have pared down the dozen filler episodes into something shorter and less time-consuming (a sentiment that even director Hideaki Anno shares).  As much as hardcore fans have detested his editing practices on previous shows (in fact, some have even termed such moves as “Macek-re”s, rather unfairly), this editing choice probably would have been one of the few decisions that even detractors of these episodes would agree with.  Since he no longer has the rights, we probably may never know how that would have turned out.  Not that it compares favorably to the ADV version overall, however.  While far from the total writeoff fans made it out to be, it falls short of greatness.  Even though it has its share of good voices, the overall weaknesses of the Streamline dub (including the miscast voices of the leads) outweigh any assets this version may have had.  It’s not surprising that it isn’t very well remembered.

As for ADV’s dub of Nadia, reception has been mixed.  Aside from Allen Divers and Marc Hairston, there have been a share of reviewers who have provided praise (Bob’s Anime Corner Store, as well as Roman Martel , Brett Barkley, and Bryce Coulter of, Bryan Hansen of AnimeJump, and Jeremy Conrad of IGNDVD), others such as the guys at the aforementioned DVDTalk, AnimeInferno, Digitally Obsessed, Sequential Tart, and DVDVerdict have been unkind.  There are few, if any, online Anime fans who confess to ADV’s dub as one of their favorites.  As a matter of fact, some label it as a dub to avoid.  This is unfortunate, because Monster Island’s Nadia is one of the finest dubs ever made; the care and quality provided to it ultimately shines through.  While it’s not a flawless dub by any means, it certainly deserved far better recognition than what it received in 2001 (even though a premiere at Texas’s A-Kon convention was very successful).  That said, it is refreshing to hear from people who have actually given the dub a second chance.  While there may be those who say that Japanese is the only way to go for Nadia, I simply cannot, especially since this is a series based in Europe.  In fact, rather than pedestalizing the dub to the original Japanese cast, I have to say that it succeeds in its own right, and in many ways adds to what the creative staff involved in Nadia had in mind.

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Author: Jon Turner

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  • Pingback: Anime Review: Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water | ふしぎの海のナディア | Fushigi no Umi no Nadia | Nadia of the Mysterious Seas | 1990 | Hideaki Anno()

  • zrdb

    Having just watched Nadia in it’s entirety I must say I agree with your assessment of the dub, Meg Bauman was a standout as Nadia. Very well done.

  • Jon Turner

    Thanks for the compliment. I feel that this dub really doesn’t deserve to be maligned so much as critics have; it was obvious that Monster Island really knew what they were doing with this show. It’s gratifying to see others who agree. Sure, Jean’s French accent takes some getting used to, but now I can’t imagine him without it.

    Incidentally, in the movie (which, by the way, is just as bad as the Africa/Island episodes, if not worse), there is a joke about Jean’s French accent!