Netflix’s Fullmetal Alchemist – English Dub thoughts

When poor dialogue mixing, poor voice direction, and poor script adaptation comes together to make an abysmal dub.

I watched the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist film back when it released in February on Netflix–at that time, there was no English language dub available. I’d lost interest in FMA for a short while (shocking, I know) but upon casually watching Sacred Star of Milos and browsing the FMA wikia, thinking they’d have added some trivia to the live-action film by now, I found that they had indeed released an English dub, and I’d missed it by a couple months. Might as well check it out–Australian Netflix doesn’t have FMA: Brotherhood available, so the film is the next best thing to SSoM.

There was, however, a glaringly obvious red warning light that had me on edge as soon as I saw the cast listing.

No Travis Willingham as Roy Mustang, and no Sonny Strait as Maes Hughes.

The reason I’m perhaps most attached to FMA is that the actors of these characters continue to play them after so many years, when other shows by now would have replaced everybody when a “reboot” was commissioned. Nearly all of the cast (save two members, one for practical vocal reasons) reprise their roles from the 2003 anime to Brotherhood – so we’re used to these guys coming back for animated films, games, and even the second series. So when a voice actor like Travis Willingham (who, let’s face it, first made a name for himself first with the Mustang character) doesn’t return to dub a role, it’s mildly concerning.

I’d find out later that it wasn’t FUNimation responsible for the dub of FMA 2017 – this was Post Haste Digital’s work, a studio responsible for three films I’ve personally never heard of – two of them being Godzilla flicks.

A Fullmetal Alchemist that’s hindered by the presence of the original English Elric brothers.

fma-english-dub
A fitting image of Vic Mignogna, dressed as Edward Elric.

Only three of the original voice cast of all Fullmetal Alchemist mediums returns for the English voice dub of the FMA live action film–these being Vic Mignogna, Aaron Dismuke, and Caitlin Glass as Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric, and Winry Rockbell respectively.

Bringing Dismuke onboard is something I’d considered an interesting choice. The last I’d heard him in the role of Alphonse Elric, it was during one of the theatre skits from FMA:B. He’s not a kid anymore–he was young when he first recorded dialogue back in 2003. With him around, the intent of bringing in perhaps a slightly older iteration of the Elric brothers was clear. I get the sense this might have been to match Ed’s live-action actor Ryosuke Yamada (who is in his mid-twenties) rather than pushing the young-teenager aspect of the brothers we’re familiar with in the anime.

It was a respectable choice, but in this case, nostalgia somehow overcame common sense, as Dismuke brings no kind of emotion into his performance. I’d love to say otherwise, but you instinctively want to change back to the Japanese live-action sound than continue with the English dub whenever Al speaks, if only to get something other than a monotone droll of dialogue. But Dismuke’s screen-time isn’t the worst part of this dub.

That ‘honour’ belongs to Vic Mignogna.

This is not the iteration of Ed fans know and love. I prefer to refer to this performance as angsty!Mignogna because there is no moment where he even tries to get a positive tone in edge-wise. There is no energy in the recording booth. Yes, it’s been a while since he’s been in the Fullmetal Alchemist role–perhaps this was part of the issue? Whatever it was, the entire film suffers because of it.

And then there’s the recording quality. The English dub for FMA was not out at the same time as the Netflix release, so part of me wonders why the quality of Mignogna’s voice lines fails to match with literally everyone elses in the film. It’s like he took an old Samsung phone into his bedroom, put on the film, and recorded his lines then and there, when everyone else got into the studio and did their recording properly. I struggle to see why the dub could not have been delayed to allow Mignogna time to get to a proper recording booth, assuming this was the problem. To my knowledge, there was no announcement of a release date (I could be wrong here–I was quite late to the party). I’d love to hear what the hell happened on the production side of things.

The fact of the matter is, any time Ed speaks, you are immediately thrown out of the film and back into your living room because the sound quality of his dialogue is so painfully muffled that one has to question how anyone thought it was acceptable to use. My own iPhone has a better recording quality this. GradeAUnderA has better recording quality than this.

Observations

I’ll expand in the dotpoints below. If you’ve not read my observations about the film in general (based solely on the English subtitles available), then you’re going to get confused very quickly.

  • I came to the English dub after watching Sacred Star of Milos – so hearing Aaron Dismuke after being used to Maxey Whitehead’s Alphonse is quite the shock.
    • I love 2003 Al as much as the next person. but Aaron Dismuke either wasn’t given the opportunity to shine, or he’s been away from the role too long to really reconnect with both Al and Ed.
  • What’s up with Vic Mignogna’s dialogue?
    • Either he’s not feeling it;
    • The mixer & the voice director got it incredibly wrong;
    • Or he recorded his lines in his bedroom.
      • The English dub did not come out with the Netflix release of the film. Was it really not possible to push back the release until they could get Mignogna into a proper recording booth to match up with his schedule?
  • I can see what they were trying to do – make Al and Ed a little older to match their live-action actors–but it fails to hold up for English fans.
  • This dub makes it clear just how little Ed actually speaks in this film. Which is shocking.
  • “Child” voice acting. Not great. Not great at all. They actually use the same kid for young Ed and Alphonse–which was a real WTF moment when you’re trying to work out who’s saying what during the film’s opening scene with them.
  • This dub makes Shou Tucker is even more manipulatively evil than I originally thought possible.
  • Winry is the best part of film. I was so shocked about this that I almost swallowed my own tongue when I realized after finding her rather irritating in the anime. I guess there’s a first for everything. Kudos to Caitlin Glass for putting 100% effort into this film when her fellow original cast members only put in about 43%.
    • That we lose her to “clean up Marcoh” is actually a low point in this film–because the only good part is taken out for no damn reason for a painful amount of time.
  • The Homunculi voice actors incredibly jarring.
    • I’ve said it before during my initial review, and I’ll say it again – bringing Gluttony to live action was always going to be a hassle.
    • Caitlyn Elizabeth as Lust nails it as much as she possibly could.
  • The dub cuts out certain sound effects, most notably around Mignogna. On one hand, this makes sense–there’s only so much sound editing one can do when effects are matched up with the sound the live actors are producing, but I also can’t help but blame the poor quality of his recordings.
  • I understand now how the Japanese fans may have felt when live actors replaced their anime voices for characters. It’s really strange not having Travis Willingham and Sonny Strait as Roy Mustang and Maes Hughes respectively.
    • Sonny Strait may not be here, but Matt Mountjoy does his damnedest to replace him.
  • This film really brings out angsty!Mignogna.
  • Because of Mignogna’s poor voice quality and Dismuke’s time away from Al as a voice actor, the conflict between Ed and Al just comes off as cringey at best. Moreso than how it was without English.
    • The best part about this scene is once again Winry. Which is a shock for everybody, let me tell you
    • Having watched this scene, for a fourth time, I feel that this movie could have used Barry the Chopper.
  • This re-watch reminds me that this film suffers from a severe pacing problem in that it’ll hit you three times over with some kind of devastation, and won’t allow time for any light-hearted moments between characters or resolutions to these points.
  • You know, if Hughes had of kept his damn mouth shut while he was figuring stuff out instead of talking to himself, Lust may not have known he’d worked out where Lab 5 was and he may have lived.
    • Damn it Hughes, why do you talk so much!?
  • There’s an interesting swap out that I may have pointed out during my review or the dotpoints I posted afterwards, but having Envy take on the form of Mustang rather than Gracia Hughes was an cool choice in light of the “Can I trust you?” scene between Hughes and Mustang earlier in the film.
    • The dub also makes the supposed conversation between Hughes and Mustang (over the phone) clearer, though there’s a lot of information that somehow got passed between them, despite the fact that next to no conversation actually took place.
      • Do you remember when Solid Snake would die and Ocelot would sceam “SNAAAAKE!?!”? Well, that’s what Mustang reverts to when Hughes dies. It’s (supposedly) unintentionally hysterical.
  • They swap Mignogna out for Ryosuke Yamada whenever they damn well please for certain vocal effects (screaming, crying, grunting – no actual dialogue lines, though). Again, either because of poor recording quality or because there were technical problems with sound mixing, it’s still jarring.
  • Envy is so uninterested it’s actually painful to hear them speak.
  • The English dub makes Lust revealing her philosopher’s stone in the film’s climax make absolutely no damn sense.
    • In comparison however, it makes Mustang and Ed realizing Envy’s on their “last life” more understandable, as angsty!Mignogna explains.
  • Mustang’s final words to Lust before he torches her to death is “Take this!”. 😐
    • The dialogue then seems like it’s going to mirror their scene in FMA: Brotherhood, but loses it’s charm nearly immediately.
      • Honestly it sounds more like dialogue for Ling Yao than it does for Roy Mustang.
      • Lust’s final words should honestly have been the FMA:B equivalant, but instead we got “I can die. I can die . . . just like . . . a human.” ::facepalm::
        • WHO WROTE THIS DUB? Tyler Rhoads? Was this you??
  • I miss Havoc. And Armstrong. These are characters that would have made this film into a fun romp.
  • I don’t know what the aim was with Truth, but TJ Lowe was the most conflicting version of it for me. Any time Lowe shows up, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Star performers:

Caitlin Glass as Winry Rockbell. As someone who personally did not enjoy Winry during both of the animes and even being conflicted about Tsubasa Honda’s live action performance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actively looked forward to hearing Glass return to a scene following Winry’s arrival. She matched Honda’s live performance beat for beat and even managed to add more to it. Glass deserves a freaking award.

Matt Mountjoy as Maes Hughes – the only character that proves to be consistently good no matter what language he’s speaking, Mountjoy brought the goodness of Hughes we saw in Ryuta Sato’s performance and added his own charm.

Golden raspberries should go to:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but;

Vic Mignogna as Edward Elric. I don’t know what happened, whether Mignogna was alone responsible for the poor recording quality of his dialogue, or responsible for the deadpan performance he gave Ed for the entirety of the film. It truly seems like he was added into the film’s cast based purely on his experience with the character alone, carefree of either Mignogna’s availability/personal equipment for recording. He fails to match the English dub cast’s energy, instead giving an angst-ridden, muffled and overall boring performance. A far cry from how we remember Edward Elric, Mignogna’s presence in the live-action dub is evidence that nostalgia is not everything.

Aaron Dismuke as Alphonse Elric. It seem that he was so busy trying to recapture his time as Alphonse back in 2003 that he forgot to add anything of substance to his overall performance. And it’s a damn shame.

Brian Anderson as Envy. I don’t even know where to start or where to end with this one. Let’s just not do this again.

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