Monday, May 26, 2008

An Ode to Voice Acting

One puzzling question about a voice, or sound is general, is why do we respond to it so deeply? Is it the way a person talks, the way they hold a note, the way they enunciate the words they say? I find it one of the coolest mysteries of life and we have yet to figure it out. But that won't stop me from wondering.

Let me start with a simple example: I don't watch the anime "Bleach." I don't know much about it at all really, aside from the fact that it's one of the most popular and critically acclaimed animes around right now. But through happenstance and general internet hopping, I watched a portion of the episode "Ichigo Dies!" which has had me a bit emotionally drained. What transfixed me was the female protagonist, Rukia. She exuded such a beautiful, sonorous and hurt presence; it had an instantaneous impact on me. Why, you ask, when I know little to nothing about this show? It was the performance of actress Michelle Ruff. The honest and emotional clarity in her voice shattered my soul in that moment and still does whenever I re-watch it.

When I watch things like this, I can't help but think of how underrated a profession voice acting really is. I mean, sure, there are the conventions where the buffs, including myself, know about these people and how vast and wide their range is. But sadly, most people don't. Unless a star people know is attached to an animated film, people don't give two bits about who is playing what in these works of paint and paper. To me, voice acting is akin to singing. It's about putting your entire soul in your voice and being able to touch someone without even showing your face.

Consider this: We can make animation with only sound effects, music and visuals. But part of what adds to the experience is how a character's speech makes you feel invested. Sure, you can show Goofy being silly, but that yell of his, by either Pinto Colvig or Bill Farmer, just makes you smile right away. You can show Bugs Bunny hating on Elmer Fudd, but what would it be without putting him down in that smart-aleck Brooklyn accent of his by Mel Blanc. You could even show Homer Simpson screwing up, but it can only be followed up by a very angry "D'oh!" from Dan Castellaneta.

But it's much more complex than that. In the Teen Titans episode "The End, Part 3," there is a read by Scott Menville as Robin that I find so beautiful that the line is imprinted in my brain. You see, anyone can recite the words: "Yeah. It's the end of the world. But so what? We're still here-still fighting. Still friends." But it's about the way he delivers it and how much he means it. Even if you closed your eyes to the image on screen you could feel in your heart everything he was saying. I'm also reminded of a powerful scene played in the final episode of Cowboy Bebop by Steve Blum and Wendee Lee as Spike and Faye. In the scene, you watch as a woman's entire emotional shield and veneer come slowly crashing down as she explains how there is nothing left for her as the man decides to head to his death. It's not that they were in love with each other; they were both just really lonely, and they never acknowledged that to each other until that moment. By the end though, it was too late.

So when I hear that pain in Rukia's voice as she's forced to scold and abandon Ichigo to save him (even if it means accepting her death sentence), my heart tears a little. It reminds me how the sound of a voice, even in a foreign tongue, can make me feel so open to Art and more importantly, to myself.

(The aforementioned episode of "Bleach"; Watch it all if you wish, but the scene I singled out in this piece doesn't begin until 8:47)


A Note to ari: Thanks for the info on those animes. I'll check those out.

1 comment:

Ari said...

Yes, voice acting really can make or break a show.