I watched The Sealed Esoteric History in full voice! Is it worth?

Some of you may remember how skeptical I was about this full voice version after watching that teaser posted by Kyoto Fantasy Troupe (the circle behind that OVA) on… April 1st. Well, I have some good news for you. Watching this in full voice was a really pleasing experience, to my surprise. Since I already reviewed the episode entirely in its unvoiced form, I will not be as long this time, if this is of any comfort to you. So, here are my impressions after watching the awaited Sealed Esoteric History in full voice.

Reminder of purchasing options still available as of February 1st 2019:

You will indeed have to use a proxy service if you want to order from these stores as they don’t offer overseas shipping.

First impressions

The announcement made by the circle on April 1st listed only professional and high-grade voice actors (“seiyuu” if you prefer) probably as a result of a poll conducted some months earlier. Here is the complete cast, sourced from the circle’s blog, and translated with help of some other various sources:

  • Maribel Hearn (CV: Kana Hanazawa)
  • Renko Usami (CV: Eri Kitamura)
  • Kaguya Houraisan (CV: Mamiko Noto)
  • Eirin Yagokoro (CV: Sumi Shimamoto)
  • Watatsuki no Yorihime (CV: Ayako Kawasumi)
  • Watatsuki no Toyohime (CV: Tomatsu Haruka)
  • Tsukuyomi (CV: Shibata Hidekatsu)
  • Prince Tsuku (CV: Inoue Kazuhiko)
  • Prince Sasarae (CV: Koyama Rikiya)
  • Yakumo Yukari (CV: Inoue Kikuko)
  • Ibuki Suika (CV: Shimizu Ai)
  • Saigyouji Yuyuko (CV: Kayano Ai)
  • Hakurei Reimu (CV: Imai Asami)
  • Kirisame Marisa (CV: Asumi Kana)

Some names might inspire you something or bring some memories. This indeed gave high expectations, except that the little teaser they posted on Youtube and Nico Nico Douga didn’t sound very inspiring. All voices sounded pretty generic and there was very little room for improvisation. This gave me mixed impressions at first. Then, some time after the product was released, I stumbled across an unauthorized reprint of the episode in full voice on Youtube (it has been deleted since, as a result of the reprinter closing his Youtube account). This is how I watched it.

Update! The circle finally uploaded a low-resolution of the episode on Youtube and Nico Nico Douga on August 12th 2016. It looks like they finally learnt their lesson and are doing the same thing as Manpuku Jinja now (remember how they were against that idea at the time they released their unvoiced version).

Quality of the performance and acting

Indeed, what I suspected was confirmed while I was watching it. However, it turned out better than I expected. When put in context, with moving pictures and in more various situations than isolated voice clips, everything sounded more in tone. The performances weren’t exceptional but were enough on their own. Since it’s a professional cast, no misstep is to note, everything is pretty much spot on. Sure there were very little to no room for improvisation which led the cast to deliver their lines rather plainly. There’s no key or really striking moment that would have allowed the voice acting to truly shine unfortunately… except perhaps during that battle between Suika and Prince Sasarae (one of my favorite moments, even in the unvoiced version). You might also add the segments with Renko and Merry, which sound rather delicious when voiced (but both segments already had their own charm even with no voices anyway). Another amusing but predictable feature is the addition of background voices in the mix, mainly during the street walking scene and… you guessed it, during the battle involving Suika and Prince Sasarae (for background characters and fighters). This was to be expected indeed, but it’s still a nice and welcome addition.

I guess this has to be with the way the episode was written, and it didn’t really give possibilities for the voice acting to shine, even with help of high-grade and professional voice actors. I liked almost all the voices, with a crush for Suika. Merry and Renko weren’t bad at all. I also liked the performance of the men cast. The only voices I didn’t like were Eirin, Marisa and Reimu. Eirin’s voice felt out of place for me, especially compared to what we heard in the full voice version of Orbital Rabbit* (that I, ironically, prefer unvoiced*), the iconic MMD drama from Harumao. And for Reimu and Marisa, they also sound completely out of place and way too high pitched to my tastes. Fortunately, they only appear a few minutes at the end. However, if they were to appear more often on possible later episodes, I will effectively start to cringe, especially if the circle decides to go full voice only.

*both can be watched with English subtitles here and here respectively (two parts for each, only first parts are shown here), thanks to Touhousubs

What does the voice really add to the episode?

You noticed how I enjoy Touhou animated fanworks without voice much better. This gives that unique fanmade cachet, leaves room for your imagination and gives a really special mood when done properly. Touhou is one of the rare franchises that allows this. This clashes with what we see in amateur animated works in the west, as they are almost always fully voiced no matter what’s inside and not always with good voice acting to begin with. I’ll not develop on how insisting on always having full voice actually decreases your creative power and gives you many constraints (see my rants about Yomi’s MMD series, Angels of Paradise, on Twitter if you’re curious). I’ll save that for later.

So, when the opportunity is given to watch a Touhou fanwork in full voice, there’s some excitement because it is always welcome (a part of the audience do want full voice). There’s also some concerns as it is quickly easy to mess up, especially in Touhou fanworks.

In this particular case, it simply made the episode flow much better and watch more naturally. It gave the characters more presence (some will say more “life”, which I don’t really like because I’m convinced there are other ways to bring life to your characters), which is to be expected in such cases, as always. And because the unvoiced one felt a bit dodgy at times, the addition of voice was more than welcome. Clearly, it felt more like watching a real TV OVA, which is exactly what some people are for, and exactly what I’m not for. But I’m always open for other possibilities. Also, full voice gives an unbeatable advantage when showing it to friends if you have them as guests at home (full voice is more indicated in this case… but you might want to try without if you want to act anti-conformist) or to an inexperienced audience which might not react positively when seeing endless lipflaps without voice, and on which you want to introduce to Touhou. In the end, as much as I prefer my “2hus” mute, full voice is also more than welcome, as it can bring some fresh air and make those “2hus” more real. In clear, voice only added very little in my opinion, but that “very little” can actually make a huge difference for most of you, especially those not familiar or having trouble with fanworks featuring subs or speech bubbles only but no voice.

What version to pick up in the end? Is that full voice version really worth?

I said earlier that this version adds rather plain voice acting which actually turns out pretty good when watching it in real time, on the characters. If you read what I wrote before, I think you pretty much drew your own conclusions.

If you’re like me and already got the unvoiced version and liked it (and possibly preferred it), you won’t miss much by not buying this one. You can try watching it if you come across a reprint, just out of curiosity and decide, afterwards, if it is worth giving your money again (giving JPY3,500 twice does hurt hard indeed).

Now, if you didn’t buy the unvoiced version and already watched it reprinted and felt it was too dodgy, then this voiced version is more than indicated. I think you won’t regret your purchase, as voice will bring exactly what you expect.

Then, if you’re pretty new to Touhou and its animated fanworks and didn’t decide yet what side you’re on, then it’s a bit tricky. I’d rather recommend to purchase this voiced version, as it is harder to find in illegally reprinted form (I mean uploaded on Youtube or tor***ts or whatever other sharing means). You could then try out the unvoiced one later, as it is easier to find, and decide for yourself if you think the lack of voice does indeed bring some undiscovered character or if it simply feels too dodgy, awkward and unnatural for you.

To finish with the last case, if you hate or loathe voice acting in Touhou, the issue doesn’t even arise. There are also chances that you don’t even like Touhou animation (well, in the form of long episodes) to begin with anyway.

So, this ends here my review of The Sealed Esoteric History in full voice. I hope it helped you visualize its quality much better and comforted you in your future purchase or not.

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