On February 4, 2021, the Imperial Combat Revue returned to the stage for an encore performance of 2020’s Sakura Wars the Animation. With an all-new English cast, the first in the franchise since 2010, Funimation was poised to open the doors to the Great Imperial Theater to an entirely new audience. Throughout the western Sakura Wars fan community, though, there was a sense of trepidation that ran through Discords and Twitter feeds. For many, the original cast is as irreplaceable as the steampunk setting, the spirit-powered mecha, or the bombastic soundtrack. So, to say that the team had Kobu-sized holes to fill was nothing short of an understatement.
Much like a grand revue, though, the Sakura Wars the Animation dub cast put forth a truly spectacular performance. Each of the members of the Imperial Combat Revue, from Cherami Leigh as the earnest Sakura Amamiya, to Stephanie Young as the sultry Anastasia Palma, do an outstanding job in capturing the energy that their Japanese counterparts brought a year before. For example, Amber Lee Connors, who plays Hatsuho, delivers a gruff edge to her character, which is underscored by a low-key snark that’s sharp enough to bite through solid steel.
This care in casting carries through to the secondary cast, as characters like the bookish Kaoru Rindo and quirky Reiji Shiba are given life through stellar performances by Monica Rial and Zeno Robinson. Meanwhile, former Imperial Combat Revue Top Star Sumire Kanzaki saw her role reprised by Michelle Ruff, who steps into her role as one would a comfortable pair of slippers. Ruff captures the cadence and delivery of the role, which she previously held in 2003’s Sakura Wars the Movie, though she dials back Sumire’s previously haughty nature to account for the years that have passed since she piloted a Kobu, herself.
Pun-slinging pugilist Hakushu Murasame, in particular, is given a truly spirited performance by Luci Christian. She just seems to revel in the sheer camp of her character, flawlessly capturing the quirk and warmth of the mom-joke slinging swordswoman while lending a genuine sense of gravitas when the situation warrants.
That said, newcomers Klara and Valery Kaminski, who are played by Lindsay Seidel and Aaron Dismuke, respectively, steal the show from an already stellar lineup.
Seidel’s performance is nothing short of fantastic, matching and elevating her Japanese counterpart’s generally subdued delivery with an undercurrent of childish naivete that is immediately endearing. Her slight lisp is nothing short of adorable, especially during the show’s more lighthearted moments.
Dismuke, meanwhile, delivers a genuinely loathsome rendition of Kaminsky. His delivery is equal parts smarmy and suave, which accentuates Kaminsky’s role as an irredeemable bastard. Dismuke’s performance smolders in early conversations, laying on the charm while also lending a remarkably sinister undertone to his delivery. His shift into a megalomaniacal egotist is genuinely frightening, as Dismuke slowly lowers the character’s facade over the course of the season until all that remains is a screaming shell of a man with a God complex.
In addition to the standard vocal performances, the series features two insert songs, A Star Is Born and Frozen Soul, which were dubbed for the English version. Both adaptations were handled well, with fitting lyrical rewrites and genuinely enjoyable performances by the members of the Imperial Combat Revue.
Sadly, not everything works in this incarnation of Sakura Wars’ latest outing. In particular, Ian Sinclair’s performance as Seijuro often feels lifeless and flat. His low-energy delivery and generally lackadaisical tone stands in stark comparison to the rest of the cast, and not for the better. He puts forth a generally competent performance, but it’s certainly not the Seijuro that Yohei Azakami brought to life in 2019.
Minor complaints aside, Sakura Wars’ English adaptation is a truly delightful surprise for new and old fans alike. The strong performance, brought to life by a strong cast and script, ensures that no matter which version of the Imperial Combat Revue fans spend their day with, they’re sure to have a truly fanciful experience.