The worst part about anime critique on YouTube is that virtually all of the ones that I see are in Japanese with subtitles. There are SO many people online who will swear up and down that watching with subs is the “true” way to watch it. And if you don’t do that, you’re just some philistine pleb who has no opinion worth considering. I hate that to no end. Why? Because all the anime that I love, the dub kicks the living shit out of the sub in every conceivable way.
The big one people go to in regards to this topic is Cowboy Bebop. Sure, that’s the best example. The dub is objectively better than the sub. But I can put every series on my Top 20 Favorite Anime List (linked here) next to its Japanese language counterpart and watch the Dub do it better. Before you say that this is just my opinion – sure, whatever. But seriously, watch the series on that list in both languages and tell me which sticks out to you more.
One of the ones that really sticks out to me is Black Lagoon. That series had some of the craziest talent in the world putting their absolute all into it. You have anime veterans like Brad Swaile doing the voice of the main character. This guy has such a history in this medium that you can’t talk about the growth of it in America without him. He’s been in everything. Every character in there is pitch perfect, and the voice-work is downright haunting. I think about the episode inside the submarine, where Revy is telling her dark story to Rock, and listen to her voice. Or when Dutch is on the phone with the Neo-Nazi who got him that job. It’s all amazing. Or when the head of the Russian mob in Roanapur and her dialogue with the vampire child who comes to kill her as he dies. Yeah, the Japanese can’t hold a pin to that.
One that catches me in why people prefer the Japanese to English is Steins;Gate. In my eyes, Okabe can ONLY be voiced by J Michael Tatum. There’s no one else. That man has a gift at capturing the subtle balance between legitimate character and the madness that he exudes without going overboard. You still find him to be believable. Seeing his facade of a mad scientist crumbling around him as he gets deeper into the realm of time travel makes the dilemma he’s facing that much more heart-wrenching. You see the mental toll it is exerting on Okabe, and feel him losing grip on what’s the right thing to do anymore. I cannot think of any other voice actor who could do that the way J. Michael Tatum does.
It blows my mind the fact that the dub for Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad is so amazing. One thing that any otaku cringes at is when there is TERRIBLE musical dubbing into English. We’ve all been there. You hear bad voice actors doing bad versions of music clearly not written with English in mind. So a series about a band with the center-piece being their music had all the recipes for complete failure. But it works! Holy fuck does it work! It’s a testament to the voice actors they got to sing, and the person who did the dubbing in how good that turned out. It could EASILY have been the cringiest anime dub in history. Not to mention, since two characters in the series are supposed to have lived in America, the Japanese version has some pretty painful Engrish in there. It’s kind of ironic that because of it being in English, those scenes flow infinitely better. I always love in Japanese films (that I do watch with subtitles. For whatever reason, anime no, foreign films yes for subtitles) when they have terribly done English.
Then, of course, there is Baccano. As I am to understand it, the Japanese cast really did put in their all into these performances. But it’s clear even they knew that the English version of this would be superior in every way. Every voice actor in this series fits perfectly. Pitch-perfect, they bring their characters’ to life in a way that I genuinely cannot think of who else could. Firo is my personal favorite. That New York flavor of snide, arrogant, and cocky just shows through.
Speaking of people fitting the role perfectly, the greatest dub on the list I made, by far and away, is Wolf’s Rain. That series has every single major dub hitter from that time. We have Steve Blum, Johnny Bosch, Crispin Freeman, Mona Marshall, Mary McGlynn, Kari Wahlgren, and so many more. Every single person who was the best name in the business at the time that that series was dubbed had a role there, major or minor. Most people don’t appreciate what it means for a series to be “star-studded,” even if it’s just voice-actors. That series was. The best of the best, and they brought their best work to the table. For a series that was so deep in themes and darkness, bringing that to light in a way that made you feel for every character was a testament to the skill of those involved.
Maybe this is just because of my very high standards, but I have only seen one series, ONE, where the Japanese version blows the English out of the water. And that’s because the ADR director for it sucked – High School of the Dead. The English in that show was some of the worst I have ever heard. It blows my mind. But then I look at who did the dub work, and then I realize why. It was from one of the worst ADR directors in anime history, who has churned out some of the worst dubs of all time in series that did not deserve it. Goes to show the power of what a good director can do. Because all the talent in the world can’t save you if the person helming the effort is crap.
You don’t have the remind me that this is my opinion. I know. But since my standards for anime are already high, that means that my standards for the voice-work are high as well. And for people to say that if you don’t watch it with subtitles, you are somehow doing a disservice to the medium just blows my mind. Or that, bafflingly, the Japanese version is always better, is arrogant to say the least. Don’t go thinking I am shitting on the Japanese who do the voice-work. I’m not. There is no doubt in my mind that in the vast ocean of anime garbage out there, there are a ton with infinitely better English. There’s so much bargain-bin crap that that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
Until next time, a quote,
“You sing off-key.” – Spike Spiegel, Cowboy Bebop