And looks like it’s time for yet another new segment. This one’s…about dubs. It probably seems a bit redundant As anyone who follows my Twitter feed probably knows by this point that I sometimes contribute to a dub-related podcast called Dub Talk with some of my online pals, but it’s something I’ve been considering for a while now, and every now and then I’d like to talk about this stuff while it’s still fresh in my head. Of course I still plan on contributing to Dub Talk provided my shenanigans here don’t somehow get me exiled so I’m not sure how frequent a thing this’ll be but I guess we’ll have to see how that goes. This first posting will be a bit long, but if I end up doing more of these I’m planning on keeping them relatively short. Anyway, let’s get started
Dub Rating Scale
Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but an overall bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece, Guin Saga)
Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly good by any means but okay sounding enough that if you ignore the existence of the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)
Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is more technically competent in a few areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)
Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be perfectly comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)
Synopsis: Since ancient times, monsters called Horrors have plagued the land corrupting and devouring humans. Only the Makai Knights and Alchemists of the Makai Order have been able to keep them at bay, but over time the people of the order were branded as witches and hunted down by the rest of humankind. 17 years after the witch hunts ended, a young man named Leon stands as one of the last remaining Makai Knights and the inheritor of the legendary Makai Armor, GARO, but despite his duty to stand as humanity’s protector, his desire to avenge his mother’s death during the hunts burns even stronger.
Intro: So coming into 2016, GARO was one of the dubs I was looking forward to the most. The show itself ended up being a welcome surprise for me during it’s initial run as it managed to hit all my personal aesthetics for a good action show and in a lot of ways felt very reminiscent of the 2003 version of the Fullmetal Alchemist anime in terms of character writing and tone. With that much going for it, it pretty much goes without saying that I had some really high expectations for the dub, but now it’s time to see just how well it met them. I’ll be talking about the dub in three categories: firstly the voice direction, then the dub script, and lastly the casting and performances.
With the amount of dubbing projects Funimation juggles at any one time, it’s hard to say who’ll end up directing what, so I was hoping this one would end up in the hands of one of their stronger ADR Directors. Thankfully that expectation was met when it was revealed to be in the hands of Caitlin Glass (Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Ouran High School Host Club, Noragami Aragoto) who has established a pretty solid track record. Going off of the dub commentaries on the release, and some of her own postings on Twitter, it seemed like she was pretty passionate about this series, and it certainly shows as the direction here is really solid. Everything manages to hit right tone, and none of the performances feel like they’re being restrained as it’s clear she went the extra mile to make the delivery work. I will say though that the dub’s frequent use of Spanish, while a nice way to make use of the show’s setting, feels a bit awkward in a few instances considering that none of the actors (save Monica Rial) use accents. I’d have personally preferred those bits having either been left out entirely or being paired with accents all across the board if the dub was really committed to making the most of its setting, but this is more of a nitpick than anything, and the direction here is otherwise strong.
Speaking of a commitment to the setting, in an effort to stay faithful to the show’s medieval setting, the dub staff opted to go for an “ye olde Shakespeare English” style of dialogue, and to that end got two particular scriptwriters (and a third who also contributed, but not to as large an extent) who are known for doing that sort of thing. The first is Patrick Seitz (Maria: The Virgin Witch, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure) who was credited as the show’s lead script writer and wrote much of dub’s first half. His work on Maria: The Virgin Witch was pretty impressive as it added a lot of subtlety and clever wording to a series whose primary conflict is partially based around sexuality and that carries over pretty well here. His style of prose adds to a lot the show’s humor (with one line from the first episode being particularly memorable) while also knowing where to keep things grounded and keeping things faithful to the source material while staying consistent with the medieval style dialogue.
The other script writer however is none other than J. Micheal Tatum (Free: Eternal Summer, Future Diary) whose track record is…frankly pretty bad. Anyone whose seeing my ravings on Twitter probably knows it by this point, but while I’m fan of his work as an actor, I’m most definitely not a fan of his scriptwriting, and most of his work in the latter department has left me feeling frustrated more often than not as he has one or two styles of dialogue that he sticks to for every show he does, and a penchant for being loose with his script translations even when he doesn’t need to. He penned the entire second half of GARO’s dub, and the difference is pretty noticeable. Much of the subtlety in the dialogue is lost, occasionally coming off as snarkier, which for a series that was more or less thriving on how well it executed normally standard fantasy action tropes, definitely hurts. Fortunately this is one of his better scripts as there aren’t any big instances of this going so far as to make the dub feel like an entirely different show from the Japanese version, but there are a couple of key moments where his script changes alter the context of what’s happening a bit. For instance in German’s final scene:
JP Version: Be careful, my son is up there. Leon Luis. The one who inherited the blood destined to seal away Horrors, the Golden Knight, Garo. And I am also one who seals away you bastard Horrors, German Luis. Also known as Makai Knight Zorro.
English Version: I’d be careful if I were you, just so happens my son is up there. Leon Luis. You may have heard of him. It is in his blood to protect this world from those such as you, legend calls him the Golden Knight, Garo. I know his strength. God do I know it. For he is my son and no father has ever been prouder. You may call me German Luis, Makai Knight. Also known by the name, Zorro.
The dub version only throws in one extra line, but it’s enough to alter the subtext of the speech as in the Japanese version, it’s meant to symbolize German acknowledging Leon as a true Makai Knight, where as the dub has him come off more as a proud parent, which isn’t entirely inaccurate but slightly misses the point while also just coming off as a cheesier line in general and one that isn’t terribly consistent with German’s hands-off behavior as a father. All that said, the script’s just faithful enough that I can give it a general pass, and there’s a few good lines in the second half, but with as high as my original expectations were, this soured me on the dub a bit.
Casting and Performances
For all my eagerness to see the dub, I had a hard time guessing who would voice the protagonist Leon, but Ricco Fajardo (The Heroic Legend of Arslan‘s Daryun, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash‘s Haruhiro) proved to be an excellent choice for the character, being a perfect ball of raw teen angst during his initial character arc, while not overplaying enough to make him unlikable. Having the up and coming Justin Briner (Seraph of the End’s Mikael, My Hero Academia‘s Izuku) for Alfonso was also a pretty nice choice, and casting Monica Rial (Dragonball Z Kai’s Bulma, Casshern Sins‘s Ringo) as Ema was a pleasant surprise since it’s rare to see her in roles where she gets to play mature sounding women and it was a good match for Romi Park’s performance in the Japanese version, since her voice has always been difficult to pair off due to how distinct it is.
Of all the performances in this dub though, there are two that really stand out. The first would be Vic Mignogia (Fullmetal Alchemist‘s Edward Elric, Bleach‘s Ikkaku Madarame) as the main antagonist Mendoza. He’s picked up a fair share of villain roles in recent years, as opposed to his more well known pretty-boy typecasting and turned out to be pretty good at them. so when I first heard he’d been in this dub, I was really hoping it would be as Mendoza, and he certainly delivers. His performance gives off a perpetually creepy falsetto and combined with the Shakespearean prose of the dub, really helps in giving the character a sense of presence and menace. I don’t like it quite as much as I did Takaya Hashi’s performance in the Japanese version since Hashi’s unique baritone was kind of hard to match, but it comes pretty close and it’s certainly an impressive effort. The real standout though, would have to be David Wald (Akame ga Kill‘s Bulat, Fairy Tail‘s Gajeel) as German as it’s a really fun performance that captures both the goofball womanizer and serious sides of the character to perfection and even the scripting issues in the show’s second half aren’t enough to take away from how strong his delivery is. Overall, the dub’s performances are solid all across the board with the only weak link perhaps being Ivan Jasso(Prince of Stride: Alternative‘s Kyosuke) as Bernardo, the dark knight, since this was one of his first major anime roles, and his performance sounds a little awkward in a few instances, but on the whole the dub was very well cast and no one feels out of place.
Final Thoughts: Well I had some really high expectations for this dub, and I have to admit those weren’t quite met. The voice direction here is strong, and the casting’s pretty much the same in that department, but the some of the scripting issues with the dub’s second half hurt things a bit for me, and while good voice direction and performances can sometimes be enough to overlook those kinds of problems (see Attack on Titan) it wasn’t quite strong enough to do the job here. As a whole, it’s a really solid dub, and more or less in line with what you’d expect from Funimation’s usual level of consistency. Which is totally fine, but it’s not the standout I was hoping and since I’d set my expectations for this fairly high, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. Despite those feelings though, I can still give it a fairly safe recommendation, and if you haven’t seen the show before there’s certainly nothing to lose in checking out the dub.
Woof. I had a lot more to say than I thought I would, but as I said before I’ll try my best to keep these shorter if I do any future installments. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the GARO dub, but feel free to let me know what you thought of it. Also if you’re curious to know about my general metrics for critiquing dubs, you can find my full thoughts in this article here, where I go into a bit more detail on the subject. Thanks for reading!