The Sounds of Dubbing III- One-Punch Man

And here comes another one of these. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make this a regular thing, but since it’s a little easier to do than regular reviews, it seems to be working out pretty well for me. I guess for now the goal is to try and pump out one of these every month but since I’d like to keep it centered around dubs whose runs have actually completed, I may have to do some backtracking to keep a steady schedule. We’ll have to see what happens with that, but for now, onto the review!


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)


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Synopsis: Saitama was once an average joe who was down on his luck after losing his job as a salaryman, but after saving a young boy and recalling his childhood dream of being a superhero, he decides to dedicate his life towards becoming a strong hero. Three years later, Saitama has become the strongest hero around and is capable of taking down all sorts of villains and monsters with single punch. However with great power comes great boredom, and Saitama’s inability to be challenged starts to suck all the fun out of the job. Now he finds himself largely unsatisfied, and if he can’t have fun being a hero, then what’s really the point?

Intro: So coming into 2016, this was easily my most anticipated dub of the year. One-Punch Man’s anime turned out to be a stellar adaption of the original manga thanks to the director Shingo Natsume managing to assemble a crack team of animators, turning the series into an overnight sensation. Needless to say this put some heavy expectations on the dub and having it slated for a run on Adult Swim’s late night Toonami block only added to the pressure. Now that it’s run has ended and the dub’s been displayed for all to see (well anyone with cable I guess), it’s time to see whether or not the dub lived up to the hype.

 

Voice Direction

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One of the most notable things about Viz Media when it comes to dubs is that they’re more or less the only remaining anime distributor in the U.S.(outside of Funimation on the rare occasion where role reprisal requires it) who ships their dubs around to multiple recording studios. In particular they tend to send their dubs to one of two places: Studiopolis, who is usually handed their monolithic properties like Naruto and Sailor Moon (also K…for some reason) and Bang Zoom! Entertainment who’s usually handed their lower priority shows like Blood Lad or Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne. Going by that trend, I assumed OPM would be going to the former, but to my surprise it ended up with Bang Zoom. BZ’s overall track record, while solid, isn’t quite as consistent as what Studiopolis puts out so I was slightly worried about the outcome, but the show was put into good hands with Chris Cason (Birdy: The Mighty Decode, The Seven Deadly Sins) who’s worked on Bang Zoom and Funimation dubs alike over the years. All that experience certainly shows as the dub’s direction maintains a consistent tone, hitting all of the comic timing for the jokes effectively, and ensuring that none of the performances sound particularly stilted (well maybe one, but we’ll get to that later). Given that the show’s primarily a comedy, there’s nothing too mind-blowing here, but nothing feels off about it either and it all comes together pretty well. That said, there are a couple of areas where I feel like Chris Cason could have pushed the actors harder, and while it’s solid overall, it feels just a few steps shy of being outstanding which is what I was kind of hoping for here.

 

Scripting

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Ever since last year, there’s been a notable trend with BZ dubs borrowing script writers better known for their work at Funimation, so when another one of them popped up here I wasn’t too surprised. What did shock me though, was that the script writer was Mike McFarland (Hyperdimension Neptunia, Hellsing Ultimate) who’s better known for his directing credits than his scriptwriting. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to be lacking in the latter department, as the scripting here is solid and manages to feel just loose enough not to sound stiff, while also sticking closely to the source material. Since this was a pretty high-profile series, I’m glad that the script mostly errs on the side of caution (especially since the same can’t be said for a certain other blockbuster anime hit *cough*AOT*cough*) but at the same time it also feels a little too cautious, and might have benefited from punching up the dialogue here and there given that the show is mainly a comedy. Still. between the problem of a script that’s too loose and one that’s too faithful, I’d definitely rather deal with the latter so as far as that goes, I’m more than happy to give it a pass.

 

Casting and Performances

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Casting is always something of a give and take scenario when it comes to BZ since while they rarely miscast actors, their preferred style of imitating the original Japanese performances as much as possible tends to make some of their casting choices a forgone conclusion, and by extension less interesting. Fortunately this was one of their better efforts in that respect as we ended up with a good mix of solid choices and genuine surprises. When I first saw that Max Mittleman (Your Lie in April’s Kousei, The Seven Deadly Sins’s King) was cast as Saitama I have to admit I was a little skeptical. One of the most appealing things about the character is how unconventional he looks and sounds as a protagonist, so casting a guy who was already well on his way to becoming one of the next big names in California dubs seemed a bit strange. However he proved to be more than up to the task as he nailed all of Saitama’s dry humor perfectly, and his delivery of the character’s constant boredom stayed consistent the whole way through, while also allowing him to show off some of the deeper parts of his vocal register between jokes. Some other standouts include Robbie Daymond (Sailor Moon’s Tuxedo Mask, Tales of Zestria the X’s Sorey) as Mumen Rider, who captured the humble nature of the character to a tee, and Chris Jai Alex as  (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Esidisi) Boros, whose naturally powerful baritone really helped to give the villain the level of presence needed for his big confrontation with Saitama.

I also have to give some props to some of the dub’s gag casting as it pays homage to the similarities between the baddies Saitama faces and characters from other series, helping to give the dub a little extra flavor. This results in some hilarious moments like Saitama slaying a Titan look-alike voiced by Bryce Papenbrook of Attack on Titan fame or a bi-pedal lion-man voiced by George C. Cole suffering the same cruel fate as every Leomon from the Digimon franchise. There’s a few casting choices like this sprinkled throughout the dub and it really goes a long way in making it stand out.

Sadly though, the dub cast isn’t without a few hiccups. Zach Aguilar (Aldnoah Zero’s Slane, The Seven Deadly Sins’s King Arthur) sounds a bit stiff as Genos, and the voice itself feels sort of forced at times. While it’s possible this was done intentionally in an attempt to make him sound more robotic given that the character himself is a cyborg, it still sounds a little off compared to Kaito Ishikawa’s performance and doesn’t quite match up. Similarly Erik Kimerer’s (Accel World’s Haruyuki, Toradora’s Ryuji) Speed O’ Sound Sonic doesn’t go quite as deep as Yuki Kaiji’s and performance and while he’s certainly capable of pulling off a lower vocal register, for whatever reason he doesn’t here, and the performance loses some of it’s intensity as a result. The weakest link though, would be newcomer (well anime-wise anyway) Ben Lepsky, whose Amai Mask, while perfectly functional, doesn’t carry much in the way of presence, and especially compared to Mamoru Miyano’s natural ham (even if this show featured a more subdued version of it). None of these performances are weak enough to seriously drag down the quality of the dub (and in Erik Kimerer’s defense his performance improves the most out of the three) but given how high the expectations for this were, having even a couple of slightly underwhelming performances in the main cast is a little disappointing.

Final Thoughts: So did the OPM dub manage to live up to expectations? Well the overall reception seems to be positive, but for me I’d have to say not quite. It certainly isn’t a bad dub by any means and it could still end up ranking among my top 5 for this year (though as of this writing I have yet to see the dubs for Erased or Escaflowne, and the new crop of simuldubs seem pretty promising) but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly curious how things would have fared had the dub gone to Studiopolis instead. There’s a lot of strengths to this dub and I certainly can’t accuse the staff of not going the extra mile with some of the casting choices, but while it’s pretty great as a whole, it’s one punch shy of perfection.

Rating: Good

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