In honor of the holiday season I’m counting down a list of my 25 favorite dubs of all time between December 1st and Christmas. I’ll be adding a new entry each day so be sure to check back for my thoughts on each dub as we make our way through December. To keep things simple my criteria for these is that they have to be from a TV anime or OVA since including movies would make things a bit convoluted, and it’s being kept strictly to things I’ve actually seen so certain “classics” like Haruhi or the Berserk 1999 dub aren’t gonna make the cut since I have yet to actually get around to them. With all that said, enjoy ^_^
*All series synopsis from Anime Planet
ADR Director/Script: Alex von David (Blue Exorcist, Kill la Kill)
Recorded at: Bang Zoom! Entertainment (NIS America)
Synopsis: Ryuuji Takasu has an eventful life: his classmates think he’s a delinquent due to his ‘killer’ eyes; his crush Minori seems ever out of reach; and he’s just had an unfortunate encounter with ‘palm-sized Taiga’ – a feisty and dainty wench in his class. With different cleaning habits and tempers, the two clash like night and day; that is, except for the fact that Taiga and Ryuuji have crushes on the other’s good friend! With school rumors abounding, the duo must now work together to play matchmaker for each other. Who will end up with their true love?
Thoughts: For a long time, Toradora was one of those shows I had always meant to get around to watching but for one reason or another never actually did. So when the dub was first announced, and made available on Crunchyroll no less, I was figured it was as good a time as any to check it out. Admittedly I wasn’t expecting too much from the dub initially since while I liked most of the VAs in it, I figured that I knew what they were capable and the same went for Alex von David who I found to be really consistent as a director but not quite what I’d call amazing. Needless to say I was pretty surprised when the dub turned out to not only be good, but downright incredible and it really made going through the series a memorable experience for me.
While I liked Erik Kimerer’s (Accel World’s Haruyuki, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic’s Alibaba) work up to this point, I also found him to be a bit inconsistent at times. However his performance here as Ryuji is easily the best he’s ever done, and also served as a good demonstration that he could do pretty well outside of his more traditionally heroic type casting. I was equally impressed by Christine Marie Cabanos (Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Madoka, Kill la Kill’s Mako) as I honestly wasn’t too big on her up till that point, but she really excels here as Minori and turned in a grade-A performance that I wasn’t even sure she was capable of.
Although while the cast is excellent across the board, the real star of the show here is Cassandra Lee Morris (Yu-Gi-Oh GX‘s Yubel, Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Kyubei) as Taiga, with her performance more or less serving as the heart and soul of the dub. I’m generally not a fan of Taiga’s tsundere-loli archetype (and even less when I know she was originally played by Rie Kugimiya, who while a good actress, has done that character type so many times that they all just kind of blend together for me) but Cassandra Lee Morris does an excellent job of making the character feel genuinely endearing, and does well at serving up both the soft and brash sides of her without going too heavily in either direction. All of these fine performances come together really well under Alex von David’s strong direction, and even among his solid track record, this is by far his best work. This dub was really something of a welcome surprise for me, and while I didn’t expect a whole lot coming in, what I got coming out was enough to easily mark among some of the best work I’ve seen.
ADR Director: James Corrigall (Zoids, Mobile Suit Gundam 00)
ADR Script: Stephen Hedley (The Law of Ueki, Kurozuka)
Recorded at: The Ocean Group (Geneon USA, Funimation)
Synopsis: Rokuro Okajima is a small-time salaryman who is carrying documents for his company, when the ship he’s traveling on is attacked by pirates. Kidnapped, he discovers to his dismay that his employers’ main concern is to ensure the documents don’t get into the wrong hands, even if it means sending the carrier to the bottom of the sea. Now, with his former life ruined and his kidnappers seeming comparatively friendly, “Rock” decides to join their merry band of mercenaries, and sets out with a new career to the shadier corners of the South China Sea.
Thoughts: Black Lagoon is more or less the anime equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster so it’s not particular surprising that it would sound strong in English, but even keeping that in mind it’s still incredible just how fun it’s dub is. The cast features a variety of crazy and/or sinister performances such as Patricia Drake’s commanding presence as Balalika or Tabitha St. Germain’s (Shakugan no Shana’s Shana, Elemental Gelade’s Aljenna) Roberta perfectly demonstrating how terrifying she can be beneath her initially unassuming exterior.
Of course the real prize here goes to the two leads. Brad Swaile (Dragon Drive’s Reiji, Mobile Suit Gundam’s Amuro) does a solid job of portraying Rock’s gradual transformation from an empathetic optimist to a manipulative cyni and delivers on a very grounded performance, even among a cast of hams. Maryke Hendrikse’s (.hack//Roots‘s Tabby, Mobile Suit Gundam 00‘s Wang Liu Mei) Revy on the other hand, is pure unadulterated fun almost every time she’s on screen selling every ounce of her perpetual rage and insanity, while also knowing when to dial things down for her more introspective moments. The dub also benefits from a really fun script as it opts to dial up the amount of swearing to eleven and while that sounds like a bad idea on paper, it’s exactly what something as action movie-esque as Black Lagoon needed and it really helps to add to the overall aesthetic of the series. While I’ve watched a lot of fun dubs over the year, very few have compared to Black Lagoon in that department, and even though it’s been close to a decade since I first listened to it, it’s never failed to put a smile on my face every time I come back for another look.
ADR Director: Kevin Seymour (Akira, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)
ADR Script: Liam O’ Brien (Naruto, Gun x Sword), Marc Handler (FLCL, Tenchi in Tokyo), Mary Claypool (El Hazard, Hyper Doll)
Recorded at: Animaze (Bandai Entertaiment)
Synopsis: In 2010, the Britannian Empire enslaved Japan using powerful mecha known as Knightmares; in the aftermath Japan was renamed Area 11, and its people began a hard and terrible existence. Lelouch, a Britannian student living in Area 11, has grown up hating the Empire and everything it stands for. One day, in the middle of a terrorist attack, Lelouch meets a mysterious girl who grants him the ability to control minds. Can he use his new power to fight for freedom, or will his hatred twist his good intentions into mindless acts of vengeance?
Thoughts: This was the final dub produced by Animaze and the late Kevin Seymour, and it’s one that really demonstrates the power of the legacy they left behind. Code Geass is a super over-the-top show with super over-the-top voice acting to match so attempting to match that level of energy in English was already set up to be something of a challenge to put off but Kevin Seymour proved he was more than up to the task and assembled an all-star cast of VA’s all elevated by his stellar sense of direction. Trying to match the sheer ham of names like Takahiro Sakurai and god himself, Norio Wakamoto would be a difficult climb for most but Yuri Lowenthal (Naruto’s Sasuke, Hellsing Ultimate’s Pip) and Michael McConnieh (Hunter x Hunter’s Narrator, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans’s Lieutenant Crank) managed to pull it off as Suzaku and Emperor Charles respectively with other big names such as Crispin Freeman (Hellsing Ultimate’s Alucard, Naruto’s Itachi), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Sailor Moon’s Queen Metalica, Naruto’s Kurenai) and Steve Blum (Digimon Tamers’s Guilmon, Naruto’s Orochimaru), filling out the rest of the cast, making for a great experience all across the board.
Once again though, the show really goes to Johnny Yong Bosch’s (Trigun’s Vash, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure’s Johnathan) performance as Lelouch, giving off a level of arrogance and audacity that was unlike anything else he’d done up until that point. It worked so well in fact that it not only matched Jun Fukuyama’s original performance, but in some instances, outright surpassed it for me, and given that the character was originally made with Fukuyama in mind that’s saying a lot. There was clearly a lot of energy going into this dub, and it’s one whose popularity has managed to persist pretty well over the years. It’s sad knowing that both Animaze and Kevin Seymour are gone, but as a final hurrah, this dub was certainly a good note to go out on.
ADR Director: Karl Willems (Inuyasha, Cardfight Vanguard)
ADR Script: Stephen Hedley, Michelle Clough (My-Otome, Pretty Cure)
Recorded at: The Ocean Group (Viz Media)
Synopsis: Have you ever felt like the world would be a better place if certain people weren’t around? Such grim daydreams might occur when watching the dismal daily news, but on one fateful day, Light Yagami finds that these daydreams can become reality. By pure happenstance, he comes across a black notebook entitled “Death Note”, whose text within states that whoever’s name is written on its pages will die. With the aid of the death god Ryuk, Light takes it upon himself to rid the world of its corruption, ushering in a new era of purity one death at a time. But as Ryuk foretells, Light’s actions will not go unchallenged…
Thoughts: Death Note was the other super-ham show of decade next to Code Geass, and between the two it’s enjoyed a bit more in the way of popularity in the west. This is large in part due to its strong dub, and it’s one that’s become nearly as memorable as the show itself. Mamoru Miyano is one of the hammiest actors in the Japanese side of voice acting no matter what he’s in so going head to head with that is no easy feat but Brad Swaile’s Light is every bit as wicked and over the top as Miyano’s, making for a delightful spectacle across the show’s 37 episode run. Alessandro Juliani’s (Ranma ½’s Prince Toma) L on the other hand, is a pretty notable departure from Kappei Yamaguchi’s performance since it sounds notably more mature, but it works well and he manages to capture all of the character’s quirks and childish tendencies. Brian Drummond’s (Black Lagoon’s Benny, Dragon Drive’s Mahiru) Ryuk works pretty similarly in that respect, as it’s a lot raspier than Shidou Nakamura’s but it’s just as sinister and the rest of the cast is strong too, with all of the performances proving to be a perfect match to their Japanese counterparts. I honestly had a hard time deciding whether or not to place this one above Code Geass, but I think this dub edges out just a little bit more in the ham factor, and the fact that Brad Swaile was able to deliver lines as ridiculous as “I’ll take a potato chip and eat it” without missing a beat is a feat unto itself. As a whole, Ocean’s track record is a bit mixed when it comes to their dub output, but this one is by far their strongest effort, and one that’s become something of a classic for me.
ADR Director: Justin Cook (Fruits Basket, Kiddy Grade)
ADR Script: Jared Hedges (Fullmetal Alchemist, Gangsta)
Recorded at: Funimation Studios
Synopsis: Yusuke Urameshi was a normal middle school punk until he was hit and killed by a car, while saving a child. His selfless action earned him the right to gain his life back and serve as a detective of the spirit world, keeping the world of the living safe from a myriad of demons. But being reborn has its price: Yusuke must hatch a spirit beast that will develop according to his actions, and if he doesn’t act in a good and honest manner, it will eat his soul. Can Yusuke protect the human and spirit worlds and still manage to save himself in the process?
Thoughts: While Funimation currently enjoys a mostly well-deserved reputation as one of the best in the business when it comes to anime dubs, this wasn’t always the case. In fact for a lot of their earlier years, they were despised much in the same vein as 4Kids for their work on the old Dragonball Z dub, and the numerous problems that came with it. However there was one dub that managed to help turn their reputation around, and that distinction belongs to Yu Yu Hakusho. Like the Dragonball Z dub of old, there’s a lot of liberties regarding its scripting and it’s distinctly snarkier and more potty-mouthed than its original Japanese counterpart, but unlike with Z, YuYu’s dub actually knew where to draw the line, and never veered too far off course from it’s source material, making for a sharp, energetic script that actually helped to make the show a bit more fun during some of the few slow parts of the series. Of course while the script is fun, the dub cast is even more so, and they’re a blast to watch. Justin Cook’s Yusuke served as one of the most memorable anime performances from my childhood and it one that was constantly filled with attitude as he delivered every bit of the character’s brash personality. Equally memorable was Chris Sabat’s Kuwabara, and while the voice itself is admittedly pretty silly, his actually delivery is really strong, and he manages to make it work, even during the character’s more emotional moments.
The other members of the cast are all strong too, and many of the performances here served as introductions to some of my favorite actors, from minor ones like Ed Blaylock (Fairy Tail‘s Master Jose, One Piece‘s Sengoku as one Yusuke’s sadistic teachers, to Robert McCollum’s (Psycho-Pass’s Kogami, Drifters‘s Nobunaga) chilling work as Sensui, the latter of which has gone down as one of my favorite villain performances in anime and turned the character himself into one of my favorites as well. While the series is regarded as something of a classic, it’s a shame that it isn’t as well remembered as Funi’s old Z dub because despite being from around the same time period, there’s really no comparison when it comes to their quality, and with how much went into this one, it’s easy to see how this was the one that helped to turn Funi from reviled to beloved.