Synopsis: Aliens have taken over Edo period Japan, and everything from giant robots to space technology has taken over everyday life. However one day, a young man named Shinpachi Shimura has an encounter with a wavy-haired samurai named Gintoki Sakata, one of the last surviving warriors of the Joi Rebels who fought against the aliens, and one of the few people remaining who still carries the soul of a samurai. Shinpachi decides to work for Gintoki as part of his “Odd Jobs” group of handimen, and together with a strange alien girl named Kagura, the trio gets involved with a variety of increasingly weird characters and adventures.
Intro: When Crunchyroll first announced last year that they were venturing into the world of home video releases and dubs, I was the most curious about Gintama. It always struck me as a show that would be nigh impossible to dub, both due to it’s length, and it’s hefty amount of Japanese culture-centered humor. Sentai Filmworks took a stab at it a few years back when they licensed the first Gintama movie and the results were…less that stellar so I wasn’t too sure how a second attempt would pan out, and even more so when I was hearing suggestions that it would be done through the Canadian dubbing pool, who hasn’t seen much work in recent years. So with all that in mind, it’s time to see if the second time’s the charm
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 but decent 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 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)
Even when it comes to comedies, good vocal direction is always an important element to take into account as a stiff performance can make even some of the best jokes fall flat. In that respect, it’s pretty ideal that this show’s ADR Director turned out to be Karl Willams, a long time director at both Canada’s Ocean and Blue Water dubbing studios, and whose work includes some of the talent pool’s most iconic dubs such as Death Note and Inuyasha. All those years of experience certainly show here as he does a great job of handling the show’s comedic timing, helping the actors to successfully deliver on a variety of exaggerated punchlines, and while there’s certainly a few stiff line reads here and there, the actors manage to land their jokes more often than not, and I was pleasantly surprised that the dub had me laughing almost as much as I did listening to the Japanese track.
Of course it’s also important to take into account that Gintama is a series that can often be as heartwarming or dramatic as it is funny, and the ability to switch between those moods on the fly is also pretty important when it comes to a successful dub. It’s a little harder to get a read on how the more dramatic areas of the show will be handled from what’s currently available, but just going off of the finale to the Genderbending arc, it seems like the direction’s certainly there enough for that too, albiet not quite as much as with the comedy. Given that the dub’s starting off so deep into the material it’d feel a little unfair to expect too much right out the gate, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it’s direction, and it looks to be in good enough hands that it’s likely to improve with time.
Of all the aspects of a Gintama dub, I was the most intrigued/worried about, it was probably the dub script. As I mentioned in the intro, Gintama is a pretty culture-specific comedy, and while it’s certainly no stranger to mocking popular Western media in the same way mocks a lot of Japanese media, it usually leans towards the latter, and trying to translate around those jokes always seemed like too big a task to make a dub feasible. While as of this moment, I’m unaware of who the main scriptwriter for the dub was (or if wasn’t some kind of group effort by some of the crew at Crunchyroll), it seems as though the decision was made to leave pretty much all the jokes as is, and instead rely on the high energy of the vocal performances to help sell the comedy. It’s a pretty understandable approach since Gintama wouldn’t really be itself without it’s bizarre sense of humor, and it’s one that works in some ways, and falls flat in others, as a lot of the slapstick and references that seasoned anime/video game fans would get, are still just as funny in English, while some of the occasional wordplay puns like the ones in episode with the Japanese history lesson, sound a little on the awkward side. A bit of looser scripting might have helped with the latter a bit more, but speaking honestly, I can’t really think of around that without completely changing the jokes involved, so in the end this was probably the right call. The scripting’s certainly not perfect, but there was pretty much never going to be a perfect solution to this area of the dub, and as I said regarding my One-Punch Man review, the issue of a dub script being too faithful is a far better one to have than it being too loose, so I can certainly live with the lesser of the two evils.
While not quite as big a hurdle as the dub script, the casting was another area where I was really curious to see the results. Not only has Gintama been around long enough that anyone familiar with the show is probably pretty attached to the Japanese cast, but said cast is comprised of some of the best actors that side of the industry has to offer including names like Tomokazu Sugita, Rie Kugimiya, Akira Ishida and god himself Norio Wakamoto. Living up to such a strong cast was always going to something of a tall order and one made harder by the fact that Canada’s talent pool isn’t as established as they used to be in their prime. Fortunately though, Karl Willams and the fine folks at Crunchyroll, managed to put together a pretty nice looking cast of Canada-based veterans.
Micheal Daingerfield (Inuyasha: The Final Act’s Sesshomaru, Mobile Suit Gundam 00’s Johann Trinity) seems to have been an excellent choice for Gintoki as he does a solid job of getting across the character’s crass attitude and sarcasm while also managing to nail down his rarely seen serious side in a few scenes. Cole Howard (Law of Ueki’s Kosuke Ueki, Kingdom’s Xin) is an equally strong choice for Shinpachi as he gets his straight man antics down pretty quickly, and while his exaggerated retorts don’t always hit their mark, his delivery is strong enough for the punchlines to get their message across. Jocelyne Loewen (Boys Over Flowers’s Sakurako Sanjo, Megaman NT Warrior’s Yai) on the other hand is the weakest link of the main trio so far, as her voice sounds a little too normal compared to Rie Kugiyama, or even Luci Christian’s brief take on her in the movie’s dub since Kagura doesn’t really sound the same without her accent, and while Jocelyne Loewen’s performance is good enough to get a few laughs across, it doesn’t quite feel like she has the character down yet.
The rest of the cast is a little bit more of a mixed bag. Some like Andrew Francis (NANA’s Takumi Ichinose, Infinite Ryuvis’s Airs Blue) and Janyse Jaud (Inuyasha’s Kagura, Shakugan no Shana’s Margery Daw) feel like solid choices for Sakamoto and Tae respectively, and nail their quirks down pretty well, while others like Marlie Collins’s Tsukuyo and Vincent Tong’s (Death Note’s Tota Matsuda, World Trigger’s Souya Kazama) feel a little underwhelming, and seem to still be in the process of feeling out their characters. Of course as with the voice direction it’s more than a little unfair to compare these guys to actors who had been playing their respective characters for over 250 episodes by this point, so I certainly wasn’t expecting anything near the level of the performances by the Japanese cast, but even with that in mind, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, it did feel as though the actors were getting a better grasp on their characters with each passing episode (some faster than others) so there’s a strong chance that with a bit more time, this cast could really go a long way in making the characters their own.
Final Thoughts: Dubbing Gintama was pretty much always going to be something of a thankless job, and with one failed attempt already in existence, it seemed weird that Crunchyroll of all companies would be the ones to try again. However, this second attempt managed to greatly exceed my admittedly low expectations, and the dub turned out to be pretty funny. While I’m not totally in love with all of the casting choices so far, the majority do seem to have been well thought out, and I don’t have too much doubt they’ll get better with time. This certainly isn’t in the same league as the Japanese track, nor do I think anyone was really expecting it to be, but it’s definitely a much better attempt than the last one we got, and one that’s probably worth your time checking out if you’re either a newcomer to the series, or just curious to give it a listen.
And that’s it for the Gintama review. Feel free to let me know what you thought about the dub if you’ve seen it and if you’re curious about my general metrics for critiquing dubs, you can take a look at that here. Till next time.