My Top-5 “DBZ effect” Animes

DBZ logoWhen it comes to anime there of course is the age-old debate of dubs vs. subs. Some people prefer to watch anime with a dubbed voice-over as it removes unsightly subtitles while some prefer to watch the anime with subtitles in order to preserve the original voice-over. Personally, I always watch an anime first in its original language with subtitles before I listen to the dubbed version. It’s not because I feel either way is superior, but I want to get the feel of the original material before I listen to a localised version where I can better get a sense of what has been altered (and whether it was for better or worse).

However, there are then some anime that I’m completely unable to watch in the original Japanese anymore because I simply consider the dubbed version to be so much better. This is what I affectionately refer to as the “DBZ effect”. As I grew up watching the Ocean Group and Funimation dubs of Dragon Ball Z, I got used to the way the characters sounded in the two different English dubs. When I later watched one of the horrible stand-alone DBZ movies with the original Japanese voice-over I was utterly put off by the voice-acting (mostly by the fact that Goku was being voiced by a woman) and I’ve never been able to watch Dragon Ball Z with the Japanese voices since.

This list is all about anime with which I’ve had the same experience for one reason or another…

MKR5. Magic Knight Rayearth

MKR was the first anime series I watched from start to finish and it still holds a special place in my heart. The dramatic, action-packed adventure of three Tokyo High School girls trying to save the magical world of Cephiro from utter destruction was an exciting, surprise-filled and even at times thought-provoking series. When it first aired on Finnish television, I was of course treated to the English dub from the now defunct Anime Workshop and I will say that for a mid-1990s anime dub, MKR holds up surprisingly well (even if a lot of the nuances of anime voice-acting are lost on it).

When I finally got the series on DVD a few years later, I decided to give the Japanese version a whirl since I had never listened to it. I got about half-way into the first episode and then had to switch back because I simply couldn’t stand Hikaru’s voice, who surprisingly sounded much more like a “middle-aged lady” than even Alcyone.

I tried listening to the Japanese voice-over in bits and pieces to get a sense of how the different central figures sounded like, but I never had much incentive to listen to the original voice-over fully. Quite simply, the Japanese voices are just terribly bland and uninteresting and without the inherent entertainment factor of funny accents, intonation and even, surprisingly, the occasional awkwardness of the English dub, the Japanese voice-acting just sounded terribly generic.

Now granted, MKR’s dialogue isn’t that special anyway and its also plagued by hefty amounts of repetition from episode to episode, but honestly the lack of a similar entertainment factor as the English dub just makes this series painful to watch for me in the original Japanese. I’m not saying that the English voice-over is excellent, in fact there’s a lot that Anime Workshop could have done better, but it’s just more fun to listen to.

Negima4. Negima (1st Series)

Funimation is probably my favourite dubbing company when it comes to English anime adaptions. Comedic series especially have always been the company’s forte and as a result I really enjoyed the company’s take on the first (and often derided) anime adaption of Negima. Particularly the vibrant voice of Luci Christian and Laura Bailey made this dub for me, but even with his preposterous “British” accent, I think Greg Ayres was a far better Negi than Rina Sato.

The comedic writing and adaption aside, there was one particular problem with the Japanese original series which I had and that was Negi’s spell-casting. In the manga and anime, Negi’s spells are in Latin and this had always been perfectly okay in my book… until I heard Sato butcher every single word in Negi’s spells.

Granted, not all seiyuus are linguistically gifted, but you’d think that if Xebec was going to tackle a series where a foreign language is being spoken on a semi-regular basis, they’d at least get an ADR director who could make sure it sounded right. Needles to say, I’ll take Latin with a slightly questionable English accent over Morenusu Ratinusu* any day of the week.

I’m not saying that the Funimation dub was entirely flawless and I particularly hate it when Funimation tries to plant “hip” lingo in with the normal dialogue, but over-all the English voice-over is much more bearable and, at times, hilarious than the Japanese one.

(* Morenus Latinus)

Sasshi and Arumi3. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi

This one quite surprised me as well. I’m not gonna lie about the fact that in the old school dub battles of ADV Films vs. Funimation, Funimation would beat the snot out of ADV ten times out of eleven. To ADV’s credit, they tried to stay as faithful to the original dialogue of the series and seemed to intentionally avoid hefty rewriting of dialogue whenever lip-flaps didn’t necessitate it. Unfortunately, this had the inevitable effect of making ADV dubs’ dialogue sound and feel disjointed and awkward. Even at their best (Azumanga Daioh!) they would sort of lose the meaning and energy of the dialogue and you were left with the feeling like some things never clicked.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is an off-the-wall series about two kids stuck travelling to magical worlds while trying to find a way home. This crazy Gainax series parodies fantasy-RPGs, Mecha and Sci Fi anime, American films, Dating Sims and a number of other things. However, it’s held together by a strong plot and the adventures of Sasshi and Arumi were a real joy to watch. Then, I gave the English dub a chance and I was rather surprised by how much I loved it. Eventually I watched the series all the way through for the second time with the dub and I haven’t been able to watch it in Japanese since.

The reason I believe is that while I liked the story of the series, the original Japanese voices of Sasshi and Arumi were just too laid back and uninteresting to listen to. Now, ADV chose to follow the much maligned practice of giving the two Kansai-born children a distinct Southern drawl in the English version, but the more energetic performance by Jessica Boone and (surprise, surprise) Luci Christian made the pair much more relatable and interesting. I could really believe Sasshi’s inner struggles (especially once the plot takes a dark turn about half-way through the series) and the entire series was much better for it.

Ouran2. Ouran High School Host Club

I had a whole mountain of things going against me liking Ouran to begin with. However, once I got to grips with the main story and characters, and once the latent “homo-erotic” vibe of the series stopped bothering me, I actually found it to be a really funny and at times moving series about a girl stuck playing a boy to pay off her debt to the Host Club. The ridiculous comedy drew me in but it was the story that really made me love the series.

And then there’s the Funimation dub. Need I say more. The voice-talent of Caitlyn Glass, Luci Christian and Vic Mignogna just completely made this line-up of characters come to life in a new way (plus, Glass was also the ADR director). We also have a great performance from Greg Ayres and Monica Rial (as the bat-shit crazy Renge) as well as a two-episode cameo from Christopher Sabat (Dragon Ball Z). After hearing the characters in their English voices, I simply couldn’t be bothered to watch the show any other way.

The amazing voice-talent was only half of it though. One major problem with Ouran (and a lot of other modern anime) were all the insert text that were part of each episode. The fact that this text appears often while characters are talking, makes the screen quite a mess to perceive (and near impossible to read). Honestly, in any series where you’re expected to read any over-bearing layers of text is going to get the evil eye from me. If your choices are to A.) read a little bit of text while listening grade-A voice-acting and B.) stop the DVD for seconds at a time so you have time to read paragraphs of text and not miss the dialogue subtitles as a result – what sane person do you expect to pick anything other than A.

Baccano1. Baccano!

I’m going to say right off the bat that Baccano’s original voice-cast was definitely solid. The series isn’t bogged down by heavy usage of subtitles upon subtitles. In fact, Baccano was enjoyable to watch even if it decided to follow the Quintin Tarantino school of narrative and present everything out-of-order. It was still an enjoyable puzzle to piece together in my head and as a result became one of my favourite anime series ever made.

Here I think the Funimation dubs superiority is simply due to the subject matter and setting. Large chunks of the story takes place in the United States in the 1930s and as a result the dialogue feels much more genuine with characters having New York and other period appropriate accents. The voice-cast is also packed with talent (if you don’t believe me, just go listen to the dub) and, honestly, even the segments featuring non-English speaking characters feel a touch more real because of the English accented voice-overs.

Baccano! is a solid series and I’m not really saying that the Japanese voice-over is inferior. I’m simply saying that the English voice-over adds many more layers to it and, as a result, is more enjoyable for me to listen to. Either way, this a series I think any serious anime fans should watch, regardless of which voice-over you go with.