Anime Review: English Dubs

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I review a lot of anime that have come out within the past few years; and because of such recentness, a lot of my views come from watching it in Japanese. While I do have a tendency to enjoy these in their original format (provided with English subtitles from legal streaming sites like Crunchyroll), I rarely have a chance to rewatch them when they come out in English.

I have, however, managed to buy DVD copies of some of the things I have reviewed on this blog. The three works I will feature come highly recommended by me and can be watched in Japanese (with English subtitles) on Crunchyroll, but their English dub equivalents are also available from Sentai Filmworks. This review will be comprised of the English dub formats for Kids on the Slope, Sunday Without God, and From the New World, respectively. Please continue to support these official releases.

Before I get into reviewing, allow me to explain my personal view on this matter. Many of my anime fan friends are fairly mixed on the subject. Some like me, prefer subs, but couldn’t care less either way. Others claim a dub is good depending on the series it represents. Others still insist that it has to be in Japanese, while others actually do, in fact, prefer it in English because they want to be able to pay attention to what’s going on without having to read text.

I have already reviewed the three subjects on this blog (see links above), so instead of explaining the actual story, I will be focusing on elements of the language quality. Keep in mind, my personal determination as to what’s good and not good depends more on listening to language nuances and how each series might be viewed to an Anglophone audience that may or may not watch anime to begin with. Most non-Japanese-speaking people are introduced to anime in a dubbed form first, and so I’ll attempt to judge these in such a manner.

Kids on the Slope

kids-on-the-slopeI adore this series; it is one of my favorite anime series of all time. However, I unfortunately cannot say the same thing about its dub. I was hoping that a series that is considered a period piece of the 1960s with an American influence from Jazz can do a good job with its English dub. Then again, maybe I just had way too many expectations.

My biggest problem with it is that the dubbing used too much of the literal translation. I understand a lot of fans would prefer that the script doesn’t change at all between the Japanese and English translations to best fit the idea that we are watching a Japanese series, not an English one (as well as, I suppose, making sure voices match the animation). I personally, however, found it quite annoying that the English dub maintained Japanese honorifics like “Kaoru-san” or “Kawabuchi-kun.” The English language doesn’t have very good equivalents for those, and should not have been added to the dub because it would just confuse audiences even more.

Furthermore, I’m not sure how I feel about how the translation was handled for the bar scene when the characters meet a drunk American sailor who speaks English, even in the original format (Jeff Manning has provided his voice for several Japanese animations in a similar fashion). The sailor’s voice remained the same, while the rest of the characters tried to figure out what this guy was saying in English, in English. I mean, I get that we’re watching something translated from Japanese, but they could’ve hid that nuance a little better. It also didn’t help that the preview for the episode after that one includes a moment where the sailor says things in English, to which another character asks him if he even speaks Japanese, again, in English. Well, that was awkward.

So of the three dubs represented here, this one was the worst to my ears. Watch it in English if you want a good laugh.

Sunday Without God

sunday-without-godThis is another great series that was my personal choice for Anime of the Year in 2013. The dub just recently came out, and after watching all 13 episodes (yes, including the OVA), I can say, this was quite an improvement from Kids on the Slope. As crazy as it sounds, I actually liked Ai Astin’s English voice actor (Caitlynn French) better than the original Japanese (Aki Toyosaki). That’s probably blasphemous for me to say, but somehow her voice seems to feel more natural and calming in English than it does in the cutesy Japanese way. I’m also glad they made the distinction that Ai’s second father figure is Yuri, not Julie as it is spelled, because he is more likely Russian by descent than French, with a name like Dmitriyevich.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was the handling of a crucial line that speaks on behalf of the series theme as a whole, which is Hampnie Hambart’s line about the one thing that will save you in this world. The English subtitles say that the phrase is “I want to live,” as opposed to saying “I don’t want to die.” Knowing the difference between those two phrases, for me, speaks volumes of what is implied between positive and negative contexts of the same logical phrase. In the dub, “I don’t want to die” remained the same, but the second clause was changed to “wanting to live.” Maybe I’m just nit-picky, but that changes the context of what is implied in this instance, as well as the subject. By removing the key word “I,” the personal subject is removed and feels more generic when it is applied to the idea of living.

One other thing that I have noticed that was different was how they handled the ending to episode 3, where Ai bawls in tears as she buries her beloved father (err… SPOILERS). In the original Japanese, Ai is practically screaming at the top of her lungs out of grief, emphasizing just how painful her experience is. In the English, they chose to leave that part silent, only to be drowned by the music of the beautiful closing theme song. While I think that hearing Ai crying in this scene is quite effective, I believe that just watching her without the sound can be just as powerful.

So good job, Sunday Without God. Over all, I can recommend the series both in Japanese and in English.

From the New World

Shin Sekai Yori: ReviewOf the three series here (again, all highly recommended), this one to me is the most “Japanese” in terms of its themes and execution. Of the three, moreover, I will also say that this series carries extremely well in its English dub. It’s pretty hard to find something that can bring the level of nuances from something distinctly Japanese to the Anglophone world, considering the criticisms that so many other titles get for missing a lot of these nuances.

I do enjoy the language quality for this series’ English dub. I don’t always expect much from English speakers in trying to pronounce Japanese names (people butchering my real surname are the worst), but they at least made an effort to make it as correct as possible. The series also ensured that “foreign” names were directly translated into English equivalents, and not “Engrish” equivalents. They knew the character’s name is “Squealer” and not “Skueara” or something (yeah, that’s an exaggeration, but it happens in English dubs more often than you think).

The language of this series, otherwise, is very technical; but that would be the case for the Japanese dubbing as well. And over all, the series themes can be understood clearly in English as they would be in Japanese. I suppose I can be grateful that a series like this utopian narrative is timelessly influential, so breaking the cultural barrier was probably not so hard. But whatever; I like it.

So if you have a chance, check out Kids on the Slope, Sunday Without God, and From the New World, if you haven’t already. And if watching things in Japanese is not your thing, do try them in English, too!

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3 thoughts on “Anime Review: English Dubs

  1. Kids on the Slope seems to be a thing where they wanted to stick to the literal nuances so as not to anger the early viewers of the series but in this case when a character is an American and they have to work in the confines of the English language itself. It just doesn’t work. They would have worked better with it if they gave him another elusive language to the American sailor.

    Funny. I critiqued, Sunday Without A God, on my blog sometime as it premiered and while I thought it was excellently executed visually. The problem I found with it was it did not reveal enough to viewers, so it made someone lose interest in the storyline. Not enough little pieces are revealed to keep us rooted in the story. But that is just my two cents. But I am glad to hear it was a series that garnered attention. This is not the first time have hear good things about this series.

    Glad to see you back, on the blog, again. I will be sharing a Best of 2014 Anime List on my own blog on January 6, 2015. So do stop by.

    Before then you can see my list of anime that wish could get licensed by North American anime publishers. Surprisingly, Sentai Filmworks, licensed Unlimited Psychic Squad already. I look forward to that.

    • I try to post things often, but frankly my blog is secondary, if only for hobbies. I’d rather have deeper conversations about these things with people I know personally in a more closed space. I treat blogging more as therapeutic than for critiques.

      I also don’t respond well to most fans, as I have had terrible experiences trying to discuss things with folks in the past that got nowhere. Using superlative language like “best” or “must watch” is a turn-off for me because I find that the populace like things for reasons I can’t agree with, despite their inaccurate assumptions that their choices are absolute or straightforward. I’m sure you don’t mean that (at least I hope you don’t), but a lot of folks on the Internet are not aware of language sensitivity. I’d prefer reviews that use neutral language or language of preference, using their reasoning to explain the biases they have. That, to me, seems more intuitive than the fandom I often witness.

      • I know it tends to happen a lot. That is why usually try to give details that suggest something is my opinion and perspective may vary with others on stuff that blog about on my blog.

        As for critiquing it hold the the value of being a thing with both negative and positive connotations for me.

        Usually trust me I think we share similar blogging approaches partly. I also blog as an almost therapeutic way. Although I think at the end of the day just over my big passion for anime and manga.

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