The fierce battle between the subs and the dubs has been going on for decades, and frankly, it’s one worth exploring. Like South Korean movie Parasite (2019)’s director, Bong Joon-ho once said, “Once you overcome the two-inch barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many more great movies,” the same assumption holds true for anime.
Hardcore fans would argue that anime with English subtitles would always be superior to English dubbing due to the Japanese voice acting showing greater veracity of the characters. Nevertheless, there are quite a few anime series that have arguably memorable English dubbings that may even surpass their original Japanese version.
‘Cowboy Bebop’ (1998)
Hailed as the paradigm for English dubs, the neo-noir sci-fi adventure series has offered audiences not only a mixture of genres and music, but also a series of remarkable voice acting performances from the majority of the cast members. Today, not many people can imagine the space cowboy Spike Spiegel without thinking about it Steve Blum‘s signature deep raspy voice.
It takes place in the year 2071, when humanity is no longer confined to habitation on Earth, Cowboy Bebop (1998) witness the life of a bounty hunter squad as they pursue criminals for tempting rewards, while instinctively seeking ways to break free from their respective pasts.
‘Space Dandy’ (2014)
Another great anime where people explore the infinite realms of the solar system. Space Dandy (2014) can be described as a space opera in which the audience follows the protagonist, a forgetful and pompous alien bounty hunter named Dandy, as he becomes entangled in a series of romantic, adventurous and comedic circumstances while encountering rare aliens.
While the English sub offers a handful of relatively mature jokes, Space Dandy‘s English dubbing proves to be superior in terms of how well the personalities of its English voice actors matched the heightened chaotic level portrayed in the series. For audiences unfamiliar with the Japanese language, the decorative images can also be quite taxing to be a sight to behold when you’re busy following the subtitles.
‘Black Butler’ (2008-2017)
While the supernatural mystery series is set in 19th-century Victorian-era England, black butler (2008-2017) is one of those rare instances where both anime sub and dub each have unique selling points. The English dubbed version with a heterogeneity of English accents can be quite an immersive experience for viewers.
Motivated by revenge against those who murdered his parents, black butler follows a young Earl, Ciel Phantomhive, as he enters into a contract with a devil named Sebastian Michaelis, who disguises himself as the Earl’s butler. Together, unsurprisingly, they are a perfect match when it comes to solving one mystery after another.
Baccano! (2007) is a supernatural crime series in which things are complicated by the different stories that come together with multiple intertwined plots, the Pulp Fiction (1994) from anime.
Revolving around groups of humans made up of thieves, alchemists, innocents and the mafia, their seemingly disconnected paths begin to cross due to the invention of an elixir of immortality. The strong English dubbing by the voice actors is enhanced by the incorporation of authentic New York accents, giving an American feel that better suits the fictional setting of the series during the Prohibition era.
‘Ghost Stories’ (2000-2001)
Like Cowboy Bebop, ghost stories (2000-2001) is an example of great English dubbing of anime, but for reasons you might not expect.
Following a group of friends dealing with all sorts of supernatural happenings in their neighborhood, the original Japanese version takes on a more traditional take on the horror subject matter. Rather, based on the fact that the core story and characters’ names remain intact, the English dub has become a legendary edit that is ridiculously bombarded with ad-libs, wall-breaking and politically incorrect jokes that get no attention. giving to the taboos of religion and the LGBTQ+ community.
Centered around a teenager who discovers a mysterious book that gives him the power to kill anyone whose name is written in it, Obituary (2006-2007) is an excellent psychological mystery anime that defined the 2000s. Fans are always eager to watch the moral showdown between the astute antihero Light Yagami and the eccentric sweet detective L.
There are significant changes when it comes to the sub and dub versions. For example, while Light sounds more cool-headed and composed in the Japanese rendition, the English voice actor allows the vigilante to be more emotional and make his psychotic modes quite an entertaining watch. Nevertheless, each interpretation is excellent in style and both deserve a viewing for different experiences.
‘Black Lagoon’ (2006-2011)
Based on Rei Hiroe‘s manga of the same title and produced by Studio MadhouseThis action-adventure anime is a must-see for fans of tough female characters, torrents of gunfights and bloodshed, as well as the signature 80s action flick of sardonic humor.
It takes place in the fictional town of Roanapour, where notorious criminals around the world gather to conduct illegal transactions or hide from the judicial authorities. black lagoon (2006-2011) feels more naturalistic compared to its Japanese counterpart due to the different nationalities highlighted in the series. For example, Americans, Hispanics and Southeast Asians just to name a few.
Series ‘Hetalia’ (2009-2021)
Speaking of different nationalities, Hetalia (2009-2021) is another example showing how dubbing in different languages can change the opening tone of the series, sometimes for the better.
In addition to providing lesser-known trivia, Hetalia is best known for using satire and light-hearted comedy when representing various countries and historical events. Taking advantage of the immediate comedic impact of different accents familiar to most audiences, the English dubbing of the series goes a step further with its satirical and ironic spirit, while the Japanese dubbing makes you focus more on the original jokes that are written by the webcomic artist Hidekaz Himaruya.
‘Samurai Champloo’ (2004)
Samurai Champloo (2004) is set in a historical Edo period in Japan where samurai, hip-hop and baseball coexist. So it’s not surprising that the English voice acting rendition doesn’t alienate, but further enhances the polymorphism of the anime’s storyline and establishes itself as one of the must-watch English-language anime.
The return of seeing Steve Blum as the young, abrasive and arrogant outlaw Mugen, the English voice acting for the rest of the main cast, the calm ronin Jin and the jovial middlewoman Fuu, are also exceptionally played by Kirk Thornton and Kari Wahlgren in this action-adventure anime series that explores themes such as the acceptance of death and finding one’s individuality.
‘Afro samurai’ (2007)
Written and illustrated by manga artist Takashi Okazaki, Afro Samurai (2007) follows the titular character, voiced by none other than the formidable Hollywood veteran Samuel L.Jacksonon his way to avenge his father who was killed by a sniper named Justice.
Never spoken in Japanese and in possession of a musical soundtrack scored by RZA from the famous hip-hop artist group Wu Tang clan, Afro Samurai is gritty, tough and clearly inspired by American pop culture, which explains the insurmountable level of violence, badassery and fun that one takes from the action-adventure samurai epic
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