When you hear the words ‘English dub’, you might just want to cringe. Famously, they face a lot more criticism from their Japanese counterparts, known as ‘seiyuu’. But western audiences are also keen to slate western actors for portraying characters in what they see as an inaccurate or poorly acted way, not to mention the bad reputation they have for mispronouncing Japanese names. Despite all this bad rap, there are many actors and actresses who get their characters just right. And they prove that you shouldn’t look down on a show simply because it has been adapted into English – at least judge the individual actors and shows for their quality, not just based on some principle that all dubs must be awful.
Fruits Basket was a manga that touched the hearts of people all over America and the UK. It wasn’t as popular in Japan, but it was one of the biggest selling shoujo manga of all time in the West. While the anime hardly does it justice, it’s just fine, and the saving grace of the English dub is Laura Bailey. She plays the starring role of Tohru Honda, an orphaned girl who finds a home within a family full of people who can transform into members of the Chinese Zodiac. Bailey’s cute, girlish voice perfectly does Tohru’s vibrantly upbeat personality. Dub actors do tend to have a hard time getting the ‘moe’ or ‘kawaii’ vibe with their characters, but Bailey does Tohru in a stellar fashion. While the acting of other characters like Shigure and Momiji are also pretty good, Bailey’s portrayal of Tohru could steal the show for a lot of people. Fruits Basket does fall victim to the trap of pronouncing almost every Japanese given name incorrectly, however. It bothers us now as adults, but as children watching the show for the first time, it didn’t seem like an issue. Although this part of the show can grate on some people, I’d take it just to hear the amount of life the actors give their roles. Plus, how many times have we ever heard Japanese actors pronounce English names perfectly?
Laura Bailey has also had roles as Kid Trunks in Dragonball Z and her famous role of Lust in Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood. Voice actors in both parts of the world must be versatile, but sometimes they excel at one particular type of character. This is where Vic Mignogna comes into play. Best at playing melodramatic and/or young male characters, he is easily one of the most recognisable voices in the dub world. He doesn’t change his pitch for different characters much, but he adopts a unique tone and style for all of them. His most famous roles would be Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood, Tamaki Suoh in Ouran High School Host Club, and the Kiryuu twins in Vampire Knight. This leaning towards hunky young male characters has earned him a dedicated teenage girl following. One can hear his presence at a convention before one sees him – you need only know by walking past a panel or booth and hear the screams of excitement. Having been in dozens of shows and games, he’s a veteran of the industry and a very talented actor. Check out some shows starring this guy and you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Whilst there are a few specific actors who just seem to be on point every time, we can’t ignore the shows as a whole. Anime like Death Note, InuYasha, Trigun, and Black Cat have all been praised for the quality of their dubs. It’s a hard thing to get right – sometimes they simply can’t directly translate from the Japanese or get the same nuances in the words, sometimes the pronunciation is off, sometimes we think the acting is total crap. That’s fair enough. (It would be useful though to add that how can the bog standard Westerner accurately judge how good a Japanese voice actor is? Unless we ourselves are familiar with Japanese and its expressiveness and tones, assuming that English speaking actors are always worse isn’t a good way to go).
So don’t give up your hopes in English dubs or their actors. There really are some diamonds in the rough, and Bailey and Mignona are just two of them. Just give a few a try. It’s all down to personal preference.