Audio: English - Exploring the Gundam Dubs

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Audio: English
With the Audio:English series, PenguinTruth takes a critical look at the English
dubs which grace some of anime's most defining series in North America.

There isn't a group of animated programs that dominate the world of entertainment for me quite as much as the Gundam franchise. What started as a passing interest in Gundam Wing's hamfisted philosophical debates and cool mecha evolved into an obsession, much as man is meant to evolve into the Newtype. (Or maybe not. Don't even ask Yoshiyuki Tomino about that one. He doesn't know.) What are essentially elaborate (some more than others) robot toy commercials have so my anime fandom that I've forgotten what life was like before Gundam. Did I dream? Did I breathe? Now I have several DVDs of Gundam material and a mind filled with useless trivia. And I'm not even the biggest Gundam geek. I'll save that honor for the guys who can give you the exact specs of the engines of a Zaku II.

Maybe because I'm the breed who, perhaps foolishly, watch Gundam for the plot(s), for the characters and themes, the presentation of the English versions of these show are important to me. I want to be sure that the voice actors who portray these roles, many of them iconic anime characters, do at least some justice and show the proper respect for them. Whenever available, I've heard the English dub for every Gundam anime I've ever seen.

The quality varies.

To be fair, I don't have a big problem with Gundam dubs. Most of them are at the least, tolerable. There are some stinkers, to be sure, but even the worst Gundam dub isn't the worst English dub I've ever heard. Still, at some point it doesn't matter the degree of bad, a bad dub is bad, and you want to avoid it like a blazing inferno. Getting burned a little isn't as bad as getting burned a lot, but it's still getting burned, isn't it? So let's take a look at some of the English dubs of Gundam, past and present. There are quite a few.

Mobile Suit Gundam Movies I-III (Movie)

Year: 1999
ADR Production: Fidelity Studio
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Doug Stone
Principals: Michael Lindsay, Steven Blum, Lia Sargent, Wheat St. James,
Eddie Frierson
Grade: TERRIBLE
Comments:

I sure do love GUN-DAM, don't you? I wish I could pilot GUN-DAM. That is just one of the many annoying eccentricities of the English version of the trilogy of compilation movies for the first series. It doesn't help that most of the voices are poorly cast and even more poorly performed. It sounds a lot more like an English dub that was made in the time the show first came out. No, actually, some of those were better. While it may seem interesting to have Bright Noa speak with a British accent, it loses its novelty sometime during the first installment. The only real charm of this particular dub is Steven Blum as Char Aznable (oh, sorry... SHAA), but it's hard to believe that in the same year he performed as Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop he put out this awkward performance. With the bad voices and the script that takes too many liberties, this is a dub that's only good for a few chuckles, which pass quickly. Gundamnit.


Gundam 0080: A War In ThePocket
Year: 1999
ADR Production: Animaze
Recording Studio: Magnitude 8 Post
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Quint Lancaster
Principals: Brianne Siddall, David Hayter, Wendee Lee
Grade: GOOD
Comments:

Animaze is one of the best anime dubbing studios, and this was produced in the same year that their excellent Cowboy Bebop dub. While not nearly as good, their work on this short but sweet OVA about a little boy, a young man, and the tragedy of circumstances was quite good. Brianne Siddall's Al is appropriate, and handles the most delicate and poignant moments in the show decently. She's perhaps not nearly as cutely endearing as the Japanese voice actor is in the role, but hardly falters. David Hayter of Metal Gear Solid fame plays Bernie with a frankness to him. Wendee Lee fills in well for Megumi Hayashibara as Chris, sounding extremely breezy and soft. The script is accurate. My only concern is with the awful forced accents given to characters Garcia and Mischa and some of the wooden voice acting from extras.

Gundam 0083: StardustMemory
Year: 1999
ADR Production: Animaze
Recording Studio: Magnitude 8 Post
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Quint Lancaster
Principals: Paul Stephan, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Kirk Thornton, Richard Barnes
Grade: TOLERABLE
Comments:

Unfortunately, as good as Animaze is, their dub of this particularly weak OVA is equally weak. It's not terrible by any means, but a few of the characters are entirely ruined by terrible dub VA performances. It's no wonder Paul Stephan has had so few roles since playing main character Kou Uraki, because his "acting", if you can call it that, accentuates the worst qualities of an already hard-to-like character. Dorothy Elias-Fahn is a decent voice actress, but her Nina is unbearable, with her constant faltering in emotional moments. Kirk Thorton tries his best to bring color to Anaval Gato, though, and there are a lot of great performances from VAs doing secondary characters, usually the old men in the show. I like to think Animaze was too busy working on Cowboy Bebop to care about this show.


Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (TV), Endless Waltz (OVA)
Year: 2000
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Recording Studio: Westwood Studios
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Michelle Porter
Principals: Mark Hildreth, Scott McNeil, Brad Swaile, Ted Cole, Kirby
Morrow, Brian Drummond
Grade: TOLERABLE
Comments:

Some shows don't hold up as well as you might remember them. The same goes with English dubs. In both cases, there's Gundam Wing. The first Gundam series I've ever seen, and the first Gundam dub I've ever heard, was at the time of its airing, lauded as being one of the best for anime. Today, though, while it's still pretty good, it doesn't quite live up to today's standards. Scott McNeil's Duo Maxwell and Brad Swaile's Quatre Raberba Winner have staying power, and David Kaye's
Treize Khursherenada sounds as smooth and dignified as ever. However, Relena is almost intolerable to listen to. She sounds absolutely wooden. Some of the other performances, like Brian Drummond's Zechs Marquise has shown a little bit of awkwardness it didn't at the time. A lot of the minor characters have very strange-sounding, stilted voices and poor delivery. The script is pretty accurate most of the time, however, and I think that overall it's not a bad dub, but just not as good as I originally held it.


Mobile Suit Gundam (0079) (TV)
Year: 2001
ADR Production: Ocean Group
Recording Studio: Westwood Studios
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Amiel Gladstone
Principals: Brad Swaile, Michael Kopsa, Willow Johnson, Chris Kalhoon, Richard Ian Cox
Grade: GOOD
Comments:

This is honestly a pretty solid English dub. Brad Swaile gives Amuro that same irritatible, moody quality Tohru Furuya did in the Japanese version. Michael Kopsa is an excellent Char, with a lot of presence and an enigmatic charm, with plenty of command to his voice. Kalhoon is an appropriate Bright, sort of inexperienced-sounding, but also capable of sounding wise. Another favorite performance of mine is Richard Ian Cox as Kai Shiden, giving him just enough snark. My only complaint is that sometimes they sound a little over-the-top, as if they were trying to ham it up on purpose to suit the age of animation. Then again, most of the time, it works.


Gundam: 08th MS Team
Year: 2001
ADR Production: Animaze
Recording Studio: Magnitude 8 Post
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Director: Joe Romersa
Principals: Steve Staley, Emilie Brown, Michael McConnohie, Michelle Ruff
Grade: GOOD
Comments:

Another solid Animaze dub of a Gundam property, 08th MS Team's English-language track owes its quality to a lot of the support cast. Don't get me wrong. Steve Staley is decent as Shiro Amada, though he does tend to under perform in scenes that our hero needs to really belt out. It's just that Debbie Derosa, Steve Kramer, Lex Lang, and Michelle Ruff add so much more to the mix with all-around defining performances. Michael McConnohie takes complete command of a scene as Norris Packard. But he gets enough credit. I think the VA that really shines in this dub is the horribly underrated Michael Forest as the worn Commander Kojima, a long-suffering officer who ends up fed up with the corruption of his own commander. This dub is only occasionally flawed, usually in any scene with Emilie Brown's Aina, which proves a good voice for a character does not always guarantee a good performance. She's not always so bad, but when she is, watch out. Overall, though, this dub's worth a listen.


Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Year: 2002
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Recording Studio: Blue Water Studios
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Director: Jonathan Love, Teri Snelgrove
Principals: Mark Gatha, Jennifer Holder, Carol-Anne Day, David Pettitt
Grade: (BARELY) TOLERABLE
Comments:

G Gundam is a rare case of an English dub being "so bad its good". In one way, it's terrible. Performances are hampered by stilted, wooden deliveries from the majority of the cast. However, in some strange way, it often fits the bizarre, silly nature of the program. I personally can't recommend it overall, but it's not intolerable. Ben Jeffery puts in a solid performance as villain Prime Minister Wong and David Pettitt's Master Asia is respectable, if not as arresting as the Japanese voice. In fact, none of the really important performances seem to understand the often over-the-top passion necessary to highlight a role. Mark Gatha's Domon's voice cracks and Matt Embry sounds as robotic as the mobile fighter he pilots. Jennifer Holder is very unconvincing as Rain, too. Are the folks at Blue Water just mugging for the mics to fit the cheesiness of the show like Ocean proper in the Mobile Suit Gundam dub? I'd like to think so, but I suspect it's just the typical Blue Water failure parade. But as TVTropes puts it, your mileage may vary.


Mobile Suit Gundam F91
Year: 2004
ADR Production: Bang Zoom!
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
ADR Director: Tony Oliver
Principals: Steve Staley, Michelle Ruff, Barbara Goodson, Abe Lasser
Grade: TOLERABLE
Comments:

Gundam F91 has one of those English dubs where there are great voices for characters, but the performances don't always live up to their voices. A perfect example of this is Michelle Ruff's Cecily/Berah. A good voice, but her delivery is lacking, with her sounding a little wooden in some scenes. I'm not a fan of Steve Staley's Seabook Arno, because he seems incapable of making the character seem anything but angry. Where the show shines is in the older male characters, like Abe Lasser's Iron Mask, Mike Forest's Theo Fairchild, John Smallberries as Cosmo Eigesse, and Simon Isaacson's Meitzer Ronah. I'm also fond of James Lyon's Zabine Chareux, which is very distinct and powerful. So, overall, it's not a great dub, but it's not a bad one at all.


Mobile Suit Gundam Seed
Year: 2004
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Director: James Corrigall
Principals: Matt Hill, Sam Vincent, Trevor Devall, Lisa Ann Beley
Grade: TOLERABLE
Comments:

Gundam Seed is such an anemic, passionless entry into the Gundam franchise, it's sometimes difficult to tell whether the dub is good or not, because it's almost as though if they're doing their jobs right, they're being just as unenthusiastic and plain-sounding as the Japanese voices, and if they're not, they're bringing a character to life. Frankly, there isn't a lot to like in this particular dub, except for a few performances from supporting characters, like Trevor Devall's Mu La Flaga or Lisa Ann Beley's Murrue Ramius, who both do a competent job distinguishing themselves as the characters and add some real
personality to their lines. The same cannot be said for the weak performance put forth by Matt Hill as main character Kira Yamato, but given what he has to work with, who can really blame him? I can't.


Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny
Year: 2006
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Director: James Corrigall
Principals: Matthew Erickson, Matt Hill, Sam Vincent, Kirby Morrow
Grade: TOLERABLE
Comments:

Much as it pains me to say something positive about this catastrophe, the English dub for Destiny is okay, certainly nothing as bad as the show itself. My biggest problem with it is with Matthew Erickson's robotic Shinn Asuka and Matt
Hill's excessively whiny-sounding Kira Yamato. But, in a way, "whiny" is giving him a personality that he otherwise lacks. Sam Vincent continues to be competent, but not great, as Athrun Zala. Kirby Morrow sounds a little older than appropriate as Rey, but does an otherwise good job delivering. Lalainia Lindbjerg played Stella Loussier, and frankly I understand why she got little work outside of being Bulma in Dragon Ball Z. She was a decent Bulma, but her Stella was less than stellar.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam
Year: 2004
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Recording Studio: Blue Water Studios
Release Studio: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Director: James Corrigall, Teri Snelgrove
Principals: Jonathan Lachlan-Stewart, Tom Edwards, Dave Kelly, Matthew Erickson
Grade: TERRIBLE
Comments:

Oh Gundamn I despise this English dub. It doesn't even have the novel charm of the Gundam movie trilogy dub. It's just severely poorly acted from pretty much all angles. The thing is, some of the voices themselves aren't terrible, but the actual acting is so robotic, it hardly matters. I prefer the robots to be the mobile suits, not the characters. There is no
emotional dimension to any of the performances. The only somewhat servicable performances are Valerie Howell's Haman Karn and David Pettit's Henken Bekkener (and narrator). The script is decent, most of the time, but everybody sounds so wooden, this dub is like a joke. Somebody get the Blue Water Studios VAs some acting lessons, please.


Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Year: 2008
ADR Production: The Ocean Group
Recording Studio: Ocean Studios
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Director: James Corrigall
Principals: Brad Swaile, Alex Zahara, Sam Vincent, Richard Ian Cox, Scott McNeil
Grade: TERRIBLE
Comments:

The problem with Gundam 00's English dub isn't the lack of talented voice actors in the cast. It's the lack of good performances by them. Never have a cast of excellent voice talents disappointed me so much. Vets like Brad
Swaile and Scott McNeil turn in very passionless, even sleepy performances in their roles. Brad Swaile sounds like he couldn't give a damn about Setsuna F. Seiei. Paul Dobson's Sergei voice is awful. Most of the female characters sound the same. Just about the only actors that deliver are Alex Zahara as Lockon Stratos and Kirby Morrow's Billy Katagiri. What went wrong here? There was so much potential in this cast and its pretty much all wasted. I hope that when the movie is dubbed, they'll get their act together.


Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn
Year: 2010
ADR Production:  NYAV Post
Release Studios: Bandai Entertainment
Voice Direction: Marc Diraison, Michael Sinterniklaas
Principals: Steve Staley, Stephanie Sheh, Tara Platt, Rachael Lillis
Grade: GOOD (SO FAR)
Comments:

Gundam Unicorn 
might be the greatest English dub a Gundam anime has ever received. A great script and solid performances throughout the first two available episode leads me to be very optimistic about this show's English version. Part of my confidence in it comes from Michael Sinterniklaas (the voice of Dean Venture in The Venture Bros. as well as Angelo Sauper in this dub), who's direction is impeccable. This is one of the few dubs I've found Steve Staley impressing me and Stephanie Sheh puts forth a notable effort, too. I really like Rachael Lillis being cast as minor character Micott. However, the real stars are veteran VAs like Richard Ecpar as hard-as-nails ECOAs commander Daguza Mackle and idealistic Riddhe Marcenas, voiced by Yuri Lowenthal. Tara Platt and Michelle Ruff also put in great performances. Kevin Silverstein plays a properly bemused-sounding Full Frontal, going with a slightly different approach than Shuuichi Ikeda, but hitting many of
the same aspects of the character's personality. This is what all Gundam dubs should be like. I applaud NYAV for their work and look forward to more of it in the upcoming episodes.


With Turn A Gundam on its way to North America, one wonders if they'll bother to give it an English dub, or if they do, who it'll be dubbed by. There's a crap shoot. Ocean proper's lost its touch. Blue Water is horrible. Animaze tends not to dub Gundam TV shows. NYAV, perhaps? Of course, it's more likely Turn A will be a subtitle-only release. You can't expect them to waste money dubbing a show that will struggle to make a profit here, not with current environment of the R1 market.

Then what? Gundam ZZGundam X? Victory Gundam? Will any of these see American shores in time? And if they do, will they be dubbed? And by whom? It's interesting to speculate.

Gundam has a big place in my heart, an artery clogged with red meat that speeds me three times faster to death. Will I be a Newtype spirit, roaming space, looking for angsty teenagers to bother, having a pure time with my noble mind? Or am I destined to face the Devil... Gundam?

All I know is that I will see the tears of time.

- Penguin Truth
(2011)