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Audio: English - Good, Tolerable, and Terrible and the Tiers Game
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.
If you've ever been to 4chan, you know that they love tier charts. This is where they seperate things in categories of quality. Usually the top tier is "GOD TIER" and the lowest is "SHIT TIER", and I've done this myself, even here (my Gundam Tiers articles, for instance, which you can expect a follow up to sometime this or next year). However, unlike Anonymous at at 4chan, I'm actually capable and willing to explain and/or defend my choices as to what is truly "god" and what is "shit" in terms of the trival stuff I like.
But let's get a little serious for a moment. In my last article, I argued that a good English dub for a Japanese animated TV series/movie/OVA needs to have a well-written, accurate script, has to be well-performed by the voice actors and actresses, and needs to be well-directed. I also mentioned that an English dub that lacks one of those qualities might qualify for "tolerable", but not "good", or "great". But what does qualify? And what are the categories I seperate dubs into, in terms of quality? Are there ranks?
Yes, of course they are. A guy with as much free time on his hands as I do of course has different categories for this crap. It's called the "Good, Tolerable, and Terrible Tier List" of English dubs for anime.
First, we have the Grand Pantheon English dubs. These are the best of the best. In order to be in this category, in this tier, you have to have excellency in pretty much all categories. 90 percent of the cast has to perform to specs, has to have emotional dimension and be really natural in their roles, and the script has to be accurate and well-written. They have to be so good, that oftentimes I might prefer to watch them in English to their original language, because maybe their English track is better in some way. There aren't a whole lot of titles in this category: Cowbop Bebop (TV series/movie), The Big O (both seasons), Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (both seasons and Solid State Society), Hellsing, Hellsing Ultimate, FLCL, Death Note, Black Lagoon, and Baccano.
A common thread in that list is that some of them are Animaze dubs, done in Encino, California. Each of those Animaze dubs makes use of Steven Blum. Two of them are directed by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who also plays roles in those same two shows. Two of those shows in that list are Ocean dubs. Voice actor Brad Swaile plays the main character in both. Voice actor Brian Drummond plays a supporting role in both of those. Only one of those shows was dubbed in Texas, at Funimation's studios in Fort Worth. These are just a few amusing facts I wanted to point out.
The next tier down are the "good" dubs. Good Dubs are dubs that are enjoyable to listen to when I watch an anime, the ones that I have no big qualms with. However, they're not amazing. They don't blow me away. They're fairly well-written, but might take a few liberties with the script. They're decently casted and acted and most voice talents are doing well, but perhaps not fantastically. There might be some stand out performances, but not many. They're dubs like: Outlaw Star, Excel Saga, Mobile Suit Gundam: 08th MS Team, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Moribito, Darker than Black, and Monster. They're not among my favorite English dubs for anime, but I like them quite a bit. Given its overall quality thus far, I might even list Dragon Ball Kai's dub among their number.
A step down from that are the "tolerable dubs". Tolerable Dubs are the ones I can go either way on. In other words, I haven't really any passionate feeling on them. They're not bad by most means, but they're just not that wonderful, either. A few of them are overrated, dubs that are extremely popular, but I just can't get into. Some of them are dubs that were great at the time they first came out, but don't hold up as well anymore. These are the English dubs that, if I invited a friend over to watch anime, and they insisted on watching it in English, I'd be able to without wincing, but when I watched it myself, I generally didn't watch with the English track on. These dubs include: Fullmetal Alchemist, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, Tenchi Muyo, Gurren Lagann, Planetes, Comic Party, Vision of Escaflowne, and Vandread.
Then there are the awful ones. Terrible Dubs suck. I know I should break it up into "bad" and "worst ever", but at a certain point, you don't want to bother seperating the awful from the horrendously awful. Bad is bad. A bad dub is one that either has really awful, inaccurate scripts, or terrible voice acting, or usually both. Most of the time, a dub can get by as "tolerable" with one or the other (though not always), but terrible dubs exhibit some of the worst English dubs have to offer an anime. I don't want to hear/read any bitching about, "Well, okay, that one is bad, but that other one is a lot worse." Bad is bad. Here's a list of some terrible dubs: Dragon Ball Z, Bubblegum Crisis, Iria: The Zeiram Animation, Gantz, Sailor Moon, anything Macross ever, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (or really pretty much anything Blue Water dubs), Blue Seed, Giant Robo (both of the dubs), and Tokyo Babylon. These dubs make me sick. If I invited somebody over and they wanted to listen to any of these, I'd eject them from my home immediately (like anyone would come over to visit me, heh).
This works for voice actors, too. But in their case, it's like this: Top Tier VAs are the ones that really bring a character to life in a believable and natural fashion, Second Tier VAs are the good ones that nevertheless hardly ever blow me away, Mid Tier VAs are the ones that just feel like filler VAs that never really do much but be there, Low Tier are the ones that I prefer to avoid when I can and hate when I can't, and Cringeworthy VAs are the ones who pretty much always suck or I can't imagine not sucking, in the case that I haven't heard them in other roles except one that really sucked.
There is the possibility of up and downward mobility in these rankings.
But here's the fun part that you, the reader, can participate in. Are you curious as to what my particular feelings about a certain anime dub or voice talent is? Please comment, e-mail, tweet, whatever, contact me and ask, and I'll give you an answer to the best of my abilities. I don't really expect a lot of takers, but that's all right. You can go to my profile on BehindTheVoiceActors.com (penguintruth) and see some of my opinions and who I voted for in voice comparisons there (which you can expect more of here when I can stop being lazy).
Also look forward to more VA highlights. Of Japanese VAs. I might do some English dub VAs at some point, but I mostly do Japanese ones because I feel like the English VAs get more than enough attention.