Audio: English: Rocking The Dragon (Dragon Ball Z Dubs) (It's An Article, Fucking Read It!)

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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.

Dragon Ball Z. I'd like to think that most of us anime fans have seen at least some of it. It certainly is fantastically popular, all over the world. Even in my budding anime fandom, DBZ may not have been my favorite per se, but it was probably the mark by which all other animated programs at the time were measured. "Is this better or worse than DBZ?" I would ask myself. And even today I consider its influence on my fandom and life in general as being somewhat significant, for better or worse.

In all likelihood, as somebody who has viewed DBZ, you've probably viewed the series with an English voice track at least once or twice. Hell, it could be that you've only watched it in English, as I know this is the case for some folks. Perhaps you've even heard several versions of it in English. I know I have. And, being the discerning individual you are, you likely have a favorite way of viewing it and hearing it. In other words, you likely have a favorite voice track.

In 1996, before it was a twinkle in Cartoon Network's eye, Dragon Ball Z began airing on Fox television stations in the United States. A year later, it moved to the The WB, where it first aired it's "second season". The version aired on these channels was dubbed by the Canadian Ocean Studios and edited by it's licensor, Funimation, on insistence of the distributor, Saban. Cartoon Network eventually grabbed it and aired it during its afternoon cartoon block known as Toonami. There it garnered mass popularity in the American market.

Funimation now dubbed the program with its in-house studio in Fort Worth, Texas, replacing the Canadian voices with more local ones. While the aired versions were still censored for violence and other elements, the censorship was somewhat slackened. Still, fans cried out for a completely uncut version, and were granted them in VHS tapes and DVDs labeled "uncut". And of course, the DVDs were bilingual, including the Japanese track and original score on them, where previously there had only been the arranged score of Funimation's producing. And of course, there was a subtitle option.

Later, Funimation decided to go back and re-dub the episodes of the first "season" and release them in "Ultimate Uncut" editions. A version of this dub was aired on Cartoon Network. In this version, the performance of the original Ocean cast was replaced with a new in-house Funimation dub for those episodes, but with the original Japanese music score. This version was completely uncut and unedited, but the line of DVDs were soon canceled in favor of the faux-remastered season boxsets Funimation later released.

In fact, the last time DBZ was aired on American television was the Cartoon Network airing of the "Ultimate Uncut Edition" dub.
However, Ocean Group continued to be the English cast for the dub supplied to the United Kingdom. Certain voices were replaced as time moved on, but Ocean dubbed right until the end of the series. It's unclear, at least to me, if they also supplied the voices for the characters in movie releases.

There also appear to be at least two oddities, two interesting English dubs that have gone unnoticed. One, a completely English dub of the fifth and sixth movies done for the Philippines by a company called Creative Products Corp. Another is a strange dub done for movies 2-4, from what I've read (but only in YouTube rumors), by a French company, the AB Groupe, for airing in the U.K.

The following is opinion. My opinion. My glorious, perfect, infallible opinion, of the best, and worst of DBZ voice tracks. Included are the original Japanese and several English dubs.

(ORIGINAL) JAPANESE DUB
Place of Origin: Japan
Principals: Masako Nozawa, Toshio Furukawa, Ryo Horikawa, Mayumi Tanaka
Voice Quality: Excellent
Censorship/Edits: None
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Grade: A
Comments:

The definitve Dragon Ball Z. Masako Nozawa's energetic Goku, Gohan, and Goten, is the backbone of the strong Japanese cast. She is supported by veteran VAs like Toshio Furukawa, Tohru Furuya, and Ryo Horikawa, among others. Fans used to the English version may complain that Nozawa's voice makes Goku sound "girly", but it has all the nuances of the character's personality, and thus fits him perfectly. Also of note is Ryūsei Nakao's Freeza and Norio Wakamoto's Cell.

OCEAN DUB (TV)
Place of Origin: Canada
Principals: Ian Corlett, Peter Kelamis, Kirby Morrow, Scott McNeil, Saffron Henderson, Brad Swaile, Brian Drummond, Terry Klassen
Voice Quality: Decent
Censorship/Edits: Severe
Music: Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi
Grade: C
Comments:

The Ocean dub is the one I grew up with, but it it's flawed. The main cast is fairly strong, especially when Kelamis replaced Corlett as Goku in the second season, but some of the supporting cast felt a little weak. Not to mention there were tons of censorship issues. The original Ocean television dub still has me scratching my head, but their foray into the later material was an improvement on most fronts.

PIONEER/OCEAN DUB (MOVIES 1-3)
Place of Origin: Canada
Principals: Peter Kelamis, Scott McNeil, Saffron Henderson, Terry Klassen
Voice Quality: Good
Censorship/Edits: None
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Grade: B+
Comments:

What do you get when you combine many of the best voices of the Ocean dub with the original television score by Shunusuke Kikuchi? You get the best Dragon Ball Z dub to date, the dub of the first three movies. If only they could have continued to dub the movies, even if they couldn't do the television series for the U.S. That would have been heaven. The Pioneer DVDs for these movies are the only DBZ DVDs that I have in my collection (though that might change with the Dragon Box).

FUNIMATION DUB
Place of Origin: United States
Principals: Sean Schemmel, Chris Sabat, Stephanie Nadolny, Kyle Herbert, Sonny Strait
Voice Quality: Poor
Censorship/Edits: Few (TV), None (Unedited DVDs, Ultimate Uncut TV air)
Music: Bruce Faulconer
Grade: C/D+
Comments:

When "season 3" of the Funimation-produced dub premiered on Cartoon Network, I was estatic to have a less edited version of DBZ, but appalled by some of the voice choices. For one, Chris Sabat voiced a good number of characters (and most of them poorly, and sounding alike). Another thing was Sean Schemmel's "Ian Corlett Goku" impression, making his character sound unnatural and forced. And these were some of the better voices in the Funimation dub. The voices of other characters were far more dreadful. Bruce Faulconer's music could hardly be considered that much an improvement from the music that had been previously produced, and even worse, in the movies and specials, they replaced the music with pathetic rock band songs that were inappropriate for those features. I will, however, give them credit for the redub of the older seasons. They weren't as good as the Ocean cast, but they at least didn't censor, and there were even a few good recastings (Justin Cook as Raditz, for instance). Still, sort of a disappointment overall, as a dub.

CREATIVE PRODUCTS CORP. DUB (Movies 5-6)
Place of Origin: Philippines
Principals: Nesty Ramirez, Apollo Abraham (Kurin), Ethel Lizano, Mitch Frankenberger, E.J. Galang, R.J. Celdran, Mano Abello, David Soon, Bob Karry, Hazel Lizano
Voice Quality: Awful
Censorship/Edits: None
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Grade: D
Comments:

A curious production produced by a Filipino outfit, this dub, also known as the "Age of Wonder dub" for the group that participated in the songs for it, is a very rare item now. I bought a VHS copy of movie 5 with this dub, so I can really only comment on that one, but from what I've experienced, it's probably a good thing there isn't a lot of copies of this lying around. It's pretty dreadful, with stiff, wooden acting and ponderous voices. Sometimes the voices even making it near impossible to hear what is being said. The only decent casting, in my opinion, was whoever did the voice for Coola, who did a fine job, though perhaps a little too booming for his own good at times. I've listed the VAs in the credits, but they never gave out who they played. I can only assume the Apollo Abraham listed in the credits, the one who played Kuririn in the Tagalog dub of the series, was the same character here. At least the original musical score was used.

AB GROUPE (Movies 2-4)

(Supposed) Place of Origin: France
Principals: ???
Voice Quality: Awful
Censorship/Edits: None
Music: Shunsuke Kikuchi
Grade: F
Comments:

A real travesty, this particular dub does surprisingly have one or two decent voices, but the performances were utterly lacking in conviction, and the production was poor. I found it pretty amusing that they got the same VA to do both Goku and Turles, though, considering that's the way it was in the original Japanese version, too. It's too bad the voice of Goku in this dub is so terribly off base for the character.

Dragon Ball Z English dubs are a tricky thing. Ocean's television dub was too censored, even denying the obvious on screen, like death or Hell, and censoring blows themselves during battles. However, their central cast was fairly solid. The Funimation dub, however, while uncensored on DVD release, had a lot of casting issues and uneven performances. Not to mention, the mixed bag of the Faulconer soundtrack, half the time sounding like Mega Man music. (Ironically, the Ocean dub for the later arcs aired in the U.K. literally used the music for the Mega Man cartoon.)

One thing is pretty clear, though, and that's that whether Ocean or Funimation's in-house studio, both were far superior to the bizarre, often disturbingly bad English dubs from other studios, like Creative Products Corp or AB Groupe. These two dubs had poor casting and awful, wooden acting. The only thing they really had going for them was that they used the original score provided from the Japanese version.
I won't fault Funimation for redubbing over the old seasons of the program. Despite my love for the Ocean cast, a lot of that needed redoing. Episodes were skipped, scenes truncated, and a host of other edits and issues plagued those seasons. In fact, when the "Ultimate Uncut" version aired on Cartoon Network a few years ago, I was estatic. If only they had continued airing the re-dub, with the original music, I may have really grown to like it.

But let's face it, between Ocean and Funimation, some characters never got good voices. Tenshinhan, Yamcha, Yajirobe, Freeza, and Cell, none of them recieved the least bit of effort in casting or performing in the dubs for either versions. The same goes for countless others. In fact I base most of my opinions here off of the performances by the VAs for Goku, Gohan, Kuririn, Piccolo, and Vegeta. Sure, one or the other cast may have had a slightly better voice for one character over another, but when both pale in comparison with the Japanese original, it's not even worth caring.

The perfect Dragon Ball Z version is still the original Japanese. Not a single voice seems off, not a single piece of music used inappropriately, every scene played to its fullest (perhaps some overindulgent and drawn out, but that's the nature of the beast). The closest to perfection a DBZ dub ever came was the Pioneer release of the first three movies. And as good as Peter Kelamis is, he's still no Masako Nozawa.

- Penguin Truth
(2009)

ADDENDUM:

Upon further investigation and thought on the matter of Dragon Ball Z dubs, I have come to some new conclusions on the matter, at least as far as differing degrees on my previous conclusions.

When listening to an English dub of an anime, the quality of voices and voice acting are both very important factors in the enjoyment of that dub. On the other hand, if the script is so significantly different than the intended, the television series, or movie, will become something entirely different, and that's the case for both the Ocean cast and Funimation cast versions of DBZ.

In other words, both the "Ocean dub" (perhaps incorrectly referred to as, since Funimation produced this dub, too) and the "Funimation dub" (the one that used the in-house cast) are equally terrible in that they constantly change character motivations, plot points, and situations simply through their terrible scripting. To say that one is preferable to the other is much like saying a punch to the face is preferable to a kick to the groin.

I've been basing my preference for one over the other on my personal preference for a set of voice actors, but the difference is only marginal. Peter Kelamis is only marginally better than Sean Schemmel, when you think about it. Neither are great, both fail to really capture what Goku is about. I think Kelamis tends to have more of an upbeat, cheery quality which captures Goku slightly better than Schemmel's more gravelly, superhero-ish Ian Corlett impression. But neither can even compare to Masako Nozawa.

When you consider that the Creative Products Corp dub actually maintains what the fifth DBZ movie is without much alteration of the script or intentions of the characters, and weigh that against the other two dubs, which dub is really worse? And not to mention, neither the Ocean cast dub nor the Funimation cast dub had the Kikuchi score, but the Creative Product Corp dub did. In some ways, that makes it the superior dub, despite its wooden acting.

I still maintain that DBZ dubs are a tricky thing. However, I would now suggest that never has a great DBZ English dub been produced. The closest we came was the dubs for the first three movies.

- Penguin Truth
(9/30/09)