5 Truly Inspired English Anime Dubs

sailor moon usagi
There’s no question that there are some god-awful English anime dubs out there. It’s probably a fair assumption that most English-speaking anime fans have had their ears bleed at some point or other – the 90s and early 2000s in particular had a slew of especially bad dubs, from the oft-mentioned Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors to pretty much anything ever produced by 4Kids Entertainment.

But hey, anime dubbing has come a long way since then – and while the whole sub vs. dub debate is no doubt still raging somewhere out there as we speak, this post isn’t concerned with which is inherently better or worse (mostly because personally, I don’t really care). Instead, I want to take the time to name a few anime English dubs that I believe are worthy of mention because of how genuinely excellent they are, from their scripting and general direction to the casting/acting. This is of course far from an exhaustive list, but here are the top anime TV shows that I believe to be truly exceptional in dub form, and the reasons why I’ve found them so memorable.

Space Dandy

I’ll just go ahead and skip Cowboy Bebop. It’s a fantastic dub, we all already know this. Watanabe Shinichirou’s works have all been gifted with extremely solid English dubs though, and whether you loved or hated last year’s Space Dandy, it can’t be denied that this too has some phenomenal dubbing work. The series actually premiered in the U.S before it did in Japan, so for most Western viewers, the dub was available before the subbed version. Given that, it would be strange if it wasn’t a stellar English performance – and stellar it is, especially in regards to Dandy’s easygoing, idiotic character (Ian Sinclair) and the often equally as lackadaisical Meow (Joel McDonald). The whole cast turns in a beautiful performance, however, and the pun-filled narration (courtesy of R Bruce Elliott) is cleverly translated and delivered to perfection.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou’s cast does some very admirable work overall (special mention to the strong-willed Eugénie, as voiced by Michelle Ruff), but I simply can’t get past the man of the hour himself. If you’re unable to put a name to the voice right away, that’s understandable; Jamieson Price has done a long list of anime dubbing work, but generally not as a main character and sometimes making brief appearances only in one or two episodes. For the life of me I cannot think why, because his role here as The Count is just that spot on. Even more so than in the Japanese version, The Count’s incredibly rich and smooth baritone practically oozes the kind of mysterious glamour that so captivates many of Gankutsuou’s other characters, and I honestly can’t think of another anime male lead that’s been better cast. Seriously, go watch it – your ears will thank you.

Hetalia: Axis Powers

The first time I watched Hetalia, I got bored and dropped it after a couple of episodes. But the second time around, purely by coincidence, I found myself listening to the dub, and suddenly all was right with the world. (Literally.) Because those accents. Oh god those accents. And that narrator. That snarky, sarcastic narrator. I’m not sure how these guys even got through most of their lines, because this is some comedy gold right here. The timing is a beautiful thing in and of itself, as is much of the script, but the accents of each country are just so incredibly stereotypical and purposefully overdone that the voice acting as a whole is basically a work of art. You can tell that a whole lot of love and joy went into this dub – particularly in the case of Germany (Patrick Seitz) and France (J. Michael Tatum)… though if I absolutely had to choose who came out on top, I’d probably go with France. What can I say – that laugh is so good it’s almost scary.

Eureka Seven

eureka 7 moondoggie
“So how do I dial this in? When everybody was hootin’ for ya today and you full-on charged the go-out and totally flared! It just felt like I’d been frigged, you know, snaked. It was just massive bleak. So, for today, anyway, I’m cashed, bro.”
– Moondoggie, Episode 7

My reasons for Eureka Seven making this list are twofold. First: Crispin Freeman. I shouldn’t have to explain further – the man is clearly a god come down to earth in voice actor form. Secondly (and though I hate to admit it, possibly more importantly), the scripting is the epitome of a translating job well done. Given the anime’s social and cultural themes, the faux-surfer slang is totally on point – none more so than with the character of Moondoggie (voiced by Steve Staley). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a handy clip of this, but with a tendency to speak in a very strong Kumamoto accent whenever he gets especially worked up in the Japanese version (to the point where people have a seriously hard time understanding what he’s saying), the dub switches this to Moondoggie using progressively more and more surfer lingo instead – and with flawless results.

Black Lagoon

I’d expect a solid English dub when the bulk of the action takes place in various non-Japanese settings – especially when the series itself was directly inspired by and pays homage to the likes of the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino – but Black Lagoon takes it to the next level. With a ton of gritty violence, and enough bad language to make Kick-Ass’s Hit-Girl seem mild-mannered and lady-like, Black Lagoon is a very… shall we say, spirited piece of work. The English dub dials it up even further by giving everyone so much damn attitude that I’d be as much engrossed as I would be afraid for my life (and my sanity) were I ever to come across any of the characters in real life. It’s Revy, voiced by Maryke Hendrikse, who really brings it home in the cussing department though. Such a foul-mouthed character I’ve never seen in all my years of anime watching – and it suits the naturally stubborn, impatient, overly competitive, and angry-as-hell Revy to a tee.

And now, a few honourable mentions:

Wolf’s Rain. It’s like a bunch of the very best voice actors in the business decided to get together solely for the purpose of making an awesome anime even more awesome. Bonus points for Steven Blum as Darcia, who turns in one of the best angsty screams of all time (and quite possibly broke his vocal chords doing so).
Eden of the East. Probably Jason Liebrecht’s best anime male lead performance to date, and some of those lines are just fabulous. “I just get the feeling that you’ve never had true love from a johnny.”
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Mary Elizabeth McGlynn does a fantastic job as the coolly competent Kusanagi, and the Tachikoma voice actors hit it right out of the ballpark. All nine of them (because yes, they’re each voiced by a different person).
Crayon Shin-chan. The jokes in this weird, dirty, yet strangely charming show are given such great translations that I can’t not give it a special mention, even if the voices are pretty dopey. (That said, they’re pretty dopey in the Japanese-language version too.)

Question of the post: What have been some of the very best anime English dubs you’ve listened to and why?

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40 thoughts on “5 Truly Inspired English Anime Dubs

  1. I actually really like the dub of Mononoke: Gaiman’s screenplay manages to not stray too far from the Japanese while taking some of the more prosaic Japanese terms (e.g. Tataraba, shishigami) and sufficiently elevate them for what would read as high fantasy in English. I also like Billy Crudup as Ashitaka far more than Matsuda, Billy Bob Thornton too, although why they change Jiko to Jigo is beyond me. The Japanese voice actors tend to play them to type (your typical shonen and oyaji), where their English counterparts manage to pull off a greater emotional range. The one sore spot is Claire Danes as San, who in the Japanese is more aggressive and exasperated, whereas in the dub she just comes off as whiney. “I hate the humans!” grrrooooooaaannnn…

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    • That’s interesting – I’ve only ever watched Mononoke in Japanese, so I might have to go compare it at some point with the dub. I do really enjoy it when dubs don’t try to simply copy their Japanese counterparts as best as they can and instead make a concentrated effort to put their own spin on things.

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    • I’ve been told about that, and I have absolutely no doubt of it, though I haven’t yet watched the Baccano! dub myself. As anime in general goes, I much prefer Durarara to Baccano, and the Durarara dub felt mostly average to me. I can definitely see how Baccano would have a much greater chance to shine in the dub area.

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  2. Wow, I remember being young enough not to be bothered by the Cardcaptors dub… (and Yu-Gi-Oh! always felt charmingly bad)
    Have to disagree on Hetalia – I tried watching the dub after going through subbed and it felt cringe-inducing. Yes, it’s already obviously stereotyped, but the accents sent that over the top from amusing to awkward. Though I suspect, as this has happened with other works too, that it’s partially a personal sore spot coming from being an immigrant (and still being young enough to sometimes get the “Hey, can you say something in Russian / Do a Russian accent?” jokes).

    The stand-out dub for me is Howl’s Moving Castle – Christian Bale blending into the thoroughly impressive yet spoiled Howl, Billy Crystal nailing Calcifer’s wise-guy comic antics, and the rest of the cast putting in solid performances.

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    • I was young enough when Cardcaptors came out (or perhaps just anime deprived enough) that I didn’t really care what I was watching, so long as it was anime. That said, I was left in absolutely no doubt of its awfulness after having tried to watch Cardcaptors again as an adult – I have a particular hatred reserved for character name changes, and lets not even go into issues revolving around censorship. Suffice to say, most of the main cast (but especially Sakura and Tomoyo… or Madison as she’s known in the English dub) have voices that make me want to pick up the TV and hurl it across the room.

      Ghibli has always had fantastic dubbing work, but I agree – Howl’s Moving Castle is something special. I always watch that movie in dub now; Christian Bale hits it completely out of the ball park.

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  3. Since I’m from Poland, which is a non-English speaking country, I sometimes need subs for dubs anyway 🙂 i usually only watch anime with US voices when the Japanese are not available or harder to get, like Eiken. I willingly chose dub only once, in Hale+Guu, because Dr. Clive has the voice of Liam O’Brien, my favourite English-speaking VA, which I know from videogames. The rest of the voices was really good as well, even if they had a different approach to some characters (Guu’s VA is visibly older), it was still good.
    This also reminds my my first anime downloaded from pirate websites, Fruits Basket, and how it suddenly changed from Japanese voices to English in the middle and I angrily dropped it since I couldn’t stand the voice of the main character. It’s funny to me in retrospective, because she was voiced by Laura Bailey, and I fell in love with her voice years after, when I heard her in various vidya as well.
    I tried to watch Space Dandy with dub, but I couldn’t stand QT’s voice. It wasn’t cutie at all, and that’s in his name!

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    • I mostly watch anime in Japanese these days, just because that’s how I’m first able to do so, and more often than not, hearing a character’s voice suddely change in sound is really jarring to me. That said, I have favourite American voice actors too and will always give the dub a go if, say, Crispin Freeman has a major role.

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    • You know, I think you’d enjoy Black Lagoon a lot, and not just because of the English dub (though if you do end up watching it, then the dub is what I’d recommend).

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    • I don’t think I’ve watched that one at all to be honest, dub or otherwise. Come to think of it, I still haven’t watched anything of that franchise. Does this make me a terrible anime fan?

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      • I wouldn’t say that, especially as it’s old enough for me to have it on Laser Disc. 😄

        That said, it’s definitely worth tracking down the original 7 episode OAVs, just don’t go any further. Apparently the TV series in particular is Highlander 2 levels of bad.

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  4. As a member of Glorio U.S. I’m obligated to add to William’s sentiments about Baccano. Absolutely some of the best work I’ve ever seen. It helps that American accents so naturally fit that setting in the first place. Spice and Wolf does a great job of making its characters sound old-timey without sounding hokey. Basically anything with J Michael Tatum in the lead is good times.

    If you’re gonna go hilarious racism, you gotta watch G Gundam. I suppose the dub itself isn’t so much full accents as chock full of ham, but that’s what makes it great.

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    • Yeah, I figured Baccano would make an appearance or five in the comments. I didn’t put it in my top 5 because I haven’t watched it and didn’t want to judge things based on what other people say, but I have absolutely no doubt that it’s an amazing dub.

      Speaking of hilarious accents, if that’s your thing then I thoroughly recommend checking out Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro in English dub, assuming you haven’t already. The German accents had me in hysterics.

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      • I’ve always meant to watch that, I think it’s on Netflix so I really don’t have any excuse. I’ll have to find some free time these next few weeks for that.
        Also how could I forget, Full Metal Alchemist had a pretty fantastic dub for both series, with Brotherhood really having some strong performances. Also, I couldn’t imagine trying to listen to Ed with Romi Park’s voice.

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        • Really? I don’t know about Brotherhood, but I honestly didn’t think much of the first FMA dub. I’ll just go ahead and put that down to my hatred of Vic Mignogna.

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          • The voices were mostly unchanged, and I’d say their performances still stack up. I suppose it’s been a while since I last heard the original, though. I guess I never got on the Mignogna hate train, I love Ouran(also a pretty decent dub) too much for that.

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            • I didn’t think much of the Ouran English dub either, to be honest, though I’m a big fan of the series in general. I don’t know anything about a Mignogna hate train – I just know that personally, I’ve never liked the guy.

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              • Ah, yeah in America there’s kinda a love him or hate him relationship between anime fans and Vic Mignogna because he’s kinda a pompous jerk who is really popular with the teenage girl crowd.

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                • Oh, I didn’t know that. I guess for me, I just don’t especially like his voice – and after seeing a couple of videos of him, I decided I wasn’t exactly enamoured of his personality either.

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  5. My favorite English dub is the work in Princess Jellyfish: Josh Grelle was downright FLAWLESS as Kuranosuke, and all the other voices were spot on perfect too! I love the Ouran High School dub a lot, and the dub for Welcome to the NHK is another personal favorite of mine!

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    • Oh, I haven’t seen the Princess Jellyfish dub yet, or the Welcome to the NHK one, though I enjoyed both shows a lot, so maybe I’ll give them a try in English at some point. I’m a big Ouran fan too, but unfortunately, I found that dub horribly grating. I think that had mostly to do with Tamaki, who in the dub is voiced by Vic Mignogna – I really don’t like that guy.

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  6. Oh man, I never finished Black Lagoon, but the dub was seamless. Steins;Gate would also get an honourable mention from me if I had to make my own list (despite it being full of internet humour re-tailored to a Western audience, leaving us with flawless acting alongside memes)

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    • I never watched the Steins;Gate dub, but maybe I will at some point, since I enjoyed the series in general enough to probably want to re-watch it sometime. Re-tailoring the script to fit a different audience can go seriously wrong, but when it’s done well, man is it worth it.

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      • I feel they did a pretty good job with Steins;Gate. It’s hard to top Mamoru Miyano’s performance, but J. Michael Tatum really gives it his all as Hououin, and Ashly Burch does a pretty good job as Mayuri. I’d throw out a dub clip for that one, but most of the good ones are on Funi’s official channel and I don’t think that’s very international-friendly. The localization seems meant for a wider appeal. It definitely made sense for the crowd I was showing it to, none of them even knew what Akiba was let alone any cultural knowledge associated with it.

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  7. I mostly watch subs, but my boys have turned me towards a few good English dubs. I enjoyed Ouran High School Host Club quite a bit, FMA Brotherhood, and Soul Eater. My favorite dub however has to be Sgt. Frog: It is absolutely great!

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    • I mostly watch in Japanese as well, just because that’s generally the first/easiest thing available to me, and once I hear a voice, the way that character sounds becomes natural to me. I must admit I didn’t care much at all for either the English dub version of Ouran or the first FMA series (I never tried Brotherhood in dub), but that’s probably mostly thanks to my strong dislike for Vic Mignogna.

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  8. The first really good dub I heard was the one for Mononoke Hime. I especially liked Gillian Anderson as Moro and Minnie Driver as Lady Eboshi there.

    However, I’ve noticed the performance of most Japanese seiyu tend to have an extra “oomph” in their delivery compared to their English counterparts. What do you suppose gives them that edge?

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    • Yeah, pretty much all Ghibli dubs are uniformly excellent. My favourite by far is Howl’s Moving Castle, but I’ve got no issues with Mononoke-hime. As to what gives the Japanese voice actors that extra ‘edge’, I really couldn’t say – it may have to do more with translation than anything else, but I’m certainly no expert on that.

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  9. I’ll have to second Spice and Wolf as a favorite dub on my part, at least for one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Brina Palencia’s smooth, sly performance as Holo is just brilliant, and the playful-yet-intelligent chemistry between her and J. Michael Tatum is mesmerizing. As an actor myself, this dub was one of the few that really impressed be on a performance level. Honestly, the dub alone is probably a huge reason of why I like the show as much as I do.

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    • Maybe I should try the show in the English dub then. I didn’t dislike the series, but at certain points it bored me enough that to this day I still haven’t finished it. Michael Tatum always does good work though, and while I don’t know Brina Palencia’s voice nearly as well, I’m sure she makes for an excellent Holo.

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  10. The most interesting thing I noticed in the quality of the dubs is that most good dubs are actually from anime with a more Western-influence, like Black Lagoon, Space Dandy, Cowboy Bepop and even Ghost in the Shell, is something I constantly saw praises for it’s dubs. I’m not sure if this applies to all, but from what I can see, it’s enough of a pattern. When people say that a media should only be voiced in the original language that they are in, this case also pretty much speaks for itself. While not the original language, dubs for these anime worked well too in a cultural-sense since they are all pretty Western-influenced as well.

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    • That’s true, there’s definitely a trend of fantastic dubs in the case of Western-influenced anime. Personally, I prefer not to take any one stance on the whole sub vs. dub debate, since I can see valid arguments for both and no good reason to completely discount either. In general, I think people should just watch anime in whatever format makes them happy.

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  11. I’ve always thought that good dubs are few and far between the bad ones as of 2010. It just seems as if companies are just rushing them out simply to make a buck of a popular series.

    Another show you could add to that list is Michiko to Hatchin. I can’t watch that show any way other than its dubbed version.

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