Make Voice Actors Sing Again

There was one point in my extended complaining about the sub vs. dub debate that didn’t fit neatly into any one category but there’s one place where the sub has always meant a great deal to me and that’s when voice actors really get to have fun either by singing insert, opening or closing themes or the more rare and beautiful art of the drama CD. 

Now, where do I get off “demanding” voice actors become singers? Well, I don’t. I do absolutely think that they’re two different skill sets. I can’t expect a voice actor to sing and I can’t expect a singer to voice act: look at American movies hiring singers and comedians as VO artists assuming that they can do it with oftentimes mixed results. Sometimes we get a Seki Tomokazu who can do both or a Masaya Onasaka who likes taking any chance he can to sing but you can’t always expect for a trained voice over artist to want to be a singer as well. But there is a beautiful power in the moments when that expectation is met. I want to talk about the moments when voice actors using their talents can only add to a piece because I am old and back in my day, such things weren’t as rare. 

If you look at the Bleach drama CDs and character CDs, it was all the voice actors singing their character’s songs (at least, that can be said for the Japanese voice cast) and doing the little skits that made the CDs such a worthwhile buy! Did I need Szayel and Captain Kurotsuchi doing The Science Show? No, but my life is richer for it. Did I need Hanataro Desu? Nope, but I’m so glad to know about my least favorite favorite soul reaper. 

I also really love when voice actors sing opening/closing themes. Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE features a closing theme sung by the Conquest Club and it adds so much more to the narrative when it’s the main villain singing about a long lost relationship because that long lost relationship is (spoiler alert) the crux of the entire plot of the damn show. The same goes for the little insert song in Sarazanmai for getting rid of desire through weird butt stuff: it makes so much more sense that the voice actors sing that song because when the perspective changes (like when it’s Reo trying to save Mabu) it’s so much more valid; it’s his song, his moment. Last example I’ll use is one that’s very fluffy which is Free! because yes, I can tell the difference between all the voice actors and I love the outfits in Splash Free!. It’s just fun. 

Insert and character songs can provide a lot of important information, though, as well as some of the sketches in drama CDs. Its in the drama CDs for Axis Powers: Hetalia that we learn all the countries’ human names and that Prussia lives in Poland’s basement, that England has a tattoo, that Austria is afraid of sea life and so many other facts because I have given up too much of my life to Hetalia knowledge and if I must suffer, you all must suffer, too. Also, stop ignoring France’s birthday, he’s still really sad about it. 

Those CDs are so fun because all the voice actors came back for it and get to tell us this information and seeing it as a DVD extra where it’s just voice actors having fun is inspiring. Hetalia also features something that a lot of newer series have lacked in places where if the country does not match the actor’s country of origin (I’m trying to be polite) that the actor knows enough of that language to make words make sense be it Chinese, French, English or German. Funimation tried their best when they dubbed the series and it was bad. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think American voice actors have fun. Here’s where we’re gonna pause because we have to talk about some news.

Initially, when I was writing this post an entire kerfuffle happened over at Funimation where it was found out that some voice actors dubbed over some questionable stuff in character and…well, I’m going to be honest: I’m of two minds about this. The whole reason I wanted to write this post was actually because of a panel I went to with Spike Spencer years ago where he showed a clip of an outtake video he did for Neon Genesis Evangelion where he riffs for a while as Shinji and it’s one of the funniest things to me on the internet. I’ve always admired voice actors having fun. 

So when I first started listening to the Funimation VA nonsense, it didn’t read as that bad. Voice actors do weird stuff like that all the time whether it’s read fanfic or just riff and oftentimes, those clips go into outtakes and are celebrated and praised. 

Here’s where I can agree with the people who were angry post the Funimation VA brouhaha: the content of much of what was dubbed was explicit, crass, politically incorrect and allowed voice actors to use language that is just not acceptable and to discuss themes that are, to be polite, not for everyone. If the content of what was acted offends, I can’t help but understand. Personally, I’ve been on the internet so long that very little shocks me anymore and I mostly just thought it was voice actors having fun: rude and crass fun, but fun. The way it was handled left a lot to be desired and I won’t shame anyone who had a problem with this whole darn affair. Hell, the entire affair put this post on hold.

But I don’t think having fun means being offensive. We could have a whole other post on the fact that people think comedy is dead because of PC culture and this Funimation VA scandal did make me wonder if it was generational. Most of the older fans I knew didn’t have an issue with it; many of us found it funny. It did seem to be younger fans who had a problem with it and maybe its because the newer fans just don’t understood VAs spend too much time in the booth and sometimes that means weird stuff is going to happen. Again, I’m not here to say you aren’t entitled to being offended, but out of all the scandals going on at Funimation, this seemed like one that we didn’t need to focus on.

Some of my favorite convention memories are of me being in costume and reading fanfic in character. Some of my favorite panel moments are watching those outtakes. Some of the information I’ve retained for years has been because voice actors (both Japanese and American) got to have fun for a little while.

I don’t know why American voice actors never really picked up singing. I don’t know why it never really took off: to be honest, I don’t think many of the American voice actors are on the level to handle some of the song chops that the Japanese voice actors do…but there is one example that pains me to discuss because it means talking about Dirty Uncle Vic.

I don’t want to talk about Vic. I really don’t want to talk about him. I don’t want to keep giving him attention and we’ll leave it at I believe all the women who have claimed he’s a monster because it’s what my brothers and sisters in craft have been saying for years. But goddammit, we have to talk about Brothers. Brothers is an insert song in the original Fullmetal Alchemist and when its first sung, it’s in some weird fairy language and you know it’s haunting but unless you find a translation, you don’t know why. So when Vic as Ed translates and sings the song and gives you the powerful lyrics as if they were a ballad or lullaby Ed sings to his brother just…it’s almost too damn good. And you get this song as their childhood home burns and I can absolutely feel all of Ed’s pain. I hate praising Vic but this is good and I have to remove him as a garbage person from the fact that he was pretty much made for this role and literally has done nothing good since then as a voice actor or human person. 

When voice actors sing, it can take a mediocre scene and increase the impact nearly to the max and even if its a little clumsy; it just adds so much more bang for the buck. It’s a worthwhile effort, and one I would love to see return. 

Falling Out of Love with American Voice Acting

In the last post, I spent hundreds of words spewing my love of American voice actors and American voice acting. But I didn’t stop being an anime fan after 2012, no, my appetite for anime may be different than it was when I was a wee little demon but I am still a rabid otaku but my adoration and respect for American voice acting has changed just like my relationship with anime has changed.

So let’s talk about the fall and my newfound appreciation for subbed anime.

2011 brought with it a little show called Attack on Titan which may have the distinction of being the first anime that I just didn’t like. Normally even if I’m not crazy about a series, I can see good in it but AoT did nothing for me and its rabid fanbase of mostly younger fans who had never seen an anime before wore me thin. And out of all the things I don’t like about AoT it was in fact was the rather lackluster voice acting that to me just hallmarked on all the weaknesses of the dialogue and plot. AoT was just the start for me and as I continued on watching anime, a few things changed for me. One, was that I was in college and my tastes had started to change from shows that were being picked up by big studios to shows that weren’t just yet (thus I resorted to the evils of piracy) and the second was that as some series began to be dubbed, I had previously watched the subbed version and the dub finally did not meet my expectations. 

When the horrible 4Kids Sailor Moon is all you know, then sure you accept the horrible Americanized names, the removal of queer characters and the bad voice acting: it’s all you know. So for me, that was how I could rationalize, especially in hindsight, terrible dubs. But I remember watching Hetalia subbed and loving it only to be horrified by the choices Funimation made in the dub. I didn’t really have a frame of reference for that until college and it really started to turn my opinion on newer dubbed series. 

Another factor that I do think matters but doesn’t fit into a neat group is that in the late 2000s is when I was able to give more time and attention to subbed anime. Especially in college, I was willing to set aside time for subbed anime and not having cable fed into my rationale to continue to be a better pirate than Luffy ever was and I could just sit and watch subbed anime and read and gasp in Japanese. To this day, if I have work to do, I will watch a dubbed anime so I don’t have to focus on it or a sub that I can practically recite like Antique Bakery or Maiden Rose. I spent many a college night wrapped in blankets watching subbed anime while on an IM chat with a friend, reacting to episodes that just got leaked in real time and even now in adulthood if I set out to watch an anime, now I go for subbed first because I rarely attempt new anime nowadays so I set that time aside and don’t mind reading. 


While I still have an immense respect for the “old guard” of voice actors, the newer ones seem particularly lazy. And even though “sameness” is a common gripe against American voice actors, usually that sameness is for a reason. Spike Spencer has one voice and he plays similar characters in most shows he’s cast in and thus that one emasculated, tired male voice works. Johnny Yong Bosch has one shonen protag voice and guess what: he plays shonen yelly protags. A lot of Japanese voice actors have a similar sameness including my favorite, Kazuhiko Inoe, but he plays the same character a lot: aloof bad boys that I have unnatural feelings for and thus his similar sounding voice works. Japan does have some amazing chameleon voice actors like Daisuke Namikawa who has ranged from Northern Italy in Hetalia to being a villain in Bleach

The newer guard of American voice actors just seem lazy and it seems that the Japanese voice actors have only been getting better. All that expressiveness and fun and passion that I felt in most dubs I now feel in subs. A great example of that is in Devilman Crybaby (which does not dub well just due to the flow of music and trick of words often used) where due to Netflix deciding to fail for a moment, I was given a glimpse at the dub. For a series that is mostly two men screaming each other’s names, oh boy, do I not buy the two American voice actors caring about what they’re doing at all. It’s just plain lazy and tired and all of the vague threats in Ryo’s voice and subtle kindness in Akira’s voice is entirely lost by two Americans who sound like they simply do not want to be in the booth that day. 

That does not mean I have entirely abandoned dubs. One of my favorites is still somewhat recent but I think it speaks to the bigger issue and that’s Space Dandy. There’s something about Watanabe-sensei’s work that really lends to dubbing because so many of his series are so heavily influenced by Western culture. So it makes sense that a series where a man with excellent hair goes on a weekly Flash Gordon space adventure with a weird little auto-tune robot and a strange alien cat would have the voice if Ian Sinclair doing his best. The whole work just translated better into English and the staff was so stellar that it easily placed itself high on my list of favorite dubs of all time. 

I think bad voice acting reminds me that anime can be a tough sell. Suspension of disbelief is something we’ve talked about a lot over on the blog and a solid performance can help ground  a show back in reality. If you had told me that one of my favorite series of the summer would be about three boys who turn into kappas and the two murder cops trying to kill them I’d laugh at you and I’m a dedicated anime fan, I am not new to obsurdity. But one of the things that kept me in Sarazanmai was the fact that everyone sounded great, even when the singing wasn’t as key as others, you could still buy that these actors cared about the roles they were playing. Especially with the isekai boom, one of the things that really got me turned off on these shows (think of like Sword Art Online) was that the American voice acting sounded so bland for a premise that I already find incredibly boring. If the main character doesn’t sound like he wants to be in this fantastical world, why the hell do I want to watch him on this fantastical journey? 

Voice acting is an art form and I find that I don’t have the same reverence or enthusiasm for Bryce Papenbrook as I do for Eric Vale and that doesn’t mean that the new guard are all full of bad voice acting: I’ve changed, my tastes in anime has changed, a lot has changed and it means that I am now a far more harsh critic than ever. 

If you like these dubs, I’m not here to take that from you. Hell, I still stand by some of the early dubs. And it’s here that I want to talk about one aspect of the new era of dubbing that I’m all too aware of now and that’s how loose some companies play with translation. Especially Funimation is very bad about playing hot and loose with how Japanese is translated and they will throw in jokes and memes that just don’t age well anymore. My biggest gripe for that comes with how one word is translated and that word is aniki.

Aniki, to those in the yakuza, means “older brother” but it’s more than just older brother. There is so much respect, history and more in that word and Funimation, in all their wisdom, translates aniki, consistently, as “bro”. Does one refer to the Emperor as SOME DUDE? One would never refer to their aniki, imoto, ototo, aneki, ani-san or ane-san as something so casual lest they love a finger or their life from the sheer amount of disrespect. 


Dear reader, the first time I heard that in a series, I screamed profanities into my pillow. 

That’s a choice. That’s a translation choice. Funimation has translators. Funimation has been doing this for nearly as long as I have been alive. They know the context behind what that word means. WHY TRANSLATE IT AS SOMETHING SO CASUAL?

It’s a lazy choice. It’s not trusting the audience. It’s being afraid to risk that maybe, just maybe, that the audience won’t care enough to look it up. I remember reading the InuYasha manga as a kid and in the back there was a guide with all the suffixes because I did not, at 12, know what -sama meant. But I was also voraciously curious enough to study suffixes and want to learn more so of course I know what all the yakuza familial terms mean and I am bitterly disappointed every time they are translated as sis or as bro. 

My new issues with the sub vs. dub debate don’t just boil down to lazy voice acting or lazy translations it’s just that it doesn’t have to be this way. In the 90s and 2000s, there were actors that cared so much and you felt every bit of their passion as they learned new languages, new names and more. And I feel that now with subbed VAs, honestly starting with Hetalia. To see how much effort these actors went into learning their country’s languages is just damn inspirational. 

Japanese is a tricky language. I love it most when it’s clever and innuendo and puns don’t translate well, I respect that. But I think you lose something when you don’t bother to translate those moments. In Death Note, Mello refers to Matt as his dog. Not just because of Matt’s loyalty to him but also in Japanese “inu” is a slang term for top in the relationship, the inverse of that being “neko” for bottom. That little moment, that piece that is in some translations but not all speaks so much about their relationship and tells you more about their dynamic than all of the 17 words Matt ends up saying before he’s shot and Mello ruins everything and dies.

I will always respect voice acting: both Western and Japanese. I will always respect those who strive to bring anime and manga into Western audiences legally. Some of the proudest moments I have in all my conventions years have been meeting voice actors. Spike Spencer, Eric Vale, Ian Sinclair and more have made my childhood and my current adulthood. A good voice acting performance can make or break a series and I have been blessed to be exposed to so many wonderful voice acting performances regardless of language. Voice acting is an art and one I admit that I am not professional in, so feel free to take this as one fan pining for the Fjords but it felt appropriate to go over. 

As far as the state of the debate? Well, we’re nerds. We have to have something to argue over. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer. There are some dubs I’m willing to die on the hill for and others that I won’t defend as much. As far as subs go, wow, they sure have been great recently. I do think that we can have this conversation about honestly, what boils down to taste and preference, more respectfully; but that’s sort of been my constant feeling about most things on the internet nowadays. I remember getting pretty heavily shamed for liking dubbed anime and being called lazy for enjoying and and thus I perpetuated that negativity calling those who liked subbed snobs. We can all do better as far as how we discuss what are true issues facing anime and manga fandom: translation, censorship, and more.

Thank you for sticking with me through such a post.

I invite thoughtful and kind discussion in the comments below.

Why I Watch Anime

In my last post about Sarazanmai and my changing relationship with anime, something that kept coming up in the back of my mind was just why I started watching anime to begin with and why I continue to watch anime. Well, that’s a little more than just a passing thought so let’s explore that a little. Here are some of the reasons I watch anime.

To Escape

I’m a member of the Tony Stark Society for Disaster Orphans. My childhood was not great and my teen years were not great. Fundamentally, what got me into anime was escapism. I got to escape into worlds so unlike my own where I was stronger, prettier, more capable, or hell, even still had both parents. Consider the anime I fell into as a youth: InuYasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, YuYu Hakusho, Naruto, Bleach…most explored fantastical worlds and magical elements and took me to places I couldn’t imagine. There were demons and monsters and ghosts and danger and magical lands, it was all wonderful and it was so much nicer than my aunts’ impossible standards for me or my mother’s immaturity. 

I didn’t always think of anime as a form of escapism but I did write (still do write) a lot of fanfiction and that fanfiction allowed me to be so much more than whatever my shell was and fanfiction aside, my taste in anime has become increasingly slice of life. I used to shun romance and more pedestrian series for shonen as a youth but now as I’m older just seeing things okay for a few people for once is really comforting and really nice considering that as of late the world (not just my personal life) feels like a fiery inferno that which the only escape is the sweet embrace of death. 

To Find Closure

Losing your parents often leaves you with a bucket of what ifs that you just sort of carry around with you, like a box full of all of your desires. Watching characters fumble through their feelings, do more, do better, be more and be better helped me and still helps me work through my feelings. It may be why I had such a visceral reaction to Devilman Crybaby. I so badly wanted things to be okay. I wanted Akira to be okay, for Ryo to be okay, for Miki to be okay and when they weren’t I felt miserable for them and felt all the moments where things were not okay for me all in one crushing, overwhelming moment. When watching Sarazanmai as Toi goes through the last part of his character arc I was utterly emotionally connected with him as I felt his same worries about nihilism and being a mere burden to those I called friends. I am an empathetic person and it is very easy for me to see myself in characters that have been through similar things to me. Trauma is a funny thing and it makes it very easy to project those feelings onto especially narratives. Think of those who found themselves so much in Harry Potter. So many had their own horrible families they didn’t love and didn’t respect them and so many found comfort in Hogwarts because it was a place to be themselves, to be better than their families, to be welcomed and appreciated. I watch anime to find closure because I know that I may never get that in my own life. 

To Feel Something

Losing a parent young warps your entire world. It isn’t always dramatic but it means that the average cookie cutter narrative just doesn’t fly. Most shows I was watching at 12 still featured two parent households and that just didn’t resonate for me anymore. Anime featured a ton of broken families, families ripped apart by death and circumstance and characters that didn’t have to pretend to be okay as I had to. I got to experience emotions and defer a lot of my feelings onto fictional characters and it was instrumental in me working through my angst. Now as I am an older and much wiser hobgoblin I watch anime still to feel all sorts of things: love, joy, triumph, excitement, fear. As much as it stresses me out sometimes to have my emotions dashed upon the rocks of cold hard nihilism to feel shock and worry and emotion is thrilling and just something I don’t get in most Western shows with the exception of BoJack Horseman or Tuca and Bertie, I rarely get that emotional release from Western narratives who tend to wallow more superficial story-telling or using framing devices and tropes that I find abhorrent or just plain tired. 

To Learn Something

I fell into anime from an early age because of how radically different it was from the Western media I was surrounded by. I knew nothing of Japan as a youth and anime was one of the finest and best examples of cross cultural exchange that I could have been exposed to. I live in Texas and was raised in Texas. No one bowed here. No one spoke Japanese here. I didn’t know what Buddha was outside of the large statues that hang around in Chinese restaurants. I cannot tell you how much I’ve picked up from anime alone. My vocabulary has changed, my mannerisms have changed, the way that I speak about myself and others. And no, I don’t feel comfortable going to Japan on anime alone; I had to have the want to learn more on my own. I have dictionaries, language guides, vocab books and more to prove it. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about is actually cooking. I loved cooking for my anime clubbers in college and being able to make onigiri just like I saw in the manga I cherished so much was a delight that cannot be entirely expressed by words. I still watch anime to learn new things and my natural desire to learn often means that little things that are throwaway gags in anime become rabbit holes I dive down in topics ranging from demonology to why the hell bakus are so scary and Christan influence in Japan.


There are obvious reasons that I watch anime. I watch for enjoyment, for curiosity and because it is still something new and oftentimes exciting but this relationship is now over two decades old. The reasons I have now are likely not the same as they were when I was a teenager. I use anime to escape now in entirely different ways than the power fantasies I lived out as a teen. I watch anime now more to relax and to unwind. It’s also still a key factor in many of the friendships I told dear. There was no neat way to add this but I’ll say the most important reason I watch anime is because it makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. I am proud to call myself an otaku and I am proud to be an anime fan. There is nothing like seeing someone’s eyes light up when they see someone else wearing an anime t-shirt or merch from a series they love. The connections I’ve made because of anime and at conventions and by discussing these weird cartoons critically and passionately is something that doesn’t fit neatly into a list but is so important to the experience. 

I’m proud to be a veteran otaku and you see that pride during each one of my Twitter rants, panels, blog posts and more. I watch anime to be more than myself. To express myself. To learn. To grow. 

I relish in fan casts, in shipping manifestos, in shipping wars and discussions about voice actors. I love translating music and listening to drama CDs and hoarding manga like a dragon. 

Anime is a part of my life, so it was only natural that I discuss and explore why I watch anime to start with.