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ATTACK ON TITAN Dub Review: Does the English Cast Stack up?

Every few years or so, an anime comes along that blows up both among fandom and the general public. In the ’90s, it was Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, in the ’00s, it was Naruto and for this decade, it appears that show is Attack On Titan (now airing on Toonami on Adult Swim Saturday nights at 11:30 EST). As welcome as a huge hit is for anime, this particular show is rather problematic.

As our previous article about it discussed, the show has absolutely glacial pacing, resolves nothing and is just generally not well executed. Yet, everyone I knew went positively nuts over it. People would breathlessly tell me how they had binge-watched the show in days on Hulu, Crunchyroll or Netflix and for the life of me, I just couldn’t imagine why.

But when the announcement came that Titan was to air on TV starting May 3rd–in a nice move of synergy before FUNimation released the first DVD/Blu-Ray set on June 3rd–I got interested all the same. Why?

Well, I’m a fan of new English dubs on TV for one thing. For another, FUNimation has a very proven track record of taking weak shows and elevating them to a whole another level with their scripting and dubbing. And according to this advance review from Anime News Network, the dub apparently featured the improved animation from the Japanese home video release that replaced the static cut-aways that so annoyed me the first time.

So a few episodes in, how’s the dub? Well, let’s break it down and find out.

The Cast

In an age where localization studios actually care about being faithful to the material they’re adapting, a good cast is crucial. FUNimation, having come a long way from casting random office employees in shows, now uses actors sourced from both Houston and L.A. and the results here are great.

Bryce Papenbrook, on a bit of a hot streak after his work as protagonist Kirito in Sword Art Online and Rin in Blue Exorcist, plays Eren and he is excellent. While original Japanese actor Yuki Kaji was unable to do anything with the raw rage that makes up Eren, Papenbrook inhabits that rage and pushes it right in the viewer’s face. Dub director Mike McFarland chose to let the cast scream themselves hoarse with all the shouting and rage that informs these characters. As Papenbrook recounts in this interview, while recording the show, his voice actually broke due to all the stress. That pays off, though: he makes Eren’s rage palpable and relatable, even if he can’t get past the character’s core flatness.

As the main side characters Armin and Mikasa, Josh Grelle and Trina Nishimura have to do a similar amount of heavy lifting and succeed. Grelle, a longtime supporting player for FUNimation and ADV, shines in his first real main role. He takes Armin and really nails his shift from weak worrywart to confident strategist, all the while playing up the character’s sympathetic side.

As the demure killing machine Mikasa, Nishimura takes a somewhat thankless part–Mikasa is dangerously codependent on Eren, the biggest of the character’ s problems–and excels. The triumphant moment where Mikasa punches Eren in Episode 1 is even greater here thanks to Nishimura’s earnestness. I look forward to seeing where she takes the role.

Of the show’s admittedly colorful and varied supporting cast, the standout is easily Patrick Seitz as drill instructor Keith. Seitz has long excelled in this sort of charismatic, commanding role (see his work as Luke Valentine in Hellsing) and Keith is no exception. I don’t know whether this was improvised, but in Episode 3, during Eren’s mishap with the Maneuver Gear, Seitz slips in the famous “What’s your major malfunction?” line from Full Metal Jacket and it works perfectly.

In a nice treat for gamers, Ashly Burch of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playing? fame voices the “Potato Girl” herself, Sasha. Burch brings her trademark demented whimsy to the role and it’s hysterical. I really hope she gets cast in more anime because of this.

Source: livedoor.blogimg.jp

Source: livedoor.blogimg.jp

The Scripting

As I said above, the scripts for this show are generally faithful to the source material. Given the shallow material FUNimation has to work with, this could’ve gone poorly. But the dub works largely because the oddly passive language of the original has been replaced with more active, dynamic lines. In turn, this helps the show crackle and spark with urgency.

The choices head writer John Burgmeier and episode writer J. Michael Tatum makes are evident from Eren’s first lines. In the original, the lines translate asas Anime News Network points out, “That day, humanity received a grim reminder… of the terror of being ruled by Them… of the humiliation of being kept in a cage.” The English dub has it as “And just like that, everything changed. At that terrible moment, in our hearts, we knew… “home” was a pen… and humanity, cattle.

Obviously, the latter is far more provocative language and immediately more arresting. The way with which Papenbrook delivers the lines–a resigned helplessness–also sells the utter despair inherent in that statement so lacking in the original.

The Animation

As I said, the animation has been largely cleaned up from original airing and while still a ton of static shots exist, they’re now few and far between as opposed to all over the place. For the most part, characters fully react to the horror unfolding above them

Additionally, the detailing, particularly on the weaponry, has been improved and it’s now easier to understand how complex the maneuvering gear actually is. Furthermore, the camerawork on the show seems to have improved with the addition of material.

This is most evident in episode 4, where the opening forest training sequence and the scaling of Wall Rose at the end involve a great deal of integrated CGI. This paid off poorly in the original, but it works here. It’s obvious the additional time spent cleaning up this show is to its benefit and it looks especially sharp in HD.

The Verdict

While not all the show’s problems are fixed — the terminally slow pacing, the static characters, etc. — enough of them, the scripting, the dynamic cast and the improved animation, are repaired enough. Watching this show on a weekly basis, it’s easy to enjoy the slick surface and ignore the problems underneath.

If you’re looking for a decent shonen anime to kill time this summer, and maybe show to friends, you couldn’t do worse than Attack on Titan. At the very least, it looks like Titan will be a mainstay in the Toonami lineup for quite some time.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Cover image source: Stuff Point

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About the author:

Tom writes obsessively about Bleach, Star Trek and all other kinds of TV shows and pop culture 2-3 times a week at Tomtificate (tomtificate.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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Categories: Anime Reviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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7 Comments on “ATTACK ON TITAN Dub Review: Does the English Cast Stack up?”

  1. 06/11/2014 at 3:47 PM #

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    And here’s another thing for Another Castle. I still don’t think Attack on Titan is worth the hype but the dub improves things.

  2. 06/11/2014 at 5:04 PM #

    What are your thoughts on the manga? Do you think the anime might improve if a second season was produced?

  3. 06/12/2014 at 9:54 AM #

    I totally agree about it being slowly paced! I seriously thought I was the only one to think so. Everyone raved about it and every time I watched an episode I forced myself through it hoping SOMETHING would get accomplished by the end of the episode. I trucked through it because the plot seemed super interesting. I have yet to see the english version that is released, but I’m definitely going to give it a second shot. Not needing subtitles already makes it a bit easier to watch.

  4. Fluffy
    02/07/2015 at 6:40 PM #

    I totally disagree with your opinion. The great thing about the Japanese dub of Attack on Titan is that Japanese voice actors really whether it’s in anime or video games. Haven’t you ever played or heard of the horror video game Corpse Party?! The voice acting in that game is so raw and perfect, it captures the moments in the game perfectly giving an almost terrifying feel, like it is really happening to the characters. It’s the same with the voice actors in AoT. Almost every anime lover would agree. The English voice actors in AoT totally do not capture the fear and direness on the situation, and Mikasa’s voice actor is absolutely terrible! She totally butchers the cool and almost emotion drained attitude of Mikasa, it made her sound like a normal scared little girl! Armin’s and Erin’s voice actors totally take away the original feeling of the characters too. The dialogue Americanized and took away the intense and terrifying feel of the whole story. I feel that the original is always the best and you don’t really love anime as much as true fans too of you believe the English dubs are better, just because it’s easier to understand.

  5. 02/19/2015 at 5:23 PM #

    Reblogged this on Rice Cakes.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ATTACK ON TITAN Dub Review: Does the English Cast Live Up to Japanese? | Magic, Gaming, and all Things N.E.R.D. - 06/12/2014

    […] ATTACK ON TITAN Dub Review: Does the English Cast Live Up to Japanese? […]

  2. ShutoCon 2015: How to Adapt Anime into English | Another Castle - 03/27/2015

    […] Although a huge majority of anime is streamed to English-speaking audiences now–with websites like Crunchyroll simulcasting some shows subtitled mere hours after their broadcast in Japan–there’s still a huge market of fans who want to see anime dubbed into English. Licensers like Funimation, Sentai Filmworks and Viz Media have whole teams of writers and actors who help give anime a wider audience, and sometimes even improve on the original version. […]

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