Remember when anime dubs were the absolute worst?
Luckily, dubbed anime series have come a long way these days. The new stuff that’s rolling out on the likes of Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Hulu – it’s all being done really well.
Don’t believe me? Check out this list of the best anime on Hulu.
Back in the day, though, dubbed shows kind of had a reputation for poor voice acting, choppy dialogue, weird timing, and plot holes. They omitted scenes and entire episodes. Sometimes, the whole tone of the anime was changed, turning shows geared at older audiences into kiddy shows. Some of us were lucky enough to have access to the original Japanese versions with subtitles, but bad dubs ruined anime for a lot of people in my generation.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that they were all bad, and there were plenty of shows I enjoyed. But let’s be honest, today’s great dubbed anime series really just highlight how different things used to be. And yes, even some of my favorite shows as a kid have ended up on this list of bad dubs!
4Kids did a lot of weird things to anime series to make them more appealing to American audiences. From trying to pretend rice balls are donuts to changing character names to make them less foreign-sounding, they really thought they were doing something.
Their choices with One Piece were equal parts hilarious and confusing. I mean, they were essentially taking a show that existed for older teens and trying to make it acceptable for small kids. The show ended up with drastically altered scripts that lost any edge that made it entertaining in the first place. Cigarettes were turned into lollipops (but there was still lingering smoke), guns were now non-lethal water pistols, and a lot of violence was flat-out removed.
On top of that, 4Kids has become pretty synonymous with lackluster voice acting. They often sound bored or uninspired. It doesn’t match the characters or the storyline. And on top of that, Sanji’s over-the-top attempt at a New York accent sounds like a joke. Hey, at least it’s funnier than the actual “jokes” they added in an attempt to “lighten up” the tone.
I hate to rag on shows that I grew up loving, but Ronin Warriors was kind of clunky. The English dub was done at a time when they were trying to do everything possible to “Americanize” anime. Why they chose a series chock full of Japanese elements–like, I don’t know, samurai as main characters–is anyone’s guess.
Surprisingly, many of these Japanese elements were kept in the dubbed version, although character names were changed. Unfortunately, the dubbed version doesn’t give us the backstories of the characters. In the original Japanese version, some of them are descended from samurai, which makes a lot more sense.
As with many other anime series from this time period, the dialogue is kind of clunky. It is also worth noting that, for whatever reason (likely budgeting), the main characters share the same voice actors. While it’s less obvious that the same actor provides the voice of three different villains who don’t appear together, it’s a little more noticeable that two of the Warriors themselves (Sage and Cye) share a voice actor.
I might find myself in trouble for putting Yu-Gi-Oh! on a list of bad dubs, but here it is!
This series was also done by 4Kids, so it suffered some of the same problems as the company’s dubs created at the time. They wanted to make it as kid-friendly as possible, so they sacrificed stuff they didn’t think was appropriate.
Changing characters’ names might be annoying, but it’s one of the more understandable alterations when trying to “Americanize” anime. The weird thing, though, is that they didn’t do it for all of the characters. What’s less understandable is stripping away parts of the characters’ personalities, changing their motivations, and altering their backstories.
The original series featured some religious symbols, such as elements of Egyptian mythology, that were changed for the dubbed version. Even angelic figures were changed. Any violence and drama were played down, and weapons were changed or replaced entirely. Hey, at least the finger guns were funny!
As far as the actual voice acting goes, it’s mostly average, run-of-the-mill cheesy stuff. It doesn’t feel as offensive here in Yu-Gi-Oh! as it does in other shows, but it’s still worth mentioning. Some of the accents are done up too much, and the dialogue isn’t exactly brilliant or anything.
What if I told you that Voltron didn’t actually exist? At least, not in the Japanese market. What American audiences know as Voltron was created by mashing together two separate shows: Beast King Go-Lion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. And they were put together by guys who weren’t even able to translate the dialogue.
The end result is something different entirely, with the story and characters changed so much that they are unrecognizable. In order to appeal to kids, the darker content was removed. Scenes were edited or cut out entirely. Voice actors had to figure out how to keep up with the characters’ moving lips since the animation already existed. And really, there’s no explanation on where Voltron came from or why he defends the universe.
Surprisingly, this odd-ball mashup went on to become wildly popular and launched a successful franchise.
I grew up loving Sailor Moon, but I can also admit that the first attempt at an English dub was awful. It was another series that fell victim to heavy censorship in an attempt to make it acceptable for small kids.
Character names, clothing, and dialogue were changed entirely. The voice acting was weird and downright annoying at times. Scenes were censored or removed entirely. Homosexual characters were edited out by altering their gender or being written off as relatives – which made for some really awkward instances. It was so heavily edited that the first 46 episodes were whittled down to 40.
Luckily, the series has seen some upgrades since that mid-90s installment from DiC Entertainment. Viz Media acquired the right to Sailor Moon in 2014 and dubbed every episode – including episodes DiC skipped, and the Stars season. This time around, they stuck closer to the original Japanese script, and the characters kept their original names.
More recently, Sailor Moon got a reboot called Sailor Moon Crystal, which commemorated the manga’s 20th anniversary. It sticks to the original manga pretty faithfully. So while it still follows Usagi Tsukino and friends, it omits any of the stuff that was added to the original anime series that didn’t originally come from the manga.
Dragon Ball Z
While most of the other dubbed series on this list were made for American audiences, we can’t talk about infamously bad dubs without talking about the “Big Green” dub of Dragon Ball Z. It is so bad that some people have mistaken it for a parody.
American audiences had a different dubbed version of this show, which certainly had its own faults. Like just about any other show that was dubbed during this time, it was a victim of heavy censorship. However, there was another dubbed version done by the French company AB Groupe, who localized the series for Canadian and British audiences. It’s become known as the “Big Green” dub, and it’s so, so bad.
First and foremost, this version is notorious for poor voice acting. The voices don’t even match the characters. It’s like they just grabbed some random people and told them to give it a shot. Perhaps that’s why the names of the cast have never officially been disclosed. I don’t think I’d want my name on it, either!
Aside from bad voice acting, they also decided to swap out important names and terminology in the series for reasons I can’t figure out. Saiyans became “Space Warriors,” scouters were “portable computers,” and they even changed Bulma to “Blooma” and Krillin to “Clearin.” The biggest faux pas here, though, was renaming Piccolo as “Big Green” – which is where we get the nickname for this dub.
Speed Racer really set the bar for what English dubs could be.
Ha! Just kidding. Set the bar for how bad they could be, maybe. Speed Racer is synonymous with awful anime dubs. In fact, it’s largely responsible for negative opinions and stereotypes that plagued the medium for decades.
Of course, this is partially due to the time period. Speed Racer was one of the first anime series to get dubbed in English. Instead of focusing on localization, it was mostly given a direct translation treatment. Because languages don’t translate directly, the voice actors struggled to sync up with the animated characters. It resulted in clunky, ill-timed dialogue that is sometimes faster than the race cars. Do I love Speed Racer? Always. But can I admit that the English dubbed version is extremely strange and off-putting? Most definitely.