We will be jumping into the second half of season one next week with a look at the “Raiser Arc” and all it brings to the table, but this week I wanted to steer the Summer of Love into a topic that many people don’t really discuss: The English Dub, and my overall thoughts and feelings on it. There is a good, a lot of good, and some slightly not so good. So join me after the cut as we jump into our next chapter of The Summer of Love, the dub! This is another long one, so be ready!
To discuss the English Dub of High School DxD, it is important to give some backstory about English dubbing of anime in general. If you grew up in my generation, (late 90s, early 2000s) then you are very familiar with the 4kids of era; a time in which the american company 4kids entertainment pretty much had a stranglehold on the western anime market. Simply put, they called the shots and every anime that was actually on television had to go through the 4kids “Americanizing process.” Needless to say, this was a bad thing.
Cardcaptor Sakura had it’s entire yuri/yaoi subtext removed and whole episodes removed. Dragon Ball censored and omitted world building, Yu-Gi-Oh became a “so bad it’s good” mess of a dub. Vision of Escaflowne became a shadow of it’s former self. Monster Rancher went from a 50+ episodes series to only a handful, and of course what they did to One Piece. The list just goes on and on. The 4kids era of anime was not a good time for the youthful medium, and frankly the wounds inflicted by this era are still fresh in many minds of my generation.
Things have gotten far better since then, with companies like Funimation, Sentai Filmworks and Aniplex taking over the dubbing market and delivering quality dubs of anime that are true to form and (sometimes) even superior to their Japanese counterparts. Yet despite this massive improvement there are still many who refuse to even give an English dub a chance, whether it is loyalty to the “authentic’ Japanese version, or trauma for the scars of the 4kids era.
Now how is this connected to High School DxD? Well not really that much, but I think it is important for readers to understand why people are somewhat hesitant on English dubs, despite a whole new generation growing up with them. There are old wounds that have yet to heal, and in this era where censorship is a hot button issue, I wanted to explain why.
Anyway, let’s get into the dub itself, and let’s start by talking about the cast.
The English cast of DxD is frankly very strong, though it has been a cast that has had a few replacements. Akeno has been voiced by two different actress, as has Asia, and the while voice changes are noticeable, they thankfully don’t differ too much to make much of a difference. What I can say is that Asia and Akeno are both voiced excellently, with Asia being played with that cute innocent perfection, and Akeno with a level of sultry seductiveness that, while not on par with her Japanese seiyuu, gets the job done well.
The biggest voice change though has to be Issei himself, who was voiced by both Scott Freeman and later Josh Grelle, and while the change over in season 3 is a rather noticeable change (unlike Akeno’s voice change in the same season), with many people being initially put off by the sudden shift in voices. I can both say that they play an excellent Issei and bring a-
Fuck…do I have to do this? Do I really have to bring it up? REALLY?
ALRIGHT FINE…FINE..I’LL FUCKING ADDRESS IT.
In 2015. Scott Freeman, the voice actor of Issei and several other Funimation dub roles, was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for the possession of Child Pornography. Funimation rightfully and subsequently cut all ties with him and his roles current and future were replaced with new actors, hence the sudden change to Josh Grelle in season 3 and later 4.
Anyway, Issei’s work in the English dub marks the first, but not the most significant change in the DxD anime. While the script plays him true to form, Issei’s performance in the dub is markedly more “american” compared to his Japanese counterpart. While it is 100% loyal to the authentic story, there is a lot more ‘sex jokes’ and ‘western references’ that peek out from time to time. I’ll get into this when I discuss the script, but I did find it worked quite well for the story, and both voice actors are able to ‘get serious’ when the time comes, especially in season 4 when Josh Grelle gives his best performance as a harem lead, and this guy has MANY to his name.
However the biggest and frankly best change has to be Jad Saxton as Koneko Toujou, who completely re-invents the character for the English dub. In the Japanese version, Koneko is the quiet little kouhai who seems to only have one single emotion, very much in the veins of the Rei-clones that had a stranglehold the industry for years. The English dub however turns this completely on it’s head. Koneko becomes a motor-mouthed little girl who, while still holding true to the character’s spirit, adds far more to the plot and group chemistry than her Japanese counterpart. I just find Jad Saxton’s Koneko to be a far more interesting character, acting as a sort of the reality foil for Issei for many season, and still willing to call him out on his perverseness even after falling in love with him. Frankly, the difference between the two voices is astonishing, just watch this comparison clip.
The rest of the cast do a find job. Jamie Marchi as Rias is an excellent casting choice, and while I prefer the Japanese voice, Marchi’s signature voice is able to play both sides of Rias’ personality well and she only gets better as the seasons roll on. Kiba, Gasper, Xenovia and Rossweise are all again done very well, but it is only really characters listed above who are the real stand outs.
Remember how I brought up 4kids at the start of this post. Well I did also bring that up, because the English script of High School DxD does feel very much like a bit of a holdover from that era of anime dubs. There is more than a hint of the adapters putting in their own lines and having some fun with the dialogue than compared to other shows. It was clear to me that the writers were having some real fun trying to adapt this show for an English dub, and while some may grumble by only being a 90% authentic script, the show does give us some great memorable one-liners like:
“I’m gonna make you eat those words like a kid doing the tide-pod challenge!”
“Cunt-tuckey fried chicken over there is in love with you”
“Forgive dat ass, don’t spank it!”
“Her milk-shakes are all over my yard”
Those are just some of the examples of the fun bit of humor that is injected into the series via the English dub and yes, it is not for everyone and yes, it is going to turn some of the purists off. Yet the voice actors give it their all and when the time comes for the show to “get serious” like with the Akeno break down, Asia story-line, the Issei/Rias fight, and more, those actors absolutely step up to the table and deliver excellent performances. So I can forgive them for having just a bit more fun with a show that is, again, about busty big boobed girls fawning over a perverted idiot.
What I do NOT forgive though, is the “president gaffe,” which undermines a vital and important plot point.
See, there is a very clear reason that Issei calls Rias “president throughout most of the anime’s run.” It helps show the class and social difference between the two characters and how, despite Rias falling truly deeply in love with Issei, her social status and his role as a servant make him hesitant to step up. It is only when that issue comes to a head that does Issei finally start calling Rias by her full name, and it is a great moment to cap off four seasons of development.
The dub however ignored that completely for the first four seasons and admitted that they weren’t aware of just how important it is. While they do address it in the season 4 dub, making an offhand comment that “Issei has been calling her President a lot lately” it doesn’t really fix the problem and remains an annoying nitpick for me. Is it a deal breaker? No, but it is a pretty glaring problem when looking at the series as a whole.
Overall, the English Dub of High School DxD is a great one, and I honestly love it to death. As i said in my primer, I would have watched the series dubbed to do this event, but I wanted to be faithful to the Japanese release. The dub is still my go-to way of watching DxD and I suggest anyone to give it a show after watching a bit of the OG Japanese version. It’s not perfect, but it’s made with love and affection and doesn’t stray too far from it’s routes, but when it does what 4kids never could do to anime. It adds something without taking anything away.