Audio: English: Why I Disliked The Fullmetal Alchemist Dub (Article)

Audio: English
With the Audio:English series, PenguinTruth takes a critical look at the English
dubs which grace some of anime's most defining series in North America.

"What do you mean?! I sound good in any language!"
I love Fullmetal Alchemist. It's one of those rare shonen manga that has a decent complexity to it and maturity most other shonen titles lack, making it both exciting and thoughtful. I was a big fan of the first animated television series, my first exposure to that world. And of course, while I loved the original cast, I also had high expectations for the English version, even when I heard Funimation, a company with a somewhat mixed reputation for dubs was going to dub it. I was pretty excited that Cartoon Network was going to air it on the Adult Swim lineup, and tuned in with my hopes high.
I was let down.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a complete wash. I immediately took to Aaron Dismuke's Alphonse Elric, for instance. Though I also immediately noticed some strange directional and script oddities. At first I attributed the difference between this and the version I was used to as being the difference between fansub translations and professional translation into an English dub. Over time, however, these sort of things became more pronounced. What bothered me the most is characters speaking in one style in one scene and having almost entirely different voices in the next. There even seemed to be a bit of the old Funimation "add dialogue where there originally wasn't any", which irritated me.

Anyway, let me compare some of the Japanese and English casts of the first series to explain my stance on this dub.

EDWARD ELRIC

Japanese: Romi Paku
Grade: A+

Reasoning: Romi Paku IS Edward Elric. She brings such intensity and energy to the role, with a sense of sadness and pathos. She captures his every mood perfectly. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role.

English: Vic Mignogna
Grade: D

Reasoning: Vic's Edward is just a little too dry and scratchy. He sounds like he needs some sort of lozenge or throat spray. Sometimes he whispers a bit too much. It's just not all that his fans make it out to be. I've heard Edward Elric, my friends, and Vic Mignogna is no Edward Elric. He may be fine in other roles, but in this one he's substandard. At least he managed to improve somewhat towards the end, and is more tolerable in the movie, but it's still no Romi Paku. An overrated performance.

ALPHONSE ELRIC

Japanese: Rie Kugimiya
Grade: A

Reasoning: I'm not familar with Rie Kugimiya's work, but apparently she voices a lot of those "tsundere" type of characters. It's funny thinking about Alphonse that way, because he's actually pretty gentle most of the time, not tsundere at all, and Kugimiya did a great job.

English: Aaron Dismuke
Grade: A

Reasoning: My favorite performance in the Funimation dub is the young Dismuke's Alphonse Elric. He's one of Funimation's biggest assets, in my opinion. He's very good in every role he's in, no matter how large or small. I've read rumors that he won't be returning as Alphonse in the dub of the second series, which is disappointing, because he was one of the few golden nuggets in what is largely a pile of garbage.

ROY MUSTANG

Japanese: Toru Okawa
Grade: A+

Reasoning: He's a dead-on Roy. He has the bit of Roy that's smooth, sarcastic, and snarky, but also that ability to bark commands like he really is in the military. He seems to really charge in with a very deep, authorative voice. It suits the facets of Roy Mustang. I missed him for a while in the new series, though Shinichiro Miki has filled out the role competently.

English: Travis Willingham
Grade: C

Reasoning: One of the more tolerable voices in the dub, and certainly more worthy of fan praise than Mignogna's Ed, Travis Willingham nevertheless only really captures the snarky side of Roy. He completely misses the boat on Roy's more serious manners during action or dramatic scenes. It's like he's only voicing one part of Roy's personality. He doesn't even seem especially interested in most of the really poignant material in the show, given his voice performance in them. I don't cringe when I hear his Roy, but it's not anything special.

MAES HUGHES

Japanese: Keiji Fujiwara
Grade: A

Reasoning: Keiji Fujiwara is really very versatile and capable of tackling all the nuances of Hughes with his voice. He captures Hughes's hyperactive father side, his calm and confident officer side, his "friendly ear" demeanor. He's manic and even-keeled at the same time. He's a great Maes Hughes, and I'm glad he returned for Brotherhood.

English: Sonny Strait
Grade: C

Reasoning: He has a decent voice for the role, but his performance is too uneven. Sometimes it even seems like the character itself is just reading lines on a script. Other times it even seems like, much like Travis Willingham, he's playing it a little too casual during scenes he should sound more serious. But he's pretty tolerable in the role, otherwise.

WINRY ROCKBELL


Japanese: Megumi Toyoguchi
Grade: A

Reasoning: Toyoguchi brings a lot of girlish energy, but with a somewhat rough, sarcastic edge to Winry. She can be very upbeat, or shriek, but it never gets irritating. She can be gentle, too, very well without it sounding forced. She really was the character. She really made her believable. I wonder how the new voice of Winry will measure up.

English: Caitlin Glass
Grade: D-

Reasoning: Catlin Glass is just annoying as Winry. She just couldn't fill the shoes of the character, and any time she tried to work up the way Winry gets it was like nails on a chalkboard. She made a character I never particularly cared for to begin with even worse with her awful voice. One of the worst voices in the dub.

ALEX LOUIS ARMSTRONG

Japanese: Kenji Utsumi
Grade: A-

Reasoning: Utsumi's Armstrong has this very booming, rugged, over-the-top tough guy voice, but can also be rather gentle at times, too. It sort of resonates with each line, too, like it's carrying through in echoes. Great job, and I'm glad he's returned for the second series.

English: Chris Sabat
Grade: B-

Reasoning: Also good is Chris Sabat's version of Armstrong, though he does play up certain sides of Armstrong more than the Japanese VA and it comes off as seeming a little too corny for its own good. Still, I think Chris Sabat's usual gruff voice actually found a character it suits, which means I have no big complaints about it. His Piccolo, Vegeta, and everyone else in DBZ, on the other hand...

SCAR

Japanese: Ryotaro Okiayu
Grade: A

Reasoning: Okiayu's Scar is one of the most memorable voices in the Japanese version. It's got this deep, weathered quality to it, that works well for Scar. The voice suits a character that has seen and been through quite a lot, suffered a lot of tragedy, and can be threatening but somewhat wistful. It was hard to imagine anyone else voicing him, but they replaced him for the new FMA series with somebody who does nearly as well. I still think Okiayu's is superior.

English: Dameon Clarke
Grade: D-

Reasoning: Generic bad guy sounding. He doesn't sound nearly as threatening as Okiayu. It means that Scar in the dub doesn't really seem like he has much personality at all. I ended up looking forward to seeing him go away, and I should never do that, since he's a character I'm pretty fond of.

ENVY


Japanese: Mayumi Yamaguchi
Grade: B-

Reasoning: Yamaguchi had a great "casually threatening" voice. In other words, she made Envy sound like he was very comfortable with being the bastard he is, which is very Envy. She didn't always hit some of the more angry bouts, but was ultimately a very presentable Envy, making him very snarky.

English: Wendy Powell
Grade: D+

Reasoning: Another cringeworthy dub voice, Wendy Powell can't even decide what gender Envy is, so she approaches Envy with a different voice in nearly every line. She does manage to get Envy's sort of rough, scratchy snarkiness, but it seems a little forced most of the time.

GREED

Japanese: Junichi Suwabe
Grade: A+

Reasoning: Suwabe has this very jaunty, snarky, but deep-voiced arrogance to his Greed. He's pitch perfect for the greedy, concieted character. And he captures his sort of smooth, amiable, but barely supressed wickedness in the character. Really, Suwabe's performance was part of what made Greed my favorite character in the series.

English: Chris Patton
Grade: C-

Reasoning: Patton isn't a bad voice actor by any means, he's just not terribly good either, and this was not the right role for him. He played Greed the way he plays most characters. In other words, with a lot of their personality drained. He comes off as being just barely tolerable, because the voice itself isn't bad for Greed, but his approach is lacking (perhaps due to bad directing?). I was very disappointed, because, as I said, Greed's my favorite character.

FUHRER KING BRADLEY



Japanese: Hidekatsu Shibata
Grade: B+

Reasoning: An excellent, stern, authorative voice fit for a character that is the leader of a nation. He's also able to lash out in a deep rage (this will come in excellent use for the new series, I'm sure), too. My only issue is that at times he seems a little muffled. I'm glad he's returned for the second series, because he's still in top form in the role.

English: Ed Blaylock
Grade: C-

Reasoning: Somewhat tolerable, but unfortunately there sems to be some poor direction, because Blaylock's voice changes to completely different ones over time. It starts off almost as a mix between Sean Connery and Edward G. Robinson, but then it evolves over time in strange ways. I also wish they would have gone a little deeper or weathered for this.

SHOU TUCKER


Japanese: Makoto Nagai
Grade: A

Reasoning: Nagai's Tucker has a subdued, matter-of-fact quality to it, but with a tad of menace or distress hidden behind it. It becomes increasingly creepy as the character changes.

English: Chuck Huber
Grade: C-

Reasoning: While establishing Tucker as a guy who can be both mild-mannered and creepy, Huber's usual threatening voice is wasted in a character that never really lashes out. Besides that, he seems to have problem keeping to one approach to Tucker, because Tucker begins with a British accent and then loses it by the end of the episode. Strange. Chuck Huber is a fine voice talent, but he recieved some bad direction here.

NINA TUCKER

Japanese: Satomi Koorogi
Grade: A

Reasoning: Sounds like a cute, playful little girl.

English: Brina Palencia
Grade: D-

Reasoning: Sounds like some half-baked impression of a little girl, or really more like "baby talk" an adult would use to talk to a child or pet. "Wittle big bwatha?" No child sounds like that. With all respect to Brina Palencia, this was a total wash. I found myself looking forward to Nina's fate.

TIM MARCOH


Japanese: Kouji Totani
Grade: A

Reasoning: Totani has that beaten, weathered sounding voice that an older character that's been through the ringer like Dr. Marcoh should have. Perhaps, in a way, it sounded a little too feeble for its own good at times, but in the short time Marcoh's in the series, it suited him.

English: Brice Armstrong
Grade: A

Reasoning: What I enjoyed about Brice Armstrong's voice in Marcoh was that it sounded authorative. The actor has that sort of deep, booming, but consistant voice that is perfect for those types of roles. I'm reminded of his performance as the principal in Yu Yu Hakusho. He is definitely one of Funimation's finest talents.

HOHENHEIM

Japanese: Masashi Ebara
Grade: B+

Reasoning: Ebara's sort of distant, whistful, but wise-sounding Hohenheim made the character seem palbable. What you got was a character in which you felt sadness and a sense of timelessness. Hohenheim has that quality to him, a sense that he's elsewhere, but he's still capable of affixing himself to the current world if necessary.

English: Scott McNeil
Grade: C-

Reasoning: I felt like Scott McNeil, one of my favorite English dub voice actors, had entirely phoned in this performance. There was just this sense of unevenness and disinterest that made the character seem empty. He just didn't quite hit with the same accuracy as Ebara. Even so, there were certain spots when he did suited the role, so I factored that into the grade.

IZUMI CURTIS

Japanese: Shoko Tsuda
Grade: A

Reasoning: Tsuda's Izumi is strong, swift, and reverberates. There are few who do as good a job as she does in her role in the Japanese version. She never faulters, despite not being as active as some of the other characters (but being a bit more active than her manga self). You buy her as being this incredibly strong woman who is carrying a terrible burden but handling it.

English: Christine Auten
Grade: A-

Reasoning: Likewise, Christine Auten also carries Izumi's burden well. Auten isn't one of the most stand-out VAs in English language-dubbed anime, but she does seem to come into her own in this role, building off some of the personality traits that made her a decent Priss Asagiri in Bubblegum Crisis 2040's middling dub. You can count on Auten to play strong female roles well.

LUST

Japanese: Yuuko Satou
Grade: A

Reasoning: Yuuko Satou came off as a Lust who was unsure how to exist, what to feel when, and how to react to it, the way Lust was portrayed in the first series. In other words, she was able to be, on the surface, very confident and snarky, but at other times, also very distant and introspective. There was a certain quality to her voice that was otherworldly and longing. It made her a great Lust.

English: Laura Bailey
Grade: C

Reasoning: Bailey's Lust was more of a hammy impression of a sexy voice rather than a geniunely sultry, silken one like Satou used. It was servicable, and probably the best performances among those doing the voices of the homunculi, but it felt a tad too forced for my tastes.

ZOLF J. KIMBLEY

Japanese: Yuji Ueda
Grade: A

Reasoning: A wonderfully devious, estatically crazy voice, with a tad of smugness. It was perfect for Kimbley. The Kimbley in this series may be different than in the manga, but Ueda played him perfectly. Hear him again as Jean Havoc in the new series.

English: Eric Vale
Grade: C+

Reasoning: Not bad, not great, but not bad. Eric Vale's voice is very similar to Vic Mignogna's, but I call him "the talented Vic", because he tends to emote a little better. Here, he is decent at the crazy Kimbley, but doesn't really have the same energy Ueda does.

Now, all right, I may seem a little harsh in my judgements, but this is how I honestly feel. I'm used to the Japanese version being better than the English dubbed version, but with so much hype and praise this dub deserves, I just can't see how it can be this bad to my ears. I mean, I like most of the other popular dubs: Cowboy Bebop, The Big O, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Hellsing. They're some of my favorite dubs!

But this one, this one, I just can't. I can't bring myself to like it. A lot of the voice acting is just substandard, and I'm not going to just sit idly while people heap praise on it. Sure, Funimation could have done much worse. It's better than some of their other dubs. It's certainly better than what they probably would have done with it years ago before it was made. Still, I can't help thinking that the company could have done better.

Who do I blame? Largely Mike McFarland. Not only was he the ADR Director on the Fullmetal Alchemist dub, but he was also responsible for the the ADR Script, and did the voice for Jean Havoc. Of those three jobs, Havoc was done competently, at least. The direction was abominable in this dub, with several voices that would have been fine in the roles if they had recieved some molding. And the scripting was shoddy at times, too, with inserted lines and jokes that were just too corny and broke the mood. "Smellric brothers", anyone? "Give mommy a hug, my prince of cool?" Come on.

Okay, is the Fullmetal Alchemist one of the worst dubs ever? No. Not even close. But most of the worst dubs ever are for shows I couldn't care less about. I care about this one, because I felt FMA deserved a good dub, and didn't get one. I might be able to sit through this dub without beating my head into a wall every two minutes, but it doesn't make it a good dub, nor the one a show as good as this one deserves.

- Penguin Truth
(2009)

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