Some Thoughts On: Dragon Ball Kai (English Dub) Episodes 1-13
Never one to pass up an opportunity to comment on a Dragon Ball-related dub, I thought I'd give a few thoughts on the newest one, the one for Dragon Ball (Z) Kai. I've mostly been watching this on Nicktoons, but I'm aware of the differences in the presentations between the TV version and the DVD and Blu-Rays, and have seen bits of that, too. I mostly wanted to comment on the voice acting, though I have to say, the script this time around is so much more accurate than any previous Dragon Ball-related dub, it's a real shame they couldn't have been doing this the whole time, because now it actually watches like just an English version of the Japanese show in most ways. I'd give them kudos for this, but like I said, this is what they should have been doing for years. You don't get extra points for failing for a decade and then finally doing it right.
We all know what a harsh critic I am of Sean Schemmel's Son Goku. Frankly, I've never thought him to be right for the role. He sounds about right for the way they used to portray the character, mind you, but now that the script is more accurate, his flaws are actually more obvious at times. Still, I can't say that he's awful per se, just sort of miscast. He's actually sounding a little more natural, and sometimes I'm able to fool myself into believing this is really Goku's voice, but most of the time I just sort of tolerate it and learn to accept that this is the English voice chosen by Funimation for the role, and probably always will be. At least the voice itself not as bad as it used to be.
It's too bad that I can't say the same about his Kaio-sama. Funimation still sees fit to make his voice part of the joke, missing the point about him entirely. It's one of those voices that I dread having to hear again, and when I do hear it, I wait for the scene to pass. It's very unfortunate. At least after this group of episodes we won't hear too much from him until the Freeza battle is in full swing.
Chris Sabat returns to Vegeta, Piccolo, and Yamucha. I find this eye-rollingly pathetic, because Funimation is at a place now where they don't have to assign one VA to several characters for no good reason. Fortunately, Sabat has made what is probably the biggest improvement over all the other VAs in this cast. His Vegeta sounds less like "angry guy voice" and more haughty, his Piccolo is much more natural and sage (but still inferior to Scott McNeil's, which had more character to it), and his Yamucha is entirely devoid of the surfer/stoner accent. What's more, it actually sounds more like you would expect from the character, and not just some lame side character voice.
Sonny Strait, who was always a decent Kuririn, though he suffered from bad scripts, is better than ever. No doubt in part because of the better script, but the voice itself sounds much more confident in being the character. John Burgmeier's Tenshinhan is still fairly decent, but not great. He still sounds too irritated all the time, instead of just very focused and serious, the way his Japanese VAs have portrayed him. I still like Justin Cook's Raditz more than his Ocean voice. It really has a lot of arrogant douchebaggery sound to it, that works for the character.
Not all of the returning cast have improved, or are as welcomed back by me. Cynthia Cranz's Chi-Chi just sounds like she's in constant bitch mode all the time, even when the character isn't. We get that Chi-Chi is a harsh, educated-minded mother, often to extremes, but she shouldn't just sound like a completely shrill cunt every time she opens her mouth. At least her voice works out fairly well when Chi-Chi really is in overdrive. Mike McFarland's Roshi is still tragically generic, not that I can say much more for the current Japanese voice for him. A lot of other characters like Kami, Mr. Popo, and Nappa sound as bland and lifeless as ever, even with a better script.
The real stars of this dub, voice-wise, are the voice talents that have replaced previous ones in two important roles: Gohan and Bulma. Filling out the former is Colleen Clinkenbeard, also the voice of Luffy in One Piece and Riza Hawkeye in Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Her Gohan sounds extremely age-appropriate for the toddler Gohan, and you can tell in the first episodes that her delivery is also perfect, making him sound very hesitant and awkward, the way a small child is. She even manages to tackle Gohan's training with Piccolo and his participation in the fight with the Saiyans remarkably, without trying to sound either too childish or too tough. He's just a kid with a kid-like voice, the voice of someone who has trained, but still hasn't quite made it to his full potential. I think this is probably the best English voice this character has ever recieved.
I didn't need anyone to convince me that Monica Rial's Bulma was going to be better than the previous one. Monica Rial delivers. She's a champ. Here she provides the viewer with a Bulma that sounds cleaner, sharper, and smarter. Most importantly, she sounds a bit more real and when she sounds concerned or worried about something, it doesn't sound forced. She doesn't scream her every line and lacks the "valley girl" affect of her predecessor. She brings a sense of fullness to the role not heard before in English for the role, at least for this material. She even makes Bulma sound sexier. I look forward to hearing more of her in the Namek episodes (at least, for a little while).
Clinkenbeard and Rial aren't the only new voices. Brian Massey is the new voice of Oolong, giving him an accent that makes him sound a bit like Massey's Ladd Russo from Baccano, and yet still utterly believable as the selfish, perverted, shape-changing pig (by the way, do we see Oolong change shape at all in Dragon Ball Z?). Doc Morgan is the new narrator for the series, and while I would have preferred a voice more like Brice Armstrong (who has unfortunately retired), who narrated the original series, Morgan's is acceptable. At least it doesn't sound like professional wrestling announcing any longer.
Recently it was revealed by Chris Sabat and Sean Schemmel that the role of Freeza had been recast, despite Linda Young returning to the role for a maniacal laugh in the beginning of the first episode (over footage of the Bardock special). Freeza was one of those roles that I felt desperately needed recasting, no offense to Ms. Young. She's a fine voice talent, but her Freeza sounded like a chain-smoking tranny, and was very just a different version of Pauline Newstone's "grandmother voice", also inappropriate. Based on the clues I've gathered as to the identity of the new Freeza voice, my best guess is Chris Ayres, the voice of Chouji Suitengu in Funimation's dub of Speed Grapher. I could be wrong, however. Either way, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what a new voice an a more accurate script brings. If it's anything like the Japanese version, Freeza can finally be taken seriously by the English-speaking audience.
While certainly a better dub than anything Dragon Ball Funimation has dubbed in the past, it's not a perfect one, nor even particularly great. There's still instances of idiotic ad-libbing, out-of-character lines that were actually more accurate in the previous dub, plenty of continued miscasting and mishandling of certain characters, and falling back on bastardizations like "Krillin" and "Tien", or forgoing of the "Son" name (except, bizarrely when Yajirobe says "Son" the traditional English way, mispronouncing it, in one episode).
Still, it's not awful by any means, and I'll probably continue to watch it, and maybe pick up a volume or two of the later parts of the show (when Kai is most useful). I'm sort of looking forward to how they handle later material.