If you’re an anime fan outside of Japan, you know the long-standing battle between two sides that has raged since the days of fan subbed VHS tapes in the 80s (for the best anime of that decade, check this sweet list!) Dubs. Subs. You must pick a side. If you pick dubs, you get more localized content at the cost of the purists saying you miss out on deep cultural nuances. If you pick the subs, you often get a more authentic experience while others mock you for being a weeaboo.
There’s no doubt that in Japan, there are fans of Western cartoons, comics, and other media as well. Just like English dubs of anime and other Japanese media, not all Japanese dubs of English shows are made equal. Some sound exactly like the original whereas some try to awkwardly swap the original show’s sounds for those more archetypal of character types in Japanese shows. Here we’re going to show you the most surprising Japanese dubs, either for their accuracy or lack thereof.
1. Diff’rent Strokes
Our first entry is a classic American sitcom from the 1970s (for some solid British comedies, check out this list) where a rich white guy adopted two sons of a Black woman who worked for him at his business. He raises them as his own alongside his biological daughter. The premise sounds a little dated today, but Gary Coleman, the actor who played the youngest whose name was Arnold, was absolutely adorable and gave us the quoted-for-decades catchphrase, “What you talkin’ ‘bout?”
In the original English dub, Arnold sounds like any kid around at the time. In the Japanese dub, he sounds like an anime mascot – close your eyes and picture this voice coming out of a tiny talking pig who’s secretly a 1,000 year old wizard in disguise. You know this is alarmingly accurate.
Junko Hori provides the Japanese dub of Gary Coleman’s original voice. She voiced some side characters in shows like Moomin, Doraemon, and Gundam Wing. That’s interesting enough, but do you know who provided the Japanese voice for Willis? None other than Masako Nozawa, aka the voice of Goku, Gohan, and Goten from the Dragon Ball series. That would definitely make Arnold say, “Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Goku?” Possibly the biggest surprise of the article!
2. King of the Hill
Before KyoAni made a killing out of slice-of-life anime in the late 2000s/early 2010s, King of the Hill was America’s slice-of-life “anime.” It is possibly one of the most American things ever created – it’s about a propane salesman, his terrible-at-Spanish Spanish substitute teacher wife, their aspiring prop comedian preteen son, and all of their friends and neighbors.
Much of the comedy in King of the Hill comes from the regionalisms – it satirizes small town Texan life and portrays the family, at least in the early seasons, as rednecks. Understandably, Japan might have their own equivalent of a dialect that has those sort of connotations, but the localization team for King of the Hill did something else entirely: they didn’t bother giving Hank or anyone else an accent.
The lack of accents makes this dub one of the most surprisingly inaccurate ones. Even Boomhauer, a character known for speaking in an incomprehensible way due to his thick accent, sounds like a normal Japanese speaker. They also removed many catchphrases like Hank’s surprised “bwah!” and replaced it with a standard Japanese “eh!?” The lack of effort to preserve such an important feature of the character’s speech makes the localization team, in Hank’s words, “not right.”
3. The Dinosaurs
One day, some big shot Hollywood producer said to themselves, “what if we took the family sitcom and injected it with dinosaurs?” and thus, as the legend goes, the Dinosaurs were born. Luckily, the show’s dinosaur cast was created by the Jim Henson Company, and the writing was better than it had any right to be.
The Japanese dub is startling in its accuracy. The clip of the show features a vocal cast that sounds almost exactly like their English equivalents. They even remember to include Baby Sinclair’s catch phrase: “not the mama!” in English and “ままじゃないよ!” (mama jyanai yo!) in Japanese. They manage to nail his unique, almost gravely voice with its childish line delivery. Even the father’s voice sounds like the original U.S. voice actor simply speaking Japanese.
Seiyuu (JP voice actors/actresses) fun fact: Japanese voice production companies really loved the way dino father Earl Sinclair’s dubbing actor sounded so much that they made him, Ben Hiura, the voice of Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Danny DeVito – this man truly knows how to convert fast talking New York accents into Japanese.
Alien Life Form aka ALF was the titular character of a popular 1980s sitcom. His entry to the list is surprising for the type of character his voice actor, George Tokoro, loved to portray: men from space.
George Tokuro not only did ALF, but he also gave life to two other iconic comedic leading men from the stars. He voiced Buzz Lightyear in all of the Japanese dubs of the Toy Story series as well as certain beloved 80s water-fowl and space-pervert Howard the Duck. Imagine having to be his agent and turning down lucrative role after role, because they’re not silly aliens or astronauts! Either George is an alien himself or his voice acting is simply out of this world.
That does it for today’s list of the 4 most surprising Japanese dubs of US TV shows. I still can’t believe Willis and Goku have the same voice actress in Japanese! For a show that’s surprising in a completely different way – surprisingly awesome and full of great Native American and First Nations actors and actresses – check out our write-up of Reservation Dogs.