Friday, August 24, 2007

Dart’s Rant Of The Day: The new Akira dub Vs. the original one

Back in 1988, Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark manga Akira was made into an anime feature film and released in Japan. The film was an instant success and American fans who read the translated manga couldn’t wait to see the film. More than a year later, Streamline Pictures and a team of producers and writers who helped translate and rewrite other Japanese anime for the American audience handled the job of creating a dubbed version. In early 1990, the English dub of Akira premiered in arthouses and college area theaters. It did surprisingly well and spread by word of mouth as the years went on.

The first time I saw the English dub of Akira was a bootleg VHS version someone recorded by sneaking a camera into the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA during one of it’s early matinee airings back in 1990. My brother and I watched the hell out of that tape (I still have it). Eventually, I bought a proper VHS version of it later on. Before you knew it anime fans everywhere were fake screaming “Tetsuo!” and “Kaneda!” all over the place while quoting lines from it. It became the cool in-joke with groups of friends...until you ran across someone that hadn’t seen it. That was easily fixed with another screening of Akira for the new person in the group, though.

It became especially popular among teenagers and college students during the early 90’s once it was finally released and made available for rental on VHS. Soon it was making fans of people that never even cared for anime before. Before long it was regarded as the definitive anime film of all time...haven’t y’all ever seen the Absolut Vodka ad? If they said it is then it has to be true. After all, who knows more about anime than a liquor company (or the ad agency they hired)?

This blog actually isn’t so much about the film Akira so much as it is what happened to this great piece of anime after it became popular. In 1998, the DVD format began making serious headway and DVD players began flying off of shelves all over the country. One of the biggest phenomenons associated with the growing popularity of the DVD format was that audiences were clamoring for martial arts films and anime releases. The new format was tailor made for these genres. Back catalogues of icons like Jackie Chan and Jet Li began flooding the market, as did several anime films like Fist Of The North Star, Ghost In A Shell, Ninja Scroll, The Dagger Of Kamui, Beast City and several other popular titles. There was no DVD release for Akira forthcoming, though. Eventually, Streamline Pictures folded and the VHS edition of Akira went out of print.

Thanks to the widespread popularity of the internet and new advances in technology that problem was overcome in a pretty simple manner. Some Asian companies simply recorded the English dub digitally and made them into VCD’s then they made them available for sale online. Others simply bought the region free Japanese version of Akira direct from Japan online and settled for reading bright yellow subtitles. Either way, we were getting Akira on DVD one way or another dammit!

Here’s where shit gets weird. Pioneer decided that their going to release a special double disc edition of Akira and in July 2001 they finally release a remastered version of Akira on DVD. Everything about the film was improved except for one aspect that split Akira fans right down the middle...a new English dub was recorded. Some fans didn’t care, they were just so happy that the film Akira was finally officially available on DVD. Others were so pissed off with the new dubbed version that it kept them from buying that DVD version altogether. It has gotten to the point where Akira fans have several versions of the DVD and just recently there was an international version of the Akira DVD released with the remastered film but with the original 1990 dubbed dialogue on it.

For those of you that have never seen Akira or have only seen the second dub of it, I implore you to find or borrow the original dub of the film and you’ll see why it’s such a big deal. For one, the original version is so much more quotable than the new one. The voices fit the characters better (as does the dialogue..even though some of it never made sense. “This chapter’s finished?” What?) and the voice acting was a lot better in key situations of the film. For anyone who saw the original dub first, the new version absolutely horrible.

To make shit worse, the new dub is the one that gets shown nonstop on the Cinemax movie channels on digital cable and is available from time to time On Demand on Comcast digital cable. It’s fucked up to know that some kid that doesn’t know better is watching what he thinks is Akira for the first time right now and seeing an inferior version of it because of the wack ass dub.

For those of you that still haven’t seen Akira yet, I suggest you get the Japanese version and just watch it with subtitles. If you’re insisting on seeing the wack dubbed version (pictured below), then see if you can find someone who has the original dub. Watch both and you’ll see what I mean.

Thank you for letting me rant about something that may seem trivial to some people but is a big damn deal to others.



alex said...

I kept my original VHS for posterity's sake, but can't say the new dub really bugs me all that much. Would it pretentious of me to note that I mostly watch the shit with subtitles these days?

Dart Adams said...

Nah...I actually usually prefer the Japanese version in 99% of anime films unless it's a really good dub like in the cases of Ninja Scroll, Ghost In A Shell and Akira.


Mike Dikk said...

Yeah I have to personally disagree. I've seen the original dub, subtitles and the new version, and either way I don't give a shit. Given, I saw the original dub when I was like 13 and don't even remember it all that well, but stuff like that has never been a big concern of mine.

I think the only thing that I feel wildly different about is Shogun Assassin / Lone Wolf and Cub. I still like Shogun Assassin, but the Long Wolf and Sub story is around 10,000 times better.
Still, "Shogun Assassin 2" is just a redub of "Lone Wolf an Cub 3" (I know this is nohere near the official titles), and it's kind of weak, even though the dubbing stays somewhat faithful. Maybe if they got the badass sounding dude to redub Shogun 2, it would have been better though.

Dart Adams said...

@ Mike Dikk: I completely agree with you on the Shogun Assassin/Lone Wolf And Cub point.

Atone point I had seen about 10 of those flicks, my favorite being "Baby Carriage To Hades".


Anonymous said...


GAWD! first time i've checked and found that so many people feel the way i do.

I owned an original VHS and completely despise the remastered version!

C'mon!! The general's voice?!@?# what the fuck?? kaneda's, tetsuo's everyone's for that matter are totally lame...

I found out that my younger sister lent the copy to a friend who then accidentally recorded over half of it. I have been devastated since.

What is this i just read about the remastered video with the old audio dub?? please gimme more info on this... I need it inside me


Anonymous said...


i totally agree with you... I watch 99% with subs... except for great classics like those you mentioned.

The difference in Akira is STAGGERING

joseph said...

I dislike the new version, not that it is really that bad, I'm sure had I watched this version before the other I would not have had any problems with it. But, I am so used to the original dialog that it takes me away from the movie to experience the new stuff. I can't even watch it all the way through.

Anonymous said...

So it's finally coming out on Blu-Ray..
With the new dub.
Another anime I really liked the dub was 3x3 eyes. When that came out on dvd they did a re-dub as well. I still have my vhs of Akira and 3x3 eyes with the original dubs.

Anonymous said...

Completely 100% agree. I fall into the 90s student category and yeah, we did the quotes too. But we also listened to a lot of hardcore techno at the time and there were a couple favoruite tracks had excellent Akira quotes in there. So now thos tracks are also null and void.

I disagree strongly about subs over dubs. I want to enjoy the animation on screen, not spend the whole movie reading shitty little sentences at the bottom of the screen and missing the eye-candy.

Fine if you speak Japanese, but otherwise I don't see the big deal about sub versions, other than they're the original. But if you don't speak Japanese you're just being a pretentious prick saying the sub is better than the dub.

Anonymous said...

Dude, thank you for making this page. I seriously thought it was just me who preferred the original dub. It was so much better.

Danicos said...

I know this post is old, but I just have to put my two cents. I personally like the new dub, some voices do fit better than the original(like the guy who has the red grenade who's going to kill himself for"the revolution" is flawless compared to the original), the thing that bugs and really pisses me off is that girl who looks like an old lady, she sounds horrible! the original voice of hers was so much smoother. that's why I returned my copy and just streamed it online because I can't accept something if I feel totally ripped off. even if it was a few minor things, it irritates me to the point where I just can't enjoy it no more. okay that's it, i'm done

Unknown said...

So many years later and with the release of the Blu_Ray version I was so hoping now that they had the space they would include the original Dub.. but no go. I never had the VHS version, I bought the Criterion Collection LD version that also has the original Dub on it. I think I am going to rip the Blu-Ray and LD Audio and try to splice them, then re-burn it to Blu_Ray because THAT is how it should be watched. I agree with your post entirely. They never should of changed it.

Anonymous said...

I realize this is something like 5 years old, but I just rewatched Akira, the newer dub this time, vs. the VHS version I'd seen something like 50 times, and the new one is just awful. Give me the original, nonsensical weird dialogue any day. "Sorry coach, you lost me." "Tetsuo? That…PEABRAIN." etc. it just doesn't compare.

Anonymous said...

thank you, the new dub is just wretched, the end with "someday we ought to be able" so much worse than the old "one day we will be"

Unknown said...

Gave the redub one shot when it was released back in 2001. I believe the 10 or so people I was with unanimously vetoed it and we shattered the disc in zealous rage. more accurate or not, the dialogue was merely a dumbed-down facsimile of the 89 version.

Unknown said...

I grew up with the original English dub and I cant watch the new one because of it. The voice actor that did Kaneda was the same guy who did Leonardo in the old TMNT show and has a long career in voice acting. When i read the comic, its in his voice. For me, he will always be Kaneda.

As for dub vs sub, anything i grew up with, I stick to the format i originally watched it in. Now a days I go with both or subbed with anything new, English dubs tend to stray too far from the original dialogue. If it doesnt make sense in english, the subs will make more sense.

Storm Kerr said...

Ok. Seriously, the new dub is bad on soooo many levels. Part of the experience of the original was the absolute emotional IMPACT of the music. In the new dub it has been washed out so it blends in with the ambient noise. The script was waaaay better in the original too. You could see how everyone dismissed Tetsuo as a little kid and he was growing to resent it. In the new version there just isn't much emotional content at all.
I can watch the new version for about thirty seconds before I have to jump up and turn it off.
Ironically, I have the original VHS but can't find a VCR to play it on! Lol!
You may be interested to read this...

Unknown said...

I'm really glad that other people think the way i do. I'm a big film fan and for me the re-dub was like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa; unforgivable! I always try to educate someone if Akira ever comes up because they only ever seem to watch the new version and as far as i am concerned their watching a completely different film.

DistantJ said...

Personally I think the new dub is far better. It's acted better, better synced to the image (it's easier to forget you're watching a dub, whilst the original dub often was very mismatched to the lip animation, though it is harder here, since AKIRA's facial animation was matched to the voice acting, like in western animation, instead of the usual anime "lip flap" which is animated before dialogue is recorded), and much, much closer to the Japanese version. I do find the shrivelled little girl's voice to be very grating, though. That being said I have such a major nostalgic soft-spot for the old dub, for sure, and I think it should be made available for people who do love it (perhaps licensing issues?)