When the news about Kyoto Animation hit, I was just as confused as any other non-Japanese reading person. As the nightmare of news eventually reached its’ conclusion, I was truthfully shocked to the point that I was not feeling anything about it in the moment. It was not until I was on the AniTAY Podcast that it all hit me so fast.
Hearing everyone’s stories and the impact Kyoto Animation has had on them over the last week or so has rocked me to my core. I’m notorious for being maybe a little too emotional at times, but I cannot help but see what a huge impact this studio has had on my peers and not feel overwhelmed. Even the most apathetic of people have shown up and said how much they respected the works of Kyoto Animation and their best wishes for the staff and their families.
The AniTAY community effort to write about the impact Kyoto Animation has had on us has been something that illustrates just how important these people have been to countless lives. I would hyperlink some of the articles we have had so far, but I would be afraid of leaving out any articles that came after this published. Instead, I would implore readers to search in our archives for the “Kyoto Animation Appreciation Week” tag to read some remarkable articles.
My contribution to our efforts here was difficult to come up with. I have already written extensively about the impact various Kyoto Animation works have had on me, and I wanted to do something without appearing selfish (I have seen plenty of “anime media” outlets that have left a bad taste in my mouth with the way they have been covering this tragic news). This is why I decided to watch one of my favorite anime, one that impacts me greatly, in a dubbed format for the first time. By doing so, I could showcase not only the amazing work that Kyoto Animation does but give the deserving praise to a dub that helps bring the medium to English speaking audiences. After all, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is not only one of my favorite anime, but I also watched the series dubbed. Without a dub of a Kyoto Animation work, I would have never met the amazing people at AniTAY, never would have found my calling for a career in my life (Violet Evergarden), realize just how much I valued family (Dragon Maid), or challenged a reality that wanted to keep me from aspiring for greatness (Haruhi).
Here is my best attempt to turn in a quality dub analysis in honor of the great work not only this team did with the dub but also for Kyoto Animation.
Voice Director: Stephanie Sheh (Amanda Winn Lee and Michael Sinterniklaas are listed as temporary directors)
There are a few essential things to highlight with Stephanie Sheh here. First off, what an amazing follow up to the incredible dub that was Your Name. for her to direct next (I was blown away by that dub and already sung the praises of it). Next, there is a critical thing to point out that might go overlooked. As you read this cast, you will see some roles lacking in other “known for” anime/game credits that I typically like to include in the analysis. This is because, simply put, there are no other anime/game credits these actors have had.
Now this development shows two very important things that Sheh and her team need to be praised for: they carefully selected talent that had not otherwise been considered for this sort of big anime dub role and they clearly helped the actors bring out their best in a medium that may be unfamiliar/one that audiences are not familiar with hearing them in.
Indeed, these two details are massive in that they can set a generational dub apart from an average one. The former has emphasis on the carefully part of the selection of talent, since there are times that a dub may feel short of its’ potential due to casting. I’m not insinuating the actors’ performances may not be good for a disappointing dub but rather that there may have been a different actor with a skill-set that might mesh with the material more. We’ve moved past an era of dub selection where it used to be the same two or three lead characters in everything and directors are thinking more about trying out different talent in different roles. Sheh, along with her team, clearly saw something in their decisions and the finished piece is masterful due with no small part to this.
The latter of these discussed points is something I will likely be highlighting in several instances through the article. The way scenes play out in this film feel organic and borderline realistic to how people talk in situations similar to those in this anime. I don’t mean to speak for others, but I have heard plenty of fans of this anime appreciate how they could relate to interactions or scenes in the way they are executed (be it from the sub or dub). Having felt that way from seeing the version Japanese audio with English subtitles first (something that rarely happens for me), I was amazed with how much this dub elevated the material. Every hesitation from a character, moments of silence and the crushing moments of character struggles all feel incredibly deliberate and executed beautifully. This is a great team effort by the people behind the microphones (which I will get to soon) as well as those in front of them. I would love to see a behind the scenes of some recording from this.
Quick note: I am vague about details of certain scenes highlighted on purpose to prevent spoilers from being made. If you haven’t seen this yet, you absolutely should. With that said, I respect the wishes of readers and kept this entirely spoiler free at the cost of some vagueness (it isn’t anything one cannot piece together if they have already seen the anime)
Robbie Daymond (Goro Akechi in Persona:5, Prompto Argentum in Final Fantasy XV) as Shoya Ishida
My initial fear with the dub of A Silent Voice came from the complexities and weight to the characters’ developments would have on the individual performances. In most anime of this kind, the young adults the audience follows are relatively stable individuals or they have clearly defined turns and beats to how they develop. This allows the voice actors to adjust their performances smoothly without fear of breaking what the “known” voice of the character to be is. In this anime, most of these young adults are in a critical stage of their lives but their development is not a “light bulb moment” that allows their actor(s) to adjust easily.
Probably the truest to this point is found in the main character, Shoya. From the onset of what the audience sees in Shoya, he is a young man who has recently made a change in intended trajectory for his life. As such, the entire film follows him slowly struggle through and attempt to find his footing. There are no clearly defined character beats and, as a result, I assumed this role would be very challenging for an actor to acclimate to.
This was not the case with Daymond taking up this role. He takes a character who is struggling and portays him in a way that shows this in every line: he has pauses and fumbles through words, kicks himself under his breath, and delivers some lines that lack that “push” that some dubs rely on a little bit too much. In other words, he makes this character sound believable and much more like what I imagine (and have discussed with others) Shoya is “meant” to sound like in the narrative.
Another aspect to this character that I think can go underappreciated at first glance but is amazing is how much Daymond helps add a layer to the narrative with his performance as Shoya by articulating a young man’s attempts to use sign language. It may lead a little bit into the next role I wanted to discuss, but there are huge differences with the subtitled version and the dubbed version of this anime when it comes to the sign language. In the subtitled version (or the one I saw, anyways) there were subtitles to show what the characters were signing to one another, and they were fit into the flow of the conversations in the same fashion as the spoken Japanese. I imagine this would be more impressive to a viewer who did not have any subtitles of the Japanese version of this film, however I noticed a huge difference with the dubbed version. There were no subtitles for the signs being given.
At first I grappled with this difference and the impact it made on the overall film, but by the conclusion, I had my verdict. I found that hearing Shoya fumble around trying to figure out what he wants to sign to Shoko and him try his best to understand what she was saying in return to him was much more effective without subtitles. As a viewer, I was able to understand that it wasn’t an immediate registration when Shoya was signing and trying to interpret in a much better way. This feels more authentic with a build upon the previous point I made of Daymond getting the little details of Shoya’s lines delivered so well.
Lexi Marman Cowden as Shoko Nishimiya
That was at the top of my notes for this performance. Writers have covered this since the announcement, but this role is nothing short of revolutionary for dubs. In case any readers do not know, Marman Cowden is a deaf actress who plays Shoko Nishimiya, one of the main characters in this film who is deaf. It seems like a logical decision to make, however this role could have been given to a different choice in different hands (not to be a sleight at the subtitled version, but the casting had Saori Hayami as Shoko for instance). Instead, we are given a passionate performance that has stuck with me nearly a week after I heard it.
Shoko goes through a lot through this film, and the events and actions of the character alone really hit those struggles home. To call this role one that demands some remarkable acting is not likely an understatement. Many fans who have read the manga or seen the subtitled version know there are a handful of moments that have hay-makers of punches to the heart. It is difficult not to get into the specifics without spoilers but the big moments as well as the daily struggles of this character demanded a performance that matched a young adult struggling, and Marman Cowden is phenomenal with this.
There is a myth that some individuals who do not know deaf people may think that those who are deaf cannot speak. Returning to the point earlier, Marman Cowden contributes to the building of an effective dub in a similar way to Daymond. Since there are no subtitles in the dub, we are strictly hearing the interpretations and struggles of Shoya as well as Shoko expressing things as she signs. There are just as many moments where the audience can piece together what is being signed between these two by hearing Marman Cowden.
Tip-toeing around the spoilers, I really want to highlight the big Shoko moments from this dub. I cried like no other the first time I saw this film and there are a few moments where my heart just broke to see Shoko share her feelings about things without her intended messages being received. It is a sad and brutal stomp that this narrative does not go easy on showing. As such, I thought that Marman Cowden’s delivery of Shoko’s shouts and attempts to clear misunderstandings were groundbreaking and amplified the emotional impact of these scenes. If for no other reason, hearing the investment and MVP caliber performance from Marman Cowden makes this dub worth the time spent.
Kristen Sullivan as Yuzuru Nishimiya
Another gem of a performance that might go underappreciated without context, I was really impressed with Sullivan as Shoko’s younger sibling, Yuzuru. While I would hardly call it a “twist” or a “spoiler”, the early narrative development to this character is kept fairly well with Sullivan’s line delivery in early scenes. I wouldn’t exaggerate and say that it throws off audiences, but it is still careful enough of delivery that it definitely needs brought up.
Sometimes I believe that this character and their later-character arc go overlooked by some fans. Maybe it is because this story is simply packed with great characters and moments, but I wondered how the dub would convey the bigger moments Yuzuru has. I can think of two scenes in particular that stuck with me in my notes.
The first of these has Yuzuru meeting with Shoya on a bridge after what might be described as the biggest conflict of the film occurs as well as something within the Nishimiya family happening. The entire time, the young Nishimiya is dealing with the change to the family dynamic in a very evasive way. While I am simply reading into a situation with my own interpretation, I found Sullivan’s acting in this scene very convincing for showing attempts to process recent events without impacting Shoya (who recently had a wrecking ball of a scene hit him, too).
The other example that sticks out for me is towards the finale, where a character’s actions has much of the cast reflecting upon their own actions (or inaction). I was really impressed with the display of frustration that Sullivan has for Yuzuru here. There are a ton of different directions that this character could have gone, but the audience gets a somewhat detached character that still has clearly defined emotions they’re dealing with. It is a rare moment for this character to see their self-blame and frustration be so vocal and it builds upon the closing scenes of the film.
Graham Halstead (Kenji Seki in Psychic School Wars) as Tomohiro Nagatsuka
When I go into a dub, I try not to spoil the cast listing for myself-it has to be a fresh experience where I guess the cast. Naturally, I had trouble figuring out the talent in this film. Of all of the cast, the performance that surprised me substantially was Graham Halstead and his take on Tomohiro Nagatsuka.
Tomohiro was a character that I was a little underwhelmed with in the sub version of this, so I was not expecting much here admittedly. Maybe he just sticks out tonally from the rest of the cast, but I was not particularly fond of him. Adding a dub layer to the mix, however, brought a new facet to the character alive. From very early on, I found myself murmuring to myself “This guy is really nailing a good spin on this character” as my friends looked over at me jotting down notes.
Indeed, Halstead performs what I can only call an accurate portrayal of a loyal friend who is a misfit of a class. Sometimes dubs have this type of character sound as annoying as possible, but Halstead takes it a different angle and just rocks it with a character that sounds how he “should”. Pardon me sounding vague there on descriptors, it is a difficult sort of thing to articulate in text. Essentially what I am getting at is Halstead’s character performance here is one of a few in this film I can best describe as taking a person in a very specific social role and playing up to how they would likely sound in situations.
For example, there is a point where Tomohiro learns he was mistaken about a character in the middle of getting fired up. He awkwardly stutters away from the conversation and remains soft-spoken the rest of the time. Rather than doing an anime trope of “gag-reaction-return to normal”, Halstead carries his performance over the course of a scene in a natural way someone who would be a social outcast trying to fit in with a new friend would likely act. He doesn’t jump back up to 100% on the belting out of lines, he delivers the lines a little middling way. Halstead is a perfect example of what I was mentioning as a great blend of talent with direction. Both sides of this were clearly in sync when recording for Tomohiro and the entire character is elevated as a result.
Kira Buckland (2B in NieR: Automata, Kuroyukihime in Accel World) as Naoka Ueno
Before I dive into this performance, I want to get something out of the way I probably should have for years. I have always been very careful with covering dubs that have certain actors in them because, at one point long ago, I was an amateur voice actor. I always worried that I would risk being too biased in favor of these amazing talents and strayed away from writing about their work. It is no small understatement to say that Kira Buckland was one of the most influential people for me as a young voice actor. I admittedly was probably way too young to be trying to voice act (and growing up caught up and destroyed my voice to the point I had to quit trying) but that didn’t stop the amazing voice acting community Buckland made from being supportive of me. Whenever I had questions about voice acting technicalities or even just wanted to talk, her and her voice acting community were always there for me. She is probably one of the main people that when I see her out here crushing the scene with amazing performances, I can’t help but to be happy for. I always wanted to tweet my appreciation for her help, but I never could before. I would definitely just let her know how much I appreciated her help and I wished well for her.
With this performance, however, there is no fear of bias because Buckland absolutely wins her scenes she has as Naoka Ueno. When I thought of there being a dub for this film, I guessed that this character would likely be “by the numbers” since she was a pretty easy to predict role. Conventional performances would have her just lay it on thick and be the heel of the film with a few lines towards the end showing hesitation (“oh wow was she good all along?” audiences gasp).
Buckland and the team for the dub of A Silent Voice take the norm for this role and tear it to pieces. Without spoilers, most of the scenes involving Naoka have her confronting Shoya about his decisions he has been making throughout the film. She digs into Shoya and points out the flaws in everything he has been doing. Rather than just sledgehammer through and show opposition, there is a complicated character whose muddied feelings are evident in this great performance.
Rather than give a convincing heel character that everyone is just meant to hate, there are so many little things in the line delivery here that are really impressive. There is just enough at points in the lines to tip audiences off that Naoka really does not feel as malicious as she is pretending to be and that her feelings are hurt seeing Shoya live this life of new decisions. She laughs at the end of lines with laughs that sound more like she is trying to sell herself on what she is saying than trying to tear down Shoya and that she is just as conflicted about her past as he is. The read on the situations and subtle notes hit in the performance here make this arguably my favorite role from Buckland.
Amber Lee Connors (Akane Hiyama in Love Tyrant, Nozomi Kaminashi in Keijo!!!!!!!!) as Miki Kawai
Similarly to Halstead with Tomohiro, I was very surprised by hearing this take on Miki Kawai by Amber Lee Connors. As I mentioned with Tomohiro, there is a character that can be drawn upon for inspiration here that comes to mind when I think of Miki and how she acts in the narrative. There is an individual who has a very specific defense mechanism they lean into to prevent any wrongdoing from coming to them. I found that Connors took this kind of character and just ran with it in all of her scenes.
Interestingly enough, I found the above aspect to the character to be one of the only real important ones for the narrative and, naturally, was concerned for the dub. It felt like it would be an uphill battle trying to make this character work without it being, frankly, average. Connors rose to the occasion and gave a memorable performance that has me thinking about how great her performance was in some of the critical scenes that involved her character. The tension in these scenes was thick and her dialing up the defense mechanism this character has upped the tension to new heights. It takes a lot to understand how to bring the most out of their character, and Connors put the dub scene on notice that she is able to read these characters and build striking characters out of the smallest windows.
Sara Cravens (Sachiko Fujinuma in ERASED) as Miyako Ishida
I have been covering big moments of the film and how well the cast elevated the material, and I would be doing a disservice to Cravens here by not showcasing her performance. There are really three big scenes this character has, two towards the beginning and one at the end, that really stick with me. It might be easier to start with the one at the end since it is so reliant on context of spoilers that I can just get my thoughts out quickly. Everyone else around Miyako is very shaken up and for the length of an entire scene it feels like her character is an anchor for everyone else. Rising to the occasion, Cravens delivers elegantly.
The two scenes towards the beginning give a very convincing performance of this character. In a scene that takes place before a majority of the film, a very exhausted Miyako pays a price for her son’s actions. There is a lot of imagery that leaves an impact from this scene, however the line delivery is very supplemental. Additionally, there is a scene after the backstory is established where Miyako confronts her son about something he almost did. The confrontation begins with her feigning friendliness right before dropping a motherly interrogation. Then, as things escalate, she emotionally confides how miserable she would have felt if anything happened. This entire time, there is just an aura of chaos that I couldn’t look away from. This was acting at its’ finest, only in an anime format. Whenever this scene makes its’ way online, I highly recommend re-watching this one.
I had some brief thoughts about a few of the other cast members here I wanted to mention. Their characters did not have many speaking lines, but I was very impressed by what they brought. One that had a few scenes but was present for the big moments of the film was Melissa Hope (Ursula in Pokemon) as Miyoko Sahara. Miyoko’s character is naturally kind of quiet but when she spoke in big moments and in a reunion for characters, Hope did great. I really liked that there was clear backstory for the young woman and that Hope hit the right pauses that would likely result from someone with the past Miyoko had.
I didn’t really think much of the character until I read the manga after seeing the sub version of the film, but I realized going into this just how interesting of a character Shoko’s mother, Yaeko was. Lipica Shah (Lalah Sune in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin) did an outstanding job as the fiercely protective Yaeko Nishimiya. Particularly towards the finale of the film, there is a great range of acting that Shah uses with the emotional turbulence hitting Yakeo.
While I really didn’t get his character in the grand scheme of the film, Max Mittelman (Saitama in One Punch Man, Atsushi Nakajima in Bungo Stray Dogs) gives a fresher Satoshi Mashiba than I was anticipating. Mittelman is enough of a powerhouse to take an oddball addition to the cast of A Silent Voice and make a memorable scene or two out of it, which is more than enough to be said. Speaking of memorable scenes, in the “backstory” part of the film, I was blown away by the performance Marc Diraison (Guts in Berserk ) had as Takeuchi. I actually shouted “Whoa!” when I heard his delivery in the big tense scene from that introduction.
This dub is going to stick with me for a long, long time. The film itself is just packed with emotionally heavy scenes that take a lot of time to digest and reflect upon, and I think the maturity level of the performances and approach to direction reflect this elegantly. There are real specific scenes I would like to dig into, but I would rather save those for another time since I could probably write another 4000 words about those alone.
Coming back to the work that Stephanie Sheh and her team are doing here, I think this (in conjunction with Your Name.) can cement her legacy as a voice director alone. I am eager to see what she takes up next and to see more amazing talent like the team on this dub to be highlighted and given the opportunity to shine. If the cast is even a fraction as good as the ones in these two projects, they will be well worth listening to.
For the sake of keeping it spoiler free, I just want to highlight what I think is the most important part of this dub without spelling it out. There are three or four scenes where the discord among the cast is at a height and there could have been quite a few different ways the dub went with them. What I appreciate the most, however, is that they kept them as organic as possible and every single line felt like it was from an actual conflict. I say “actual” to mean that there were moments where if I closed my eyes, it would sound like something actually going on in the real world between people and not just something scripted. This is essential in hitting the power in a key scene in a film focused on relationships, self-image and the complexities that accompany both of these.