This article is available in audio format- I have done an embed link and a link below in case Kinja is not cooperative in the future:
When I wrote about Fate/Zero back in 2017, most of my thoughts about the dubs of the franchise were covered there- the writing reaches levels of absurdity that undermine otherwise really passionate, invested performances. Despite that, I was still inspired by the dub of Fate/Apocrypha and wanted to talk about the ensemble cast in November of that same year. I was actually much more fond of Apocrypha than Zero, despite conceding that Zero was probably objectively a better anime.
When I found the 2006 Studio Deen adaptation of Fate/stay night, I went into it expecting a complete disaster. This was probably in no small part thanks to the bad reputation the show garnered over the years within several anime communities I belonged to.
What I ended up getting, however, was a completely fine anime. I didn’t find it to be “great”, but I also could not find much wrong with it to warrant calling it not worthwhile. It served its purpose in being entertaining enough to have on in the background while I continued to unpack things in my new home. Sure, there were a few moments that were...questionable (CGI dragons, anyone?). However, these were already beaten to death by memes and I ended up realizing a bulk of them were just signs of lackluster mid-2000s animation. I couldn’t help but to wonder if a combination of the age of this anime and the rabid fanbase Fate/ is known for attracting fostered the strong hate people seem to have for this work.
There was something here that really interested me and kept me pausing my unpacking to jot down some notes. When I hailed Fate/Zero and Fate/Apocrypha’s dubs, I was really impressed by just how well the dubbing teams traversed the choppy waters that was the writing. The writing for the 2006 Fate/stay night, however, is sometimes un-salvageable by the team here. This dub suffers from age, like most 2000s dubs do when stacked against the ones we have spoiled by in the 2010s. What makes it so fascinating is that it is an experimental dub that has a ton of talent showcased. The material sometimes ends up making the invested performances lost in the midst of the writing, but there are seeds for reprisals of roles later on in this championed franchise’s dubs. Further, a noticeable chunk of this cast gets shuffled around for the 2015 dub of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works.
Most of my notes were observations about what I thought really worked for some character roles that were later replaced or notes that compared and contrasted the performances between different actors (or, in a few cases, how some actors did their roles differently a second time). After I was finished with this dub, I was inspired to binge Unlimited Blade Works and get around to writing about that dub, too. Unlimited Blade Works was an anime that really resonated with me but the negative reception it had among my friends (both in my real life and online circles) made me timid to discuss it that often. If you’ve been following my content lately, I haven’t strayed away from talking and writing about my love of Fate and I think it is because it is just one of the many things I am learning to have confidence in expressing.
With that said, for the fun of the challenge, I was thinking about trying something new for this Dubs w/ Dil: two dubs at once. First, I’ll begin by looking at the characters that had the same actor cast for them. Next, I’ll do the side by side with what I thought was unique/what worked for each performance of the rest of the characters (those that had multiple actors play the role). Afterwards, I’ll discuss takeaways from the 2006 dub I believe helped make the 2015 dub so special. Finally, I’ll give parting takes on the franchise, its dubs, and its importance to me.
I should probably give a synopses of these shows if you happen to not know what Fate is. Fate/stay night is the 2006 anime adaptation of a popular visual novel of the same name. One of the game’s three stories is told in this series, with the 2014-2015 anime Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works covering a second, separate branching story from the game. The former of the two was animated by Studio Deen, with the latter being famously animated by ufotable. The story follows Shirou Emiya, a young man who finds himself caught up in a bloody ritual known as The Holy Grail War- a battle royale where mages summon figures from history and mythology alike. Shirou inexplicably summons the mightiest hero of them all, King Arthur, as he must challenge his beliefs and question his dreams. As I alluded to earlier, the series is notorious for writing that can sound ridiculous because it often tries to run one too many bases than it should at once. There are, however, really powerful moments and plenty of depth to characters with plenty of satisfying action.
Here are some side-by-side guides with links to the actors I will be discussing for each of these projects if you want to follow along or look to see what roles they might have you are familiar with!
To call Lee a mainstay in the Fate dubs would be an understatement- if anyone who prefers this franchise dubbed thinks of a voice, this is usually the one that comes to mind first. She takes on the role of Rin in nearly every dubbed Fate project with exception to the Fate/kaleid series (which have Rin voiced by Carli Mosier). Not only does she play a young version of Rin in Fate/Zero, she is even Ishtar in the newest Fate/Grand Order dub! The Japanese versions of this franchise (and, to some extent, a lot of ultra popular franchises) is hailed for bringing back talent for their roles. What some not in-touch with the dubbing scene might not realize is just how challenging of a feat this is to achieve for English dubs.
This reprisal of the role is well warranted as we see through several dubs. Lee brings every bit of personality out of this wildly entertaining character. Between the /stay night dub (which I will go ahead refer to as the “2006 dub” from here on out) and Unlimited Blade Works alone, we can see some really special scenes that cement her as arguably the best performance out of this whole lot. The 2006 dub has Rin utilized as more of an exposition-heavy role, but Lee still brings out those little charms that wins folks over. Even during some of the more grueling exposition moments, her unique voice makes the fluff that is Fate/ lore a bit easier to bear. The biggest takeaway I have from her 2006 role is that I am glad that she kept to this performance and used an undoubtedly bigger and better platform in the Unlimited Blade Works Rin role to showcase her impressive talent.
I find the first two minutes of this clip from Unlimited Blade Works to serve as the perfect sample of the kind of performance that Lee brings with Rin. She has that high-class air she carries the voice with when Rin is being serious and deep in the world of magi while also really playing up the clumsiness and flustered reactions that make Rin so endearing to fans. I think a mistake that both aspiring voice actors and critics of dubs alike make is they undervalue the importance of bringing natural transitions between emotions of a character’s lines. Rin is, on paper, the exact kind of role you would expect someone to play stern and shout a couple of times to bring out the flustered side of her and then return to being stern at a breakneck pace with. This is neither natural nor does it come out smoothly in the flow of a scene, and I believe a lack of awareness to this kind of character’s demands can hinder a dub. Lee makes this character her own with the flustered moments of the character, but she also nails the sighs and “hmmphs” that Rin does to return to her stern nature. This makes a world of difference in keeping things flowing well. Those intangibles can build fuming and audible frustration mounting into larger outbursts like at 4:11 of the same clip.
Stephanie Sheh is the one super-star I don’t think needs much of an introduction. With over 388 roles across 335 titles credited on Behind the Voice Actors alone, Sheh is easily on the Mount Rushmore of anime voice acting. To an untrained ear, they might discount many roles as simple “moe” characters that ask for a cutesy voice or something to that effect. I’d like to debunk this with a short analogy.
There was a legendary basketball player by the name of Larry Bird. “Larry Legend” played 13 seasons in the NBA and, with exception to a single year that he was injured, was an All-Star every season. Something simply enthralling about his career was that, over the course of 897 regular season and 164 playoff games, he constantly challenged himself with the littlest variations to what he usually did. He’d ask trainers what the most amount of points scored in an arena were, shoot off-handed some nights, decide to only hit shots with one foot, only make attempts from specific spots on the floor, you name it. It all translated into the same legendary performance night in and night out, but unless someone had a close eye to it, it went unnoticed how many little things he excelled at doing for the sport of it.
Stephanie Sheh’s roles really strike me in a way that is similar to those stories of Bird. There are little things she does with one voice that just sets it apart from a previous role or she might take on roles that are way on the opposite side of her usual roles. Regardless of how she does it, she delivers amazing performances in, to no exaggeration, every dub she is a part of. The 2006 dub is no different, with Illya’s quirky nature being explored by Sheh as her character reveals more of her odd behaviors.
I will admit that, during the 2006 dub, I did not remember there being much of difference between the Illya performances. This was quickly proven to be incorrect as I binged Unlimited Blade Works and heard a much bolder, more entertaining go at the little white haired ruffian. I will concede is hard not to hear the subbed version of Illya and that light noted “Ber-ser-ker”, but Sheh is plenty enough to make you not miss it. The playful tone Illya has when she is ready to have fun with her potential kill is haunting and really comes across with that alarmingly eager tone. Even with a more reduced role in Unlimited Blade Works, it is fun to see the subtle changes she makes to the character. A little less mystery since she isn’t as much of a “villain” that time around and a lot more emotion are conveyed in a way that almost makes the two Illya’s sound like completely different characters. Yes, you can still pick up on mannerisms and sound (it isn’t like she became someone different) but the UBW Illya has a lot more emotion, particularly anger.
This clip has a great example of something you never heard in the 2006 dub, which is from 0:04-0:33 (Spoiler warning for some of the lore to the character of Illya if you are going into this series blind...you certainly don’t want to watch that entire clip if you have any interest in the series!). Notice how she really jumps from that typical “cutesy” voice that people wrongly attribute as the norm for her roles and really gets into the angry side of Illya. It could have been so easy to just do the same 2006 anime rendition of Illya, but Sheh challenges herself to “shoot left handed” and it shows here with how unique she made the same role sound.
So a cool part about Tony Oliver is that he not only got to reprise his role as Lancer, but he was also the Voice Director for the dub of Unlimited Blade Works, too. Compared to some of the other voice actors on the list of ones who reprise their roles, Oliver sounds completely different between Lancer roles. For the life of me, I cannot find a clip of his voice in the 2006 dub anywhere (I rented a DVD copy from my library) for comparison, but it was night and day different hearing these dubs back to back. With all respect to the man, I don’t know what the direction for his character was for the 2006 dub. It was like there was supposed to be a bit more “cool” to him, but it just wasn’t anywhere to be found in the script. You’d think it would be somewhat serviceable to get something in there during one of his last appearances, but nothing happens worth noting.
Unlimited Blade Works, however, does a much better job writing this character and giving Oliver some wiggle room to have fun with this role. Lancer slowly wins audiences over thanks to some story beats I won’t spoil, but Oliver feels very natural for this role. The delivery is very suave and fits situations much smoother than before. This is a case where I am happy to see someone who had a lot left on the table to give get his moment to shine with the character.
Julie Ann Taylor (Cordelia in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Ibuki Mioda in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair) as Taiga Fujimura
The heart and soul of Fate’s underrated wholesome moments comes from the master of the dojo herself, Taiga. Be it reading the series or watching it, Taiga transcends mixed media and could make even the most stone cold hearted person at least smile at how lively she is. I would be doing an awful job discussing dubs if I did not note that Julie Ann Taylor accurately captures the wild Taiga in a way that both amplifies an already endearing character, but also makes the more bland moments of the 2006 dub worthwhile. You see, the 2006 anime has a really bad tendency to try to become a normal school anime at the weirdest times, relative to the pacing of the show. You know the type of moments I’m talking about: “oops gotta decide who to go to school with” or “oh man, everyone is fighting about what the class representative is going to do for the festival” (there is no festival, but you get the idea). They’re very shallow moments that try to build endearment towards the cast and fall flat with exception to the Taiga parts.
The saving grace to a couple of these scenes is that Taiga is in a few of them. Simply put, her energy and off-the-wall antics aren’t just canned attempts at being funny- they actually deliver. She is one of the more bright spots of the 2006 anime, and unfortunately isn’t anywhere to be found for most of the Unlimited Blade Works run. With that said, Julie Ann Taylor is worth highlighting here since she knocks it out of the park when it comes her moments at the plate. It would be so easy to have a character written like Taiga to be miscast and misinterpreted in a dub as being annoying with that much energy, but Taylor’s Taiga is electric and a blast to listen to. Despite not having many appearances, she makes every moment count.
Sam Riegel (Scanlan Shorthalt in Critical Role, Phoenix Wright in...Phoenix Wright)/ Bryce Papenbrook (Kirito in Sword Art Online, Rin Okumura in Blue Exorcist) as Shirou Emiya
Having to bring a voice to a character like Shirou is a massive challenge as is, which we will get to in a second, but when it comes to writing for this character, both shows suffer from some of the most infamous lines in history (such as “people die when they’re killed” and “Just because you’re correct doesn’t mean you’re right”). Our boy Shirou is very...stubborn about his way of thinking, and he is constantly at odds with basically everyone else in both of these shows. Despite being two different stories told in their own timelines, he is still amazingly bullheaded in both.
We get two very different performances for Shirou here, each with their own charm. Starting with the 2006 dub, I can assure you if you’ve heard anything Sam Riegel has done, you’ve heard his Shirou. This is actually the first time I’ve done a Dubs w/ Dil where I had a voice actor on the cast that was wildly popular because of the hit series Critical Role. While I do not listen to this myself, I am aware that Riegel was a party member in the first campaign that the group of voice super-talents ran together. Something very charming about how Riegel does his voice acting is that he is very comfortable within his natural range- you don’t hear much of any deviance from his natural voice in his roles. This is the mark of a veteran and the exact kind of role model a young aspiring talent should remember when they feel the pressures to conform to sounding like someone they aren’t.
Riegel also takes Shirou and displays all of that energy he has amidst the Holy Grail War- he expresses frustration with the line of thinking others have and sounds rather genuine in reactions to the happenings of the show. Riegel also makes this Shirou a lot more likable because of how much he sells him as the every-man. With Papenbrook firmly in the Heaven’s Feel anime films as Shirou, I would love to see Riegel play Shirou in the more lighthearted Fate projects like Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family - the ridiculously wholesome Fate cooking show.
Papenbrook, on the other hand, gives us a Shirou that might be a bit closer to the idea that diehards of the series would expect him to sound like. He’s much angrier, reckless, and sounds younger in general. This voice is hard to say it is rough to listen to like people have been known to bash this dub for because, frankly, he is playing the role exactly how it is on paper. Shirou isn’t really the guy Riegel spoils us with hearing- he is a character that is stubborn as hell and isn’t afraid to voice those dissatisfaction as loud as he needs to. Papenbrook nails the “angry teenager” side of Shriou in a way that feels critical to the role...and no, I’m not saying “edgelord”, I’m legitimately crediting his ability to sound like an angry teenager here.
After the first minute of this clip I wanted to share, it gets dangerously close to the ending of the show (so beware after that point). Nevertheless, this really captures the full range of Papenbrook’s Shirou. I don’t think you’re really supposed to love Shirou in this series, but I don’t think him being the angry teen he is makes him a despicable character.
He’s not Alex from YIIK. Obviously the discourse around this character is the root to many of the discussions people have in regard to whether or not they can stomach the writing of Fate, but I think there is some backlash Papenbrook still gets for voicing Kirito in Sword Art Online- another popular show that people love to hate on. Now, SAO and Fate both share a problem in that their fanbases are so rabid that it essentially set seas of anime hipsters and fatigued Internet dwellers into a frenzy over seeing anything remotely close to praise for these franchises. If you remove the history around the series, I think it is logical to reach one of two natural answers: you’re either going not be a huge fan of Shirou’s and just move past it or you’re going to hate the franchise thanks to the protagonist. That unfair responsibility, to many anime fans, falls on the shoulders of Papenbrook (and, to some extent, Riegel) to deliver on.
Kate Higgins (CC in Code Geass, Sakura in Naruto)/ Kari Wahlgren (Celty Sturluson in Durarara!, Haruko in FLCL) as Saber
Saber is one of the most popular anime characters that represents so much while also being the subject to some of the worst cash grabs because her massive popularity. If people hate Fate for Shirou, they don’t take it seriously because of how obsessive fans can be for Saber. It is ironic since her character stands for the empowerment of strong female leads and, if you’re new to the series completely blind, you likely would expect the complete opposite of the messages the character ends up sending fans. I won’t even try to pretend outside of the series itself, Saber brings a bunch of problems. It is really sad because I feel like in a vacuum this would have gone in a completely different direction if it were not for the commercial cash machine Saber ended up being.
I digress though, back to the dub. The 2006 anime treats Saber like the “waifu” that everyone from the outside treats her as for a very large chunk of the show. I don’t know if this is “true to the material” since I didn’t read the visual novel, but I do know she is much more stern and far more admirable as a character in Unlimited Blade Works. Without spoiling much for the 2006 anime, her character is very “damsel batting her eyes” for what feels like 70% of the time. This isn’t fair to the talent that they have cast here at all. Kate Higgins is underutilized as a result, which is so disappointing.
When the show finally throws the ball to Saber, we get to see Kate Higgins stand out with an impressive take on the King of Knights. I really like how she plays more to the hesitation in the character, too. It isn’t all stern responses or exposition- we get plenty of indecisiveness and the overall demeanor of Saber shifts as the plot unfolds. Compared to Unlimited Blade Works, where Saber is strong and in control right away, this Saber has some turbulence to get to the full strength of the character. Higgins picks up on this with the character and shows the growth smoothly. Unfortunately, her performance is one of the few things overlooked by the hatred this show received, and her invested performance is lost in the shuffle. It is also very difficult to steer attention to this great performance when many associate Kari Wahlgren as Saber, but I promise you it is worth looking into the show for Higgins alone (I wish I could say I had an easier time finding clips on YouTube, but it is barren of dub clips from this one).
Kari Wahlgren’s voice feels natural for Saber in Unlimited Blade Works. As I mentioned earlier, this Saber is much more in the driver’s seat than the one in the 2006 anime, and that makes her performance one that is significantly more demanding. Plot-wise, she is not as much of a focal point in this “path”, however she has an undeniably more memorable presence than the “recovering warrior” position she had in the 2006 anime.
It’s odd- I very rarely draw connections between Japanese voice acting casts to the English ones, but I find Wahgren’s performance as Saber to be very similar in cadence and tone to that of Ayako Kawasumi. Granted, they are two different languages altogether, but there is an “air” that they both bring to the character that is similar. They both make her sound stern with moments of softness.
Where Wahlgren soars, however, is with how much she brings to scenes based on the ebbs and flow of fights. Her first scene shows a great sample of the character and her performance (there is also a nice bit of Tony Oliver’s Lancer here!).
There is a specific face she gives in the visual novel that shows the confidence of a king, she barbs with Lancer and makes her toying sound like a genuine fight. Finally, when things go south, she sounds thoroughly shocked. I think these are the little things Wahlgren does that makes Saber so memorable. I can’t wait to hear her as a very different Saber in the Heaven’s Feel films!
Liam O’Brien (Caleb Widogast in Critical Role, Gaara in Naruto)/ Kaiji Tang (Owain in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Osamu Dazai in Bungo Stray Dogs) as Archer
I was surprised to find that O’Brien’s Archer was very similar to that of Tang’s after comparing my notes for both of the performances. They both dial up the sass and smug nature Archer carries through the first act of the respective anime, deliver some convincing monologues when the chips are on the table, and give satisfying fight barbs throughout the action scenes. I think second only to Saber, Archer gets some of the best opportunities for the voice actor to bring out the acting chops during fights.
O’Brien’s Archer in combat is gruffer sounding than Tang (who I believe excels at other aspects of the character) and I believe this Archer is much more true to form for what the 2006 adaptaion required from the character. He’s more of a cold, unknown fighter who establishes himself as an absolute badass. I wish I could find the monologue he gives to Shirou that the show relies on replaying several times towards the third act of the anime, because that is the best either actor gives in delivery for Archer. Ah well- it is worth looking into on the official dub.
As for Unlimited Blade Works, I think the Archer here is a very different character because of how much the audience learns about his true identity. The following clip is very spoiler heavy, but I think this 1:40 delivery is a prime example of bringing the most out of otherwise silly dialogue.
Tang brings out the suffering this character has endured, and he delivers believable frustration at the right moments, too. The sass is a different flavor than O’Brien’s, but it is just as enjoyable. I think this is one of those characters that both actors nail well. See the video earlier I used for Rin to hear some of Tang’s Archer and his sass.
Jameison Price (Sojiro Sakura in Persona 5, Rider in Fate/Zero)/Crispin Freeman (Alucard in Hellsing, Kyon in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) as Kirei Kotomine
How do you like your coffee? Well, I hope you like it black because that is Kotomine in a nutshell. The difference in performances here is whether you like it rich and smooth (Jameison) or strong and bitter (Freeman). It is fascinating to see these two give their own takes on, arguably, the darkest character in Fate because they both have two of the most iconic bass voices in all of the dubbing scene. The most fun comes from comparing the two performances here.
Starting with the 2006 dub, I believe that Jameison excels at making Kotomine sound like a man with dark machinations shrouded by a disarmingly smooth demeanor. Yes, it is an anime, so it is obvious he is not a “good guy”, but from the perspective of the characters in the scenes, he nails what the character should be. He sounds calm and smooth, but it is clear there are darker things at work than a simple priest in a church. While I cannot find more than a comparison clip from the dub, his voice here reminds me a bit of the alcohol trivia role he had in Catherine.
Compare this to the dark sounding Kotomine Freeman gives in Unlimited Blade Works. At first listen, they are very similar. Having his lower tone considered, however, it is much more clear the lack of heart this character has. It is less to do with sounding smooth and more in the realm of realizing this man has no soul. It brings out the contradiction of this character: a man of the church being devoid of all care or emotion. This clip is from Fate/Zero, however he reprises the role between Zero and Unlimited Blade Works. He is a remarkably dark character, and it is a matter of preference for which actor fits better for a listener.
Tara Platt (Edelgard von Hresvelg in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Mitsuru Kirijo in Persona 3)/ Megan Hollingshead (Rangiku Matsumoto in Bleach, Mai Valentine in Yu-Gi-Oh!) as Caster
Caster was a focal point in the 2006 anime towards the end of the second act, but I still think her seven-or-so episodes between the two cours of Unlimited Blade Works gave more exposition and character depth. This is one of the few roles I found myself thinking that the old dub’s choice in casting edged out the later one if they were reversed. In other words, I believe that Platt didn’t get much of a chance to bring much out of Caster. What she did with such limited opportunity, however, really impressed me. It is hard to bring out clips for Caster because the best moments the character has come at massive spoiler moments of Unlimited Blade Works. What I do believe, however, is if Platt was given the most pivotal scene the character has, it would be arguably one of the best performances in the show.
This is not a hit on Hollingshead, however, because she has a convincing performance. For a solid chunk of the series, Caster is the focal antagonist. I remember feeling the weight of the character on my first time through, which is credit enough. Where this performance impresses the most, however, is that it holds up well on the second time through. Knowing exactly where it is going does not keep me from feeling the chill that is Hollingshead’s delivery. This character should be a destination for any voice actor wanting an antagonist role.
Doug Erholtz (Jean Pierre Polnareff in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Gin Ichimaru in Bleach) /Kyle McCarley (9S in NieR: Automata, Alm in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia) as Shinji Matou
Getting to the worst characters, playing Shinji was a no-win for everyone involved. I don’t think there is a solid path of the story that will make Shinji an enjoyable character, but Unlimited Blade Works is the closest you’d get. I’m not disappointed in Erholtz’s performance because Shinji is one of the worst written characters in the 2006 dub. He checks all of the right boxes for the character, but it isn’t incredible. I fault the writing and lack of quality of ADR for the time. McCarley is a staple in today’s dubbing scene, but his Shinji suffers a lot of the same pitfallsa s Erholtz- Shinji is horribly written and only exists to be hated. He gives some wild tantrums (think 9S towards the end of NieR), but that’s about it. Moving past this character...
Sherry Lynn (Sasami in Tenchi Muyo!, Young Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop)/ Cristina Valenzuela (Homura Akemi in Madoka Magica, Velvet in Tales of Berseria) as Sakura Matou
...The other Matou child was given an even worse hand in the 2006 anime. If Saber was written like a helpless character for most of her time, Sakura was written like the most stereotypical high school anime girl ever. With that said, I feel like Lynn was focused in on playing this up. It was certainly a fascinating role to hear in comparison to Cristina Vee’s Sakura, who goes missing ridiculously fast. I was really eager to hear more of this role from her, but I will have to wait for Heaven’s Feel since Sakura is a non-factor in Unlimited Blade Works.
Grant George (Shuichi Saihara in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony,Shinjiro Aragaki in Persona 3) /David Vincent (Male Robin in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Senketsu in Kill la Kill) as Gilgamesh
I’ll be completely honest: I thought George was the voice of Gilgamesh in both of these until I rewatched Unlimited Blade Works. I could not explain why, but this whole time I thought Gilgamesh had the same voice actor through all of the Fate franchise. Maybe it is just the nature of the character, but it took me a serious sit down to hear differences in the character. The voice we get, which is similar for both actors, fits the character of Gilgamesh very well.
On paper, Gilgamesh might be challenging for casting because of his arrogant nature, but both George and Vincent make this overflowing pretentiousness sound entertaining. Interestingly enough, Vincent adds a layer by showing how bothered Gilgamesh gets by having his idea of him being perfect challenged. A perfect example can be found in this clip I used for highlighting Papenbrook, where Shirou challenges Gilgamesh, initiating a shorter, quieter response than usual.
Patrick Seitz (Dio Brando in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Franky in One Piece)/ Lex Lang (Dr. Neo Cortex in Crash Bandicoot, WarGreymon in Digimon Adventure) as Soichiro Kuzuki
It is strange, because I think the script took away what might have been a great performance by Seitz. Related to how Caster has a bigger role in Unlimited Blade Works, Soichiro is under-utilized in the 2006 anime. Maybe “under-utilized” isn’t the proper way to put it, because his dialogue is laughable (I actually laughed out loud at lines like “I don’t care that people die. My only regret is that more didn’t die!”). Seitz is almost the unanimous go-to for bad guy voices in anime/games, and that alone gets him in the door.
Perhaps one of the brighter spots of the 2006 dub was how some of the talent got the opportunity to shift into different roles for Unlimited Blade Works. One of the most impressive changes was how Lex Lang went from sounding like the most grown man high school student version of Issei to playing the much more fitting role of Soichiro. I can’t share much because he is a key spoiler to the middle act of the Unlimited Blade Works, but his performance was more believable than Seitz’s performance.
David Vincent (Male Robin in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Senketsu in Kill la Kill)/ Todd Haberkorn (Natsu Dragneel in Fairy Tail, Death the Kid in Soul Eater) as Assassin
Speaking of actors that became involved with different roles in the Fate franchise, Vincent wasn’t always Gilgamesh. In fact, he was Assassin in the 2006 dub. Another one of the characters that was limited to an astonishing two scenes, we did not get much of his role here. Haberkorn did not have a whole lot more of opportunity to play a character that plays a literal gatekeeper, but he plays well in opposition to Wahlgren’s Saber.
Karen Strassman (Kallen Stadtfeld in Code Geass, Aigis in Persona 3)/ Melissa Fahn (Edward in Cowboy Bebop, Neptune/Purple Heart in Hyperdimension Neptunia) as Rider
Rider is kind of a non-factor in both of these dubs, since her tenure in Unlimited Blade Works is short lived and the one from 2006 is shallow. Another point I thought would be important to bring up with this character is that the ongoing Heaven’s Feel dub will expand Rider’s role since she is a massive character in that path. I’m eager to hear how Fahn does there!
While some of these are re-attacks, I believe it is important to highlight the bright spots (and the the shortcomings) that helped make the Unlimited Blade Works dub so good. I truly believe the casting of Mela Lee as Rin Tohsaka was the highest point of the 2006 dub, full stop. Even back in 2006, her performance jumps out as memorable and on another level. Considering that Rin is the focal point of Unlimited Blade Works, it was a no-brainer to bring Lee back for this dub.
Likewise, Stephanie Sheh as Illya was fantastic and paved the way for a role that would stay consistent for the entire franchise. If no one came back from the 2006 dub, we would be robbed of an invested performance in Unlimited Blade Works. It is a bit outside of these dubs, but some of the delivery she had as a young Illya in Fate/Zero stuck with me in a haunting scene towards the ending of that anime (probably worth noting that Lee was a young Rin in that dub, too).
Just as important as keeping talent in their memorable roles, it is nice to see some talent shifted into other roles. Lex Lang getting second wind as an antagonist character like Soichiro and David Vincent moving over to voice Gilgamesh are decisions that made significant differences in the quality of the second dub. It is rare to find a dub that keeps talent and moves it around in a different adaptation like this, and it makes me curious how different actors would do in other iconic series. Everything from RomComs to action series- it would be entertaining to hear how an actor might try different roles in the same project they were in!
My issues with Fate come from the dialogue roughly 75% of the time- I know that sounds arbitrary, but scenes lose the wind in their sails when characters mix ridiculously surface level observations with the complex lore of the franchise. If you slow down a scene and listen to what is being said, you can really notice the flaws it brings. This is exasperated with dubbing, because it is fleshed out in English. Unfortunately, the Fate dubs have taken a bulk of the heat as if the writing was not the problem and it fell on the shoulders of the dubbing itself.
Fate lends itself as a prime example of a truth I believe that people are not willing to face when they hear their favorite anime in English. Simply put, some writing in anime/visual novels etc. just sounds ridiculous. It is okay, too. Anime conversations border on ridiculous more times than most might care to admit, and dubbing really makes that noticeable. Plenty of translations bring a bit more out of these scenes, but for something so dialogue heavy like Fate? It is impossible to avoid.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments I scratch my head at for Fate dubs, and all four of the dubs I’ve covered have moments like these. Something that helps me when I am listening to these, however, is to think of it like theater. Theater doesn’t always sound natural, but the emotion behind delivery is what you remember. There is plenty of that here and, particularly in Unlimited Blade Works, this makes for some excellent emotion in huge moments.
This theater carries through all of the Fate dubs as I can recall some of the most incredible back-and-forths from powerhouse voice talent. Matthew Mercer playing opposite of Kari Wahlgren in Zero, Liam O’ Brien opposite of Stephanie Sheh in the 2006 dub, Bryce Papenbrook opposite of Kaji Tang in Unlimited Blade Works, Cassandra Lee Morris and Mela Lee carrying Last Encore, loaded talent such as Erica Lindbeck, Erika Harlacher, and Faye Mata in Fate/Apocrypha and the all-star cast of Unlimited Blade Works returning for Heaven’s Feel.
The wonderful part of this franchise comes from just how invested the voice actors get in their roles. Drama and action are the best combination to bring this out of actors, and I just think these dubs make the franchise worth watching and, more importantly, loving for this reason.
Let me know if you guys like the audio format with these articles or if you would like to see any changes. As always, I hope you’re staying healthy and safe, and take care.