Since this is my first formal anime review, I figure I should start with some disclaimer information. I am an anime enthusiast; I tend to watch anime for production qualities, story, cast/characters, music, and general fun. I don’t usually limit myself by genre. Of course, I do tend to enjoy some genres more than others, and I have chosen not to watch shows because I didn’t like the art style or the synopsis didn’t sound interesting, so I’m not some kind of super critic or anything.
Hataraku Maou-sama is one of my top 3 anime of all time, so I may show some biases in that respect.
I usually prefer subtitled anime because I am a Japanese voice actor nerd, and I also find the quality of Japanese voice acting to be much higher than what I’ve seen of English voice acting. This includes anime dubs and video game dubs. I am not against watching/playing a dub, but I just find lots of inconsistencies in dubs that bother me, specifically that voiced lines attempt to conform to the animated lip movements, which oftentimes causes a strange lack of punctuation in the flow of conversations. Aside from that, I also feel that Japanese voice acting just comes out more passionately, more realistically; whether the lack of this is the fault of the English voice actor or the director or some other party, I don’t know. Last, some things just make more sense because they’re in Japanese and the setting is usually centered around or dealing with being Japanese. A big one is Japanese dialects; oftentimes, dubbed anime attempts to retain dialects by using various heavy English/American accents, the usual culprits being a British accent, southern accent, or New York accent. This isn’t really accurate since the social connotation is different, so the experience changes.
Now, with that out of the way, I shall transition into the review. This is not a spoiler-free review, so don’t read on if you haven’t watched this series yet!
Going off that last point, things (centered around) being Japanese, right off the bat there are two minor but noticeable failings in the English dub. First, the names. One of the great things about Japanese as a syllabary language is the abundance of sounds-like puns. So, one thing English watchers will have a hard time understanding, if not being completely unable to understand, is how the main Ente Isla cast’s Japanese names are sounds-like or meaning puns on their real names. “Demon King Satan” in Japanese is “Maou Satan” (which is pronounced closer to “sat on”), so his chosen Japanese name is Mao Sadao; “Alsiel” might be easier, but, again, due to Asian name conventions versus Western conventions, the first name precedes the last name, so it’s harder to grasp that “Shirou Ashiya” is originally read “Ashiya Shirou,” which is a play on the Japanese pronunciation of Alsiel, “Arushieru” –> “A ru she a ru.” Even harder to get is “Emi Yusa” –> “Yusa Emi” –> “Yuusha Emilia” which is Japanese for “Hero Emilia.” At least it’s obvious that “Emi” is short for “Emilia.” Lucifer is kind of a stretch, but I don’t really get why his given name is “Hanzo,” but his last name, “Urushihara,” sounds close to “Ruushiferu,” the Japanese pronunciation for Lucifer. Then, there’s Sariel as Mitsuki Sarue. This one is a more “Japanese-only” pun, since Sariel fits obviously as Sarue. However, “Mitsuki” means “beautiful moon,” which plays into Sariel’s character and powers.
Not everyone watches disc extras (I usually don’t, but I really should /shrug). If this explanation was given in a commentary, well, that’s good, I guess. However, I feel like they should have taken the School Rumble approach and at least left their names in Japanese order. Barring that, I don’t see why they wouldn’t conduct short interviews with the translators and writers and directors just to give some insight into the work they did in getting this out and include that as an extra feature. That’s something I would definitely watch.
The other minor failing deals with episode 9. At the beginning, the signage is translated as “Tanabata” but all the characters talk about the “Star Festival.” Being familiar with Japanese culture, I’m already aware that they are referring to Tanabata, but for someone who doesn’t know that, “Star Festival” is extremely vague and uninformative. It’s already obvious that the series is set in Japan, so I don’t see a need to “dumb down” the terminology. In fact, I think it would make more sense to leave it as “Tanabata” so that people who are curious about the festival can look it up more directly, instead of having to use such an unspecific term. In Funi’s defense, searching Google for “star festival” immediately brings up pretty much only Tanabata links, but it’s still the idea that “we need to change this Japanese term” that doesn’t sit well with me.
Those are my biggest complaints, but since I already labeled them as minor that should be an important indicator that, by and large, I really enjoyed the English dub. I think part of it is just that the animation work goes such a long way in defining the characters that the voice work doesn’t need to do as much heavy lifting. I’ll go through the cast one by one.
First, Mao Sadao, the Demon Lord Satan, is voiced by Josh Grelle. I was originally unimpressed by the trailers Funi released with the few dubbed lines, but I realized that all the scenes with Mao in them were “staging,” as in he was being flashy for some reason. After watching the entire series dubbed, I can still say that I’m unimpressed with Josh’s out-of-the-ordinary voice. However, those times are pretty rare in the show, so, for the most part, Josh gets to use his Average Joe voice, sometimes peppered with serious-voice, yelling-voice, and crying-voice. These are all great; I think he sells the 20-something “average guy” aura very well, and he sounds natural and emotive in the majority of the show. The scene when he’s lecturing the MgRonald’s staff on the Sentucky opening night, and the one from the trailer with the “black pepper fries, hai-yah!”, I thought he just sounded… strange. Not bad, per se, not trying to hard or anything, but… it didn’t really fit. Worse, whenever Mao reverted to Satan-form, it just felt like Josh forced the lower-tone, gravel-in-my-throat voice and it sounded really unnatural. Ousaka Ryouta, Mao’s Japanese voice actor, had a much better dramatic voice, just lowering his pitch a few notes to make himself sound more “manly” which gave Satan more gravitas in those moments. Not to mention he also just kept his same voice for some of the scenes as Satan, since, you know, he’s still the same person. Overall, as the majority of scenes were done well, I liked Josh as Mao.
Next, we have Felecia Angelle as Yusa Emi. I felt like Felecia had the best performance of the entire dub. She had the most natural-sounding voice and was able to properly emote as the scene required; in short, it sounded like Emi was really talking. I think this is my problem with most dubs – it’s oftentimes hard to immerse yourself in the story or the scene because the voice work just sounds wrong or off. Even though I watch tons of anime and hear the same Japanese voice actors over and over again, I can still believe that the anime character with the familiar voice coming from it is supposed to sound that way. That’s how I felt about Felecia’s work as Emi. The only “issue” I had that I can think of is the scene when she first summons Better Half in episode 5, but I’m pretty sure my issue is more the way Emi’s line was written in English rather than Felecia’s delivery of the line.
Tia Ballard voiced Sasaki Chiho and… I thought she was fine. I found her a bit too squeaky compared to Touyama Nao’s performance which was more subdued and cutesy. Two main scenes where she has many lines are when she’s yelling at Emi in the café and yelling at Suzuno before they get attacked by Sariel. I felt like she was doing just that: yelling. Yelling for the sake of yelling. I didn’t detect much emotion in her performance, which is a very important aspect of those scenes. However, I did think she did a good job in the scene where Chiho is being walked home by Mao right before Suzuno pops in.
Ashiya Shirou was voiced by Anthony Bowling. Anthony displayed a very rich range of emotion and ability, I think, which was good since Ashiya had a lot of ups and downs in the series and he was able to match the character’s feelings. However, opposite of Josh Grelle, I felt like Anthony’s “normal” voice was a bit lacking, fairly emotionless, which is ironic considering how well he does when the character displays extreme emotion. He delivers a very worthy performance, though.
Then, we have Aaron Dismuke as Lucifer and Alex Moore as Crestia Bell. Aaron did a really great job with Lucifer, I thought, performing the flippant teenager act much better than Shimono Hiro does in the Japanese version. Unfortunately, Lucifer just doesn’t really have that many lines, but Aaron really makes him stand out when he does. This is more of Funi’s problem, but I was disappointed that for the scenes where there was a main conversation and a sub-conversation in the background, the volume of the sub-conversation was so low that I couldn’t even tell what they were saying when I rewound and listened only for it. This is very apparent in the scene where Chiho first meets Suzuno and they all have lunch together – in the Japanese version, you can clearly hear Lucifer in the background asking for the fried chicken, but in the English dub there’s just some random noise that you can tell are voices but can’t make out what it’s saying. However, I will say that Aaron as Lucifer is probably the only one where I prefer the dub over the Japanese cast. Alex Moore… I don’t like to put people down, but, of all the dub voices, her performance is the only one where I might say I didn’t like it. It felt like all of Suzuno’s lines were somewhat flat and expressionless. The only excuse I can really think of is that since her lines used a lot of less standard words, but, as a professional, it should be your job to learn the lines and act the part, so it’s not a very good excuse. Same as with Tia, in the scene where Chiho and Suzuno are arguing, it just felt like Suzuno was yelling for the sake of yelling, not really out of anger or frustration. It certainly doesn’t help that Kanae Itoo, Suzuno’s Japanese voice actor, is one of my favorite voice actors and her performance as Suzuno was some of her best work.
Last, some of the more minor characters deserve a shout out. Suzuki Rika was voiced by Alexis Tipton, who did fine. I think her lines should have been more excited in general, but Rika didn’t have a ton of lines anyway so there isn’t a lot to compare to. Kisaki Mayumi was voiced by Caitlin Glass, and I thought she did a pretty good job. However, her Japanese voice actor, Uchiyama Yumi, is really good with super-emotive voices (as evidenced by her work as Momiji in Binbougami-ga!), so Caitlin falls a bit flat in comparison. In particular, the scene where Kisaki is telling Mao that her coworker was sent to Greenland, Yumi’s delivery in that scene was really memorable, so Caitlin’s normal delivery just contrasted poorly. Monica Rial voices Emerada, who suffers from the same problems as Kisaki, in my opinion. Asakura Azumi does this really super lazy, super ditzy voice for Emerada and it really sticks out and is memorable; Monica just uses normal-girl voice, so in comparison it sounds rather plain and unexciting. Finally, Scott Freeman voices Sariel. The tune is starting to get old, but, again, Iguchi Yuuichi just does such a stellar job that what Scott does pales. Japanese Sariel sounds so much more like a sleazeball playboy, and in the fight with Mao and in talking with Emi he’s so much more bored, angry, mocking, hysterical, etc. Scott just… doesn’t have the feelings in his lines. The very last scene where he’s lovestruck by Kisaki was done well, though.
One last script pet peeve is that, when Mao tells Sariel to pray to God before being struck by his “sacred sword,” in Japanese he says something more of a proper prayer, “please save this lost little lamb.” However, Funimation for whatever reason decides to go full troll and his line becomes “I’m sorry for being such a tool.” Like, really? He would never say something that self-deprecating, first of all, and it completely changes the tone of that parting line. This just goes into translation philosophy, I suppose, which I’ve tried to participate in on the NISA forums but I still don’t understand the need to completely change the meaning of something for any reason.
In closing, I don’t know if I’ll ever think a dub is good, but this one was “very watchable.” Most of the time, when I start to watch a dub, I almost immediately want to switch to Japanese audio; even Binbougami-ga! was no exception, I just randomly decided to give episode 2 a try and it got significantly better. However, for The Devil is a Part-Timer, I think it helped that the first 10-15 minutes of the show was in that fake language. After that, it just honestly was fine so I never felt like I “had” to switch audio. Separate from this review, I do hope Hataraku Maou-sama gets a continuation soon; I think it was one of the bigger hits of 2013, and it has a lot of source material to pull from, so I think the chances are pretty decent, but still gotta wait for the official announcement.