Cowboy Bebop is that rare series that ought to be watched dubbed.
I know it sounds sacrilegious to support dubbing. Generally speaking, when it comes to anime, subtitles are better than dubbing. Subs retain the original intent of the Japanese, while dubs can sometimes change the meaning, and even change it completely in the case of a gag dub. Subs also allow for the Japanese voice actors to shine through. And to be perfectly blunt, there have been some awful dubs; 4Kids Entertainment, I’m looking at you.
But while dubs might have a bad reputation, not all dubs are bad. In recent years, some dubs have actually gotten better, and some American voice actors are as good as their Japanese counterparts.
The English dub for Cowboy Bebop is as good, if not better than the original.
In either English or Japanese, Cowboy Bebop is an amazing series put together by creative geniuses. The stories are gritty, but fun with a good sense of humor. The show features a mixture of science-fiction settings and film noir themes. The artwork is good and the stylish music by Yoko Kanno is excellent.
And it is definitely rewatchable. Any scene with Radical Edward in it is still funny, even after several reruns. Even after 20 years, Spike remains as cool, cynical and badass as ever. Plus, it is still possible to catch previously unseen details on the second, third or fourth viewing.
OK, But Why Dubbed?
When Cowboy Bebop was dubbed into English, Animaze and ZRO Limit Productions assembled an excellent cast.
Steve Blum’s version of Spike Spiegel sounds as gritty and world-weary as the show itself. He is believable as a bounty hunter who is running from his past.
Whether he is complaining sarcastically about the lack of beef in the ‘bell peppers and beef,’ or waxing philosophic about life, Blum knows how to project the right tone of voice. The show gives Spike a couple of great monologues, which could easily sound corny in the wrong hands.
In the final episode, Blum nails the speech about ‘seeing the past’ in his fake eye. Koichi Yamadera is good, but when I compare him to Blum, he sounds a little generic. It’s almost like Yamadera is a voice actor, but Blum is Spike.
Blum’s awesome voice alone is worth the dub, right down to the last ‘bang.’
Beau Billingslea as Jet Black is the perfect gruff foil to Spike. There aren’t as many Jet Black-focused episodes, so there’s less to compare and contrast. Billingslea’s voice is not significantly different from Unsho Ishizuka’s version, but it is quite good.
To be perfectly honest, Faye Valentine also doesn’t sound all that different in English or in Japanese. Depending upon the scene, Faye runs through a lot of different emotions. She can sound sexy, annoyed, tough, streetwise, cocky, or whiny. Wendee Lee captures all of that wonderfully. She is a good substitute for Megumi Hayashibara.
(During the ‘fake eye’ speech, Lee even gasps a little better than Hayashibara.)
However, Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV is definitely better in English. Ed in either language is goofy with a childish, playful singsong voice. But Melissa Fahn captures that spirit of youthful silliness better than Aoi Tada. Fahn as Ed swoops around; she almost sings some of Ed’s dialogue.
There are a few exceptions — Ed explaining ‘Edo ga Edo!’ (‘Ed is Ed’) sounds better in Japanese, but that’s a minor quibble. Overall, Fahn wins it.
Then, there are the side characters, such as Yuri Kellerman, the psychic TV news guest who appears in episode nine, ‘Jamming with Edward’. In the English version, voice actor Michael McConnohie gives the character a voice patterned after Peter Lorre. The voice is wonderfully appropriate for the creepy character.
It’s also a choice that would be more familiar to English viewers than it would be in Japanese, which might be why the Japanese creators didn’t use it. You see this sort of thing with other side characters as well, where the American dubbers decided to have a little fun with accents on otherwise ordinary characters. Even the over-the-top bounty hunter TV show Big Shot sounds funnier (which is to say, better) with the ‘cowboys’ speaking English.
Admittedly, there is another reason why people might like the dubbed version of Cowboy Bebop: they heard it first, so it’s the version that they are more used to.
If you watched anime during the late 1990s or early 2000s, there’s a good chance that you watched at least some of it on Cartoon Network. Streaming services such as Crunchyroll didn’t exist yet and buying VHS tapes or DVD discs was expensive. Naturally, watching anime on cable TV beat the alternative for many people.
And when the late-night Adult Swim block started in September 2001, one of its first shows was Cowboy Bebop.
But I think there’s more to it than just Adult Swim dubbing nostalgia. I watched Inuyasha in English before I saw it in Japanese. But once you get used to the original Japanese-language version, it is undeniably better, and that’s not the case with Cowboy Bebop.
(It might help that you expect the very medieval Japanese Inuyasha to speak Nihongo; the Cowboy Bebop characters aren’t tied to Japanese culture.)
Whatever the reason, Cowboy Bebop is a rarity: a show where the dub is worth it.
Cowboy Bebop is available in English and Japanese on Funimation.