An Oral History Of Cowboy Bebop's English Dub – The Best Anime Dub Ever

An Oral History Of Cowboy Bebop's English Dub – The Best Anime Dub Ever

Despite his initial reluctance to consider himself an actor, Steve Blum has become prolific. His roles since include Wolverine in many “X-Men” cartoons, the Green Goblin in “The Spectacular Spider-Man,” Starscream in “Transformers,” Orochimaru in “Naruto,” Amon in “The Legend of Korra,” Zeb Orrelios in “Star Wars,” Roger Smith in “The Big O,” Makoto Shishio in “Rurouni Kenshin” (incidentally, Wendee Lee voiced Shishio’s lover, Yumi), and more.

He also voiced a key role on the aforementioned “Samurai Champloo,” where he worked alongside Kirk Thornton full-time, not just for a single episode. Thornton confirmed to me that he didn’t realize how “Champloo” was connected to “Bebop” until later: While “Samurai Champloo” character Mugen (Blum) inherited Spike’s looks, another character, Jin (Thornton), got Spike’s coolheaded, “flow like water” personality.

In commemoration of his work on “Cowboy Bebop,” Blum has the voice print of Spike’s final line (“Bang”) tattooed down his left arm.

Beau Billingslea continues to have the most diverse filmography of his castmates, mixing voiceover, on-camera work, and stage acting (his “first love”). “You have a live audience out there and they’re responding in real-time,” he beamed. “If you say something funny and they laugh or you say something sad and they cry, it’s just this instant interaction with the audience, this instant exchange of energy, which is a beautiful thing. So that’s the reason that I really enjoy stage.”

Melissa Fahn has spent time on stage too (see: “Wicked!”), and continues to have a steady voiceover career. Not just in dubbing either: she played Gaz Membrane in “Invader Zim!”

Both Wendee Lee and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn have continued ADR directing in conjunction with their acting. Some of Lee’s projects include “Haruhi Suzumiya” (where she acted as the eponymous lead), “Bleach,” and “Cyberpunk: Edgerunners,” while McGlynn has voice-directed projects including “Naruto,” “Digimon,” and the “Silent Hill” video game series (where she also put her musical talents to use by singing plenty of the soundtracks).

On a personal note, Steve Blum and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn are now married — Spike and Julia got their happy ending together in at least one universe. The cast also stays in touch even outside organized reunions and conventions (Billingslea tells me they have a text group chat together).

On the production side, Handler’s trip to Asia wound up being permanent: He now lives in Cambodia. On top of ADR writing, he got to work on the writing staff of an “Astro Boy” anime reboot in 2003, helping to devise the story alongside Japanese creatives instead of just translating. He recently completed a book, “Collaborative Screenwriting and Story Development,” which he says “teaches how to write stories, how to develop stories from a collaborative point of view, because most screenwriting books take the point of view that you’re just sitting down at your typewriter and writing a story, and it doesn’t work that way anymore. Very few stories get written like that.”

Jason DeMarco remains at Cartoon Network (his current title is SVP of Action and Anime, Warner Discovery). In the past couple of decades, he’s helped not just import anime series, but develop them, too, e.g. the “FLCL” sequels and Watanabe’s forthcoming “Lazarus.” He offered me a tease of that series in our interview:

“I can say that Watanabe is 150%, like he’s putting all his chips in on this show. And I think he is really hoping this does really well in the U.S. and Japan, because he’s purposefully not returned to the sci-fi action genre since ‘Bebop’ because he didn’t want to revisit old ground. But I think after his experience at Netflix and their remake of his show and all of that, I think he feels like he wants to step back in and remind everybody that he’s the man, which no one needs reminding, but he feels they do. So, I think he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder about this show, and I think it’s really driving him to make it the best work he’s ever done, is what he’s trying to do here. So, for me as a Watanabe fan and a fan of all of his work, I’m very, very excited.”

As for “Cowboy Bebop” itself, its reputation as the best English anime dub endures even as the quality of dubbing has substantially improved in the years since. Of the cast and crew I was lucky enough to speak to, I asked for their thoughts on that reputation and why they think “Bebop” has endured.

Jason DeMarco: They got really lucky in that they picked a cast that ended up being incredibly talented voice actors who brought way more to the table than a lot of people did at that time. So, that’s number one. Number two, the way they were directed was definitely to play it more … you could tell there was respect for the material […] I think it was a combination of serendipity and them really caring about the material. And I think Ken. No one ever talks about Ken’s involvement, but Ken produced the show with Watanabe in Japan, and Ken was involved with making sure the dub got done correctly.

Beau Billingslea: I feel very proud when the subbers come up and say “Cowboy Bebop” is one of the few dubs that they will watch because they liked the original Japanese. But yeah, I’m very proud of “Cowboy Bebop.” I’m proud and feel very fortunate that I was chosen to be a part of the show, and also very proud and thankful that it has endured as it has, and so that I can continue to go to conventions and absorb the love of the fans, which, there’s nothing better than that. When you’re in the booth doing basically a cartoon, you’re not thinking about it having a profound effect on anybody or their lives.

Wendee Lee: [“Bebop” is] one of those iconic shows that has really high quality and also was so based in Western culture that it was an easy fit for us in many ways. It was real easy for us to find nuanced humor and comedy and just dryness and wit and sass and all of those cool elements. I feel like many of the shows I’ve done are on par with that same quality. It’s just not always a show that has all those other special elements. But yeah, I’ve had many experiences on the series. Certainly, a series that I direct, that’s always my goal, to make a seamless adaptation of localizing the material so the viewer is immersed in the experience and gets the biggest bang for their buck.

Marc Handler: Writing ADR is kind of like being the bass player in a band, you know? You don’t expect recognition. The singer and the lead guitarist get the recognition. But you don’t expect it, and you don’t mind that. You’re happy to play your part, contribute to the band. But when people do recognize you, it’s a surprise, and it’s really appreciated. Of course, I have to say, that’s how I feel, but I was just part of a team: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, the director, and the actors, Kevin, and Steve Blum, and Wendee Lee, and Melissa Fahn, and Beau — I think we worked together as a team very well. And we’re part of a dubbing community where we kind of all know each other, and work very cooperatively in general. So it really was a team effort.

And then beyond that, you have to say we were just contributing one part of what had been created. That the real credit, of course, goes to Watanabe-san and Nobumoto-san [the late Keiko Nobumoto, a screenwriter for “Cowboy Bebop”] and Yoko Kanno, and all these amazing people. While I’m thinking about that, I can say if I believed in astrology, I’d think the stars were aligned, because our team was really wonderful, but the team in Japan was awesome, that they just came together at the right time to create this amazing series. And it was Watanabe’s first series. It was just killer.


What else is left to say but, “See you, Space Cowboy.”

Mr. Blum and Mr. Stellrecht were not available for comment.

Representatives of Mrs. McGlynn and Mrs. Fahn did not respond for comment.

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