Justin’s Japan: Interview with the English Dub Cast of ‘Dragon Ball Z’ at New York Comic Con

One down, six to go: Voice actors Christopher Sabat, Justin Cook, and Sean Schemmel of 'Dragon Ball Z.' (Justin Tedaldi)

By JQ magazine editor Justin Tedaldi (CIR Kobe-shi, 2001-02) for Examiner.com. Visit his page here for related stories.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of its English-language debut, Dragon Ball Z is coming to Blu-ray for the first time in America. The November release of Dragon Ball Z Level 1.1 contains the first 17 episodes of the anime series that dominated Japan’s pop culture scene in the 1990s and later, the rest of the world. This newly remastered collection restores the original, director-approved color scheme and 4:3 aspect ratio in stunning 1080p HD, and each volume will include rare never-before-seen special features.

In this exclusive interview conducted at New York Comic Con/Anime Festival (where I also talked with Stan Lee), I spoke with three of the English dub cast members: Christopher Sabat (Vegeta/Piccolo/Yamcha/voice director), Justin Cook (Raditz/Super Buu/ADR engineer), and Sean Schemmel (Goku/King Kai/Nail) about the release, their favorite Dragon Ball memories, and the proper context for discussing one’s favorite cartoon crush.

Regarding your approach to the characters’ voices, how much of the original Japanese voice work did you watch? For the voices you replaced, how much of that did you take into consideration?

Chris: At the start, a lot of consideration was taken to the original voices, and when I say original voices, I mean the Canadian cast [whose English dub work aired from 1996-98], because at the time [Dragon Ball’s North American producers] FUNimation had decided for a multitude of reasons that it was just physically impossible for them to record in Canada any longer. It was difficult to keep the actors consistent on the roles, because a lot of the Canadian actors were cast in other things, and sometimes it would make their job difficult. In fact, they had to recast Goku several times in Canada; they didn’t want to do that anymore. And it also made more sense to be closer to the parent company, so they moved it all down to Fort Worth.

We tried to take a lot of care at the beginning to match the Canadian cast, only because we didn’t want it to be too much of a shock, and when I say “we” I guess I mean the people who hired me—they didn’t want it to be too much of a shock to the American culture when they changed out these voices. And to be honest, when we first started recording this, we didn’t really have access to the Japanese versions of the show; we were dubbing off the Spanish version of Dragon Ball Z. So if we ever listened to the original language on the tape, it was like (speaks in a rapid mock Spanish): “Goku! Dragon Ball Zeta!” [Goku’s wife] Chi-Chi’s name was Milk.

We were just trying to keep it consistent to the first 68 episodes, and it wasn’t until later that we were redubbing the show that we actually started getting in the real Japanese versions of the show and had the technology to be able to quickly preview the Japanese files. We didn’t even have digital files yet, and sometimes we didn’t even get all the original materials that had the Japanese track on it; sometimes we were lucky if it had any sound on the tape at all…the [original] Japanese wasn’t an option.

Have you been to Japan before? If not, what would you want to do there?

Sean: I have plenty ideas about what I want to do in Japan. I have not been to Japan; I really want to go. My goal is to become a background character in an anime, so I can say this (with mock surprise): “Nani?!” (what) and that’s it. I want it to be one line, to be a Japanese seiyū [voice actor]. Give me something longer than that (in a gruff voice): “Ware ware…” (we) something, but just one line; that’s my goal. And, to meet  Masako Nozawa [the original voice of Goku] and maybe, if I were lucky, [Dragon Ball creator] Akira Toriyama, but that’s probably never going to happen.

If you met Toriyama-sensei, what would you ask him?

Sean: I would just thank him, because when you think about it, here’s this guy that draws this comic book, there’s this massive explosion—that I’m on the periphery of, if you think about it—[that] radically changed my life forever. So I’d be extraordinarily grateful to that guy.

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