The debate between subs and dubs will rage on until we are long gone. In reality, it is an absolutely silly fight as you should watch which version you are more comfortable with and will enjoy better. When I decided to get back into anime in 2013, one show I constantly saw gifs of on Tumblr was of the 2009-2010 series, K-ON!. For whatever reason, I decided upon the Sentai Filmworks English dub of the series (not to be confused with the other English dub that preceded Sentai) and breezed through both seasons and the movie. The performances of the cast are good on their own and accentuated the show for me in many ways. Looking at the cast of the dub today, it is clear that the K-ON! dub should be viewed as an all-star cast and perhaps one of the best dubs of the 2010s.
One reason why the K-ON! dub works so well is in large part to the casting of the five main characters. Stephanie Sheh (Usagi in Sailor Moon, Tsumiki in Danganronpa 2/3, Mitsuha in Your Name) brings to life Yui Hirasawa’s drive and determination, along with her airheadedness. Cassandra Lee Morris (Taiga in Toradora, Morgana in Persona 5, Asahina in Danganronpa [Game]) lets Ritsu Tainaka have the tomboyish personality that defines her character while also giving the character the strength that comes with wanting to start a band in the first place. Cristina Vee (Monaka in Danganronpa 3/AE, Marinette in Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir, Rei in Sailor Moon) makes Mio Akiyama’s seriousness and caring for everyone seem realistic, while also allowing her to have a playful side with her friends. Shelby Lindley (Ram in Hyperdimension Neptunia, Hitomi in Puella Magi Madoka Magica) makes Tsumugi Kotobuki not just a somewhat aloof character who sometimes lacks common sense due to being brought up with wealth, but also a girl who also cares deeply for her friends and is eager to learn about them and what they enjoy. Christine Marie Cabanos (Chiaki in Danganronpa 2/3, Hotaru in Sailor Moon, Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica) in one of her first roles as Azusa Nakano helps her be the timid and somewhat shy first year-- serious, yet also very caring and who helps bring the band closer from the latter half of Season 1 onwards. All 5 give their character the proper characterization that falls in line with who they are, makes them believable in their performances, and also keep that up throughout both seasons and the movie. It would be very hard to argue that any one of the main characters is characterized wrong as they are all different, have their own strengths and weaknesses, and aren’t one dimensional, which is shown with the direction and acting. Looking at the main cast in 2017, most have gone on to become even bigger in the industry than they were in 2011. Looking at the performers involved with the show seems like a steal as it would most likely be hard to get this same cast together in 2017, especially when adding in the side characters of the show.
The side, minor, and recurring roles that are prominently featured in K-ON! include bigger names for the time, but also features names that are more known today. Karen Strassman (Nanako in Persona 4, Aigis in Persona 3, Phi in Virtue’s Last Reward/Zero Time Dilemma) plays teacher Sawako Yamanaka. Laura Bailey (Rise in Persona 4, Lucina in Fire Emblem Awakening, Chun-Li in Street Fighter IV/V) is Yui’s childhood friend Nodoka Manabe. Xanthe Huynh (Hanayo in Love Live!, Haru in Persona 5, Yuki in Yuki Yuna is a Hero) plays Yui’s younger sister Ui Hirasawa. Michelle Ann Dunphy (Margaret in Persona 4) is Ui and Azusa’s friend Jun Suzuki. Mela Lee (Tikki in Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir, Tiki in Fire Emblem, Celica in Xenoblade Chronicles X) plays Sawako’s friend and former bandmate Norimi Kawaguchi. Carrie Keranen (Maihiru in Danganronpa 2/3, Alya in Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Chat Noir, Caroline & Justine in Persona 5) is a live house manager the girl’s meet and friend of Sawako in Kawakami. Amanda Celine Miller (Makoto in Sailor Moon, Boruto in Boruto: Naruto the Movie, and Toko & Junko in Danganronpa [Game]) plays a few side characters in Megumi, Satoshi, and Maki. Similar to the main cast, the performances for these characters that do not show up as often throughout the series are well done and also has some names that were very known and some that were just breaking in around 2011. There is no weak link to this cast. Placing bigger names like Strassman and Bailey in prominent, but lesser roles is a risk for a dub this size in 2011, but it works and allows for others to play off them and show their own strengths which everyone does. There are a few roles in the series that do not get a lot of airtime, but they have personality which can be hard to pull off for very minor characters. One complaint about the dub could be that the songs were not localized and instead just used the Japanese originals. While that may hinder some viewers, it is most likely due to licensing that the songs remain unchanged. Given that anime in Japan is seen as a huge marketing tool and that is where it makes a good source of income, it would probably be a hefty fee for a localization team to license out these songs to be changed and to find actresses that can sing as well. In the end, the expense to dub these songs is probably not worth it to companies producing English versions of shows. This piece from ANN goes more in depth why some shows do and do not have dubbed songs.
Today, looking at all the names mentioned above and realizing they’re all in the same production is extraordinary. At the time of its initial release, the K-ON! dub was received fairly well. When dubs are usually talked about, we think of male voice actors or shows that are dominated by men. K-ON! offers neither of those. Here are some of the best women in the business together in one series, and they do a fantastic job. It may have not been seen as an amazing dub or with an all-star cast in 2011, but today it is very easy to recognize K-ON! in that light. If you have yet to check out the series, it is a little bit tough to find the English dub, as it is only available on the home releases put out by Sentai, but if you can find clips and enjoy what you hear or are fans of any of the voice actresses mentioned, this is a show worth checking out.