‘My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising’ ADR Director on Adapting the Anime for a U.S. Audience

My Hero Academia” has officially Detroit Smashed into North American theaters.

Sony Pictures Television’s Funimation released “Heroes Rising” in the U.S. on Wednesday, grossing $2.5 million on its opening day. Theaters are showing the film, a standalone entry in the popular superhero anime based on the manga, with options for either subtitles or with an English dub.

Colleen Clinkenbeard has a lot to do with the latter. The voice actor, who plays Momo Yaoyorozu, is also the ADR (audio dialogue replacement) director for both the show and “Heroes Rising,” overseeing the process of dubbing over the Japanese version with an English-speaking cast. Clinkenbeard talked to Variety about staying authentic to the Japanese script in that process, balancing cultural differences and just how the cast protects their voice when doing all that screaming.

You have a lot of experience with “My Hero,” and anime in general. Do you approach a big theatrical project like this any differently?
I mean, it probably has more excitement with it and it has more pressure, just by virtue of being something that’s — probably more eyes are going to be on and all of the companies involved have more invested into it. It just feels like a bigger deal. It’s going to be in a movie theater! So it has all of that and that has good and bad with it. I don’t know that I approach the actual dubbing any differently, but the feeling of it is a little bit more electric, and I certainly have more people coming in to check in on me.

You do have the same cast from the show coming for the movie. Is that important for something like this? Do you think it might be a problem if that weren’t the case?
We have the benefit of having that core cast who have been there from the beginning, and who know their roles and who’ve been carrying the show and who all the fans are really invested in. But then we also have the joy of adding a new few characters to our movie specifically, and everybody has been looking forward to finding out more about [them]. Because you get those teasers before the movie comes out, and you get to see what these villains look like or who these new heroes are and then I get to cast those new voices to come in and be a part of the world of “My Hero.” So we kind of have both of those elements there, and I think it’s very important to have the group that has carried it up to this point, because that way you all feel, for one thing, like a family. And for something this big, you want to feel like there’s synergy with the main cast. And then for another thing, it’s setting the tone for the people who are coming in, so that they have something, kind of – like a canvas to paint on.

What are some of the challenges that you run into as a director when translating over to English?
I mean, there’s differences between cultures that – it’s funny, because it’s a challenge and what makes it awesome. So I don’t want it to call it a difficulty. But there’s little differences in the idioms or the way that someone would say something or in values, honestly. There are little differences between cultures and things you wouldn’t normally see in American movies that come across in anime, and I think that’s part of what the fans really attach to and are interested in and intrigues them, and it’s something that kind of makes the genre fresh and interesting. But it also makes it a very difficult needle to thread, to make sure that you’re staying close enough to the original to keep the integrity and to keep the intention that was there in the first place while simultaneously making it seamless to an American or an English-speaking audience so that they feel those characters are actually speaking their native tongue, and saying things that they would normally say as the character. It’s a line to walk and it’s something that I’ve made my career on. [Laughs]

On that note, there’s a lot of American slang in “My Hero” – I’m pretty sure Camie called Todoroki “a snack” at some point this season.
[Laughs] During the series, yes.

When we see something like that, what is that translated from, and when do you make the decision to incorporate American slang?
You have to use it kind of cautiously, because I would never put the term “snack” in there just for a normal character. Momo’s not gonna call somebody a snack. But in the translation, you can tell – and they’ll even mention, the translators will mention that Camie is speaking with a real, I don’t know what they would call it… like a “cool girl” or ditz kind of speak, almost like valley girl. And if she’s speaking with that intention, the clearest way to put that in an English-speaking mind is to use words that are colloquial that some teenager would use. And that works in several different ways, like if you have someone that speaks more eloquently or more formally, like Shōji in the series, then you have to be sure that you’re putting in those high-dollar words. Otherwise, it won’t translate the intention correctly, even though that’s not the exact translation.

Are you afraid of taking too much liberty with the Japanese script?
Yes, I’m very cautious about that. I’m probably too cautious about that. I tend to sway toward the translation if there’s any question, because I want the fans to get the authenticity of the original. And I want them to trust us that we are translating for them the actual experience that was intended. So I’ll tend to sway toward the translation, but it’s a line that you have to walk, and I think what helps is being a fan. If when I read the script that we have from our ADR translators and ADR scriptwriters, if that feels authentic, then I know that we’ve hit the mark.

Like you said, you cast a couple of new actors for the movie. When you do that, are you looking for people that sound a lot like the Japanese version, or is that not really a consideration?
It’s definitely a consideration. I don’t want to stray too far from the mark… I can make little allowances for cultural acceptances, but I definitely take my cue from the original. I don’t cast the character until I’ve heard the character, because I wouldn’t want to go too far away. And I feel like Nine, with the villain, I heard [the Japanese version], and I was like, “Johnny Yong Bosch” [laughs].

In the show and the movie, there’s a lot of that battle cry, the attack scream. How do you perfect that yell?
It’s up every voice actor on how they’re going to protect [their voice]. Some of them are religious about their warm-ups and their tea and their Singer’s Saving Grace, as they’re using. And then some of them, like me, are shaming their college professor by not warming up at all [laughs]. If you have a throat of iron, you’ll be able to do it for as long as you need to. But little things can go wrong. If you’re having to do a lot of voicing in a small amount of time, that can hurt your voice. But those guys are just pros. They know exactly what they’re doing, they know their limits. They can knock it out of the park the first time, which means we don’t have to get it over and over again, which means it saves their voice.

I’ve just gotta know what Bakugo’s voice actor is doing.
[Laughs] I can’t count the number of times that Cliff [Samuel Chapin IV] has come up against somebody going, “Oh man, I’m so glad I’m not your character.” I play a voice in another series with a really harsh boy voice, and I’m kind of known for that, so I have very little pity.

I don’t know if you went to the premiere in Los Angeles last week, but it was insane – lines around the block, you could barely get in the neighborhood. Why do you think “My Hero” resonates so much with the American audience?
I didn’t get to be there, and I so badly wanted to. I heard reports of how amazing it was and I get to see, now that I have social media, how much the fans were enjoying it and how insane it was.

I think that “My Hero” has a lot of things going for it. It’s one of those shows that hits on all of the fronts and makes it the perfect storm to take the fandom by storm. One thing: it’s about superheroes. Who doesn’t love superheroes? But in a world where superheroes have kind of gotten played out, this is superheroes from a different culture, and we get to see how a different culture would represent that… They just do it well. It’s just a well-done show.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. See an exclusive clip of “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising” — the first look at the villains with the English dub — below: 

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