If you’ve watched cartoons, anime, or played video games ever, you’ve heard the name, Steve Blum. At this rate, he is pretty much synonymous with world-class voice acting, and that’s no exaggeration. He has hundreds of credits to his name, with a career so prolific that he received the Guinness World Record in 2012! So, if you want to learn why he’s one of the all-time greats, you’re in for a treat.
And yes, if you’re a Steve Blum fan you probably know him by his most iconic role. Indeed, anyone who’s gotten into anime knows the deep, tortured voice of Cowboy Bebop’s Spike Spiegel so much they get instant flashbacks just by reading the name. And that’s just one of the many insanely nuanced characters this amazing actor has brought to life over the decades.
Any experienced professional will tell you that voice acting is no joke. Still, Steve started his career at a time when anime voice actors were comedy fodder, and video game voice acting wasn’t even a thing; just imagine being in media so long that they go from being niche to absolutely mainstream! Who says time doesn’t reward consistency and dedication?
Whether you’re an aspiring vocal talent looking to take Steve Blum’s lead, or a would-be hirer, read on. There’s plenty of information in this article about what makes a great voice pro that anyone can benefit from.
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So, Who is Steve Blum, Anyway?
From the question you’d think we were talking about Batman! But, while that role belongs to the inimitable Kevin Conroy, we consider Steve Blum a real-life voice acting superhero; Hollywood’s got its A-listers, and so do animation and video games.
Steve Blum was born in 1960 in Santa Monica, California. While we don’t know much about his early or formative years, it’s safe to say that he developed a love for acting and doing different voices. By 1984, he was ready to take the world by storm, and he hasn’t stopped working ever since. Over the years, he’s built up a second-to-none reputation as a terrific talent with oodles of charisma and a characteristic deep, masculine voice.
What’s more, just by being in the industry, he became a sort of anime champion. While the genre wasn’t mainstream in the 80s and 90s, it did have some hits that began its popularity in the West. If you haven’t heard of Robotech (Macross in the original Japanese), then you’re probably a spring chicken and should get off my lawn. But I digress.
At first, Steve didn’t really have much of a chance to make an impact on the big stage. While he had his first anime roles in incredible franchises like Macross and Guyver, most of these films were direct-to-video in the US — you’d have to be a total manga and anime freak to even have access to these movies. And so, Steve would happily remain in this small niche for the duration of the 90s.
But that’s not to say that’s all he did, oh no.
Video Games Have Feelings Too
Video game voice acting is not something that rolled of people’s togues way back in 1995. In fact, while some arcade machines sported voice samples, memory limitations made it very hard to have full voice acting in games. But this all changed by the mid-90s when CD-ROM technology conquered the world and made voice acting ubiquitous. Suddenly, actors had 620MB of space to play with!
Video game makers quickly grew in ambition and took stories to new operatic heights. The old static screens of yore gave way to animated, full-motion-video extravaganzas that rivaled anything blockbuster animated films or popular cartoons had to offer. And with these new technological leaps came hungry voice actors looking to show that video games had stories worth telling.
Steve Blum was one of the first to jump at the opportunity. By 1995 he’d voiced two characters in Lucasarts games, known for pushing the envelope for interactive storytelling and rich, cartoon-like graphics.
While had a turn as a minor character in Full Throttle, it was his starring turn in the sci-fi epic The Dig that made gamers take notice. And even if you’re a Steve Blum aficionado, you’d probably do a double-take at his turn as Ludger Brink. Who knew Steve could do accents so well?
Regardless, he had plenty of time to shine in that role. The Dig is a story about three stranded astronauts attempting to figure out the abandoned machinery of an alien civilization to find their way back home. Seeing that the game had extensive conversations and only three humans, everyone on the cast had to give it their all. What’s more, Steve was working side-by-side with the inimitable Robert Patrick, still fresh off the success of Terminator 2!
On to New Records
And that auspicious start was just the starting-off point. Over the years, Steve amassed a truly unassailable resume of video game performances. By May 2012, he’d starred in over 261 games — a mark that merited the prestigious Guinness World Record. At the time of writing this article, he’s been in many, many more.
I mean, just try going to the dude’s IMBD page and you’ll probably break your mouse wheel trying to scroll all the way down. I really hope he bought himself a nice house with all of that voice-acting moolah.
And Steve Blum is not showing any signs of wanting to slow down. On the contrary, he remains as prolific as ever in the world of video games. He has everything from blink-and-you’ll-miss-them parts to starring turns in multi-game franchises like Mass Effect. And, if you haven’t seen him as space renegade ex-cop Garrus Vakarian, you’re missing out on one of the best characters in gaming.
And hey, speaking of space…
Steve Blum: Space Cowboy
You know we had to get here. It would be an absolute disrespect to speak of Steve Blum without mentioning his role as Spike Spiegel. Not only did he absolutely nail the sarcastic, quippy, noir-infused character of Cowboy Bebop’s star, but he also unwittingly became the voice of anime.
Cowboy Bebop has been called anime’s gateway drug for a very long time. The reason is that its heavily Western style — which draws from music, animation, and movies — is an instant draw for newcomers to Japanese animation. Other shows may rely too heavily on tropes that are pretty much unrecognizable for people in this hemisphere. You know, power levels, long, drawn-out scenes, excessive violence, music, etc.
But, CowBe, as it was affectionately called, had an immediately attractive quality. Everything, from the artistic direction to the incredible music by Yoko Kanno, has its roots in Western movies, rock, blues, and jazz. Yet, this would all have been for naught if there wasn’t an incredible voice cast to round things out.
As much as subbing has become the norm for anime, there’s much to be said for a well-produced dub. And 1998’s Cowboy Bebop still stands the test of time as one of the best dubs ever. To do you one better, I — an absolute subbing militant — will tell you that the dub seems more thematically consistent with the show’s aesthetic. After all, a show that’s pretty much a neo-noir Spaghetti Western in space should really shine with a good English voice cast. And the one in Cowboy Bebop absolutely nailed every role, that’s how good they are.
A Case of Dubbing Making Everything Better
Yet, things wouldn’t have been the same if Steve Blum hadn’t aced Spike’s demeanor. And he did! So much so, in fact, that he’s become synonymous with the role. To this day, every panel, Q&A session, or fan encounter has him do a riff on one of Spike’s lines.
And all of the kudos are warranted, in my opinion. In our article “Two Times When Voice Dubbing Made Everything Better,” I wrote:
Anime Network gave the dub an A+ with Mike Crandol stating that it was “one of the most popular and respected anime titles in history,” adding that it was “a unique television show which skillfully transcends all kinds of genres.” He was especially commendatory of the “flawless” English cast.
In fact, most publications at the time seemed to agree that the English voice cast elevated the material and was more fitting. Purists would disagree, but the fact that a dub can come as close to the original as to be worthy of debate elevates dubbing as a whole, in my opinion.
It just goes to show that when the right material and the right actor collide, magic can happen. If there’s one role Steve Blum was born to play, it was Spike Spiegel.
What’s Next for Steve Blum?
If I had to guess, I would say he will probably continue to aim for the sky. If there’s one thing you can count on with Steve Blum, is that he’ll continue to work, work, work. How many records will he continue to beat in the next few years? It’s hard to say, but I don’t foresee anyone will take his crown for a long time. Heck, he’s even got absolute giants like Nolan North and Travis Baker beat!
Meanwhile, the rest of the voice-acting world will continue playing catch-up. But hey, that’s not so bad, after all! There are plenty of amazing voice actors out there, and not all of them have to be Steve Blum.
And, if you’re Looking for Talent…
Why not take a gander at our 100,000-strong roster of amazing voice actors at Bunny Studio? We’ve got anything and everything for all kinds of projects.