Key Art of Jinwoo Sitting on Top of Monster Corpses in Solo Leveling
Image Credit: A-1 Pictures

Solo Leveling Interview: Aleks Le & Caitlin Glass Talk Emotional Depth, the Perfect Sell, & More

Talking to the people behind the breakout hit's English dub.

It’s no stretch to say Solo Leveling is one of, if not the, biggest anime of the winter 2024 Anime Season. Between its stellar animation, gripping plot, and notable tweaks to the usual Shonen action framework, there’s more than enough to entice the majority of anime fans.

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Only bolstering all this is the terrific English Dub, and we got the chance to sit down with the English ADR Director Caitlin Glass and Sung Jinwoo Voice Actor Aleks Le to talk about the dubbing process for Solo Leveling. Both had plenty to say in terms of the show’s popularity, the opportunities dubbing presents, and how they would sell it to anyone who hasn’t hopped aboard the bandwagon.

Sung Jinwoo braves the deadly caves within a dungeon in Solo Leveling
Image Source: A-1 Pictures

Twinfinite Staff Writer Keenan McCall: How does it feel to be part of what is arguably the biggest show of the season?

Aleks Le: Surreal. Yeah, yeah. Quite surreal. It feels really good.

This is a really funny instance for me because I remember walking around Anime Expo and seeing all the merchandise and trailers and seeing everybody hyped for the show, and I was like ‘that’s a really cool show. Whelp, I’m probably not going to get in it. I hope everybody has a good time watching it, guess I’ll check it out later down the line too.’ And you know, here we are.

So definitely still a lot to process for myself personally. But it feels really good to be on such a creative and high scale project as this one.

Caitlin Glass: I’ve actually been working on Solo Leveling in pre-production for close to a year now, so it’s really exciting. I was over the moon back when we finally got to announce the cast in November. Aleks was with me at Anime NYC and I was like ‘finally! Whew!’ Like, with a sigh of relief, I can finally talk about the thing! And now that it’s coming out and people are watching it and everyone’s into it, it’s just everything that you work for, you know?

The party raiding the Cartenon Temple are shocked at the events transpiring in Solo Leveling
Image Source: A-1 Pictures

Keenan McCall: Have you encountered any specific challenges either with dubbing or putting together the dub for Solo Leveling given there is a pre-existing hype and all of the fandom surrounding it?

Aleks Le: I think the challenge when it comes to dubbing any series always is to make sure we capture the intent of the original Japanese performance. And in this case, the intent was very intense. The Japanese Seiyuu, Taito Ban, did an incredible, incredible job on this project and I just wanted to make sure that every detail, every nuance of his performance was understood and brought over to an English speaking audience in a way that didn’t feel unnatural.

I wanted to carry his energy and his enthusiasm for this role, and make sure that nothing was lost in translation and in that process. And Caitlin and I worked really hard to take a bigger look at where the story is and where it goes and kind of just consider the grand context of it all to make sure that what we’re doing fits within the timeline and what we’re doing also aids how the story is being told. 

Caitlin Glass: I think I try to not think about the fans until I have to. Because ultimately, my job as a director is to uphold this creation — this property, this story — that belongs to someone else, the creators of it. And to make sure that what we consume maintains their intentions. So that’s first and foremost, and I think that if we do that, the fans will be pleased. Because they already like the source material.

But then, I also keep in mind that there will be a whole wealth of people that haven’t read the (Solo Leveling) web comic and that never heard of it before. And they are experiencing the hype from everyone else and they’re going to jump onboard and watch this thing because their friends are, because it’s the next big show. So for them, I want to deliver the best possible product.

But once again, when we look at what I have to work with in both what’s given to me and the actors that I have to work with and the engineering team, I know that they’re going to love it because it’s spectacular. It’s a top-notch show. 

Image Credit: A-1 Pictures

Keenan McCall: Are there any specific Solo Leveling moments you guys are specifically looking forward to, either for voicing or directing, either from reading about it or knowing fans are really looking forward to them specifically?

Aleks Le: There are too many in this show to anticipate honestly. There’ve been so many cool moments that we’ve gotten to do already, and I feel like with each new moment comes not only a sense of excitement but also a lot of nerves. So in the future, we’re kind of getting into a territory where it’s a new side of Jinwoo that we haven’t seen before and I think that’s really exciting for me to think about what that’s going to be like. So I’m really excited to see where we take it. 

Caitlin Glass: I don’t want to spoil too much of the special, cool things that Jinwoo gets to do, so if I can, I’ll speak about other events in the story and maybe my favorite moments as I was reading the Manwha before I even knew that I would be directing it.

There was a thought of ‘oh, if this were an anime, this would be really awesome.’ I really love Baek Yoonho a lot, and when we get the kind of big reveal of the extent of his powers — which has been spoiled a little bit for us in episode one, the animators decided ‘let’s let fans see this cool thing!’ and I was really stunned, like ‘oh! There it is!’ And so I look forward to when we get to see that, like fully. And his encounter with Hwang Dongsoo specifically. I don’t know why, but that one’s on my mind. 

Sung Jinwoo unleashes the extent of his powers in Solo Leveling
Image Source: A-1 Pictures

Keenan McCall: This one’s geared more toward Aleks specifically. So Jinwoo has a pretty wide range of emotions in Solo Leveling. He’s not really a one-note character like you might see in some other Shonen offerings or action series. How has that impacted your approach to voicing him? Have you really tried to humanize him, or lean one way or the other with his emotions?

Aleks Le: I think something that’s really special about this character to me is that there’s always the saying that ‘this character feels more human because he has flaws,’ but I’ve never encountered a character where I felt the complicated and different internal struggles so closely resonate with my internal struggles.

So for me, this character in this Shonen setting is seen to be a hero, seen to be the hero of his own journey. But in a way, I also feel like he’s trying to get what’s his, you know? After living a life of ridicule or mockery, he’s really trying to find his place in this new world.

And sometimes that’s not always done in good faith, and that’s what I really like about it. There’s a lot of misguidedness toward how he perceives the world just because of his circumstances, and I feel like those are lessons people have to learn on their own. And it was exciting for me to see an anime character come to terms with those thoughts, and I was like ‘Wow, this is a lot more of a therapy session than I thought it was going to be’ when we were recording some of these moments.

I was particularly excited to see that this character was not necessarily selfish, but also very adamant about how he wants to be treated and how he wants the world view him, and how he wants to change himself so that he can be better not only for himself but for the people around him as well. 

Solo Leveling Group
Image Credit: A-1 Pictures

Keenan McCall: This one is more specifically for Caitlin. Were there any specific tones or overarching themes you’re trying to really help the voice actors convey with all of their performances? Solo Leveling warbles between that power fantasy or action feel and more dour, down themes of Jinwoo trying to come to terms with ‘I was weak, I’ve become strong’, that sort of thing. Is that something you’re keeping in mind while you direct the voice actors, or are you letting them all discover their own characters?

Caitlin Glass: Well, I can’t just let them run wild (laughs). Mainly because, with the exception of Aleks who has so much screen time, generally dub actors rely on the director a lot to help guide them. Because everyone has access to the manhwa, but no one’s expected to go and read it. In fact, you never know how an anime may be adapted differently from the source material. So knowing it too closely, and wanting to adhere to it so specifically, can work against you when you’re in the booth.

And so it is kind of nice to have actors come in with a fresh slate and be like ‘who is this character? What am I doing?’ and let them take in the Seiyuu’s performance and absorb it and turn it around into something in English.

I think something that I always do as a director regardless of the show is to ground everyone’s performances in reality. Because anime themes are always so fantastical — with like you said the power fantasy or it could be anything, they can have magic — circumstances are always so extreme, and it’s easy to get lost in that and not be able to connect to it. You can’t suspend your disbelief that far if the voices are also just doing ridiculous stuff and being too cartoony.

And so the main thing for me is keeping everybody sounding human, and giving a cinematic performance overall.

Solo Leveling Architect Smiling
Image Credit: A-1 Pictures

Keenan McCall: If you had to describe Solo Leveling or summarize it in a nutshell to someone who hasn’t hopped on board and started watching the dub yet, what would you say to them? 

Aleks Le: I would say the tagline of the show: “Whatever kills you makes you stronger.” I think that’s a really cool line, and I’d tell them ‘watch this. This guy gets beaten the hell up, but then he wakes up and he’s really cool.’ (laughs) That’s my way of convincing my friends at least to watch the show.

Caitlin Glass: (Laughs) I’d be like ‘watch this. There’s this wimpy dude and then later he’s going to be really hot.’ 

Aleks Le: (Laughs) That’s valid, that’s valid.

Caitlin Glass: And the music’s good.

Aleks Le: And the music’s good, and the animation’s good. (Laughs)

Caitlin Glass: (Laughs) But on a serious note, there are things about the story that I don’t think even I connected to or they hadn’t really hit me or resonated with me until I heard Aleks perform them, and it made me go ‘that’s why we dub things.’ It matters to hear them in your own language so that you can connect with them more deeply.

And in the Cartenon Temple when (Jinwoo) is dying and just kind of screaming against the fact that it’s happening, I think when I read it I was going ‘yeah no, that sucks, that blows’. Until Aleks performed it, I didn’t grasp how much worse it was because he had done essentially everything right, everything right, and this is what he gets anyway.

And man, how many of us have experienced something like that? Not to the point where we’re about to die, but in our own personal lives or in our relationships? In all of those areas? And I was overcome by that feeling of just awfulness and how unfair and unjust this was. And that’s how I knew, I was like ‘man this is just Episode 2. We’re going to have the best time on this show. This is real.’  

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Keenan McCall
Keenan has been a nerd from an early age, watching anime and playing games for as long as I can remember. Since obtaining a bachelor's degree in journalism back in 2017, he has written thousands of articles covering gaming, animation, and entertainment topics galore.